The area now known as Seaton and its immediate surrounds have been inhabited for over 6000 years, as evidenced by remains dating from the Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze and Iron Age periods, and the existence of still-visible Iron Age forts in places like Blackbury Camp.
The River Axe, which flows into the sea at Seaton, was an ancient buffer between Celtic tribes living in the West Country in pre-Roman invasion England, separating the Durotriges, whose land lay to the east of the river, and the Dumnonia, who occupied land to the west, right down into Cornwall. It is believed that the Phoenicians were familiar with this coastline too, as they travelled throughout Devon and Cornwall sourcing tin.
The Roman invasion began in 43AD, and extensive remains from this era have been discovered around the town. In 2014, an amateur metal detectorist discovered one of the largest caches of Roman coins ever discovered, when he found 22,000 coins dating from the reign of Emperor Constantine in Honeyditches, just off Seaton Down Road. For centuries there has been speculation that Seaton could have been the site of the Roman sea fort – Moridunum, although this is also claimed by others places, including Carmarthen in Wales. It was also thought to be the landing-place of the Danes – along with their Scottish and Irish auxiliaries – prior to the epic Battle of Brunanburh in 937. These theories are only speculative but, on 25 August 1836, an anchor was discovered on the seabed around 900 metres offshore from Seaton’s ‘Chan’, which excited much curiosity. It was considered to be of considerable antiquity and foreign make.
Whether Seaton enjoyed a former life as Moridunum or not, a significant Roman settlement or villa of some sort certainly existed on the west side of the town. William Stukeley, a pioneer in the field of archaeology and one of the first people to conduct thorough investigative work at Stonehenge, spent the summers of 1723 and 1724 in Seaton, where he identified Honeyditches as a site of historical interest.
Roman-origin stone foundations were unearthed at the site in 1859, and subsequent digs led by the Lord of the Manor, Sir Walter Trevelyan, and involving well-known East Devon artist and amateur archaeologist Peter Orlando Hutchinson – found mosaics, evidence of a Roman bath and a hypocaust (underfloor heating system). Another hypocaust system was discovered on Seaton Down in the 1920s, and a large-scale excavation in the 1960s found evidence of occupation from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, including the remains of a prehistoric round house from the Iron Age and a Roman bathhouse.
The first recorded mention of the name Seaton was in a Papal Bull issued by Pope Eugenius III in 1146, but the town was founded as Fleet or Fleote (from Fluta, the Saxon word for creek) by a Saxon charter in 1005. In the Domesday Book – completed in 1086, two decades after the Norman Conquest of England – Fleet was assessed as being worth £2 to the lord, and the population was listed as comprising of: ‘6 villagers. 19 smallholders. 2 slaves.’