Lydford is a very special and somewhat unique place. In archeological terms towns often become victims of their own success, their original features becoming eroded and buried by new development over centuries so that one can only see how it is now and not how it was then, except perhaps in the form of words, drawings and the imagination. Walking through and around Lydford you can see back in time over 1000 years; walk along the saxon banks, see the Norman castle; look out across views which have not changed for centuries. Lydford is a settlement which has risen to great importance and then transitioned gracefully to become a village of charm and character.

Pre-historic Lydford

The hidden remains of a Bronze Age Fort in Lydford Forest, hurt circles and other Bronze Age remains indicate that Lydford was inhabited many years before historic written records begin.

The Celts and Roman Era

The Romans had a major prescence in Exeter and will have passed through Lydford if not encamped there as it is on route to the Tin, Copper and Silver mines they traded with. However, the earliest documented history begins with the coming of Christianity brought by St Petroc in the sixth century. The church in Lydford is dedicated to St Petroc. St Petroc died in 564 AD and was a British prince (son of a welsh king, probably Glywys of Glywysing)  and Christian Saint who ministered to the people of Devon (Dewnans) and Cornwall (Kernow). The first Christian church in Lydford was a wooden structure c. 649. At this time Lydford was a celtic settlement.

There was a substantial demographic upheaval in southern England following the Roman exodus. As Saxon Settlers moved westwards there was a similar migration of the indigenous population from the south-west to Brittany, although it is not certain if the two movements were linked. These changes caused a transition from the Dumnonian or ‘British’ political establishment and culture as the indigeonus population migrated or were assimilated into the emergent ‘english’ society. Devonshire came into the existance in the 8th Century as part of the West Saxon Kingdom of ‘Wessex’

The Saxons (approximately 710 – 1066)

Although the Saxons had been in England since the 6th Centry. It was not until 710AD that they defeated the last independent King of Devon in 710 under King Ine.

Lydford, then called ‘Hlidan’ (and later Hlidanford) was an important burh  in Saxon times. It was officially founded as a Burh in the 880’s and was part of a national defense network devised by Alfred the Great (born 849, died 899, reigned 871-899). This was necessary at a time when viking raiders from Scandinavia were a major threat to England. Lydford was the westernmost burh out of approximately 30 in the whole of England and of 4 in Devon. The burh prospered and became very populous.

In 936, King Athelstan of England annexed Cornwall and Lydford ceased to become the western most stronghold in the Kingdom. With the abundant silver and copper mines it became an important center of commerce.

Aelfthryth who married Edgar I and became queen of England. was born in Lydford castle in 945. Her  father Ordgar founded Tavistock Abbey in 961, he died in 971 and and her brother Ordulph then undertook its completion which took 10 years from 971 to 981.

In 973 Lydford was granted a mint which issued silver Lydford Penny‘s. In 997 Lydford was attacked by viking raiders who had sailed up the river Tamar from what is now Plymouth. It is unknown if they penetrated the towns defences; but it is recorded that they burnt down Tavistock Abbey on their way back to the sea. Causing Ordulph to have to rebuild it. During Edward the confessor’s (1042 to 1066) reign Lydford was recorded as being the most populated center in Devon after Exeter.

The Normans (1066 – 1154 )

By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Lydford collected as much tax as London which gives an idea of its size, wealth and importance. Lydford at that time governed the entire region of Dartmoor Forest and continued to do so until 1987 for 900 years Lydford was the largest parish in England. The Normans built a two castles in Lydford. Initiallly one of wood immediately after the Norman conquest and one of stone which in 1132  was expanded to three stories. At this time Lydford still appears to have been an important part of state infrastucture. However, under the normans coins were no longer minted in Lydford.

The Plantagenets (1154 – 1399)