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Ottery St Mary

from

A Topographical Dictionary of England

by

 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

OTTERY (ST. MARY), a parish, market town, and hundred, in the county of DEVON, 12 miles (E. by N.) from Exeter, and 156 (W. S. W.) from London, containing 3522 inhabitants. The town is agreeably situated on the eastern bank of the river Otter, from which it receives its name, the adjunct having originated either from the foundation of a collegiate church, in honour of the Virgin Mary, by John Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter, in 1337; or, from the manor having been given by Edward the Confessor to the church of St. Mary at Rouen, in Normandy. During the civil war between Charles I. and the parliament, this town was alternately occupied by both parties; and in 1645, a detachment of the parliamentary army being quartered here, under Sir Thomas Fairfax, on the refusal of the inhabitants to furnish the contributions required by that commander, his troops are reported to have defaced the church, and destroyed two organs in it.

The town is situated a little to the south of the high road from Honiton to Exeter: it is irregularly built on very uneven ground, and, exclusively of a few respectable houses in the higher part of it near the church, it is composed chiefly of cottages. There is a good supply of water from wells and springs, and the surrounding country is pleasant and fertile. The manufacture of serge, which once flourished here, has been superseded by extensive silk-works the machinery belonging to which is very ingeniously constructed, and is put in motion by a water-wheel of large dimensions. Handkerchiefs and ribands are among the chief articles now made, and the factory furnishes employment to between three and four hundred persons. Here are also a tan-yard and a ropewalk, and some lace is made in the town. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on the Tuesday before Palm-Sunday, Whit-Tuesday, and August 15th, for cattle, and at the last a considerable quantity of cheese also is sold: there is a great market on the Thursday before the second Friday in every month. Courts leet and baron are held annually for the manor, at which two constables are appointed for the parish, and two for the town, and there is likewise a constable for the hundred, whose office is permanent.


The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £20, endowed with £1400 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Crown. After the suppression of the college founded by Bishop Grandisson, the church, the cemetery, the school-house, and other collegiate buildings and premises, were granted in trust to four inhabitants of the town, who were incorporated as "Governors of the Church of St. Mary Ottery," who collect the small tithes, and have the exclusive possession of the choir of the church; they also nominate a chaplain, sexton, and church-keeper. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, a large and curious edifice, has been called "a cathedral in miniature," being constructed, like that of Exeter, with towers in the transepts, besides which it comprises a nave, choir, aisles, and Lady chapel. The principal part of the body of the church, exhibits the early English style of architecture, having been erected about 1260. The groined roof of the whole of the interior is of a later date than the structure itself, and the north aisle of the nave, which is in the latest style, has a very rich ceiling, with pendant ornaments. The Lady chapel has, at the east end, some fine tabernacled niches, of a more modern date than the chapel itself. In the nave is a plain altar-tomb, with a recumbent statue of an armed knight, under a monumental arch, embellished with fine mouldings and pendant tracery, having an ogee canopy, with crockets and a handsome finial: the pulpit is decorated with carved wood-work.

There are places of worship for Independents and Unitarians.

A free grammar school was founded by Henry VIII., and endowed with £10 per annum from the church corporation trust, and with various subsequent benefactions, amounting in the whole to about £60 per annum, but no boys have been instructed on this foundation for many years; two or three tree scholars only receive classical education, in consideration of a donation of land, in 1666, by Mr. Edward Saiter, who also assigned from the proceeds an exhibition of £6 per annum to any one of the colleges or halls of Oxford, for four years, for a scholar from this school; and in default of which, the sum thus appropriated was to be divided between two children of the school for their maintenance and education. A charity school is supported by subscription, also a Sunday school.

Two sets of almshouses have been founded here; and there are considerable benefactions for distribution among the poor, and for other purposes.

Races are held occasionally at Caddy Lawn, about half a mile from the town.

In the neighbourhood is a spring, called "Hawkins Well," said to be efficacious as a remedy for diseases of the eye.