The History of Lustleigh

The origins of Lustleigh (re-appraised)

It has been generally accepted that: “The first mention of Lustleigh in recorded history occurs in the will of Alfred the Great who died in 901, when the Manor, then known as Sutreworde (“South of the Wood”), was left to the King’s youngest son.”

Sutreworda has long been thought to mean “South of the Wood” but now after extensive research, the true story can be told. The following is based upon Ian Mortimer’s article: “The Location and Extent of King Alfred’s Suðewyrðe”, published in The Devonshire Association Report and Transactions Volume 153, 2021


Sutreworda, or more correctly Suðewyrðe, was an estate bequeathed by King Alfred to his younger son but where this estate was and whether it can be tied to Lustleigh was, until this new research open to question. A comprehensive survey of the Domesday Hundred of Teignbridge and has demonstrated conclusively that the manor of Sutreworda was that of Lustleigh. The research also shows that this manor and several others in the Wray Valley formed part of a much larger royal estate, which was dismembered in the tenth century and that this was probably Alfred’s Suðewyrðe.

However, one of the interesting things to come out of this research, the Saxon estate was probably not centred on the modern village of Lustleigh but in the north of the manor, near the hillfort on Hunter’s Tor. Ian suggests the name, Sutreworda, meant ‘south enclosure’ (from Suð worðig) and he relates this to the larger hillforts in the Teign Valley to the north – Prestonbury, Cranbrook Castle and Wooston Castle. The Hunters Tor hillfort lies to the south of Barnecourt where it is believed that the manorial courts were held at one time. Ian suggests that “it is possible that the Barnecourt area was known as Sutreworda before the lords of the manor built a lordly residence and a church in Lustleigh, after which it was known simply as the lord’s barn and the court meeting place.”

It is very likely that there was early activity in the centre of Lustleigh. This is borne out by the setting of the parish church of St John the Baptist, which sits in a circular enclosed graveyard believed to be a Romano-British burial ground. The inscribed ‘Datuidoc’ stone dated 550AD, housed in the church, is evidence of early burials. Ian strongly suspects that this ancient burial ground remained in use in the Anglo-Saxon period and this is why the church was built there rather than in the area of Barnecourt.

The earliest part of the church itself dates to the thirteenth century and the first appearance of the name Lustleigh, appears as Leuestelegh in 1242 and as Luuestelegh in 1276, dates which tie in with the date of the building of the church. The name, which possibly derives from a field or clearing belonging to someone whose name started with ‘Leof-‘, may well have always referred to the area that is now the village centre and, as the use of the churchyard for early burials show, this area of the village has always had importance. Ian suggests that the change of focus in the parish took place between 1086 and 1242.

There is a tomb effigy in the church memorialising William Prouz and it is now thought likely that he was responsible for building what has been known as the Old Manor, now Uphill and the Great Hall on Mapstone Hill. The earliest timbers in the building having been dated by dendrochronology to the early fourteenth century. It is now believed that the building now divided into Uphill and the Great Hall on Mapstone Hill was the manorial residence of William Prouz and after him his daughter Alice de Moels and then her son Sir John Damarle, who died 1392. The lords were not resident in Lustleigh after that – hence the house being given to the church for use as a rectory.

It is understood that medieval manorial courts were not always held in the manor house: customs often dictated that they should be held in the open, sometimes under a particular tree and, although the Lord of the Manor of Lustleigh was now living in the building on Mapstone Hill there is nothing to say that the Manorial Court did not continue to meet at Barnecourt.

It is also important to note that Lustleigh is what is known as a ‘dispersed’ parish, i.e., the parish is made up of a number of separate hamlets – for example, Pethybridge, Hammerslake and Sanduck. The centre of the village was known as the ‘town’, hence Town Orchard.


