A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcribed by Alan Stanier


DEVONSHIRE, a maritime county, bounded on the north by the Bristol channel, on the east by the counties of Somerset and Dorset, on the south by the English channel, and on the west by Cornwall, extending from 50° 12' to 51° 17' (N. Lat.), and from about 3° to 4½° (W. Lon.): it is about two hundred and eighty miles in circumference, of which one hundred and thirty miles embrace a line of sea coast; including, according to the ordnance survey, one million five hundred and nineteen thousand three hundred and sixty acres, or two thousand three hundred and seventy-four square miles. The population, in 1821, amounted to 439,040. This portion of the island was called by the Cornish Britons Dunan, (apparently from the inequality of its surface), of which name the ****, and Damnonium of the geographer Ptolemy, seem to be only the Greek and Latin modifications. The Welch called it Deuffneynt, which, according to Camden, signifies deep vallies, a denomination which, like the former, is descriptive of the surface of the county. A softening of this last word, with the addition of the word scyre, signifying a share or portion, appears to have produced the Anglo-Saxon Devenascyre, Devnascyre, and Devenschire, in modern English Devonscyre.

This territory was probably inhabited at a very remote period, and its inhabitants, the Cimbri, are supposed to have had commercial transactions with the Phœnicians, the Greeks, and other foreign nations. The settlement of a portion of the Belgic invaders of Britain, in the south-eastern parts of Devon, compelled some of the aboriginal inhabitants to emigrate to Ireland, and confined the remainder within the north-western part of their ancient territory. Devonshire under the Romans formed an important part of Britannia Prima, and in the early period of the Saxon era it became part of the kingdom of the West Saxons, or Wessex. The numerous remains of fortresses indicate that it was, at a very remote period, the scene of frequent warfare; and it is probable that many of them were constructed by the aboriginal Britons, as means of defence against the Belgæ and other invaders: but the earliest military transaction authentically recorded, is the battle at Beamdune, now Bampton, in which Cynegils, King of the West Saxons, vanquished the Britons with great slaughter, about the year 614. According to Matthew of Westminster, Brien, the nephew of Cadwallo, the last British king, was besieged in Exeter, by Penda, King of Mercia, in 633; but Cadwallo himself having collected an army, repaired to the assistance of his nephew, and defeated the Saxon king. The Danes, at the commencement of their ravages in the south of England, wintered in Exeter in 876 and 877, and in the latter year were besieged there by King Alfred, who compelled them to enter into a truce. In the ensuing year, the Danish chief, Hubba, having landed on the northern coast, was defeated, with the loss of his famous standard of the raven. In 894, the Danes again landed in Devonshire, and besieged Exeter, but retreated to their ships on the approach of Alfred's army. About the year 926, Athelstan is supposed to have vanquished Howell, King of Cornwall, near Exeter, and to have expelled the Britons (who then inhabited that town in common with the Saxons) beyond the river Tamar. William of Malmesbury relates, that the Danes laid waste Devonshire, and burnt Exeter, in the reign of Ethelred, in which reign, in the year 997, they sailed up the Tamar, and ravaged the country as far as Lidford. In 1001, having landed at Exmouth, they marched to Exeter, and, after an ineffectual attack upon that city, plundered the surrounding country, and returned with great spoil to their ships. In 1003, having again landed at Exmouth, they gained possession of Exeter, and nearly destroyed it.

