A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

TAVISTOCK, a borough and market-town and parish, in the hundred of TAVISTOCK, county of DEVON, 33 miles (W. by S.) from Exeter, and 204 (W. S. W.) from London, containing 5483 inhabitants. The origin of this town, which derives its name from the river Tavy, on which it is pleasantly situated, appears to have been coeval with the erection of an abbey of Black monks, commenced by Ordgar, Earl of Devonshire, in 961, and completed by his son Ordulf, in 981, the noble founder, according to tradition, having been admonished in a vision to erect a monastery; it was richly endowed, and dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and St. Rumon in 997; it was destroyed by the Danes, but afterwards arose from its ruins with considerable enlargement; from Henry I. it received the jurisdiction of the entire hundred of Tavistock, and the grant of a market and a fair. The abbey church was dedicated, in 1318, by Bishop Stapleton; and in 1513, Richard Barham, the abbot, procured from Henry VIII. the right of a seat among the peers, and from Pope Leo. X. an exemption for the abbey from all episcopal and metropolitan jurisdiction; in 1539, it was surrendered to the king by John Peryn, the last abbot, and its revenue was valued at £902. 5. 7. The monastery is remarkable as having contained a school for Saxon literature, at an early period (the study of which was discontinued about the period of the Reformation), and an ancient printing-press, soon after the introduction of printing into England. In Exeter College, Oxford, is a copy of the Stannary laws, printed here; also a perfect copy of Boethius, translated by Walton, and printed, in 1525, by Dan Thomas Rychard, one of the monks of the abbey; the possessions of which, with the borough and town, was granted at the dissolution to John, Lord Russell, ancestor of the present noble proprietor, the Duke of Bedford. Of the venerable fabric there are yet sufficient remains, indicating its beauty and extent, although considerably mutilated and appropriated to various uses; among these are the gate-house and several complete buildings near it; the refectory, now used as an assembly-room; traces of the boundary walls, and an entire gateway, near the canal bridge. Within the parish there are also some remains of Old Morwell house, once the hunting seat of the monks of Tavistock. In 1591, while the plague raged at Exeter the summer assizes were held in this town, and thirteen criminals were executed on the Abbey green. After the defeat of the parliamentary forces on Bradock Down, in 1643, the royalists were quartered here, and Charles I. visited this town on his advance towards Cornwall, after his unsuccessful attempt on Plymouth.

The town occupies a portion of the level and acclivity of a valley, through which the river passes with tumultuous impetuosity over an uneven and rocky bed, and which presents some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenery in this justly admired county: it is irregularly built, but the approach from the Plymouth road is remarkably good. On the right, and opposite the church, are the various embattled and turreted buildings of the old abbey, part of which has been converted into the Bedford hotel, with an extensive facade in the English style of architecture, and several other portions and fragments covered with ivy. It also possesses a good library, with a Doric portico, in which the members of a literary and scientific institution assemble, and lectures are delivered occasionally. Races are held on Whitchurch down. The river is crossed by three bridges, two ancient ones immediately leading from the body of the town, and the third on the Plymouth road, about a quarter of a mile distant: near this is another over the Tavistock canal, which extends hence to the town, parallel with the river; it was opened in June 1817, to form a junction with the Tamar at Morwell Ham quay, five miles distant: a branch canal extends to the slate quarries at Mill hill. The head of this canal is connected with the above-mentioned quay by an inclined plane, two hundred and forty feet high; and, in its course, it flows through a tunnel under Morwell Down, one mile and three quarters in length. The boats employed are of iron, and the principal articles conveyed by them are ore, coal, and lime. The serge and coarse woollen manufactures, with the mining business, form the chief employment of the inhabitants, but the former is on the decline. There are a tin-smelting establishment and an extensive iron-foundry in the town. The neighbourhood abounds with mineral productions: a section of the mining field between the Tamar and Tavy rivers exhibits a considerable quantity of the porphyritic rock, in alternate beds, called elvan. From the mines of Morwell, grey and ruby copper is procured; from Wheal Friendship, native rich, yellow, red, and chrystallized copper, and, in general, arsenic and yellow pyrites may be found. Lead abounds in the district; and silver is also found, as well as tin, iron, manganese, and the loadstone. The market, noted for its supply of corn, is held on Friday; fairs are on the second Wednesday in January, May, July, September, October, November, and December. The town, which is one of the four stannary towns in the county, is governed by a portreeve, who is elected annually at the manorial court leet. A court of pie-powder was anciently held, and there is still a court for the recovery of debts not exceeding £20. This borough sent representatives to parliament in the reign of Edward I.: the elective franchise is vested in the resident freeholders, the number of whom is about thirty; the portreeve is the returning officer, and the influence of the Duke of Bedford is predominant. Amongst the most distinguished members returned for this borough were John Pym, the great opposer of Charles I., and William, the unfortunate Lord Russell, in the reign of Charles II. The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £10. 17. 6., endowed with £600 royal bounty, and £1000 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Duke of Bedford. The church, which is dedicated to St. Eustachius, is a neat and very spacious edifice, with a lofty tower elevated over an arched thoroughfare; it contains some good monuments, especially those in memory of Sir John Fitz and Sir John Glanville, the latter of whom was a judge of the Common Pleas, and died in 1600. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. The grammar school is of ancient and uncertain foundation, but has now merely a nominal existence; it was endowed in 1649, by Sir J. Glanville, with certain estates, for the maintenance and education of one boy, and with a small exhibition to either of the Universities, on the completion of his preparatory studies; the master receives £4. 4. per annum from the proceeds of the estates, under an act passed in the 3rd of George III., which are now vested in the Duke of Bedford, who also grants him the use of a house rent-free, and an annual contribution of £20, for which eight boys are instructed. In 16?4, Nicholas Watts bequeathed some rent-charges, part of them applicable to assist a youth preparing for the University. A subscription free school for children of both sexes, was erected at the expense, and is chiefly supported by the beneficence, of the Duke of Bedford: it is adapted to the reception of one hundred and forty boys and one hundred and twenty girls, and is conducted on the system of Dr. Bell. An almshouse for four poor widows was founded by one of the Courtenay family, each of the inmates receiving £2 per annum. Couches' almshouses are for the reception of fifteen pensioners, nominated by the Duke of Bedford, each of whom receives £3 per annum. The sum of £15, arising from lands, is applied annually in apprenticing poor children. The workhouse, a large and convenient building, occupies the site of an ancient lazar-house. There are also several benefit societies, and other charities of a public nature. At Brook is a chalybeate spring of reputed medicinal properties. From the summit of a lofty and precipitous cliff at Morwell woods there is a fine view of the fiver Tamar, winding through a valley of great beauty. Among the eminent natives were, Sir Francis Drake; Judge Glanville; his son, Sir John Glanville; and William Browne, author of "The Shepherd's Pipe." Tavistock confers the inferior title of marquis on the Duke of Bedford.