Belstone is a village in Devon, England best known for the Nine Maidens stone circle. It lies within the West Devon local government district.

There are several explanations of the derivation of its name, including "Baal's Ton" (the hill of the Phoenician sun god Baal), "Belle's Ham" (Belle's enclosure) and "Belle Stan" (Bell Rock). In the Domesday Book the village is listed as "Bellestam".

Early history

The Nine Maidens stone circle comprises the remains of the outer wall of a Bronze Age burial chamber. Along with other erected granite stones on the nearby moorland, it is the earliest evidence of human habitation near Belstone.

It is possible that Fatherford, in the north west of Belstone parish, was one stage in a Roman extension of the Fosse Way road from Exeter to Launceston.

The Domesday Book provides the first written record of Belstone, describing a small settlement of about 50 to 60 people. Domesday mentions that the village was held by the Saxon Osfer under Edward the Confessor, and passed to Baldwin de Brionne after the Norman Conquest, along with 4 cattle, 40 sheep and 10 goats. One side of Baldwin's family held Belstone until 1420, when it passed to another branch of the family. In 1600, two thirds of the manor passed to the Rolle family; in about 1750 the remaining third passed to the Rev. Joshua Hole. In 1887 Charles Woolcombe took control of the Rolle family holdings, which stayed with the family until Jack Reddaway bought them in 1990.

The first recorded priest, William de Speccot, was appointed to Belstone's church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, in 1260, but there is evidence that the church predates this. Parts of it date from the 14th century and 15th century, and much of it was restored in 1881.

Industry and agriculture

From at least the 13th century, villagers were granted "Venville rights" in exchange for paying rent to the Duchy of Cornwall, which owned the Forest of Dartmoor. These rights covered "all things that may do them good except vert (green oak) and venison". In practice this meant rights over turf, rushes, bracken, fishing, shooting, burning, sand, gravel, stone and, probably most importantly, pasture. Some of these rights still exist today, under the control of the Dartmoor Commoners Council (set up in 1965) and the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

From the Venville rights arose Belstone's major industries: farming, mining and woollen cloth. The earliest mention of a tinner in the village comes in the 15th century, while weavers are first mentioned in 1524, with a wool factory opening in 1782. Cleave Mill was reopened after a fire in 1810; a copper mine opened in 1823; and there was a granite works in the village from 1875.

But agriculture was the most important industry and occupation. There were 50 acres (200,000 m²) under cultivation at the time of Domesday; by 1811 this had risen to 800 acres (3.2 km²), employing 97% of Belstone families. In 1841 60% of the land was used for wheat, barley and oats, 5% was woodland, 1% orchards, and the remainder was pasture and homesteads. But following an agreement over venville rents, cattle and sheep farming grew in popularity. A survey in 1921 found 1700 sheep, 425 bullocks and 100 horses in Belstone. There are still 725 acres (2.9 km²) farmed today, but hedge removal, modern machinery and changing farm practices mean that there are much fewer, much larger farms with far fewer workers. There are currently five farms with an average of 148 acres (599,000 m²) each.

Pilgrims to America

Shortly before the English Civil War, which saw Cromwell's soldiers march through the village, some of Belstone's residents left to help populate America. For example, Thomas Bliss and his family settled in Boston and Connecticut, where some of their descendants remain today.


Belstone's population has changed and decreased since the 1960s. Of over 200 inhabitants in [1851] , 52% were born in the parish and only 4% came from outside Devon. In 1901 this figure dropped to 38% with 17% outside the county. Now, only 15% of the inhabitants were born in the parish.


A good book on Belstone is entitled; 'SOME ACCOUNT of the PARISH PAST & PRESENT', 1911 includes photos of Belstone Tor, the Stocks, the Marsh...drawing of the Old Inn, the church, and the Rectory, the 1st Rector was William de Speccot in 1260 through to Charles Lister James in 1929

The story of 'The Ballad of the Belstone Fox' by David Rook was also based on the area, later made into a film in 1973.


*"The Book of Belstone" by Chris and Marion Walpole, 2002

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