"SOUTH MOLTON, a parish, post and market town, in the hundred of South Molton, county Devon, 8½ miles from the South Molton Road station on the North Devon railway, and 12 S.E. of Barnstaple. It is situated in a healthy spot on the western bank of the river Mole, which joins the river Taw about six miles distant. The river Mole is crossed by a one-arched bridge, in lien of the old one destroyed during a violent storm in 1841.
South Molton derives its name from the afore-mentioned river, having Exmoor on the N. and Dartmoor on its southern boundary. It formerly belonged to Edward the Confessor, and subsequently came to the Martyns and Audeleys. For a short period in the reign of Henry VIII. it was the seat of a suffragan bishop, and was first chartered by Elizabeth. Its charter was confirmed and enlarged by Charles II. It once returned members to parliament in the 30-31 of Edward I., but never subsequently. The town is governed under the new Act by a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, with the style of "mayor and burgesses of the borough and parish of South Molton."
It is well built, paved, and lighted with gas. Several of the streets unite in the market-square, where the market-house is situated-a brick building, in which the mechanics' institution is also held, and the business of the corn-market transacted. The guildhall is a structure of Portland stone, crowned with a turret containing a clock and one bell. There are two banks, a borough gaol, gas works, Freemasons' Hall, police station, &c. Petty sessions are held monthly. A court of quarter sessions is held before the recorder, and a court-leet is held annually. It is also a polling-place for the northern division of the county.
There are several woollen mills for the manufacture of shalloons, serges, and coarse woollen cloth; also numerous corn mills, tanneries, malting establishments, and machine works. The manufacture of lace has been introduced, and mining operations are carried on. Since the discontinuance of the coach traffic the trade of the town has declined, notwithstanding the opening of the North Devon line of railway.
The impropriate tithes, belonging to the Dean and Canons of Windsor, have been commuted for a rent-charge of £840. The living is a perpetual curacy* in the diocese of Exeter, value £157, in the patronage of the Dean and Canons of Windsor. The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, is a commodious structure, with a lofty square tower containing eight bells. The interior of the church contains a carved stone pulpit, an ancient circular font, and several monuments. The church was restored in 1829, and again in 1856.
There are a National school for both sexes, Hugh Squires' free school endowed with an annuity of £40, founded in 1684, and a blue-coat school, founded in 1711, with an endowment of £115 per annum. The Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Bible Christians have each a place of worship. The Rev. Samuel Badcock, the divine, was born here in 1747, and the late Mr. Justice Buller was a pupil at the blue-coat school. The union poorhouse is situated on the Barnstaple road. Castle Hill, situated about 2 miles N.W. of the town, is the principal residence.
Market day is Saturday. There are two annual fairs, termed old and new; the former is held on the Wednesday prior to 22nd June, and the latter on the Wednesday following 26th August.