[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]


"DEVONSHIRE, a maritime county in the S.W. of England, bounded on the N. and N.W. by the Bristol Channel, on the N.E. by Somersetshire, on the E. by Dorsetshire, on the S.E. and S. by the English Channel, and on the W. by Cornwall, from which county it is separated for nearly the whole distance by the river Tamar. In form it is a very irregular quadrangle, containing 1,657,180 acres. The length from beyond Axminster to Mount Edgecumbe is 65 miles, the greatest breadth 69 miles. It lies between 50° 12' and 51° 15' N. lat., and 2° 54' and 4° 33' W. long.

The name by which the county was called by the ancient Cornish inhabitants was Dunan, the Welsh form being Deuffneynt, or "deep valley." This was softened by the Romans into Damnonia, and the county was included in Britannia Prima. W. of the river Parret there was a tribe of Cimbri. The Romans founded several stations in the county: among them Isca Damnoniorum, at Exeter, and Moridunum, near Honiton. The British population resisted for a long time the Saxon invaders. Many battles were fought, but the first of which we have any clear account is the battle of Bampton, where Cynegils, King of Wessex, defeated the Britons in 614. In 633 Penda, King of Mercia, made an incursion into the S.W. parts of the island, during which he besieged Exeter. The entire county was brought under Saxon rule by Athelstan in 926, who defeated Howell, King of Cornwall, and drove the Britons beyond the river Tamar.

The Danes made many incursions on the southern coast, and burnt Tavistock Abbey. King Alfred spent some time in attempting to expel them, and defeated them several times, particularly at Brunnanburh, near Axminster. After William the Conqueror had obtained the English throne, he proceeded in person into the West of England to compel submission, and Exeter underwent a regular siege before it surrendered to his rule. During the dynasty of the Plantagenets, Devonshire and the neighbouring counties were much exposed to the devastations of the Irish on the N. coast, and of the French on the S.

No events of importance are connected with this county till the insurrections of Lord Audley and Perkin Warbeck, both of which commenced in Cornwall, and in both cases Exeter was besieged ineffectually by the insurgents. At the time of the Reformation, in 1549, Cornwall and Devon were in a very disturbed state, and Lord Russell, who was commissioned to put down the revolt, was unable to do so without resorting to arms, and several skirmishes took place in this county. During the parliamentary wars the inhabitants were mostly attached to the popular cause, and both Plymouth and Exeter were held by parliamentary generals. The latter town was forced to surrender to the royalist army under Sir John Berkeley and Prince Maurice. The king passed through Devon in pursuit of the Earl of Essex, who was obliged to capitulate, and on his return Charles left Sir Richard Grenville to carry on the siege of Plymouth; Sir Thomas Fairfax coming to its relief in about nine months, succeeded in suppressing all attempts to aid the royalist party.: On November 5th, 1688, William III. landed at Torbay, and made a public entry into Exeter, where he remained some, time awaiting reinforcements.

The southern coast of the county has always been liable to attack from invading armies. The Spanish Armada was first seen from the hills in the neighbourhood of Plymouth, and the fleet which destroyed it was stationed in that port. In 1690 Teignmouth was burnt by a body of French troops, and in 1719 and 1779 the county was threatened by the French and Spanish fleets, and a camp was formed at Clist Heath, near Exeter. Another encampment was formed in 1798, on the site of some old fortifications, on Woodbury Down, on the other side of Exeter.

In the 8th year of the present reign, the boundaries of the county were slightly altered by the addition of the townships of Stockland and Bridgerule, in return for which Thorncome, Beerhall, and Vaultershowe were taken from Devonshire. Many men famous in English history have been born and bred in Devonshire-among whom may be mentioned Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Duke of Marlborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the poet Gay.

