From White's Devonshire Directory of 1850

ASHBURTON is an ancient parliamentary borough and neat market town, principally in three good streets, with many neat houses and well-stocked shops, and two good inns and posting houses. Before the opening of the railways, it was a great thoroughfare for coaches, vans, &c., between Plymouth and London. It is distant 19 miles S.S.W. of Exeter, 24 miles N.E.. by E. of Plymouth, 20 miles E. by S. of Tavistock, 7 miles N.N.W. of Totnes, 193 miles W.S.W. of London, and about 7 miles W. by S. of the South Devon Railway Station at Newton Abbot, to which a branch line is projected from Ashburton, but not yet commenced. The town is picturesquely seated in a fertile valley, to the south, and watered by the Yeo rivulet, which runs through and partly under the town, and falls into the river Dart, about a mile below. The parish of Ashburton is co- extensive with the borough, and comprises 6936A. 3A. 9P. of land, beautifully diversified with hills and valleys, and generally fertile, though skirted on the west by the lofty hills and barren summits of Dartmoor Forest. It had 3080 inhabitants in 1801, and 4165 in 1831, but in 1841 they had decreased to 3841, owing to the decline of the serge and blanket manufacture, formerly extensively carried on in the town and neighbourhood, where a few factories are still engaged in it. Formerly, about £100,000 worth of serges were made here yearly. In the adjacent parts of Dartmoor are several tin and copper mines, under the management of Messrs. Robert Palk, Henry Caunter, and others. Dartmoor abounds in extensive beds of peat; and an unsuccessful attempt was lately made here to manufacture the peat into a dense and cheap coal, which would be very useful in smelting the ores of the district, especially the rich ironstone of Brixham, &c. (See pp. 425) In the process of manufacturing peat charcoal, large portions of peatine, oil, acid, tar, gas, &c., are obtained. The manor of Ashburton was anciently called Asperton, and was vested with the Bishops of Exeter till the reign of James I., when it was alienated to the Crown, Some years afterwards it was in moieties, vested with Sir Robt. Parkhurst and the Earl of Feversham, Lord Clinton and James Matheson, Esq., own it, Lord Clinton and James Matheson, Esq., own a great part of the parish, and are joint lords of the Borough Lordship; but the former is sole lord of Ashburton manor; and James Woodley, Esq., is lord of the small manor of Halwell. Lord Clinton's farms, &c., are chiefly held on leases for lives; but there are many small freeholds in the parish. Ashburton was made one of the stannary towns in 1328, and a stannary court is sometimes held here, for settling mining disputes, &c. It is an ancient borough by prescription, and first sent two members to parliament in the 26th of Edward L, and again in the 8th of Henry IV., after which it ceased to do so till 1640. From the latter year it regularly sent two members till 1832, when it was placed by the Reform Act among the boroughs entitled only to send one representative to parliament. The number of voters is now about 200, Lieut.-Col. Thomas Matheson is the present representative in parliament. The right of election was formerly vested in the freeholders and the holders and occupiers of burgage tenements. The portreeve is the returning officer, and is elected annually at the court leet and baron, together with a bailiff and other officers. In the reign of Edward II., Bishop Stapledon obtained a charter for a market and a fair here; and a charter for two other fairs was obtained by John Quicke, Esq., one of the borough members, about 1712. The market for corn and provisions is held on Saturday; and here are now four fairs for cattle, &c., held on the first Thursdays in March and June, and on the 10th of August and 11th of November. provided these dates fall on Tuesday or Thursday, and if not, on the Tuesday or Thursday after. The March fair has a large supply of cattle, and the November fair is a great sheep mart. The old market-house, which stood in the middle of North street, has recently been taken down, and a handsome new Market House and large Public Room were built on the opposite side of the street, in 1849-'50, at the cost, of about £3000, in the Italian style. The Public Room, for assemblies, concerts, public meetings, &c., is over the market; and the latter has ranges of stalls for flesh, fish, &c., and is supplied with excellent spring water. A turret, containing a bell and public clock, rises at the southern angle of the building. Gas Works were erected in 1840, at the cost of £1500, raised in £5 shares. The promenade called Clinton Terrace was made a few years ago, by Lord Clinton; and there are many pleasant walks in the neighbourhood. John Dunning, Esq., a native of this town, having distinguished himself by great professional abilities, was made Solicitor- General in 1707, and created Baron Ashburton in 1782. He was born in 1731, and died in 1783, when he was succeeded by his son, Richard Dunning, who died without issue, in 1823, when the title became extinct; but it was revived in 1835, when that distinguished statesman, Alexander Baring, was created Lord Ashburton. The late Wm. Gifford, Esq., was born here in 1755, of poor parents, and having displayed considerable poetical and mathematical talent, he was taken from his apprenticeship as a shoemaker, by some friends, and sent to the Grammar School. He afterwards rose to eminence and wealth, and was editor of the Quarterly Review. He published several valuable works and translations, and died in 1826, leaving £2000 stock for the foundation of two scholarships at Exeter College, Oxford, for youths from Ashburton Grammar School. Another worthy native of this town was Dr. John Ireland, late Dean of Westminster, who died in 1842, and left £2000 to the Grammar School, and £1000 three per cent. consols, in trust for the yearly payment of £5 each, to six reduced housekeepers of this parish, attending the church, and of the age of 60 years or upwards. According to his will, the dean's house remains furnished, though it has been unoccupied since his decease. Ashburton was taken by General Fairfax, in his march westward, in 1640. (See page 57.) The general had his headquarters here on the 10th of January, and on his departure he left a regiment of soldiers in possession of the town. He lodged at the Mermaid Inn, now a house and shop, retaining much of its ancient appearance, The residence, of B. Parham, Esq., in West street, has been held by his family and the Dolbeares more than 300 years, and is said to have been it a private of the abbots of Buckfastleigh. It contains an ancient oratory, with a richly carved oak wainscoting and canopy.

