History of Musbury

When a gas pipe was laid between Musbury and Axminster workmen found lithic artifacts (worked flints) indicating the likelihood of a Neolithic settlement in the area.

Musbury was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, completed in 1086, as Musberia. How did it get its name? Some think Musbury means “Old fortification infested with mice” (OE “mus” + “burh” (dative byrig)). Others think the name Musbury is from the Saxon “Maes-Barrow” or the Big Hill (Membury or “Mem-Barrow”, a neighbouring village with a hill of lower elevation, means Little Hill; Maidenhayne, a hamlet in the parish, means the enclosure under the Big Hill). The hill is now called Musbury Castle.

Musbury Castle is an Iron Age fort situated on the ridge of the steep hill raising above the village to a height of 572 ft above sea level. It is believed that in pre-Roman times the fort was one of a chain, from Axmouth inland, protecting what is now Dorset from hostile tribes in Devon. Sling stones were found there in 1832. Describing the view from the top of Musbury Castle in The Book of the Axe (1875) George Pulman wrote: “The panoramic view of the Valley of the Axe is one of the best throughout its extent, and the eye ranges far beyond that lovely tract – over hill and dale, with water, timber and all other accessories for a perfect English landscape”. Now on land owned by the National Trust, there is no physical presence remaining, but the view remains.

19th Century Musbury

Until recently farming was the backbone of life in Musbury with some 40 farms working until the late 1960s. The East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Parishscapes Project has made all digitised parish tithe maps for the area available online. Tithe maps act as a historical record of land use in about 1840. Each plot of land on the tithe map is identified by a number. This number relates to a document called the apportionment schedule. This unwieldy document was in some cases actually glued to the map. The apportionment provides a wealth of information about the plot of land in question – owner, tenant, land use, name, etc. Historically, it was on the basis of the map and this document that the tithes were fairly apportioned and commuted to a cash payment.

Click here to see the tithe maps for Musbury. The corresponding apportionment schedule is here (PDF document, 577K). It’s interesting to see how many fields were given over to orchards, and how many family names are still in evidence in Musbury today.

20th Century Musbury

Musbury possess a number of listed buildings and sites of historical interest. See our leaflet Welcome to Musbury: A map showing places to see and paths to walk, which is available from the Post Office. Of these, the Parish Church of St Michael is open to the public; the others are privately owned and are NOT OPEN.

Musbury Memories, reflections of village life, was compiled by Mary Oborn and Allen Parkman to celebrate the Millennium. This short book, with many fascinating photos (a number of which are also in our Photo Gallery), offers personal reminiscences of life in the village from the beginning of the 1900s, from residents past and present.

Modern Musbury

Today the countryside around Musbury is mainly given over to cattle and dairy farming. There are far fewer farms than there were with many farmers now diversifying into leisure interests (see Trade Directory).

The village has about 274 dwellings housing over 500 residents and in contrast to many other villages in the area has relatively few holiday homes. Although Musbury has young families with children the majority of residents are retired. Many have lived here all their lives but the village is also a popular retirement destination for people who want to live in unspoilt countryside in a peaceful rural area with a strong sense of community.

Further Research

The Devon Archives and Local Studies Service collects records relating to the county of Devon and its families. These records include those of local government, the Church of England and other denominations, of individuals, families, businesses, societies, schools – any of the groups who have contributed to the past life of the county or who do so today. It includes, for example historic documents from Musbury Parish Council. Local Studies Libraries in Devon also hold a wealth of information to help you research local and family history. In addition, there are innumerable resources on the internet and many specialist interest groups in the area.

The Family History Service Point at the Colyton Heritage Centre can also help with tracking down local ancestors.