The S.W. corner of the county contains a table-land, known as Dartmoor, consisting chiefly of open uncultivated common, and containing many lofty granite tors, piled in horizontal strata on the summits of the moorlands. The highest point of this table-land is Yeo Tor, which is situated about 3 miles S. of Oakhampton, and attains an elevation of 2,050 feet above the sea-level. There are several other hills which exceed 1,000 feet, as Amicombe Hill, Newlake Hill, Cawsand Beacon, Rippon Tor, Butterton Hill, and the source of the river Erme. The moor is almost entirely composed of peat, and is made use of as a pasture ground for a few ponies and sheep. Across this desolate waste several new roads have recently been cut by the labour of convicts, and Cranmere Pool has been drained. The greater part of the land, however, is utterly barren, and incapable of cultivation. There are two other tracts of land bearing the same character, viz. Exmoor and Blackdown. The former is on the N.E. boundary, extending also into Somersetshire; a range of hills runs from this along the coast to Morte Bay. The highest point is Dunkery Beacon, 1,658 feet, in Somersetshire. Blackdown is on the S.E. boundary, and is not so elevated as either of the other two moors already mentioned, its highest point being no more than 750 feet. Most of the hills have tabular summits.

Many parts of the county are remarkable for their fertility, particularly the tract of land extending from Plymouth to Torquay, as far N. as Dartmoor, containing the valley of the Dart. This district, called South Hams, is frequently spoken of as the Garden of Devonshire. Lundy Island, about 10 miles N.N.W. of Hartland Point, is included in the county. It contains about 1,000 acres, and consists mainly of granite rock, covered in the S. part with very good soil. It contains large numbers of puffins, rabbits, and rats, and seals visit the surrounding rocks very frequently. There are ruins of a chapel and fortress, the latter near the landing-place.

The chief rivers of Devonshire are the Exe, which rises in Exmoor, in Somersetshire, and entering Devon near Bampton, passes Tiverton and Exeter, and at Topsham commences to be a tidal river. Its course is about 54½ miles; it receives as tributaries the Dart, which joins it near Bickleigh; the Calm, which rises on Blackdown, passes Uffculm, Culmstock, and Collumpton; the Creedy, on which Crediton is situated; and the Clist, which enters the Exe just above Topsham. The river is navigable for shipping as far up as Exeter. The Dart rises at Darthead on Dartmoor, and passing Buckfastleigh and Totnes, falls into the sea at Dartmouth, receiving during its course the Western Dart, which also rises on Dartmoor, at Dartmeet Bridge. The length of the river is 36 miles, and it is navigable as far as Totnes, to which point the tide reaches. The Tamar separates Devon from Cornwall, receiving on its way the Tavy, on which Tavistock stands, and the Plym, the latter falling into the estuary of the Tamar, which is known as Plymouth Sound. Across the entrance to this harbour a breakwater of granite has been constructed to shelter the anchorage from the violence of the S.W. gales. The Torridge rises in the Ditchen hills, near Clovelly, and after a circuitous course of 53 miles, enters the sea at Appledore. The towns of Bideford, Torrington, and Sheepwash stand on its banks. The Okement, a small river, rising on Dartmoor, and on which Oakhampton stands, unites with the Torridge near Iddesleigh. The Taw rises in Cranmere Pool (now drained), on Dartmoor, passes North and South Tawton, Brushford, North and South Molton, Atherington, Tavistock, and Barnstaple, uniting at its mouth with the Torridge. During its course of 48 miles it receives the Mole and the Little Dart, with several smaller streams. The Otter rises on Blackdown, passing Upottery, Honiton, and Ottery St. Mary, and Otterton. Its length is about 25 miles, but it is not navigable. The Axe is about the same size; it rises near Beaminster, in Dorset, enters Devon near Wencroft, passes Axminster, and flows into the sea at Axmouth: Its chief tributary, the Yart, rises in Blackdown, and joins it near Axminster. The Teign flows from near Darthead to Teignmouth, passing Dunsford and Chudleigh, near which place it receives the Bovey and Newton Abbot. Its length is 33 miles. To Newton Abbot, a distance of 3 miles, it is navigable. Other smaller rivers are: the Avon, the Erme, and the Yealm, between Plymouth and Bolt Tail; the Sid, whence Sidmouth takes its name; and the Linn, between Trentishoe, and the Foreland.

