Bovey Tracey


R.N. Worth. A History of Devonshire: With sketches of its leading worthies.
London: Elliot Stock (1893) pp. 318-319.

Prepared by Michael Steer

Devonshire's famed historian W. G. Hoskins, writing in 1954, called Worth's history, "a readable and useful one-volume account, but not what we should call a history today". Its author, however, has claimed that "more than a sketch of the great history of Devon and of its famous muster roll of worthies, this work cannot pretend to be" (p. ix). The book contains 37 chapters and their order is mostly topographical, beginning with Exeter, then following a circuit through East, North, West and South Devon, the survey ending in "the great central waste of Dartmoor". Chapter 34 presents historical information on Chudleigh and Bovey Tracey.

Bovey Tracey has a history, which could it be fully worked out, would in all probability throw considerable light upon early village life in the county. The 'Domesday' entry is notable; for there can be no doubt that this is the 'Bovi' held by Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, in succession to Edric, with its 23 serfs, villains and bordars, its mill and its added lands of 15 thanes, who retained between them two hides and half a virgate, paying therefore four pounds and thirty pence. The manor came to the Tracys, whence its distinctive name, as part of the barony of Barnstaple; and Henry Tracy obtained grant of market and fair in 1259. This was one of the Devonshire manors held by Margaret of Richmond, and has been in the Courtenays since 1747.
Bovey Heathfield is remarkable, geologically and economically, for its deposits of clay and lignite, or wood-coal. These are of Lower Miocene age, and fill the bed of an ancient lake. The association of clay and coal led to the establishment in 1772 of a pottery at Indiho (the house is traditionally said to be of monastic origin), which has been continued to the present time, though the lignite is no longer used for firing. Bovey had a 'mayor', and a customary mayor's show, though this officer was really the portreeve. At each annual manor court a bailiff and portreeve were elected, and the bailiff of one year was the portreeve of the next. The set day for the 'mayor's riding' was the Monday after the 3rd of May, called 'Roodmass Day;' and to properly discharge the duties of his office, the porteeve had the profits of a field called 'Portreeves Park'. One of the few incidents of note connected with Cromwell's visit in 1646 with Fairfax to the West of England, occurred at Bovey Tracey. He had marched from Tiverton through Crediton, and by the Teign valley through Chudleigh, and suddenly fell upon one of Lord Wentworth's brigades at Bovey. The Royalists were all unaware of danger, and the officers were playing cards to pass the time, instead of keeping a sharp look-out; when suddenly, without warning, just as night had fallen in, Cromwell's troopers came upon the scene. The officers were credited with great presence of mind. Defence was out of the question; so they opened the windows, threw out the stakes for which they were playing among the Roundheads, and during the scramble for the silver, escaped by the back-door. Not so their men, some of whom were captured, beside 400 horse and several colours. There was an end, thenceforward, of all hope of successful resistance in the field.