A HISTORY OF THE PARISH OF AVETON GIFFARD
by Rev. C.C. Shaw, privately published by Cuthbert Shaw in 1966
Aethelwulf King of the West Saxons granted himself land by a Charter known as the Om Homme Charter of 846 A.D. He included in his boundaries the old road, called in the Charter a “Straete” from Modbury to the Coast through the village. He does not give the village a name but calls the river AFENE.
The Hiwisce Charter given by Edgar King of the Angles in 962 A.D. dedicated the name of the Holy Trinity and signed with the sign of the Holy Cross by no less a person than Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury gives this same clue again. This Charter boundary comes to the Bridge-end side of the river as far as the old Stadbury road and gives again the name of the river as AFNE (a form of AVEN).
In a local Borough Charter of 1305 the rover is named as “the stream called ye old AWN”. The source of the river on Dartmoor is know today as AUNE HEAD and the river mouth is known as AUNEMOUTH.
Many of the old maps mark the river as the AUNE and many mark it AVEN or AVON. From the river the village derives the first part of its name so there is still room for speculation and almost of free choice. The Celtic AWN = River; The Celtic TON = TOWN.
So the name means the Town on the River. The records through the ages show an independence of mind characteristic of the inhabitants of this South Hams village and a “foreigner” will find that none here really minds whether it is called AVETON, AWTON or AUETON. They would however find it troublesome if the lawyers start again to demand on their deeds as they often did in the past “Aveton alias Awton”.
In the Doomsday Survey the Exeter copy has AVETONA, the Exchequer Copy has AUETONA, and the Bishops Registers have every possible alternative down through the ages. The village is on the map and the signposts as AVETON but the visitor should, if asking the way, also remember AWTON. It all depends on your favourite name for the river.
Giffard or Gifford
This part of the name derives from the family of that name who owned the Manor for some 170 years from about 1100 until 1270 A.D. This name too is spelt variously through the centuries in the records. GYFFARDE, GIFFARD, GYFFARD and GIFFORD are all quite frequently found. Hardinge F. Giffard esq. writes in Vol. 34 of the Transactions of the Devonshire Society in 1902 “The addition of ‘Giffard’ was of course made to the names of both these places (Weare and Aveton) in consequence of their connection with the Giffard family. In all the early references this name was spelt Giffard, not Gifford, which is a corruption of comparatively recent date. It is to be regretted that the vulgar error is still uncorrected as regards ‘Aveton Gifford’. The Council of which parish might do well to imitate the excellent example set the by the parishioners of Weare Giffard”.