[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
"TAVISTOCK, a parish, market, and stannary town and parliamentary borough in the hundred of Tavistock, county Devon, 15 miles N. of Plymouth, and 32 S.W. of Exeter. It is a station on the Plymouth and Launceston branch of the South Devon and Cornwall railway. It is situated in a hollow on the river Tavy, sheltered by lofty hills on the western border of Dartmoor, of which about 4,000 acres are within the parish. The town is a place of considerable antiquity, having grown up under shelter of the abbey of Black Canons founded in 961 by Orcar, or Orgar, Duke of Devon, and father of Elfrida, wife of King Edgar. The abbey was burnt by the Danes, but was rebuilt, and became one of the richest in the W. of England. At the Dissolution its revenues were returned at £902 5s. 7d., and the site was then given by Henry VIII. to Lord John Russell, from whom it has descended to the present Duke of Bedford, of Endsleigh, who is lord of the honour of Tavistock and owner of most of the land, and takes his second title from this place. The remains of the abbey have been incorporated in the Bedford Hotel, which was erected in 1720 by the duke.
It has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I., and during the civil war of Charles I. was occupied by the royalists in 1643. By the Reform Act the bounds of the borough were made co-extensive with the parish, which comprises 14,578 acres, except only the outlying manor of Cudliptown. It was never chartered, but is governed by a portreeve, who is elected annually by the freeholders, and sworn in at the court-leet, and who is also returning-officer, and may qualify to act as a magistrate for the borough. It is a polling-place for the county elections. Petty sessions are held fortnightly, and a county court monthly. It is the head of a Poor-law Union comprising 24 parishes or townships, and the seat of a superintendent registry. The population of the borough in 1851 was 8,086, and in 1861, 8,857, inhabiting 1,133 houses.
The streets are irregularly laid out, but well paved and lighted, and the houses generally well built. It contains the guildhall, erected in 1848 by the Duke of Bedford, on the site of the ancient abbey; the market-hall, a granite structure, erected in 1839; a savings-bank, held in the abbey gatehouse, which has been carefully restored; literary and scientific and mechanics' institutions, both held in the Abbey-buildings; a public library, where a meteorological register is kept; a dispensary, founded in 1832; union poorhouse, and two commercial branch banks; also gas and waterworks, three bridges, and a race-stand.
There are several large foundries, engine-factories, and metal works, a woollen manufactory, two breweries, and four malting establishments. The town was anciently noted for its manufacture of kersey cloth; but the principal industries are now connected with mining operations, which are extensively carried on in the adjacent hills of the Tavistock district, which abounds in copper, lead, silver, tin, iron, manganese, as also in good oilstone for sharpening tools.
The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Exeter, value £298. The church, dedicated to St. Eustachius, is a spacious structure with a lofty tower supported on four open arches, which form the principal entrances to the church. The tower contains a peal of eight bells, and an illuminated clock, with chimes that play every three hours; and in the chancel is a mural monument of alabaster to Sir John Glanville, C.E., also tombs of the Fitz family, and of Carpenter, of Mount Tavy. The church was thoroughly restored in 1845, when a carved stone pulpit and altar-screen were added. There is also the district church of St. Paul's, Gulsworthy, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, value £150. This church, with the parsonage-house and schools adjoining, have just been completed at the sole cost of the Duke of Bedford, who has also liberally endowed them. There are chapels belonging to the Wesleyans, Association Methodists, Bible Christians, Society of Friends, Plymouth Brethren, and Unitarians-the last having once been the refectory of the old abbey, adjoining the chapel, of which considerable remains are still to be seen in the churchyard. An extramural cemetery was formed in 1834 on ground presented by the Duke of Bedford.
There is a grammar school, built and chiefly maintained by his grace, also National, British and Foreign, Sunday and Wesleyan schools. Races are held in May on Church Down, a little to the S. of the town, on an oval course of 2 miles. Mr. Deacon's hounds hunt here. At Old Morwell is a seat of the abbots, who, being mitred, were entitled to sit in parliament as barons after 1513, and who are said to have cultivated the Saxon tongue, and to have erected the second printing-press in England, at which "Boethius" and other works were struck off as early as 1525.
Market days are Tuesday and Friday, the latter being one of the largest in the county. Fairs for cattle are held on the first Wednesday in December, the second Wednesdays in January, March, May, July, September, October, and November, and the third Wednesday in August."