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Honiton, Devon

Historical Description

Honiton, a municipal borough, a market-town, and a parish in Devonshire. The town stands in a beautiful valley near the river Otter, 16½ miles ENE of Exeter. It has a station on the L. & S.W.R., 156 miles from London, and a post, money order, and telegraph office. Its site was possibly a seat of population in the Roman times, or even in the ancient British times in connection with the neighbouring camp of Hembury, The manor was held by Drago, the Saxon; was given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother Robert, Earl of Mortaigne, and passed to the Riverses and the Courtenays. The assizes were adjourned hither from Exeter in 1590, on account of the plague, and seventeen criminals were then executed here, chiefly for murder. Charles I. with his army was here in July, 1644, on his route westward, and again in Sept, on his return. Fairfax, with his army, also halted here in Oct., 1645. Four great fires desolated the town in the 18th century; the first in 1747, when three-fourths of the houses were burned down; the others in 1765, 1790, and 1797, when respectively 160, 37, and 30 houses were destroyed. The site is partly a rising ground, partly the course on a streamlet on the S side of the river Otter, in a valley remarkable for its graceful lines and rich culture, and bordered by detached eminences pleasingly grouped, and it commands a fine view of the valley and its screens. The principal street is broad and handsome, runs from E to W,. and is traversed by the streamlet with clear water, and with dipping-places opposite many of the doors. Waterworks have lately been erected. Another street crosses this at right angles. The houses are almost all modern and slated, and they aggregately present an appearance very superior to that of most old towns-a difference occasioned by reconstruction after the four fires. The town has three banks, two chief inns, a market-house, two churches, three dissenting chapels, a grammar school, a literary and scientific institution, a dispensary, an almshonse hospital with about £70 a year, other charities, and a workhouse. St Michael's Church stands on a rising ground, with a beautiful view half a mile from the town; was originally a priory chapel, built in 1484 by Bishop Courtenay; is Perpendicular English, in good repair; comprises nave, aisles, chancel, and transepts, with a tower; has a somewhat elaborately carved screen; and contains some very good mural monuments, and a black marble tomb of Thomas Marwood, " who practised physic seventy-five years, died at the age of 105, and was physician to Queen Elizabeth." St Paul's Church stands in High Street, partly on the site of an ancient chapel; was built in 1838 at a cost of £7600, and repaired in 1849 at a cost of about £1000; is in the Norman style; consists of nave, aisles, and chancel, with elegant, lofty, pinnacled tower; and in terms of an Act of 1835, was made the parish church. The grammar school is an old building in High Street, with a good residence for the master, and has an endowment of £10 a year. The almshonse hospital bears the name of St Margaret's Charity, was originally an hospital for lepers, and has an ancient chapel. The workhouse was erected in 1836, and contains accommodation for about 250 inmates. A tower, 80 feet high, called the Basket House, erected by the late Dr Copleston, Bishop of Llandaff, stands on the top of Honiton Hill, 1¼ mile distant, and commands a bird's-eye view of Honiton Vale. A weekly market is held on Saturday, great cattle markets are held on the second Saturday of April and the Saturday before 18 Oct., and a fair for cattle and horses is held on the Wednesday and Thursday after 19 July. The manufacture of serge, introduced to England by the Flemish refugees in the time of Elizabeth, struck very early root in Honiton, but long ago declined. The manufacture of pillow-lace, also introduced by the Flemish refugees, struck such root in Honiton, and has been so flourishing here, as to take the name of Honiton lace; it continues to be carried on both here and in other parts of Devonshire, but has of late years been considerably supplanted by the cheaper and inferior fabric of bobbinet, worked by machinery. There are malting establishments, a brewery, flour mills, tanneries, and an iron foundry. The town is a borough by prescription, sent members to Parliament in the time of Edward I., underwent disfranchisement on its own petition on account of poverty, was re-enfranchised in 1640, was limited as a borough till the Act of 1832 to the space occupied by the streets and the edificed outskirts, was then made conterminate with the parish, sent two members to Parliament, was disfranchised as to the one member in 1867, as to the other in 1868, and is governed by a mayor, 5 aldermen, and 18 councillors. Area of municipal borough, 3134 acres; population, 3216. It is divided into two wards- St Michael (population, 1608) and St Paul (population, 1608). The living is a rectory in the diocese of Exeter; net value, £390 with residence. Patron, the Earl of Devon. The miniature painter, 0. Humphrey, was a native.

Honiton Parliamentary Division, or Eastern Devonshire, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 52, 025. The division includes the following:-Honiton- Awliscombe, Branscombe, Buckerell, Churchstanton, Coom-brawleigh, Cotleigh, Dunkeswell, Farway, Feniton, Gittisham, Honiton, Luppitt, Monkton, Northleigh, Offwell, Sheldon, Southleigh, Widworthy, Upottery, Yarcombe; Axminster- Axminster, Axmouth, Colyton, Combpyne, Dalwood, Kil-mington, Membury, Musbury, Eoosdown, Seaton and Beer, Shute, Stockland, Uplyme; Ottery-Aylesbeare, Dotton, Harpford, Ottery (St Mary), Rockbeare, Salcombe Eegis, Sidmouth, Sidbury, Tallaton, Ven Ottery, Whimple; Wood-bury-Bicton, Clist Honiton, Clist (St George), Clist (St Mary), Colaton Kawleigh, East Budleigh, Farringdon, Little-ham and Exmouth, Lympstone, Otterton, Sowton, Witby-combe Rawleigh, Woodbury.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDevon 
Ecclesiastical parishHoniton St. Michael 
Poor Law unionHoniton 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

Findmypast, in association with the South West Heritage Trust, Parochial Church Council, and Devon Family History Society have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Honiton

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Honiton from the following:


Online maps of Honiton are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Devon online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier visitation of 1531, is online.

The Visitations of the County of Devon, comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620, with additions by Lieutant-Colonel J.L. Vivian, published for the author by Henry S. Eland, Exeter 1895 is online.

DistrictEast Devon
RegionSouth West
Postal districtEX14
Post TownHoniton