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A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

LYDFORD, a parish in the hundred of Lifton, county of Devon, 7¾ miles (N. by E.) from Tavistock, containing 734 inhabitants. This place was anciently of some consequence, but in 997 it sustained severe injury from the Danes, who, after their destruction of Tavistock abbey, burnt forty of the houses in the town. In the reign of Edward the Confessor it is recorded as a borough, and had eight burgesses within the walls, and forty-one without: at the time of the Conquest, these had increased to one hundred and forty, the town was fortified, and considered of such importance as to be taxed on an equality with London. In 1238, the Forest of Dartmoor, and the castle of Lydford, were granted by the king to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and the manor now belongs to the duchy. Situated in the centre of a mining district, Lydford was the great mart for tin, then the staple commodity of the county; and there are still extant a few pieces of money coined at the mint here, which is said to have existed in the time of Ethelred II. In the reign of Edward I. it twice sent members to parliament; and, in 1267, a weekly market was granted, also an annual fair for three days. The Stannary courts were held in this town till the close of the last century, and offenders against the Stannary laws were tried and imprisoned in a castle here, the dungeons of which have been considered scarcely less frightful than those of the Spanish inquisition. In 1512, Richard Strode, Esq., one of the members for Plympton, having asserted the injurious effects of the mine streams upon the harbour of Plymouth, was prosecuted by the tinners, and eventually confined for more than three weeks in Lydford Castle, heavily ironed, and fed only upon bread and water: it was a common adage, that "Lydford law punished first and tried afterwards." Until the reign of Edward III., a gaol delivery took place here, but only once in ten years. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the foundations of the town gates, and vestiges of the trenches were visible. The village now consists merely of a few dilapidated cottages. The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £ 15. 13. 9., and in the patronage of the Crown, in right of the duchy of Cornwall. The church is dedicated to St. Petrock. The scenery which surrounds this village is of the most beautiful description. About a quarter of a mile southward is a small bridge of one arch, near which is a romantic fall of the river Lyd, the water of which may be seen rushing over the rugged bed of a narrow chasm of the depth of eighty feet. In a valley to the south-west is a fine cascade, and another to the east of the village, called Skart's Hole. The only remains of the castle are the shell of the keep, which is fifty feet square, and forty feet in height: it is situated on a mound at the eastern end of an area formerly surrounded by a wall and a ditch; the western side over- looks a narrow dell of considerable depth.

Dartmoor, a dreary but interesting waste, is said to comprise no less than one hundred and thirty thousand acres. According to Polwhele, Dartmoor was once peopled 3 and there are extant curious accounts of "winged serpents in the low, and wolves in the high, lands;" also "of a set of wild men inhabiting the verge of this great waste," who were remarkable for their swiftness. Near Whistman's wood may be found the roots of very large trees; and in draining the bogs, huge pieces of old timber have been discovered. The wild boar, bear, wolf, and moose deer, are said to have once abounded in this forest, when a peculiar species of hunting dog, called the Slough hound, was employed. On the surface of the moor are numerous clusters of rock, called tors. The granite here found is remarkable for the size of its feld-spar crystals. Among the rocks are observable numerous indications of this having been once the scene of Druidical sacrifices. On Crockern tor, the ancient Stannary court has been held within the memory of man and till some years back, the president's chair, jurors' seats, and court table, were to be seen excavated in the moor-stone on its summit. Besides the latter, there are numerous other tors, crowning the loftier elevations of the moor: they exhibit immense masses of granite, observable at a great distance, and in many points of view commanding prospects of much variety and beauty. The general surface of this waste is rather undulating than abrupt, and varies in height from four hundred to two thousand one hundred feet above the sea: the mean height has been computed at one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two feet. It is twenty miles long, and, in some parts, eleven miles wide. In its numerous furrows are collected the waters which form the rivers Dart, Teign, Tavy, Taw, Plym, Cad, Erme, Yealm, and forty-eight minor streams. The soil is far better than that of mountainous districts generally. The higher elevations, indeed, are covered with an unproductive black earth, and in some of the lower spots the bogs are numerous; but, in many parts, there is good and sufficient soil for agricultural purposes, requiring only the assistance of manure, which may be now readily obtained by means of the rail-road communicating between Plymouth and the moor. The skirts and other portions of this district appertain to the surrounding manors, the lords of which claim the right of summer pasturage for as many head of cattle as they can maintain on their own estates through the winter: they are called Venville tenants. The duchy, however, is entitled to stock the forest by agistment. Those that pasture their cattle on the moor, not being Venville tenants, pay the lessees from two to three shillings a score for sheep and cattle. Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, about the year 1800, erected a mansion at Tor Royal, in the very heart of the forest, made extensive plantations, and much improved the land in the vicinity. In 1808, at his instigation, a prison was erected, for the reception of the numerous French captives that had hitherto crowded the prison ships at Plymouth. This immense building comprises, besides an hospital and dwellings for the petty officers, five rectangular edifices, each capable of holding nearly one thousand six hundred men. The governor's house adjoins the prison; and at the distance of a quarter of a mile are the barracks for the guards. For the supply of the prison, numerous tradesmen established themselves in the vicinity; a small town, called Prince Town, was soon formed, and a chapel built. At the close of the war, however, this town was deserted, and its present aspect is one of wretchedness. It is still thinly inhabited; but most of the houses are in a state of decay, and many in ruins. The minister of the chapel retains his appointment, and divine service is performed weekly. In 1819, an act of parliament was obtained for making the rail-road before alluded to; and a second and third act have been since granted for the purpose of extending and ramifying the line. From the granite works with which it is connected, great quantities of stone are being constantly forwarded to Plymouth; and the rail-wagons coming from that port are chiefly loaded with lime, manure, and coal. An inland wharf has been constructed near the end of the rail-road, which, if the immediate vicinity were more populous, would be of the greatest convenience. At Two Bridges, to the east of Prince Town, is held an annual cattle fair: it takes place on the first Wednesday after the 16th of August, and is well attended.