A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

MODBURY, a market-town and parish in the hundred of ERMINGTON, county of DEVON, 35 miles (S. W. by S.) from Exeter, and 208 (W. S. W.) from London, containing 2194 inhabitants. This place, called in Latin records "Motberia," was in the possession of Wado at the time of the Confessor; it subsequently became the property of the Valletorts, Okestons, and Champernownes. In 1334, Richard Champernowne obtained permission to fortify his manorial residence at Modbury. During the contest between Charles and the parliament, this fortress was taken by the garrison at Plymouth; and, in February 1643, Sir N. Stanning, when intrenched here with two thousand soldiers, was defeated by the Devonshire clubmen. The town is situated at the junction of the roads leading to Plymouth, Kingsbridge, and Dartmouth, and occupies the bottom and declivities of a valley: it consists of four streets, which meet at right angles, the point of junction being in the lowest part of the town; the inhabitants are supplied with water from two conduits, which are connected by pipes with a neighbouring spring. A new line of turnpike-road is in progress, from Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, and Salcombe, through this town to Plymouth: the new London mail road from Plymouth to Exeter passes about a mile from Modbury. The manufacture of woollen goods, which was formerly considerable, has decayed; there is still some weaving of long ells for the East India Company, also a tolerable trade in corn and malt. A creek, navigable for barges, extends from the aestuary of the river Erme, which bounds this parish on the west, to within two miles of the town, and thus facilitates the importation of coal, and the export of the produce of the soil. The principal general market is on Thursday, and there is another on Saturday for butchers' meat; also a great cattle market on the second Tuesday in every month, to which the navy contractors and others resort. Of the two fairs once held on St. George's and St. James' days, only the former is retained; it takes place on the 4th of May, unless that day fall later in the week than Thursday, in which case the fair is postponed till the following Tuesday. The town is governed by a portreeve (usually styled mayor), constables, and other subordinate officers, who are annually appointed at one of the courts leet, which are held at Michaelmas and Ladyday, the mayor being returned by a jury of twelve householders. This borough sent two members to parliament in the 34th of Edward I., but was afterwards relieved from making returns, on the plea of poverty.
The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £19. 11. 0½;., and in the patronage of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College. The church, which is dedicated to St. George, and stands upon an eminence south-westward of the town, is an ancient embattled structure, with modern additions; the tower, which was rebuilt in 1622, is surmounted by a spire: the interior is very neat and spacious, and contains some mutilated monuments of the Champernowne family. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. A free school was established, in 1730, by subscription: the permanent income is £12 per annum, and twelve poor boys are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sunday and infant schools are supported by voluntary contributions. There are some remains of a Benedictine priory, founded here in the reign of Stephen, and dedicated to St. Gregory, as a cell to the abbey of St. Peter sur Dive, in Normandy: its possessions, valued at £70 per annum, were given by Henry VI. to Eton College, afterwards bestowed by Edward IV. upon the abbey of Tavistock, but eventually restored to Eton, to which foundation it still belongs. Sir John Fortescue, a celebrated lawyer, Lord Chief Justice in the reign of Henry VI., was a native of this place; and Sir George Baker, M.D., President of the Royal College of Physicians, and author of some valuable medical works, was born here in 1722.