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What’s in a Name? Stoke Fleming


by a conquering monarch. Stoke Fleming is beautiful, with a bustling community and friendly inhabitants. ‘Stoke’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Stoc’ meaning summer pasture. This belies its beautiful and idyllic position, as a dry and safe place for farmers to bring their animals during the summer months. It became an important link along the coast from


S


Townstal above what is now Dartmouth and in fact Townstal was at the time of the Doomsday book considered part of ‘Stoc’ which would later become Stoke Fleming. Interestingly, there is no listing of Dartmouth in the Doomsday book – so if any inhabitants lived there the settlement was too insignificant to list. The Fleming part of its name comes from one Walter of Douai. Walter was a Knight in the army of William the Conqueror (who must have been happy to get the name as before he was known to all and sundry as ‘William the Bastard’). The invasion, far from being a sure win was a highly risky business, and William had made big promises to those who had agreed to come with him on the expeditions.


Basically he promised all of his Knights land and titles when he became King. After the Battle of Hastings in October 1066 and his subsequent Coronation on Christmas Day (when his knights, jittery in a strange land, set fire to the houses surrounding Westminster Abbey after the British had shouted their support for the new King.) He had to make good on this promise. And he did – oh my, how he did. A good example in Devon is Baldwin de Brionne, who received more than 130 estates and titles after the win as did Judhael of Totnes who received more than 90. In this, they were not unusual.


The utter and complete replacement of the ruling classes seems to have been remarkably smooth. It was a massive change in so many ways, but actually for everyday people they had animals to farm and crops to bring in and although they must have disliked and distrusted their new masters, it’s clear there was little resistance. William made clear why he had taken such a risk, by taxing his new domain relentlessly and continuing to wage little wars to impose his will across his lands. Perhaps happily for those interested in natural justice,


toke Fleming’s name has clues not only to its beauty, but also its previous owner, after it was given to him


he died after his horse reared when he was burning down a town which had defied him. His pommel struck him in the stomach and he died from internal injuries. Walter received 20 estates: Bampton, Berrynarbor, Coleridge (Stokenham), Combe Raleigh, Dipford, Dunsford, Goodrington, Greenway, Kerswell (Hockworthy), Knowstone, Little Rackenford, Luppitt, Mohun’s Ottery, Shapcombe, Spurway, Stoke Fleming, Townstal, Uffculme, Woodcombe, Holacombe. Walter was from, as his name suggests, Douai near Lille in what is now northern France. It was at the time considered part of the Flanders region, now part of Belgium. People from Flanders, or Flemings, were proud of their distinctive culture and language, although they never strictly had their own territory. They were a well recognised race and, in a time when either your occupation or the place you came from defined you, the exotic name of Fleming was inexorably linked to the village of ‘Stoc’.He must have been well trusted by the famously cantankerous William, because the Dart was an important part of the realm, bringing in trade and its safe harbour being important for warships. Walter did not live in Stoke Fleming and there is little evidence he visited much, if at all. His chief residence was in Bampton – and the wonderfully named ‘Barons of Bampton’ were descended from him. He sublet to a man called ‘Ludo’ and the place seems to have been bustling. Worth an impressive £5 – the bustling Totnes was worth £8 – it had, according to the Doomsday book, 27 inhabitants. To get the full population you normally have to multiply that figure by four or five as the book only lists men with land and standing. Walter also sublet part of the estate to someone mysteriously named as ‘a woman’, who, it is said, was given the land ‘in alms’ or as charity. This little clue lets us glimpse Walter as a benefactor, taking pity on a woman down on her luck. We will never know for sure. So Stoke Fleming had a relatively large population, a strong sense of community and a bustling farming industry.


The village which today is home to all that is good about rural village life in Britain, hides in its name clues to our dramatic past and how our country was once carved up as booty for the victors of a vicious and bloody conflict, more than 250 miles away.


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