Devon was the cornerstone of one of Britain's most
significant Celtic kingdoms (Dumnonia), and it retains a significant
heritage from those days. Devon's people are predominantly of Celtic
stock, with the Celtic language (which also resulted in Cornish)
being spoken well into the medieval period, and is retained today in
place names, dialect, and customs and culture.
This is not to say that the Saxons, who 'conquered'
Devon in the eighth and ninth centuries (and who militarily conquered
Cornwall in the ninth and tenth centuries), or the Normans who did
the same to the whole of England in the eleventh century, are without
merit or contribution. However the point of this introduction is to
promote that part of Devon's history which for some strange reason
appears to have been repressed - that of Celtic Devon.
The Cornish Celtic name for Devon is Dewnans, and
this is becoming more acceptable to modern ears. A possible older
name for Devon is Dyfneint (meaning 'deep valley dwellers'). This
survives from Dumnonia's few surviving early records, and probably
supplies the root form of Dewnans.
Devon was one of the last areas of what is now
known as England to be conquered by the Anglo-Saxon invaders, and
was not formally claimed by the Saxon kingdom of Wessex until the
early ninth century (AD 805 - only a couple of decades before
Cornwall was allegedly 'conquered', although Cornwall retained some
degree of independence after that). After this period (as noted in
Alfred the Great's will in AD 900), Devon's Celtic people were called
Wealcynn (wealas being the Anglo-Saxon word for Celts). 
Perhaps it is surprising that this history of Celtic
identity is not better known. How can this be so? A number of factors
probably came into play. The Victorian era prized all things Teutonic
because (for some reason) they equated it with civilised society. Even
in the mid/late twentieth century schools teach a 'unified' English
history with little focus on regional history. Devon's own Celtic
history has been overlooked and neglected. This story is not unique
to Devon. History, language and culture have been suppressed in many
parts of the Celtic world (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany -
to name a few). In Devon's case its proximity to Cornwall, with its
own rich Celtic ancestry, has probably also hindered any recognition
of Devon's own history.
The question of Devon's Celtic identity is not new.
In 1870 Professor Thomas Huxley, president of both the Royal Society
and of the Ethnological Society, and friend of Charles Darwin, stated
that '(Devonians) are as little Anglo-Saxon as Northumbrians are Welsh',
by which he meant that Devonians are genetically descended from the
Brythonic Celts, rather than the Germanic tribes of the Angles or
Saxons who give the term 'Anglo-Saxon' (and the term England) its
The 'pro-Teutonic' prejudices of the Victorian era
were Huxley's target, and sadly his views were not universally accepted.
The ramifications of this 'Victorian prejudice' continued well into
the twentieth century, and distorted the real history. However the
issue is now being revisited, and the truth is slowly emerging.
The Romano-British cemetery site at Ipplepen - which remained in
use for up to three hundred and fifty years after the end of
direct Roman administration of Britain - has revealed fifteen
burials (so far) and a surprising level of continuity of use
for a site in the south-west, which is normally more reluctant
to reveal details of settlement occupation