A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)


TIVERTON, a borough and market-town and parish, possessing exclusive jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Tiverton, county of DEVON, 14 miles (N. by E.) from Exeter, and 163 (W. by S.) from London, and containing, according to the last census, 8651 inhabitants. This place derives its name, which, was formerly written Twy-fordton and Two-ford-ton, from the fords on the two rivers (the Exe and the Lowman) between which it is situated and. it was known as the village of Twyford so early as 872. A castle was erected here, in 1106, by Rivers, Earl of Devon, which continued for many ages the head of the barony. In 1200, the town had a market and three annual fairs; and, in 1250, it was supplied with water by means of a leat, at the expense of Isabel Countess of Westmoreland. In. 1353, the wool trade was introduced, and in 1500 the inhabitants were largely engaged in the manufacture of baizes, plain cloths, and kerseys, for which, in the time of Elizabeth, the town enjoyed considerable repute; but, in 1591, the plague greatly checked its prosperity, destroying nearly six hundred of the inhabitants. Notwithstanding this event, however, and a destructive fire in 1598, Tiverton was regarded, in 1612, as the chief manufacturing town in the West of England; but about this time a second fire destroyed six hundred houses, and occasioned very great distress among the inhabitants. During the contest between Charles and the parliament, the townsmen were much divided; in 1643, they were for a time subject to the king, but in 1645 the parliamentary forces effected the entire subjugation of the place, and the castle, church, and outworks were taken, together with the governor and two hundred others. In 1731, a third fire destroyed three hundred houses; and, ten years after, one-twelfth of the population was cut off by a severe epidemic fever. In 1745, the introduction of Norwich stuffs, and the subsequent establishment of a manufactory at Wellington, occasioned the decay of the woollen trade, which, in 1815, was entirely superseded by the patent net manufacture, now the staple trade of the place.

The parish is divided into the four following portions; Clare, Pitt, Priors, and Tidcombe. The town is pleasantly situated on elevated ground, the rivers Exe and Lowman uniting their streams a little southward from it, and consists of several streets of respectable appearance, which are paved throughout, under an act obtained, in 17Q4, fop the improvement of the town. Some of the private mansions are spacious and handsome, and the inhabitants are well supplied with water, small streams, from a branch of the Lowman, running through many of the streets. At its eastern extremity is a wharf, whence a canal extends to Burlescombe, passing in its course near the rocks of Canonsleigh, which yield excellent limestone: the lofty manufactories on the west side of the river have an imposing effect. The Exe is crossed by two bridges, from one of which (a handsome stone structure, originally erected, in 1590, by the munificence of Mr. Walter Tyrrel, a linen-draper of this town, and lately rebuilt) is a fine view of the castle and church. A subscription reading-room, theatre, and assembly-room, are the chief sources of amusement. About two thousand persons are employed in the lace manufacture. The markets are on Tuesday and Saturday, the former,being the principal; and on the second Tuesday in every month is a great market for cattle. Fairs are held on the second Tuesday after Whit-Sunday and on Michaelmas-day. The first charter of incorporation was granted by James I., in 1615; but, in 1723, the mayor absconding on the day of election, it became forfeited, and a second was granted by George I., under which the town is now governed, the municipal body consisting of a mayor, twelve capital. burgesses, and twelve assistants, with a recorder and town clerk; the mayor, recorder, and town clerk, are elected by the corporation, the mayor annually on the Tuesday following St. Bartholomew's day; the mayor, recorder, and late mayor, are justices of the peace, with exclusive, jurisdiction they hold a court of session quarterly, and a court of record for all pleas not exceeding £100, The bridewell, a commodious edifice, was rebuilt about thirtyfive years ago; the other principal public buildings are the corn market and town hall, and a . spacious new market-house, erected in 1830, for the sale of butcher's meat, &c. This borough returns two-representatives to parliament: the elective franchise is vested exclusively in the twenty-five members of the corporation; the mayor is the returning officer. At the close of the thirteenth century, the living, which is in the archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter, was divided, by Hugh Courtenay, Baron, of Oakhampton and Earl of Devon, into the portions of Clare, Pitt, Tidcombe, and Priors: the last was given to the monastery of St. James, at Exeter, and, having been subsequently assigned, with the monastery, to the Provost and Fellows of King's College, Cambridge, that society, as owners of the impropriate rectory, appoint the curate: the Clare portion is rated in the king's books at £27; the Pitt portion, with Cove chapelry annexed, is rated at £36; and the Tidcombe portion is rated at £27: these three last, which are rectorial, are in the patronage of Sir W. Carew, Bart., the Representatives of the late Rev. J. Newte, and of Sir J. Vyvyan, Bart., and the Rev. W. Spurway. The church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, is a very ancient and handsome structure, in the later style of English architecture, with portions in the early style, and an enriched Norman doorway: the altar-piece, of which the subject is " The Deliverance of St. Peter from Prison," was painted and presented by the celebrated Mr. Cosway, a native of this town; the chancel is said to have been the original parish church: the churchyard occupies a commanding elevation, and forms an agreeable promenade. A handsome edifice, in the modern style of architecture, has been erected, as a chapel of ease: it is dedicated to St. George, and each of the four portionists officiates in turn. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists.

The free grammar school was founded and amply endowed, in 1604, pursuant to the will of Peter Blundell, a clothier of Tiverton, who gave £2400 for the purchase of ground and the erection of the building; and, for its maintenance, devised all his lands in Devonshire to twenty-seven trustees, directing his executors to apply £2000 of the proceeds in the establishment and perpetual maintenance of six students at either of the Universities: additional scholarships were founded by John Ham, in 1678; by R. Downe, in 1806; and one to Balliol College, Oxford, by John Newte, in 1715; there are likewise two exhibitions, of £30 per annum each, endowed with the dividends on certain stock bequeathed by Benjamin Gilbert, in 1783. The upper and under master have each a house rent-free: the number of boys educated, the majority of whom are boarders, has varied considerably at different times; the whole income is upwards of £900 per annum. The building is a venerable edifice of stone, having its north front cased with Purbeck marble; the facade exhibits two porches, and is of considerable extent, with a spacious quadrangular court opposite. The free English school, in Peter-street, was founded in 1611, by Robert Comyn, alias Chilcot, who gave £400 for its erection, and an annuity of £20 for the master's salary; one hundred boys are instructed, all of whom pay a small quarterage. The charity school, which is situated in the churchyard, was originally founded by subscription, in 1713, and has been since extensively endowed with various benefactions; about one hundred children of both sexes are instructed. Almshouses for nine poor men, situated in Gold-street, were founded by John Greenway, in 1529; a chapel is attached, which contains some good carved work. The Western almshouse, which has also a small chapel, for eight poor men, was founded in 1579, by John Waldren; and another, in Peter-street, for six aged women, in 1613, by George Slee. A charitable fund was established, pursuant to the will of Mary Rice, in 1697, under the management of trustees, from which sixty-seven poor persons receive life annuities. The other charitable benefactions belonging to Tiverton, too numerous to particularise, are expended in apprenticing poor children, and contributing, in various ways, to the comfort of the poor, and the general improvement and welfare of the town. Mrs. Cowley, the dramatic authoress, was a native of this town; and Bamfylde Moore Carew, the noted King of the Beggars, was born at Bickleigh, about two miles hence, and received his education in the free grammar school. Some few remains of the boundary wall of the old castle, with its flanking and angular towers, are still perceptible; particularly part of the grand east entrance, and fragments on the south-west: the site, which occupies about an acre of ground, is on a level with the churchyard, and overhangs the river.