Devonshire or Devon, a maritime county, bounded on the N by the Bristol Channel, on the NE by Somerset, on the E by Dorset, on the SE and S by the English Channel, on the W by Cornwall. Its length southward is 72 miles, its greatest breadth 68 miles, its aggregate of coast-line about 144; miles, its total circuit about 280 miles, its area 1,661,914 acres. The only English counties which exceed it in size are Yorkshire and Lincoln.
The surface is exceedingly diversified, and exhibits a vast amount of picturesque scenery. The coasts for the most part are rocky and abound in striking scenes. North Devon, comprising one-fourth or more of all the area, has moorish, mountainous grounds on the east, and some moors and heights on the west, but presents over the most part a rich display of varied contour, fertility, and beauty. West Devon, a much. smaller tract in the south-west, is characterised by narrow vales, deep valleys, and steep flanking banks. Dartmoor, immediately east of this, is a wondrous region of mixed. grandeur, ruggedness, desolation, and romance. The South Hams, extending from Devonport to Torbay, blends with the finest skirts of Dartmoor, and spreads away to the sea in bold swells, winding coombes, and rich vales. East Devon, lying between Dartmoor and Dorset, is prevailingly champaign in the centre and the south, billowy or hilly in the east, sweetly beautiful in many parts, and moorish and mountainous in the north-east. The chief rivers, all more or less estuarial and navigable, are the Taw, the Torridge, the Tamar, the Tavy, the Plym, the Yealme, the Erme, the Avon, the Dart, the Teign, the Exe, the Otter, and the Axe. The chief bays in the north are Morte and Bideford; in the south, Plymouth, Start, and Tor. Springs, brooks, and rivulets abound more than in any other English county, and there are chalybeate spas at Bellamarsh, Bampton, Brixham, Cleaves, and Ilsington.
Granitic rocks occupy Dartmoor, old red sandstone or Devonian rocks form the northern part of North Devon, and most part of West Devon and South Hams; lower carboniferous rocks, limestone and shale, form a belt along the north side of Dartmoor, and a broader band thence to ths western boundary; upper carboniferous rocks, chiefly millstone grit, occupy most of the western, central, and southern parts of North Devon, and extend thence to Chudleigh, the neighbourhood of Exeter, Tiverton, and the boundary near Wellington; new red sandstone rocks occupy the southern and central parts of East Devon, and form a belt westward, past Crediton, to the vicinity of Hatherleigh; lias rocks form a small tract on the eastern border round Axminster; and upper greensand and gault rocks form considerable tracts, interspersed with the new red sandstone in the eastern parts of East Devon. Granite, building-stone, paving-stone, slate, and. limestone are extensively quarried. Marble of good quality is found in some places, and worked into numerous articles. Porcelain clay, pipe clay, and gypsum largely occur, and the first is sent to the Worcester and Stafford potteries. Tin, copper, lead, and iron ores are worked. Silver exists largely in the lead ores, and some gold, cobalt, manganese, and antimony are found. Bituminous coal has been vainly searched for, but lignite coal and anthracite are found and worked.
The soils include little alluvium, and derive their character generally from the underlying rocks. Those of Dartmoor are very poor; those of North Devon are mainly pure yellow or white clays, and partly a clayey loam; those of South Hams vary in frequent changes from a heavy clay to a light calcareous earth, and are so fertile as to have occasioned the region to be called the garden of Devonshire; those of the tracts round Crediton, Exeter, and Honiton, are chiefly rich loams, either sandy or dark hazel; and those of other tracts are for the most part good, indifferent, or bad, according to the nature of the subjacent rocks. The farms range mostly from 100 to 200 acres, and leases run from 6 to 10 years. Butter, cheese, cider, and live stock are the chief produce for exportation. The bovine cattle are a wide-horned red or light-brown breed, excellent both for working and for fattening, but not much esteemed for the dairy; the sheep are of many kinds, but largely a middle-woolled small breed, very similar to the Dorsets, and the native horses are small animals, resembling the Welsh and the Highland breeds. Mackerel, herrings, and other fish are largely caught.
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Archives and Libraries
WEST DEVON RECORD OFFICE
Unit 3, Clare Place,
Tel: 01752 305940
NORTH DEVON RECORD OFFICE
North Devon Library and Record Office,
Tel: 01271 388607/388608
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
A listing of Seats of the Nobility, Clergy and Gentry in Devonshire
Directories & Gazetteers
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Devon online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.
Old map of Devonshire circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)
Old map of Devonshire circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)
Newspapers and Periodicals
A part transcript of the Western Antiquary or Devon and Cornwall note-book.
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Devon online:
Parishes and places
The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.
The population of Devon in 1801 was 340,308; 1811, 382,778; 1821, 438,,417; 1831, 493,908; 1841, 532,959; 1851, 567,098; 1861, 584,373; 1871, 601,374; and in 1881, 603,595; and in 1891, 631,808. The population of the ancient or geographical county in 1901 was 661,341. The population of the administrative county and county boroughs in 1901 was 662,196. The population in 1911 was 699,703.
The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier visitation of 1531, is online.
A part transcript of The Visitations of Devon comprising the Herald's Visitations of 1531, 1564, and 1620, with additions by Lieut-Col J.L. Vivian.
A list of transcripts of Will, Probate and Administration documents of Devonshire people.