In 1067, Exeter held out against William the Conqueror, but was surrendered to that king in person; and in the next year, the sons of Harold having landed in Somersetshire, made great ravages in the counties of Devon and Cornwall. In 1069, the disaffected Saxons having taken up arms in Devonshire, attempted to regain possession of Exeter, but the citizens refused to admit them, and the king sent some forces by which the insurgents were defeated with great slaughter. On the accession of William Rufus, Exeter was laid waste by Robert Fitz-Baldwin, who had taken up arms in behalf of Robert, Duke of Normandy; and soon after that of Stephen, the extensive manors of Baldwin de Rivers, Earl of Devon, were devastated, on account of his adherence to the Empress Matilda. The interval between this period and the middle of the fifteenth century is devoid of historical events, with the exception of some attacks made by the French upon the maritime towns, in which Teignmouth, Plymouth, and others, were plundered and burnt. During the intestine wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, Devonshire was much divided: although no battle is recorded to have been fought within its limits, bloodshed sometimes occurred between the partizans of the two houses; and in 1472, the Lancastrian forces from Cornwall and Devon, under Sir John Arundell and Sir Hugh Courtenay, mustered at Exeter, whence they marched to the field of Tewkesbury. In 1497, the Cornish rebels appeared before Exeter, but were repulsed by the citizens, and marched forward into Somersetshire. In the same year Exeter was besieged by Perkin Warbeck, when the siege was raised by Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, attended by several Devonshire knights, with the posse comitatus; upon which Warbeck and his followers proceeded towards Taunton. In 1549, some serious commotions took place in the county, occasioned by the change of religion, which broke out at Sampford-Courtenay on Whit-Monday, the day after the act for reforming the church service had been carried into execution. The disturbance was at first confined to some riotous proceedings among the lower orders, but assumed, by degrces, a more serious aspect; and the disaffected, amongst whom were several of the gentry, assembled all over this county and that of Cornwall. On the 2nd of July they laid siege to Exeter, having previously transmitted to the king certain articles, to which they demanded his assent. The council, on the 8th of July, drew up an answer, refusing to comply with their demands, but discussing the alleged grievances at considerable length, an exhorting them to return to their allegiance; this they sent to the rebels, but it failed to produce the desired effect. Lord Russell was then ordered down to suppress the rebellion: he marched into Devonshire with a considerable force, by way of Honiton, and after defeating the insurgents in several engagements, compelled them to raise the siege of Exeter, which had been reduced to the greatest distress, entering that city on the 6th of August, to the great joy of the inhabitants: most of the ringleaders were eventually taken and executed.

At the commencement of the protracted contest between Charles I. and the parliament, the whole of Devonshire was under the control of the committees; and most of the inhabitants, especially in the northern part of the county, were attached to the parliament. Plymouth was fortified against the king by the townsmen; Exeter was garrisoned by the parliament, in October, 1642; and about the beginning of 1643, Sir George Chudleigh, an active parliamentarian officer, was stationed at Tavistock with some troops of cavalry raised in the county. From this period until the final decline of the royal cause, the course of events was powerfully influenced by the operations of the royalist forces raised in Cornwall, and commonly called the Cornish army. After the defeat of the parliamentary troops at Bradock down, near Liskeard, on the 19th of January, 1643, the Cornish forces, having captured Saltash, quartered at Tavistock; whence Sir John Berkeley made incursions into various parts of the county, dispersing the parliamentarians in all directions. In February, Sir Nicholas Slanning being intrenched at Modbury with two thousand men, was defeated by the Devonshire club-men. About this period a treaty of pacification for the counties of Devon and Cornwall was set on foot, and a cessation of hostilities agreed on; but the negociations were soon broken off. After the battle of Stratton, in May of the same year, the king's forces, under Sir Ralph Hopton, marched into Devonshire, established some small garrisons near Exeter, as a check upon that city, and advanced to Tiverton. Later in the summer, as Lord Clarendon informs us, the king had no force in this county, except a small garrison at Columbjohn, the seat of Sir John Acland. Sir John Berkeley was then sent into Devonshire with a regiment of horse, to take the command of the royalist troops, to recruit their numbers, and adopt measures for blockading Excter, which was in consequence closely invested. About the same time, the parliament, which had a strong fort at Appledore, garrisoned Barnstaple and Bideford: its power being thus strengthened in the north of the county, Colonel John Digby was sent thither by the king, with a regiment of horse, and soon procured reinforcements from Cornwall: having defeated a considerable detachment from these garrisons, Appledore fort, Barnstaple, and Bideford, suceessively surrendered to him in the beginning of September. Exeter was surrendered to Prince Maurice on the 4th of the same month, and Dartmouth on the 4th of October. Plymouth was then the only important post in the county that remained in the possession of the parliament, and the siege, or blockade, of it was prosecuted for many months, with varied success. In July, 1644, the Earl of Essex arrived with his army, and fixed his quarters at Tiverton, upon which Barnstaple was once more secured for the parliament: and about the end of the same month the earl marched into Cornwall, the king's forces at the same time retiring from before Plymouth. The king having determined to follow Essex, entered the county by way of Honiton, on the 25th of July, came to Exeter on the 26th, and to Crediton on the 27th; on the 30th he was with his army at Oakhampton, and on the 31st at Lifton, whence he passed into Cornwall by way of Polston bridge. On his return, the king was at Tavistock with his army on the 8th of September; he then invested and summoned Plymouth, but the garrison refusing to surrender, the blockade was renewed. On the 14th he returned with his army to Tavistock; on the 16th he marched thence to Oakhampton; and on the 17th they arrived at Exter, and the army was quartered about Bradninch, Crediton, &c.: on the 23rd they halted at Honiton on their route eastward. In October, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple surrendered to the royal forces. Whitelocke relates that in 1645 the club-men of Devon declared for the parliament. From this period the royal party sustained a series of reverses; nor, observes Lord Clarendon is it to be wondered at that these disasters should have been hastened by the cruelties and oppressions of Sir Richard Grenville, the licentious conduct of Lord Goring, and the dissensions among all the king's generals. In the midst of these dissensions, Sir Thomas Fairfax, commander in chief of the parliament's army, entered Devonshire, and pursued his victorious career till he had reduced every town and fortress in the county. Having reached Honiton on the 14th of October, he stormed the castle and church of Tiverton on the 19th; on the 26th of December he held a rendezvous of his army at Cadbury fort, and on the 29th Ashburton surrendered to the parliament. Fairfax was there with his army on the 10th of January, 1646, about which time the blockade of Plymouth was finally abandoned. Dartmouth was stormed and taken by Fairfax on the 18th, assisted by the co-operation of the fleet under Admiral Batten. Fairfax then marched into the northern part of the county. Having held a rendezvous of his army at Ashreigny, on the morning of the 16th of February, he attacked Lord Hopton the same night in his quarters at Torrington, and totally defeated his army: a thanks-giving was appointed for this victory, which appears to have been the death-blow to the power of the royalists in the west. Exmouth fort was surrendered on the 15th of March. Exeter, which had been blockaded from the 9th of February, was surrendered upon articles by its governor, Sir John Berkeley, on the 9th of April; and on the 11th Barnstaple surrendered to Fairfax in person, on nearly the same terms as Exeter; which city he entered with his victorious army on the 14th, and stayed there four days. The last garrison in the county that held out for the king was Charles-fort, at Salcombe Regis, which was defended by Sir Edmund Fortescue until the beginning of June, when it was surrendered on honourable terms. In 1688, this county became memorable as having witnessed the first scene of the Revolution. The Prince of Orange landed at Torbay on the 5th of November, made a public entry into Exeter on the 8th, and remained there until the 21st, on which day he quitted it, accompanied by several gentlemen of Somerset and Devon, and proceeded to Axminster, where he remained four days. In 1690, Teignmouth was burned by the French, and in 1719, in consequence of their great preparations for the invasion of England, several regiments of horse and foot were sent into Devonshire, and there was an encampment on Clist heath. In 1779, the combined fleets having appeared off Plymouth, caused great alarm, especially on account of the dock-yard, and the numerous prisoners of war then collected at that port; the prisoners were removed to the county bridewell at Exeter. During the expectation of a French invasion, in 1778, several regiments of volunteers were raised in the county; and in the following year, ordnance was brought from Plymouth for the defence of Exeter, and a camp was formed on Woodbury down. These preparations were repeated in 1803.