The soils in the county vary with the rock which underlies them, and are chiefly argillaceous-gravelly, loamy, granitic, calcareous, slatey, and sandy. A tract of red marl extends across the Exe and Creedy, nearly to the Taw, continuing along the coast as far as Torbay. As far W. as the Axe the cliffs are principally chalk, but westward of that river the chalk gradually disappears., On the borders of Dorset, and on Blackdown, greensand is found, and in the higher part of the Axe and Yart, lias. Dartmoor consists almost entirely of granite, containing abundance of felspar, crystals, and a large amount of tin. The remaining part of the county belongs principally to the carbonaceous, or Devonian system. The cliffs at Clovelly consist of graywacke, which has taken most extraordinary forms. At Plymouth, and between Ashburton and Torbay, the limestone is used for building, and burnt for manure, and in many spots a very superior marble is worked. From Bolt Tail to Start Point, the coast is very rocky, being formed of mica and chlorite slate. Metallic ore is found in several places: on Exmoor, which consists of argillaceous slate, ironstone, tin, copper, and lead are worked; and at Combe Martin and Beer Ferris, silver is met with in conjunction with the lead. At Tavistock copper, lead, and manganese abound. At Bovey Heathfield lignite, potter's and pipe clay are found in the transition formation. A large quantity of clay is annually sent to the Staffordshire and other potteries. Iron ore is found at Ilsington, Combe Martin, and other places. From very ancient times the mining system has been under a separate jurisdiction. The stannary parliament was held at Crockern Tor, or Dartmoor, and the stannary courts at Ashburton, Tavistock, Chagford, and Plympton.

The climate is very mild; on the S. coast myrtles, oranges, and other plants which are grown in greenhouses in other parts of England, will flourish in the open air, if they are slightly sheltered during the winter. The mean annual temperature has been found to be 52° 5'. Owing to the large amount of coast, and the liability to S.W. winds, a very considerable amount of rain falls during the year, but notwithstanding this dampness, Devonshire has long been strongly recommended as a residence for those suffering from pulmonary consumption. The average quantity of rain during the year is 36.24 inches. The N. coast is much colder, and the winds higher. The crops vary with the locality. In the E. wheat, barley, and peas are most cultivated. In the W. wheat, oats, and grass. The staple of the county, is, however, cider; the apples from which it is made being grown chiefly in South Hams. Potatoes are grown largely for the London market. The Devon breeds both of cattle and sheep are deservedly famous. The Dartmoor pastures feed a small breed of sheep whose mutton is highly valued. The North Devon oxen are used chiefly for farming work, and the cows for breeding. The best milk cattle are crossed with the shorthorn. Exmoor and Dartmoor are celebrated for a breed of hardy ponies, about 12½ hands high. The farms are mostly of small extent, 150 or 200 acres being considered large.

Devonshire is divided into North and South Devon, each division returning two members to the House of Commons. North Devon contains the following hundreds:-Bampton, Black Torrington, Braunton, Crediton, Fremington, Halberton, Hartland, Hayridge, Hemiock, North Tawton, Shebbear, Sherwell, South Molton, Tiverton, Winkleigh, Witheridge, and West Budleigh. South Devon contains Axminster, Coleridge, Cliston, Colyton, East Budleigh, Ermington, Exminster, Haytor, Lipton, Ottery, Plympton, Roborough, Stanborough, Tavistock, Teign bridge, and Wonford. The parishes number 465, of which 40 are cities, boroughs, or market towns, viz. Exeter, Barnstaple, Honiton, Tavistock, Tiverton, Totnes, Bideford, Crediton, Holsworthy, Kingsbridge, South Molton, Newton Abbot, Oakhampton, Torrington, Axminster, Stonehouse, Plympton, Plymouth, Ashburton, Bampton, Brixham, Dartmouth, Devonport, Sidmouth, Chagford, Chudleigh, Chumleigh, Collumpton, Colyton, Hatherleigh, Ilfracombe, Modbury, Moreton Hampstead, Ottery, Teignmouth, Topsham, Beeralston, South Brent, Culmstock, and Uffculme. Three other parishes are also partly in this county, and there are 5 extra-parochial places. Of the above towns, the first 18, with St. Thomas, are Poor-law Unions; the first 15, with Plymouth, new County Courts.

