Woodbury Common, Devon
Woodbury Common in East Devon is an area of common land that is predominantly heathland adjacent to the village of Woodbury, Devon. It is bordered to the South by the edge of the towns of Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton, the hamlet of Yettington to the East, and the A3052 to the North. It is part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Within the common is Woodbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort situated on a viewpoint overlooking westwards the villages of Woodbury and Woodbury Salterton and across the Exe estuary to the Haldon Hills, and overlooking eastwards the Otter Valley, in which runs the River Otter, part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The heathland has wide swathes of gorse and heather (bell, cross-leaved and ling varieties) and is a popular spot for orienteering, hill-walking, mountain biking and flying radio-controlled aircraft. It is famous for a wide variety of wildlife, in particular, the Nightjar, which migrates from Africa each year. The area is also the largest continuous expanse of heathland in England. It is currently owned and managed by Clinton Devon Estates.
The Battle of Woodbury Common, 1549
The Battle of Woodbury Common, which occurred on 4 August 1549, was part of the Prayer Book Rebellion. Reinforcements had arrived on 2 August to assist the king's troops under John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, and a thousand Landsknechts (German mercenaries) arrived the following day under the command of Lord William Grey.
The king's army of some 5,000 men began a march from Honiton to relieve Exeter, which was under siege at the time, but instead of taking the heavily barricaded highway, Russell went westward, across the downs. Russell's scouts found their way barred by 2,000 men at Alphington and sent in Captain Travers to clear the road. In the words of Edward VI’s chronicler, John Hayward, those Cornishmen who were disarmed in this assault were “slain like beasts”. Russell’s advance continued onto Woodbury Common, where he pitched camp at a windmill. Here, Paulo Batista Spinola, the Italian commander, kept his men awake all night, fearing a night attack. This actually occurred at dawn the next day, on 4 August, when Devonian and Cornish forces defending Clyst St Mary came out to confront the larger force at the windmill. The difference in numbers and force of arms did nothing to deter them and the second battle of the uprising began. There were heavy losses on both sides and the result was inconclusive but Russell's army took many prisoners, 900 of whom would be executed the next day in the Clyst Heath massacre. This number was confirmed by John Hayward, Edward VI’s own chronicler.