UK Genealogy Archives logo

Tavistock (St. Evstachius)

TAVISTOCK (St. Evstachius), a borough, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Tavistock, Tavistock and S. divisions of the county of Devon, 33 miles (W. by S.) from Exeter, and 204 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 6272 inhabitants. This place, which takes its name from its situation on the river Tavy, was the abode of Orgar, Earl of Devonshire, whose daughter Elfrida, surreptitiously obtained in marriage by Athelwold, favourite of King Edgar (for whom he had been sent to negotiate), became, on the subsequent discovery of the treachery, the wife of that monarch. The town appears to have derived its origin from the erection of an abbey of Black monks, begun in 961, by Orgar, who, according to tradition, had been admonished in a dream to found a monastery here. The abbey was completed in 981, by his son Ordulf, by whom it was endowed with ample possessions, and dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and St. Ramon. After having been destroyed by the Danes, it was restored by the contributions of the neighbouring families, of whom the De Eggecombes were munificent benefactors. Henry I. granted to the abbots the entire jurisdiction of the hundred of Tavistock, and gave them a weekly market and annual fairs, with other privileges; in 1513 Henry VIII. conferred the right of a seat among the peers upon Abbot Banham, who also procured from Pope Leo X. an exemption from all episcopal and inctropolitical jurisdiction. Soon after the introduction of printing into England, a press was established in the monastery, from which issued a code of the Stannary laws, and a trauslation of Boëthius by Walton, the latter printed by Dan Thomas Rychard, one of the monks; perfect copies of both these are preserved in the library of Exeter College, Oxford. The monastery flourished till the year 1539, when it was surrendered to the king by the last abbot, John Peryn, on whom was settled a pension of £100 per annum for life: the revenue was £902. 5. 7.; and the site, with the borough and town, was assigned to John Russell, ancestor of the Duke of Bedford. A school for the study of Saxon literature was established here at a very early period, under the patronage of the abbots, and continued till the time of the Reformation. While the plague raged at Exeter, in 1591, the summer assizes were held in this town, and thirteen criminals were executed on the Abbey green. At a subsequent period, a market and a fair were held, in time of plague, above Merivale bridge, about three miles distaut from the town, where three long rows of stones may still be seen, pointing out the spot. After the defeat of the parliamentarians on Bradock Down, in 1643, the royalists were quartered here; and Charles I. visited the town on his route to Cornwall, subsequently to his unsuccessful attempt on Plymouth.

The town is pleasantly situated in a valley, through which the river Tavy rushes with tumultuous impetuosity over an uneven and rocky bed, and which combines some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenery in this justly admired county. It is irregularly built, partly in the vale, and partly on the acclivities by which the vale is inclosed: the streets were first lighted with gas in the year 1832. The approaches are easy and commodious; those from the east of Cornwall, and from the roads over Dartmoor, underwent considerable improvement, under the auspices of the late Duke of Bedford, in 1839. On the right of the fine entrance into the town from Plymouth, and opposite to the church, are various embattled and turreted buildings originally belonging to the abbey; a part has been converted into the Bedford hotel, which has an extensive façade in the ancient English style. In a building over the grand archway of the old abbey is a public library, and adjoining it an edifice in which the members of a literary and scientific institution have lectures once a fortnight during the winter months: the library was fitted up, and the building for the institution was erected, by the late Duke of Bedford, in lieu of a structure in the Grecian style, which, not harmonizing with the venerable remains of the abbey, his grace was anxious to remove. Over the Tavy are two ancient bridges within the town, and a third of modern date about a quarter of a mile on the Plymouth road, near which is a bridge over the Tavistock canal. Races are held on Whitchurch Down.