The PARISH CHURCH (St. Andrew,) is a spacious cruciform structure with a tower rising from the centre to the height of 90 feet, and crowned by pinnacles at the corners, and by a semi-octagonal turret on its southern face. It is a fine specimen of the early perpendicular style, but has undergone many alteration and repairs. About 80 years ago, when the nave was re-seated, a rage seems to have prevailed for selling or destroying every valuable vestige of antiquity. The handsome stone pulpit, which was elaborately carved, and the brass eagle, were sold to the neighbouring parish of Bigbury, and the present unsightly pulpit and reading desk were substituted for them. The beautiful screen which separated the nave and chance], and the antique screens belonging to the stalls in the south transept, were broken up at the same time, and part sold for a small sum, and the remainder used as fire wood. The chancel underwent a complete restoration in 1840, when several ancient earthen vases were discovered in the walls, and a handsome new east window, enriched with stained glass, was inserted. Previous to that year the church was new roofed. Several of the windows are modern insertions, and on taking down part of the ceiling in the south aisle in 1849, various emblamatical paintings were discovered on the old panneled ceiling, which were placed there when the church was built in the 14th century. In this aisle is a mural tablet in memory of the first Lord Ashburton, with an inscription written by Dr. Johnson. The north porch remains, but that on the south side was removed in the early part of last century. The vicarage, valued in K.B. £38. 8s. 11½d., and in 1831 at £639, with the perpetual curacies of Bickington and Buckland-in-the-Moor annexed to it, is in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, who are also appropriators of the great tithes, now leased to Mrs. Kitson. The Rev. Wm. Marsh, M.A., is the incumbent, and has a good residence and 72A. 1R. 18P. of glebe. The tithes were commuted in 1840, the rectorial for £390 and the vicarial for £538. Near the church stood the ancient Chapel of St. Lawrence, of which the ancient tower and spire are still standing, but the body was rebuilt about a century ago, and is now the Grammar school, as afterwards noticed. This chapel was built in 1450, when Bishop Lacy granted 40 days' indulgence to all who contributed to its foundation. It was endowed with £6. 13s. 4d. per annum for a chantry priest and schoolmaster. The Church Lands, &c., most of which are supposed to have formed the endowment of this chapel, have been vested since the Reformation for the use of the church. They comprise about 36A. of land and 11 houses, let in 1821 for only £86. 7s. 11d. per annum, in consideration of large fines paid by the lessees. Some years ago, this estate was saddled with a mortgage debt of £1480, the interest of which absorbed most of the income. About £3 per annum out of the rents ought to be distributed among the poor, in consideration of property derived from the gifts of Robt. Hayman, Robt. Page, and Wm. Feymouth, in the reign of Elizabeth.

The Wesleyans, Baptists, and Independents, have chapels in the town. The Independent Chapel was built in 1737, but was enlarged some years ago, and a school-room has recently been added to it. It will seat about 800 hearers, and has a small endowment. The present Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1835 at the cost of about £1500, and has room for 600 hearers. Sunday Schools are attached to the church and chapels. An Infant School is supported chiefly by the vicar, and the parish has two endowed schools, and various charities for the poor. Here is also a Subscription Library, containing about 2000 volumes.

