A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

OAKHAMPTON, a borough and market-town and parish, having separate jurisdiction, though locally partly in the hundred of Black-Torrington, but chiefly in that of Lifton, county of DEVON, 22 miles (W. by N.) from Exeter, and 198 (W. by S.) from London, containing with the hamlet of Kigbear, 2023 inhabitants. This place is interesting as having been the head of the earldom of Devon, and the seat of the hereditary county sheriffs, keepers of the castle of Exeter. This great barony was given by the Conqueror to Baldwin de Brioniis, one of his most faithful followers, who distinguished himself for courage and generalship at the battle of Hastings. The castle erected by this nobleman, was remarkable for its grandeur, of which there is abundant evidence in the venerable remains. The power and possessions of the barons were co-extensive; they exercised the right of capital punishment over eight manors; besides these, they held a great number in demesne, no less than one hundred and sixty-four having been at one time occupied by inferior tenants. They acted as stewards at the installation of the bishops of the diocese, claiming on the occasion perquisites to a very great amount. They possessed also numerous advowsons, and were the patrons of several priories; holding three fees of the see of Exeter, and ninety-two by knights' service. In the reign of Henry II. this barony came, by marriage, to the Courtenay family, in which it continued till the reign of Edward IV., when Thomas, Earl of Devon, was beheaded at Pontefract, for taking part with Henry VI. at the battle of Towton Field, in 1461. From this period until the accession of Henry VII. it passed through divers hands, but in that reign it was restored to the Courtenays, of whom Henry having forfeited his life under a charge of treasonable correspondence, the park of Oakhampton was laid waste, and its' noble castle reduced to ruins. During the great civil war, this town was twice visited by King Charles, and as often by his victorious enemy, Sir Thomas Fairfax. Oakhampton is situated in the lowest part of a valley, watered by a rapid stream, called the Ock, or Oke, over which there is a bridge, leading into the market-place. The forest of Dartmoor lies on the south and southeast, and the town is on all sides surrounded by hills. It is of mean appearance, but is a great thoroughfare between Exeter and Cornwall: there is a plentiful supply of water from pumps. The roads in the vicinity have been lately improved, a new road having been made to Plymouth about eight years since. The forest of Dartmoor affords pasturage to numerous flocks of sheep, the flesh of which, from the sweetness of the herbage, is esteemed for its superior flavour, in consequence of which, great numbers are sent hence to the London market. At the weekly market, which is held on Saturday, by prescription, there is an excellent supply of every necessary commodity, including fish and corn. Six annual fairs are held by charter, viz., second Tuesday after March llth, May 14th, first Wednesday after July 6th, August 5th, first Tuesday after September llth, and first Wednesday after October llth; there are also great markets on the Saturday before Christmas, and on the Saturday after "Giglet's market," where the rustic swain, weary of his bachelorship, enjoys the privilege of self-introduction to any disengaged female who may attract his particular notice.

Oakhampton is governed by a mayor, recorder, justice, five principal burgesses, and eight assistants, aided by a town clerk and other officers. The mayor is chosen on the first Monday after Michaelmas-day, by the entire body, from two principal burgesses nominated by the late mayor: the principal burgesses are in all eight, the mayor, the late mayor, who is styled justice, and the town clerk, being included: the mayor, the late mayor, and the recorder, are justices of the peace: there is also a portreeve, who is appointed annually. The county magistrates have concurrent jurisdiction only as regards regulations for the poor: quarter sessions are held for the borough, but there are seldom any prisoners. A court of record formerly held for the recovery of debts not exceeding £30, has become obsolete. The freedom is acquired by birth and servitude; the eldest son alone becomes free at his death, though not unless born within the borough, first return of members to parliament was in the reign of Edward I., and the next in the 7th of Edward II., after which there was an intermission till 1640, but from that period the returns have been regular. The right of election is vested in the freemen and proprietors of freeholds within the borough, about two hundred in number: the mayor is the returning officer. The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £20, and in the patronage of Albany Saville, Esq., as lord of the manor. The church, dedicated to All Saints, is an ancient edifice, about half a mile from the town, with a handsome square tower, surmounted with pinnacles, and having north and south porches. St. James' chapel, a similar structure, was originally founded as a chantry, and now belongs to the corporation, divine service being performed in it during the sessions, and occasionally in Lent. There is a place of worship for Independents. Some small endowments have been left for the education of poor children; a school for boys, and another for girls, are principally supported by subscription. Two almshouses were founded, in 1586, by Mr. Richard Brock; and there is another, called the Wester almshouse. Several sums have been given for apprenticing poor boys and other purposes. The castle, situated about half a mile from the town, is a most interesting ruin, and is particularly striking when first observed on approaching from the south: it occupies the summit and declivity of a conoidal mount, so thickly clothed with trees that, although the ruins are of considerable extent and magnitude, the keep and a smaller fragment northward are alone, visible from the road. This road is cut along the western side of a valley, from the bed of which the mount rises; the latter is close to the road, and its summit nearly on the same level.