South Molton


A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

MOLTON (SOUTH), a parish and market-town (incorporated), having separate jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of South-Molton, county of DEVON, 28 miles (N. W. by N.) from Exeter, and 181 (W. by S.) from London, containing 3314 inhabitants. This town derives its name from the river Mole, on the western bank of which it is situated, having Exmoor on the north, and Dartmoor faintly perceptible on its southern boundary; over the river, which falls into the Taw about four miles hence, is a bridge of three arches: the streets are well paved and lighted, and the inhabitants are supplied with water from wells. Monthly assemblies are held in the town hall, which stands in the market-place; and there is a subscription reading-room. The principal branch of manufacture is that of woollen goods, considerable supplies of which are occasionally furnished to the East Indies; shalloons, serges, and coarse woollen cloth, are the articles chiefly made. The general market is on Saturday; others are held on Tuesday and Thursday; there are cattle fairs on the Wednesday before the 22nd of June, and on the Wednesday after August 26th: great markets also are held on the Saturday after February 13th, which is noted for its fine show of North Devon cattle, March 25th, August 1st, October 10th, and December 12th. For several successive weeks in the spring, there are large markets for sheep, one year old. The sale for cattle is almost constant, the landholders here being chiefly breeders. On the river are several flour-mills and a fulling-mill. The charter of incorporation was granted by Elizabeth, and confirmed by Charles II. The municipal government is vested in a mayor, recorder, three capital burgesses, and thirteen common council-men, with a town clerk, Serjeants at mace, and other officers; the mayor is elected annually by a majority of the corporation. The mayor, recorder, and two capital burgesses, are justices of the peace, and hold quarter sessions, with power to transport; also a court of record, called the three weeks' court, for the recovery of debts under £40, by charter of Elizabeth; but this court is seldom resorted to, on account of the expense of the proceedings. The county magistrates hold petty sessions for the hundred in a building over the corn market. The freedom of the borough is obtained by birth, every son of a freeman being entitled to it, whether born in or out of the parish; it is also conferred by gift of the corporation; every freeman is exempt from serving on county juries and the inhabitants do not pay county rates. The town sent representatives to parliament once in the reign of Edward I. The town hall is a handsome building of Portland stone; and a new prison is in progress of erection, to comprise four cells, two dwelling-houses for the Serjeants, and a place of confinement for less criminal offenders. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Barnstaple, and diocese of Exeter, endowed with £400, and a stipend of £30 per annum, private benefaction, £400 royal bounty, and £600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Dean and Canons of Windsor. The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, is a very spacious structure, in the ancient style of English architecture; it has been considerably enlarged by bringing out the walls of the north and south aisles almost to the angles of the transepts, whereby its ancient form of a cross has been destroyed; in the interior is a richly-carved pulpit of stone; from the summit of the tower, Hartland point and Lundy island are discernible. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyan Methodists. The free school was founded, in 1686, by Hugh Squier, who also endowed it with lands for the education of twenty poor children; the annual income is £57. 9., and twenty boys are instructed. The Blue school was established by subscription, in 1711, since which period many augmentations have been made to its funds: the present income is about £112. 13.3. per annum, out of which a salary of £26,17.6. is paid to the master and mistress; forty-five boys and twenty girls, appointed by the corporation from the poor of this and the neighbouring parishes, are instructed and clothed annually. There are numerous benefactions for the relief of the poor. A Sunday school, in which one hundred and fifty children of both sexes are instructed, is supported by voluntary contributions. Iron-ore is found in the neighbourhood, which also abounds in a species of slate, or flag-stone, enclosing within its bed a considerable portion of limestone. Fragments of enmnites and corallines have been discovered. Some vestiges of an ancient encampment are visible at Cadbury, near this place. The late Mr. Justice Buller received the early part of his education at the grammar school here; and the Rev. Samuel Badcock, who distinguished himself in a controversy with Dr. Priestley, and assisted Dr. White in writing his celebrated Bampton Lectures, was born here in 1747; he died in London in 1788.