Newton Abbot Past and Present

From Newton Abbot Town Council Official Guide 3rd Edition

Newton Abbot Town Council
The Town Hall
Great Western House
9 Devon Square
Newton Abbot
Devon TQ12 2HN
Phone: 01626 201120

Transcribed, with permission, by Diana Stevens

The River Lemon flows through the town and, perhaps 100 yards north-west of the ancient clock tower, there was once a ford - in years gone by the means of communication between the two Manors of Newton Abbot and Newton Bushel. The town had developed from these two Manors which for many centuries progressed independently on either side of the river, and, as they did not finally merge until the beginning of this century, it will be convenient to trace the early history of each separately.


Originally called Teignwick, this Manor was renamed Newton Bushel in the 13th century, after Robert Bushel, who was then Lord of the Manor and was probably responsible for on early Manor House built at Bradley. He had great power over his vassals, including the right of capital punishment, and offenders ran the risk of being hanged at Forches Cross. As his Manor developed he obtained the right to hold Fairs on All Saints Day and at Ascensiontide, and a weekly market on the 'Triangle' beside the old St Mary's Chapel.

The Bushels were succeeded as Lords of the Manor by the Yardes, and it was Richard Yarde who built Bradley Manor very much as we see it today. He also restored the very ancient Church of St Mary's, part of which was, until recently, used as a tiny chapel. This is one of the oldest places of worship in the town, and the little spring which runs by it may have been used by early missionaries to baptise their converts. Richard Yarde also built the Bradley Aisle at Highweek Church, and at the same time permission was obtained from Pope Martin V for a burial ground to be attached to it. Before this, the people of Newton Bushel had to bury their dead at Kingsteignton and, due to frequent flooding of the river, funerals were often held up.

After the dissolution of Torre Abbey, Richard Yarde's son, Thomas, obtained the New Town of the Abbot and united this Manor with that of Newton Bushel. In the late 19th century the combined Manors were held by Mr William Vicary, the owner of Bradley Mills, and on his death his widow sold what was by then called the Manor of Newton Abbot, to Mr Walter Curtis of Denbury. In 1970 it was bought by Mr Maurice Heathcote de Lannoy Coombs of Haddon House, Shute. The Lordship of the Manor of Newton Bradley has now passed to Mr Dempsey and that of Newton Abbot to Mr Smith.


The Manor of Wolborough is mentioned with varied spellings in the Domesday Book. In the reign of Henry III, it became the property of William Brewer, who founded Torre Abbey and bestowed upon it the Manor, Town and Church of Wolborough. So this district gained the name of New Town of the Abbot, and remained the property of the Abbot of Tor right down to the time of the Dissolution in Henry VIII's reign, when most monasteries were dissolved. Like its rival on the other side of the River Lemon, the New Town of the Abbot obtained the right to hold a Market and Fair by Royal Charter in 1269 for a Friday market to be held in Wolborough Street. As many as 30 butchers might be seen selling their wares from the stalls set up in the street, for there were then no butchers' shops and meat could only be obtained on market days. The Fair was held in honour of Saint Leonard on 5, 6 and 7 November. The chief commodities sold were onions and cheese, and people used to attend from as far afield as Dorset and Somerset, to stock up for the year. In 1633 the Newton Abbot Market absorbed the Newton Bushel one, and in 1826 the combined markets were moved to part of their present site and held every Wednesday.

For many centuries Newton Abbot and Newton Bushel for the most part went their separate ways, but both districts benefited from the wool and leather industries which were so important in the Middle Ages, and from the clay and pottery industries. Up to the beginning of the 19th century an enormous amount of trade was carried on with Newfoundland in connection with the cod fisheries. We are reminded of this by 'The Jolly Sailor Inn' in East Street (now known as the 'Jolly Abbot') where sailors used to congregate, and by the modern road which has been named 'Newfoundland Way'. However, the event which brought the most prosperity to the town was the coming of the railway in 1846. For a short time before the Great Western came into operation, Brunel's ingenious Atmospheric Railway went into action, hence the name given to the Brunel Road Estate behind the Railway Station, which today houses many light industries.

In order to decide whether it would be more profitable for the railway to come to Newton or Ashburton, three weeks were spent in checking the mobile population of each, and although Ashburton is said to have cheated by offering people free rides in cabs during this period, Newton was chosen and her fame as a railway centre became so great that she was hailed as the 'Swindon of the West'.

Newton Abbot was governed after 1894 by an Urban District Council, but it was not until 1901 that Newton Bushel was invited to send members to it and thus form a united Council for both districts. After this the name of Newton Bushel gradually gave way to that of Highweek and that of Bushel survived only as one of the town's Wards. As an outward and visible sign of the union, the insignia of the two districts-the three bushels of Newton Bushel and the mitre, crozier, lamb and tower of Newton Abbot-were amalgamated to form the town's coat of arms.

In 1974, as the result of local government reorganisation, Newton Abbot became part of the Teignbridge District Council and the Town Council, with its own Mayor and Councillors, was formed. Wards which return Councillors to the Town Council are Bradley, Buckland, Bushel, College and Milber and there are 18 Councillors in all.

Brian Randell, 28 Feb 1998