Twenty-two members are returned to parliament; two for each division of the county; two for each of the following boroughs: Exeter, Barnstaple, Devonport, Honiton, Plymouth, Tayistock, Totnes, and Tiverton; and one each for Ashburton and Dartmouth. The elections for the county are held, for the N. division at South Molten, the other polling-places being Collumpton, Barnstaple, Torrington, Holsworthy, and Crediton; for the S. division at Exeter, the polling stations being Plymouth, Honiton, Newton Abbot, Kingsbridge, Tavistock, and Oakhampton. The local government is in the hands of a lord-lieutenant, a vice lieutenant, a custos, a high-sheriff, about 90 deputy lieutenants, and 390 magistrates. The county is in the Western Circuit, and the assizes are held at Exeter, which is the seat of a bishopric, in the province of Canterbury. Devonshire contains 3 archdeaconries: Exeter, Barnstaple, and Totnes, which are again divided into 23 rural deaneries containing about 470 benefices. The number of inhabited houses in 1861 was 101,253, with a population of 584,373. In 1851 the number of persons was 567,098, showing an increase of 3 per cent. in the ten years. From 1821 to 1831 the rate of increase was 15 per cent., and it has been gradually lessening to the present time.

The people are chiefly employed in agriculture, and, on the coast, as sailors and fishermen. The chief manufactures are woollen goods, lace (principally at Honiton), gloves, tanning, and carpets (at Axminster). In the last century Exeter was the largest wool mart in England, next to Leeds, but the trade has been decreasing during the present century. A large number of hands are employed in copper, lead, and tin mines, and in boat and ship building-in private yards as well as in the government dockyards at Devonport.

The antiquities of the county are numerous. Dartmoor is covered with "but circles," and other Druidical remains are found in various places. At Grimpspound, near Manaton, there is a stone enclosure of about 4 acres, probably the remains of a British town; other circles are found at Gidleigh, near Scorhill Tor, and other places on Dartmoor; and cromlechs at Drew's Teignton, Withecombe, and Maddock's Down, near Combe Martin. Several British roads can be traced: they run from Seaton to Molland, from Exeter to Molland and Oakhampton, from Crediton to Haldon, and from the mouth of the Exe to Taunton. Cairns and tumuli occur on Haldon and other downs in North Devon. In addition to the Roman stations already mentioned, there are remains of a camp at Hembury Fort.

Ruined castles are numerous. The Courtenays, earls of Devon, possessed those at Exeter, Plympton, Oakhampton, and Tiverton. Besides these, there are remains of Berry Pomeroy, Gidley, Compton, Hemiock, Dartmouth, Kingswear, Lidford, and other castles: the last mentioned, Lidford, was the stannary prison. The only abbeys of which any ruins are visible are the Cistercian abbeys at Ford on the Axe, and at Buckland, the residence of Sir F. Drake; the Benedictine house at Tayistock; the Austin priory at Hartland; St. Nicholas's at Exeter; and the Premonstratensian house called Tor Abbey. Two ancient mansions are worthy of notice:- Dartington, near Totnes, of the 14th century, and Bradley, near Newton Bushel, of the 15th, Exeter Cathedral is built in a variety of styles; the earliest portion belongs to the year A.D. 868. Bishop's Leighton church is an example of the early Saxon style, and Teignmouth of the Norman.