This county is more uniformly hilly than any other of the same or nearly the same extent in England, the proportion of level ground in it being extremely small. The Forest of Dartmoor is the highest ground in Devonshire, its mean height being estimated at one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two feet, and its extreme height at two thousand and ninety: the highest point of Exmoor, on the border of Somersetshire, is one thousand eight hundred and ninety feet; and Sholsbury Castle, in the parish of High Bray, is one thousand five hundred feet high. The general character of a great proportion of the county is a continued succession of hills of the same height. This circumstance, and the lofty banks and hedges by which most of the high roads are shut in, render them tedious and unpleasant to the traveller. Nevertheless, the county possesses many remarkably fine distant views, particularly near the coast, and in many parts the scenery is beautifully picturesque, especially on the banks of some of the rivers. The soil is extremely various, but may in general be characterized according to the stratified substances which it covers, as aganitical, slaty, calcareous, arenaceous, argillaceous, gravelly, and loamy. The poorest of all these is the soil that covers the granite of Dartmoor, which has also the disadvantages of a cold wet climate; that which lies on the slate district possesses greater or less degrees of fertility, and is fit for all the purposes of agriculture; very extensive tracts of it, however, are of a thin staple; others are in contact with a cold bed of clay, and some are so elevated as to have a very low degree of temperature. In general, the more broken the surface is, the less it partakes of these defects, the broadest swells being the most barren. The portions of this soil most distinguished for their fertility, appear to owe it to their contiguity to lime-stone or green-stone rocks, which occur frequently in the slate district, more especially in the South Hams. The red colour which characterizes the best soils, both in the South Hams and in the eastern division of the county, and which seems to be so closely connected with the principle of fertility, proceeds from an abundant mixture of iron in a highly oxydised state. This soil prevails in that part of the South Hams which is bounded by the rivers Dart and Erme: the hills and slopes are excellent corn and sheep lands; the valleys are remarkably rich, and consist chiefly of orchards and irrigated meadows; the former being noted for cider, the latter producing the finest hay, and the earliest grass. The soil of that part of the South Hams which lies between the river Dart and Torbay, is still more red and fertile, generally on a sub-stratum of marble-rock, and produces excellent pasturage for cattle. The other part of the South Hams, situated north-west of the river Erme, is nearly similar to those already described. There is also an abundance of rich meadow land in the vales of the Exe and the Otter. A considerable part of the county north of Hatherleigh and Holsworthy, and extending eastward to Chulmleigh, Bradninch, &c., is principally on clay. A large district, extending from Dartmoor, westward, to the Tamar, north ward, to Hatherleigh and Holsworthy, and eastward, towards Newton-Bushell, is sandy or gravelly. North-east of the Taw the soil is light, on a sub-stratum of grey wacke, or, as it is called in Devonshire, dunstone. Towards Hartland Point there is much clay and moorland. The soil about Black-down and Holden is flinty. The rich red soil, which is of great depth, is sometimes used as a manure for the poorer lands. The principal manures are sea-sand, brought in great quantities from Bude, on the northern coast of Cornwall (for the conveyance of which a canal has been constructed), and lime. It has been estimated that the waste lands in the county amount to three hundred and twenty thousand acres, being a fifth of the whole surface. Of these, Dartmoor is computed to contain fifty-three thousand six hundred and forty-four, exclusively of the numerous and extensive commons which adjoin it. There are also very extensive commons adjoining Exmoor, as also near Bridestowe, besides Roborough-down, Black-down near Plymouth, Black-down on the borders of Somersetshire, Haldon, &c. Of the land in cultivation, somewhat the greater portion is pasture land; in the South Hams, however, the arable predominates, in the proportion of at least three to one; and in the northern parts of Devon the grazing land prevails in about the same proportion.