The manufacture of serge and coarse woollen-cloths, which formed the principal employment of the inhabitants, has long been on the decline; and the miningtrade, once carried on to a large extent, has also materially diminished. An extensive iron-foundry is conducted in the town; and at a place called Crowndale, at the distance of a mile from it, is a tin-smelting establishment. The neighbourhood abounds with mineral productions, and in the section of a mining field between the rivers Tavy and Tamar, considerable quantities of porphyritic rock in alternate layers, called Elvan, are found. From the mines near the town, grey and ruby copper are produced; in the mine called Wheal Friendship, native rich yellow, red, and crystallized pyrites are to be obtained in profusion. Lead abounds in the district, and there are also silver, tin, manganese, iron, and the loadstone. The Tavistock canal, forming a junction with the Tamar at Morwell-Ham quay, was completed in June 1817, at au expense of £68,000, and flows in a tunnel at Morwell Down one mile and three quarters in length; the boats employed are chiefly of iron, and the principal articles conveyed are ore, coal, and lime. The market, which is noted for its ample supply of corn, is on Friday. Fairs are held on the second Wednesday in Jan., May, Sept., Oct., and December; and there are great cattle-markets on the second Wednesday in March, July, August, and November.

The inhabitants never received a regular charter of incorporation; the town is one of the four chief stannary towns, and is governed by a portreeve elected at the annual court lect of the manor. The borough, which exists by prescription, first sent members to parliament in the reign of Edward I. The elective franchise, formerly vested in the resident freeholders, in number about 30, was, under the act passed in 1832, extended to the £10 householders of the parish (except the detached manor of Cudliptown), which was constituted the new elective borough, comprising an area of 11,112 acres: the portreeve is returning officer. Among its representatives have been John Pym, the great opposer of Charles I.; and William, Lord Russell, who was beheaded in the reign of Charles II. The powers of the county debt-court of Tavistock, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Tavistock.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 17. 6.; net income, £298; patron and impropriator, the Duke of Bedford, whose tithes have been commuted for £364. The church is a neat, spacious, and ancient structure, with a lofty tower supported on arches, affording a thoroughfare underneath it for carriages; and contains some good monuments, including those to Sir John Fitzand Sir John Glanville, the latter of whom was judge of the common pleas, and died in 1600. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The grammar school is of very ancient though uncertain foundation, and under the auspices of the abbots was for many years pre-eminently distinguished. In 1552, John, Earl of Bedford, granted for 200 years the amount of dues claimed by him within the borough, for its support; and in 1649, Sir John Glanville, Knt., speaker of the house of commons, gave an estate at South Brent-Tor, producing £25 per annum, for the better maintenance of a scholar at either of the universities. Since the expiration of the earl's gift, his successors have allowed the master a residence, school-house, and garden, rentfree, and a stipend of £20. A new and handsome building was erected by the late duke, in 1838; and the school, which had fallen almost into disuse, has again begun to flourish. In 1674, Nicholas Watts bequeathed land and houses, the rent of which is £65. 18., for the benefit of poor persons, a part to be appropriated to the assistance of a scholar of Tavistock at the university. Several benefactions called the Ford-street charity, producing £120 per annum, were by act of parliament vested in the Russell family for various purposes, in fulfilment of which an almshouse has been erected for fifteen persons, who receive each £3 per annum in quarterly payments; the balance is chiefly distributed among the indigent. The poor-law union of Tavistock comprises 24 parishes or places, containing a population of 23,995.

The principal remains of the monastery are the gateway, the refectory (now used as a place of worship for Unitarians), some traces of the boundary walls, and an entire gateway near the canal bridge, probably forming a private entrance to the gardens and orchard of the abbey. They are chiefly in the later English style, and being in many parts mantled with ivy, have an interesting and picturesque appearance. Within the parish are the remains of Old Morwell House, the hunting-seat of the abbots; and in the woods attached to the mansion is a precipitous cliff, from whose summit is a fine view of the river Tamar winding through a valley of great beauty. Within a mile of the town, in the parish of Whitchurch, is Holwell House, the ancient seat of the Glanville family, of which the last male representative of the elder branch, by whose father the property had been alienated, died in 1830: the appearance of the mansion, which is in good preservation, bears testimony to its original magnificence. Among the eminent natives of Tavistock, have been, Sir Francis Drake; Judge Glanville; his son, Sir John Glanville; and William Browne, author of Britannia's Pastorals, the Shepherd's Pipe, and other works. The town gives the inferior title of Marquess to the Duke of Bedford.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.