The chief seats of the nobility and gentry are-Castle Hill, Earl Fortescue; Stoyer House, Duke of Somerset; Endsleigh, Duke of Bedford; Saltram, Earl Morley; Mount Edgecumbe, Earl of Mount Edgecumbe; Pixton, Earl of Carnarvon; Powderham, Earl of Devon; Bagtor, Lord Ashburton; Exeter (Bishop of) Episcopal Palace; Bicton, Lord Rolle; Bishop's Court, Lord Graves; Poltimore, Lord Poltimore; Huish House, Lord Clinton; Canonleigh, Lord Exmouth; Ugbrooke, Lord Clifford; Blachferd, Rogers, Bart.; Buckland Abbey, Drake, Bart.; Courtland, Roberts, Bart.; Creedy House, Davie, Bart.; Escott, Kennaway, Bart.; Haldon House, Palk, Bart,; Killerten, Acland, Bart.; Mamhead, Newman, Bart.; Manaton, Elford, Bart.; Maristew, Lopes, Bart.; Netherton House, Prideaux, Bart.; Pound, Buller, Bart.; Rewdens, Nugent, Bart.; Shute House, Pole, Bart.; Spring Lodge, Farrington, Bart.; Dawstock, Wray, Bart.; Tor Royal House, Tyrwhitt, Bart.; Youlston, Chichester, Bart.; Buckland Filleigh, Fortescue; Coham, of Coham; Dartington, Champernowne; Denbury, Taylor; Barne, Trelawney; Dulford and Bradfield, Walrond; Fallapit, Fortescue; Farringdon, Cholwich; Fleet House, Bulteel; Ford, Wise; Fowelscombe, King; Fulford, of Fulford; Kelly, of Kelly; Hayne, Harris; Kitley, Bastard; Langdon, Calmady; Lifton, Arundel; Lindridge, Templar; Lupton, Buller; New Place, Tanner; Nethway, Luttrell; Newnham, Strode; Oxton, Swete; Pilton, White; Shapwick, Rhodes; Stockleigh, Bellew; Tor Abbey, Cary; Whitway, Parker; Wolford, Simcoe; Tavistock, Watermouth, Heanton, &c. The Cavendish family take the title of duke, and the Courtenays that of earl, from this county.

The railways passing through Devon are the Bristol and Exeter, entering the county near Wellington, and proceeding to Exeter, with a branch to Tiverton. It continues from Exeter along the coast, to Teignmouth, where it leaves the sea, passing through Newton Abbot, Totnes, and Devonport, crossing the Tamar to Saltash. There is a branch from Newton Abbot to Torquay, and another from Plympton to Tayistock. A line also runs from Bideford to Exeter, by way of Barnstaple; and another line, the South Devon and Yeovil, enters the county at Axminster, proceeding to Exeter, and sending off a branch a few miles W. of that town, along the river Exe to its mouth. The Great Western canal, from Taunton, passes by Tiverton, and at Exeter joins the Exeter canal. The Bude and Holsworthy joins the river Walden with the Launceston canal. Its length is about 15½ miles. There are minor canals at Tayistock, along the Torridge, and from Newton Bushel for about 4 miles towards Bovey Tracey. There were four mail roads from London to Exeter: the Devonport, Exeter, and Bath road; the Exeter road, entering between Chard and Honiton; the Penzance, Falmouth, and Exeter, entering between Bridport and Axminster; and the Falmouth, Devonport, and Exeter, entering between Honiton and Ilminster. There are other roads diverging from Exeter to all parts of the county. The chief harbours are Plymouth, Torbay, and Teignmouth."


[Transcriptions of the various town and parish descriptions in this Gazetteer can be reached via their respective pages. The Gazetteer also lists a number of Extraparochial Places. The remaining information transcribed from the National Gazetteer, for example on hundreds and rivers, is grouped together under the heading Miscellaneous.]

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]