An abundance of corn grows in the neighbourhood of Hartland, Bideford, and Ilfracombe, and a considerable quantity of it is exported. The principal corn markets are those of Exeter, Tavistock, Totness, Barnstaple, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. A large quantity of potatoes is produced in the South Hams: in 1820, ninety thousand four hundred and ninety-eight bushels were shipped from Dartmouth. Plymouth and its populous neighbourhood are entirely supplied from the tract south of Dartmoor. The cultivation of apples for the making of cider was first an object of general care about the commencement of the seventeenth century. A great quantity of cider is now made, in a productive year, for exportation, besides the vast quantity made for home consumption. In the year 1820, eleven thousand two hundred and sixty-five Devonshire hogsheads (each of sixty-three gallons) were sent from the ports of Exeter and Dartmouth (the former including Teignmouth, and the latter Salcombe), besides what was shipped by the growers, and therefore not liable to duty. There are orchards in almost every part of the county; but the cider of the South Hams is preferred; and it is there only, and in the neighbourhood of Exeter, that it is made for exportation: it is sent to London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland, Leith, Swansea, Liverpool, and from that place by the canals into Yorkshire. A considerable quantity of butter is sent from the neighbourhood of Honiton, Axminster, &c. to London. The number of cattle bred in the county is considerable: the breed most esteemed is the North Devon, which is most prevalent in that district, though in general request throughout the county, on account of its great superiority for the purposes of grazing or draught. The Devonshire cattle are for the most part sent in droves from various parts of the county, to the graziers in Somersetshire, Essex, &c., who fatten them for the London market. The native breeds of sheep are the Exmoor, the Dartmoor, and the Old Devonshire dim-faced nott sheep; the two former are the most prevalent, but the latter has been much improved by a cross with the New Leicester: the Dorsetshire breed prevails in that part of Devonshire which borders upon that county. The wool is the chief object of attention with the owners of the forest or moorland flocks, which are large and numerous. It is a remarkable circumstance, that the rot has never yet been known to have originated with sheep constantly depasturing upon either of the forests of Dartmoor or Exmoor. A small breed of horses, between the pack-horse and the larger cart-horse, is much in use in different parts of the county; but in the less hilly portions, where one and two horse carts are more commonly in use, a larger breed is preferred. In the southern and western parts of the county mules and asses are continually employed in carrying packs of sand from the sea-side to the distance of several miles inland. The native Devonshire hog grows to a large size, and is long in all its dimensions, but has been much improved by a cross with the Leicester breed, and a further cross with the Chinese, which have considerably reduced its size, and rendered it much more profitable.