At the time of the Domesday Book Sutreworde comprised some 1200 acres. As well as detailing the land, serfs, swineherds and animals, the entry refers to bee-keepers who rendered “seven sestiers” of honey. This is the only reference in Domesday to bee-keeping in Devon. According to Domesday the manor comprised a demesne farm of some 200 acres (probably Barncourt) and 11 or 12 villein farms averaging about 70 acres apiece. There was also a large area of forest.
In the centuries following the compilation of the Domesday Survey the known history of Lustleigh is largely that of the Lords of the Manor. In 1262 the Lord of the Manor was Sir William de Widworthy. In 1273, following the death of Sir William de Widworthy’s son, the manor passed through the hands of several families until in 1403 it was sold to Sir John Wadham, a noted judge. The manor remained in the possession of the Wadham family for the next 200 years and six generations.  (For more details about the early Lords of the Manor see our Gems From the Past Section).
Surveys of the Manor of Lustleigh in 1615 and 1626 provide us with details of all the existing farms and cottages, their occupiers, acreage and rental value. From this time on-wards it is possible to trace occupation and ownership virtually unbroken for each house and farm to the present day. Many of the farms in existence at the time of the Domesday Survey had Saxon names which are easily identifiable today.
The Wills family became established here in Lustleigh in the fifteenth century, believed to have moved from the Teign Valley area. The male descendants of John Willmead (later Wylls or Wills) prospered and bought into several farms including Rudge, Lower Hisley and Higher Hisley. In the seventeenth century a Nicholas Amery of Bridford married the daughter of a tenant farmer at Middle Combe and for the next two hundred years the Amery family continued to farm there and to purchase other farms in the parish. Kelly Farm is the last remaining farm to be owned by an Amery. In the 1820’s John Gould of Taunton bought Boveycombe, Lower Hisley and Knowle. Several descendants of these families are living in Lustleigh today. However, many of the original farms have been broken up and no longer have links to agriculture. The ruins of Boveycombe are hidden in the undergrowth on Lustleigh Cleave, the three Combes are private houses and Gatehouse Farm became the Cleave Hotel in the mid nineteenth century.
For centuries working life in Lustleigh was mainly centred round farming. Most farms were small hill farms and would have had a mix of animals-cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry. Some of those on the more productive land were able to grow wheat, barley, potatoes and peas. There were also many orchards, growing apples for eating but more especially for cider making. Almost every farm had its own cider press. Farming in the years up to the early years of the twentieth century supported many other industries and skills. The 1851 Census listed 8 farmers and 16 farm labourers among the 39 households. There were also carpenters, blacksmiths and a wheelwright, all of whom would have been employed on the local farms.
As happened all over Dartmoor, tin mining took place in Lustleigh in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though the evidence of this is now difficult to discern. Much more important in recent times has been the mining of micaceous haematite, or ‘shiny ore’, found at various sites along the Wray Valley, including Kelly Mine which was active from the late eighteenth century until the early 1950’s. It provided employment for 6 to 8 miners as well as surface workers.
The opening of the Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead railway line in 1866 heralded a new era for Lustleigh. Before the railway came the community was closely linked to agriculture, the population consisting mostly of farmers, farm labourers and craftsmen who supported the farming life. The railway brought many benefits: coal, building materials, animal feed, etc., was transported more easily and quickly. Local produce reached wider markets. People travelled further afield for business as well as pleasure. Local businesses grew and prospered. There was a Post Office and General Stores, two butchers, two bakers and a coal merchant.
With the increase in businesses and services, and the railway itself, there were more opportunities for employment at a time when farming was in decline. The first tourists are likely to have visited Lustleigh in the late eighteenth century however the railway brought a significant increase in the number of visitors who came to enjoy the scenery and walk on Lustleigh Cleave – a steep and rocky area of common land, now largely wooded, in the neighbouring valley of the River Bovey. Accommodation was provided for tourists at several guest houses in the village as well as at the Cleave Hotel. Refreshments were also available at a number of tea rooms and tea gardens which opened up, particularly on the way to Lustleigh Cleave. Tourism remained important to the economy of Lustleigh even after the railway closed in the 1950s. Visitors came in coaches from Torquay and further afield with a record of seventeen being recorded on one summer evening!
From the second half of the twentieth century, with the decline in farming and mining, the loss of the railway and the closing down of shops and businesses, opportunities for employment have either disappeared or are strictly limited. Many working people must now commute to Exeter or Plymouth or the neighbouring towns. With the modern advances in communication some people work from home, from where they can run their own businesses. Today the village of Lustleigh is a lively community, with its historic Mayday ceremony, annual show and gymkhana; church and chapel; numerous voluntary organisations and long established pub, café and village shop.
© The Lustleigh Society, 2022