Exmouth history: Iron Age and Celtic settlements

The former Iron Age settlement at Woodbury Castle

The former Iron Age settlement at Woodbury Castle - Credit: Mike Menhenitt

In the last article we saw how early peoples came to Devon and established themselves in what we now call Exmouth.

The Bronze Age peoples were followed by Iron Age folk who first arrived in Devon about 800BC and took the building of hill forts, barrows and stone circles to a new level. Woodbury Castle was further improved and extended across what is now the B3180 road and formed both north and south entrances.

Inside the Woodbury Castle settlement

Inside the Woodbury Castle settlement - Credit: Mike Menhenitt

Iron Age peoples tended to live in scattered settlements and Woodbury Castle was perhaps a centre for them. The pictures show more of the interior today. Inside the castle were roundhouses for some residents with a thatched roof and central hearth for warmth and cooking over. The information boards at the castle show examples of these and life inside the castle.

Around 500BC the Celts from Breton, or Brittany as it is now called, landed on our shores. These people were great traders and Exmouth was certainly one of their principal ports. These people also lived in roundhouses in settlements and for their own security preferred to live on higher ground. They were adept at clearing forests to establish their settlements and were clever in using iron for tools; they were also known for their decorative jewellery. The Celts that settled in the West country were known as the Dumnonii and their spiritual leaders were the Druids. They happily lived alongside the Iron Age people.

It is from the Celtic language that the words Hide or Hythe mean a landing stage, Cwm or Combe means a valley and Maer refers to a marsh. All of these refer to names in or around Exmouth; so if you ever wondered how they came about – now you know!

But how though did Exmouth get its name? It is generally believed that as it is at the 'Mouth' of a river, it is derived from the River Isk of the Britons, River Isca from the Roman and Esc from the Saxons. We shall explore more about the Romans next time.

If you would like to know more, a good starting point is the library on Exeter Road. There are many books in existence on all aspects of the history of Exmouth and these can often be found not only in good bookshops but also online. Buy the Ordnance Survey Explorer map and discover so much more about Exmouth and Woodbury Common. The Exmouth Museum staff are always happy to help and at the museum there is plenty of history to see and read about! Please visit the Exmouth Museum website at exmouth museum.co.uk or contact mike.menhenitt@btinternet.com