Geologically considered, this county may be resolved into four grand divisions; the district of granite, and primitive argillaceous slate; that of transition slate, or grey wacke; that of red sand-stone; and that of green sand. The granite strata compose the greater part of the elevated tract in the south-western part of the county, known by the name of Dartmoor, which is closely surrounded on all sides by a district of argillaceous slate: the transition slate occupies the northern part of the county, including Exmoor; the red sandstone occupies the least elevated portions of the county, and skirts the base of the last-mentioned district, extending north-eastward into Somersetshire, and westward as far as Hatherleigh: the green sand formation constitutes the largest portion of the hills in the southeastern part of the county, and, being unfavourable to agriculture, its surface is generally marked by extensive tracts of common, the intermediate valleys being at the same time extremely fertile, as they are composed principally of the red marl. It appears, from Strabo, Herodotus, &c., that the Phœnicians, and afterwards successively the Greeks and the Romans, traded for tin with the inhabitants of south-western Britain, and it is believed to have continued to be an article of commerce even in the middle ages. So early as the reign of Richard I., it constituted one of the principal sources of the revenue of the earldom of Cornwall; and in 1250, Henry III. granted a charter of protection to the tinners of Devon. There have been old tin mines in most of the parishes bordering on Dartmoor, and stream-works on most of the rivers in its neighbourhood. The average quantity of tin raised annually within the county, for six years ending at Michaelmas, 1820, was one thousand one hundred and seventy-one blocks, weighing 586 cwt. 9lb., and yielding a duty of £45. 17. 9. The tin was formerly smelted and coined in the county, but, on account of the great diminution in the produce of the mines, it is now taken to Cornwall to be smelted. Some copper mines were in operation early in the last century, but it was not till the commencement of the present that they were worked to much extent: the augmented price of the metal then stimulated the miners to greater exertions, and, from about the year 1800, the quantity of ore dug greatly increased. The average annual quantity of fine copper obtained from the Devonshire mines, which lie chiefly within a few miles of the town of Tavistock, for ten successive years, ending in 1820, was about four hundred tons: four hundred and sixty-three tons were raised in that year, which brought about £39,590.

The rivers are very numerous; the principal are, the Axe, the Otter, the Exe, the Teign, the Dart, the Aven, the Erme, the Yealm, the Plym, the Tamar, the Tavy, the Torridge, and the Taw. The Exe from Topsham to Exmouth is on an average ... broad, and is navigable for large vessels; from the former place barges reach Exeter by means of a canal. The Dart is navigable up to Totness. The Yealme is navigable for sloops and small briggs up to Kitley quay, and for barges and small boats half a mile higher. The Plym is navigable for vessels of war up to Catwater, and for ships of about fifty tons up to Crabtree. The Torridge is navigable for vessels of large burden up to Bideford, and for boats up to Wear-Gifford. The Taw is not usually navigated up to Barnstaple by vessels of ... though vessels of one hundred and forty tons sometimes come up to that port: for boats and barges it is navigable to New-bridge. The Tamar is navigable for vessels of one hundred and thirty tons up to New Quay, about twenty-four miles above Plymouth. The Stover, or Teingrace canal, from Bovey-Tracey to the river Teign, at Newton-Abbots, was completed about 1794, at the sole expense of James Templer, Esq. A canal was completed in 1817, from Morwellham quay to Tavistock, for the importation of coal, lime, &c., and the conveyance of ore from the mines of Morwellham down, &c., with a branch two miles long to the slate quarries at Mill-hill; on the line of this canal is a tunnel through the hills, nearly two miles long; goods are conveyed from the Tamar to this canal, being raised to the height of two hundred and forty feet by an inclined plane. In 1819, an act passed for making a canal from Bude, in Cornwall, to Thornbury, &c., in Devon. A short canal extends from the sea locks, about a mile south of Topsham, to Exeter.

In most parts of the cider district the custom still prevails of what was anciently called wassailing the apple-trees, the ceremony being performed, in some places, on Christmas-eve, in others on Twelfth-day eve, by drinking a health to one of the apple-trees in cider, with wishes for its fruitful bearing. The yule, or Christmas log, is still burned on Christmas-eve, in some parts of the county; in other parts they burn a large fagot of green ash. Wrestling is a favourite sport in the north of Devon, in the neighbourhood of Plymouth, and on the borders of Cornwall. Red deer, feræ naturæ, the remaining stock of those which inhabited the royal forest of Exmoor, still abound sufficiently in the Devonshire woods, south of the forest, to yield sport to the neighbouring nobility and gentry, and a stag hunt has been for many years kept up in the vicinity. Devonshire gives the title of duke to the family of Cavendish.