The GRAMMAR SCHOOL is kept in St. Lawrence's chapel, which was given for its use, and as a place for public meetings and the holding of the manor courts, in the 36th of Elizabeth. The ancient tower and spire remain, but the body was rebuilt about a century ago. In the 2nd of Charles I., £418, derived from the bequest of a Mr. Wearing, was laid out in the purchase of 16A. 19P. of land at North Huish and Loddiswell, and 22A. 3R. 7P. at Aveton Gifford, for the support of the schoolmaster. These lands are now let for about £15 per annum. He has also the rent of 13A. 3P. at Staverton, let for £15, and purchased with £200, left by Edward Gould in 1735. A yearly rent-charge of £4, left to the schoolmaster by Lawrence Blundell in 1637, is paid out of a house, formerly the Mermaid Inn; and he has yearly 20s. from the churchwardens and 30s. from the overseers, as the gifts of a Mr Warren and another donor. Of the £2000, left by Dr. Ireland, in 1842, £1000 was laid out in purchasing a house for the master; £500 was lost by the failure of the Totnes Bank, and the master has the interest of the other £500. In consideration of these emoluments, the master teaches Latin and Greek to all the children of the parish who apply for such instruction. The above-named Lawrence Blundell also left two yearly rent-charges of £6 and £4, to be paid towards the support of two boys at this school preparing for either of the Universities, and until they should attain the degree of Master of Arts. The donor charged these annuities, (and 20s. a year for five poor widows,) on land belonging to Sir L.V. Palk, Bart. Dr. Ireland's gift and Wm. Gifford's foundation of two scholarships are already noticed at page 463.

FREE SCHOOL. - In 1754,-£500, given by Lord Middleton, and £140, by the Hon. John Harris (two representatives of the borough,) were laid out in the purchase of an estate for the support of a schoolmaster or schoolmasters for instructing the children of this parish in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The estate purchased is called Bourne Farm, and comprises 81A. 17P., let for about, £110 per annum. Out of the rent, about £70 per annum is paid to the master and mistress for teaching about 50 free scholars on Dr. Bell's system. The rest of the clear income is expended in buying books, &c., for the children. The school was rebuilt about 11 years ago, at the cost of £640, and is commonly called Bourne School. A yearly rent-charge of £6, left by Mary Dunning in 1805, out of three fields at Halsworthy Hills, in Staverton, is paid to the schoolmistress for teaching ten poor girls.

BENEFACTIONS TO THE POOR. - In 1676, Robt. Phipps left £80 to be laid out in land, and the yearly rents to be distributed in linen among the aged poor parishioners. This money was laid out in the purchase of 3A. 1R. 20P. of land, now let for £12. An old almshouse, left to the poor by Thos. Caunter in the 34th of Elizabeth, fell down in 1801, and the site was let in 1807 for 99 years, at the annual rent of £2. A legacy of £100, left by Edward Bovey in 1709, was laid out in the purchase of 2A. 1R, 26P. of land, now let for about £10 a year, which is distributed among the poor not receiving parochial relief. For weekly distributions of bread, the poor have £5. 4s. per annum, left by Thos. Prideaux and Sir John Acland, in the 7th and 13th. of James I. For distribution in clothing, they have two annuities of 20s., left by Geo. Knowling and John Bounde in 1625 and 1642. An annuity of £8 for schooling poor children, was left by John Ford in 1667, out of the profits of the market for wool and yarn, which was held here every Tuesday till 1800, when it was discontinued. In 1702, Wm. Slawell left a yearly rent-charge of £10, out of the town mills, for distribution in linen among the poor. To provide a blue coat for a poor man yearly, Edward Gould left an annuity of 20s. out of the Bottom Park. For a weekly distribution of bread among the poor parishioners, John Bickham left £370, which was laid out in 1783 in the purchase of Park Field (7A.,) now let for about £20 a year. In 1778, Richard Harris left a yearly rent-charge of £11. 7s. 6d. to this parish out of land at Woodland, to be applied as follows:-£10 for the use of 50 poor people; 21s. for the vicar; 2s. 6d . for the cleric; and 4s. for the two sextons. The dividends of £200 navy five per cent. stock, purchased with the gifts of Eleanor and Sally Adams, in 1800, are distributed in linen cloth among the poor. Five poor widows have the interest of £28. 16s., left by Alicia Donkin in 1812, secured on the Newton and Ashburton turnpike.

Brian Randell, 30 Jan 1999