Pillaton's Origins

The Domesday Book

It is difficult to establish when Pillaton was first inhabited as a dwelling place. Like many other villages, the earliest recorded references to it are in 1086 where it appears in the Domesday Book as Piletone and in the contemporary Exon Domesday (Liber Exoniensis) as Pilatona.

Pillaton was one of a number of villages or hamlets in the area, including Newton (Ferrers), Halton, Ashton, Ellbridge and Trematon, to be held by Reginald of Vautortes from Robert, Count of Mortain. The Count was William the Conqueror's half-brother and had been gifted large amounts of land in Cornwall by the king. Prior to 1066, the owner was given as Merleswein, believed to be the same person as Merleswein the Sheriff, a very wealthy Saxon who held many estates in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

According to the Domesday Book, there were seven villagers (villeins), 7 smallholders (bordars) and 3 slaves. A villager may well have held 30 or more acres for farming whilst a smallholder would have had perhaps 5 or so. If we include the manorial (demesne) holding, it is quite likely there were eight farms on the Pillaton estate. This level of social structure suggests that the settlements had been established for some time, possibly several generations or more.

Leigh also appears in the Domesday Book but there has been some uncertainty over whether it referred to the place of that name in Pillaton parish or in Quethiock parish. The latest view is that Quethiock's Leigh would have been part of the Penpoll estate and the Domesday Book entry therefore refers to the manor that eventually became Leigh Durant in Pillaton (see below). Ten smallholders and 2 slaves are listed in the Leigh entry.

Before the Domesday Book

The name Pillaton is of Saxon origin and thought to mean 'farm made of (or defended by) stakes'. Place names in the Parish are more commonly derived from Saxon roots than Cornish implying that most of the farms and settlements either had a Saxon origin or were taken over from earlier inhabitants and renamed by the Saxons. This high frequency of Saxon place name elements is reflected in a number of other parishes between the River Tamar and River Lynher. As soon as you cross the latter, place names of Cornish derivation (eg. the ubiquitous 'Tre') are much more common than Saxon ones. (For further information about the origins of place names in the area, see Place-Names in the Parish below).

W. G. Hoskins, in his book 'Devon' (1954), believes that from about 710 this part of Cornwall became a frontier zone for Saxons in their expansion westwards. Over the next century or so there would no doubt have been some 'incidents' between the Saxons and the indigenous Celtic Britons but with the battle of Hingston Down (about 5 miles to the NE) in 838, the Saxons seem to have fully taken over this corner of Cornwall.

Because of the lack of archaeological finds from this area, the main evidence of Saxon presence is provided by place names and some limited documentation. We lack even this level of information regarding the Celtic Britons so cannot be sure if they had dwellings here at all. Even so, it is not unreasonable to believe that there have been people living in and around Pillaton for well over a 1000 years.

An Early Reference to Other Places in the Parish

The rather strangely named collection of documents known as the Feet of Fines for Cornwall has a reference to a number of farms or settlements in the Parish in an entry dated 24th April 1200. These can all be linked to current day locations although the sites of the buildings then and now may not be identical.

  • LEGA (Leigh)
  • HERDENEFAST (Hornifast)
  • LIRBEUSTON (now known as Paynter's Cross)
  • SMITHENETON (Smeaton)
  • LAFORDE (Ford, now renamed Peter's Park)
  • SAWLETON (Sillaton)
  • POLBOTHER (Polborder)
  • SIGHENEDON (Saunton)
  • BRITELESTON (Briston)
  • LABERA (Beria)

The document indicates that Leigh was the seat of the manor and the others were part of the estate. By the mid 1300's, the manor of Leigh was held by the Durant family and hence referred to as Leigh Durant.

Pillaton and Trebeulyow

In 1996, The Cornish Language Board published 'Place Names in Cornwall' to provide a list of recommended Cornish language forms of place-names in Cornwall. Since the name Pillaton is not of Cornish origin and there was no Cornish language alternative, Trebeulyow was proposed for this purpose. Trebeulyow is Cornish for 'farm of stakes' (see Before the Domesday Book above).

Place-Names in the Parish

Information about the origins of place names in the area, together with Cornish equivalents where possible, are contained in Dr Ken George's detailed compilation Place-Names of the Parish of Pillaton. Our thanks go to Dr George for the information and Robin Dwane for typing it up in a format suitable for website viewing and printing.

Edited: 22 March 2017 Contact Us