A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

HONITON, a parish and borough and market-town, in the hundred of AXMINSTER, county of DEVON, 16½ miles (E. N. E.) from Exeter, and 156½ (W. S.W.) from London, containing 3296 inhabitants. This place is situated on rising ground in a fertile vale on the south side of the river Otter, and on the line of the great western road, from London to Plymouth: It possesses claims to high antiquity, having probably originated from a Roman settlement at Hunbury Fort, contiguous to the present town, where there are traces of an extensive intrenched camp, supposed to have been the Moridunum of Antoninus. During the civil war, Charles I. passed and repassed through the town, which was subsequently visited by the parliamentary general, Fairfax, after his successful campaign in the west of England, in 1645. The town has repeatedly suffered from fire: especially in 1747 and 1765, on which latter occasion, one hundred and fifteen houses were destroyed, together with a part of the chapel, the damage having been estimated at nearly £11,000. It consists chiefly of one very wide street, about a mile in length, lighted and paved, and is plentifully supplied with water: it has a gentle declivity towards the west, and in the central part are some well built brick houses and shops, the principal inn and the town-hall. This part of the town, with the exception of a few old houses, is of modern erection, the buildings having been raised subsequently to the last great fire, and with so much attention to uniformity as to render Honiton, one of the neatest towns in the county. The manufacture of serge was established here at an early period; and the place was also noted for the large quantity of valuable lace made, some kinds of which were sold formore than five guineas a yard, being woven of thread, imported from the Netherlands, and rivalling in fineness and beauty the genuine Brussels lace. But the serge trade has long since declined, and the lace-making is not carried on to any considerable extent. Sprigs for the decoration of the Tiverton patent net are however still made here, and retain their former celebrity. Shoes and coarse earthenware are likewise manufactured, but not extensively. Honiton is famous as a mart for butter and cheese, a large quantity of the former article being sent weekly to the metropolis. In the vicinity of the town are quarries producing a peculiar kind of stone, used for making whet-stones for scythes, the trade in which is by no means inconsiderable. The markets, held by prescription, are on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, the last of which is the principal market day. An annual fair takes place on the Wednesday after the 19th of July; and there are great markets on the second Saturday in April, and the Saturday before October 18th. The municipal affairs of the town are under the direction of a portreeve, bailiff, and two ale-tasters, who together with three constables, two tything-men, and other officers, are appointed at the manor court held on Michaelmasday. Under an ancient charter granted to the lord of the manor, the portreeve possessed magisterial power to hold monthly courts, and to make by-laws for the government of the borough; but at present the sole jurisdiction is vested in the county magistrates, who hold petty sessions here every month. This town sent members to parliament in the reigns of Edward I. and Edward II., after which the elective franchise was suspended till the sixteenth of Charles I., since which it has been regularly exercised. The right of election belongs to the inhabitant housekeepers within the borough, not receiving alms, commonly called "potwallopers," about four hundred and fifty in number; the portreeve, or, in his absence, the bailiff, is the returning officer.

The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £40.4. 2., and in the patronage of the Trustees of Viscount Courtenay. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, which stands on an eminence about half a mile from the town, is a fine edifice, with aisles and a transept, in the later English style, having been built or enlarged about 1484, by Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, who erected the beautiful screen, ornamented with carving and gilding, which separates the nave from the chancel: among several ancient monuments which it contains, is one to the memory of Dr. Thomas Marwood, physician to Queen Elizabeth, who died in 1617, at the age of 105. In the town is Allhallows chapel, a neat structure erected by subscription about 1765, on the site of a preceding chapel. Sir John Kirkham, Knt., and Elizens Harding, clerk, in the 15th of Henry VIII., gave land and tenements in the parishes of Honiton and Yarcombe, for the repair and maintenance of this chapel. Here are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. A free grammar school was founded pursuant to a bequest from the Rev. John Fley, in 1614, and endowed with various benefactions amounting to £12 per annum, but the number of free scholars of late years, has been very small. There is a National school, the master of which has a salary of £25 per annum, partly arising from the dividends of £300 stock in the four per cents., the bequest of the Rev. James How, in 1816. St. Margaret's hospital, about half a mile westward from the town, is an ancient foundation originally intended for lepers, and now consisting of houses for a governor, and eight poor persons, who have small stipends arising from lands producing about £85 per annum: connected with it is a chapel, in which the governor reads prayers twice a week. A mile to the north of Honiton is St. Cyre's Hill, on which a battery has been erected; and races are occasionally held here. Ozias Humphry, a Royal Academician, and eminent as a painter, was a native of this town.