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What’s in a Name? Slapton


Old English. S


Its literal meaning is ‘the slippery home’ or ‘the slippery place’ from the word “Sleape’ meaning to slip or be slippery.


It might seem a strange description of a village – until you find out about the geography of the place: streams surround it.


There are five separate streams – the Gara, the Slapton Wood Stream, the Village stream, the Start Stream and the grandly named Stokeley Barton Stream.


The village is also just a short distance from Slapton Ley – a rare mixture of a freshwater ley just a stones- throw from the sea. With that much water around it’s more than easy to imagine a time when the area around the village could become ‘slippery’!


The Ley is a haven for wildlife and flora and shows what a good place Slapton was to start a village: it was protected, on high ground, with multiple sources of freshwater and also near to abundant wildlife for hunting.


Its suitability for a community is shown by how quickly it was utilised by the people of the area. There is an iron-age fort near the village, showing there was a settlement perhaps as far back as 800BC. The Domesday Book – the document commissioned by William the Conquerer in 1085 - records Slapton as ‘Sladown’. The Book was William’s way of finding out how much the land he was now in charge of was worth. It was a massive accomplishment for his scribes – although they didn’t record London or Bristol – to finish it as quickly as they did in just six months. Slapton’s ‘Lord’ was one Baldwin the Sheriff – other wise known as Baldwin fitz Gilbert, a loyal supporter of the King who fought for William when he invaded in 1066 – the King was grateful and gave him 164 ‘manors’ or tracts of land as a thank you for the support. This was not uncommon as most of Knights who accompanied him on the invasion were rewarded with land and power.


Baldwin was given most of Devon and became its sheriff – he also built Okehampton Castle. But he probably never visited little Slapton/Sladown at all. Which is a shame, as it sounds like a lovely place to


lapton - a jewel of a village nestled in a hollow half a mile from one of our country’s most precious nature reserves – derives its name from


be – there were 26 male villagers of working age, 21 cottagers – the lowest rank of the peasantry, though still workers - nine cattle, twelve pigs and 100 sheep. The scribes collecting the information didn’t write down how many women, children, priests, nuns or monks there were in a place – they were interested only in those who made money – and their livestock of course.


Estimates vary on how many people could be expected to live in a place based on the figures collected in this way, but it is thought perhaps 200 people lived in the village at the time, just under half the amount that live there today – a major settlement for a relatively remote area such as the South Hams. Remember that Dartmouth and Kingswear weren’t listed in the book as they were not big enough. Centuries of peace followed the Domesday Book for Slapton – before it was shattered by the Second World War.


The village will always be connected with the events running up to D-Day. To maintain secrecy and give military professionals somewhere to live, the South Hams were emptied of people.


In December 1943, the villagers read notices pinned to noticeboards stating they had six weeks to vacate their homes. It was both incredibly traumatic and confusing, as none of those leaving knew exactly why they were giving up their homes, though many guessed.


Slapton Sands was used by the troops to practise the invasion – including the infamous Exercise Tiger, in which a German E-Boat attack and many mistakes by the allies, saw 1,000 men die. A year later, following the successful Operation Overlord they began to return, and the village returned to normal.


There are two memorials on Slaptons Sands itself to this horrific event – the US memorial, on the site of the Royal Sands Hotel, which was destroyed during invasion practice and the famous ‘floating’ tank - a secret weapon for the invasion, which sank during the exercises. It was brought to the surface in 1984 by Torcross hotel owner Ken Small and now stands as a moving tribute to the men who lost their lives and Mr Small’s dedication to telling their story. The village now is a vibrant, fun place to be – two pubs, a store and many wonderful places to walk and enjoy the beauty of the South Hams, not to mention the active and friendly community, who put on productions and events year round for all to enjoy. It’s not very slippery either, you’ll be pleased to know…


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