This portion of the island was called by the Cornish Britons Deunan, apparently from the inequality of its surface; of which name the [Danmonion] and Danmonii of Ptolemy seem to be only modifications. The Welsh termed it Deuffneynt, signifying "deep valleys," and, like the former, descriptive of the surface of the county; and a softening of this name with the addition of the word scyre, a share or portion, appears to have produced the Anglo-Saxon Devenascyre, Devnascyre, and Devenschire, in modern English Devonshire. It was inhabited at a very remote period, and its population, the ancient Cimbri or Cymry, had commercial transactions with the Phnicians, the Greeks, and other nations; but many of the aboriginal inhabitants, on the settlement of a portion of the Belgic invaders in the south-eastern part of Devon, were compelled to emigrate to Ireland, and the remainder were confined within the north-western part of their ancient territory. Under the Roman dominion the present county formed an important part of Britannia Prima; and in the early period of the Saxon era it became part of the kingdom of the West Saxons, or Wessex.
The county is in the diocese of Exeter, and province of Canterbury, and is divided into the archdeaconries of Barnstaple, Exeter, and Totnes; the first containing the deaneries of Barnstaple, Chulmleigh, Hertland, Shirwell, South Molton, and Torrington; the second those of Aylesbeare, Cadbury, Exeter, Dunkeswell, Dunsford, Honiton, Kenne, Plymtree, and Tiverton; and the third, those of Holsworthy, Ipplepen, Moreton, Oakhampton, Plympton, Tamerton, Tavistock, Totnes, and Woodleigh. In this diocese the office of rural dean is an efficient office, the deans being elected annually at the visitations. The number of parishes is 466. The county contains the city of Exeter; the ancient borough and market towns of Ashburton, Barnstaple, Dartmouth, Honiton, Plymouth, Tavistock, Tiverton, and Totnes; the modern naval arsenal of Devonport, created a parliamentary borough by the act passed in the 2nd of William IV.; the market-towns of Oakhampton and Plympton, heretofore enjoying the right of representation, but (with the borough of Beer-Alston, which has no market,) disfranchised by the above-named statute; and the market-towns of Axminster, Bampton, Bideford, Brixham, Chagford, Chudleigh, Chulmleigh, Colyton, Crediton, Cullompton, Hatherleigh, Holsworthy, Ilfracombe, Kingsbridge, Modbury, South Molton, Moreton-Hampstead, Newton-Abbott, Ottery St. Mary, Sidmouth, Stonehouse, East Teignmouth, Topsham, and Torrington. For electoral purposes Devonshire is divided into the Northern and Southern divisions, each sending two representatives to parliament; the city of Exeter, and the boroughs of Barnstaple, Devonport, Honiton, Plymouth, Tavistock, Tiverton, and Totnes, each send two members, and those of Ashburton and Dartmouth one each. The county is included in the Western circuit, and the assizes and quarter-sessions are held at Exeter, where stand the county gaol and house of correction. The stannary laws, which have been in force from an early period in the mining district, in the south-western part of the county, constitute the only peculiarity in the civil jurisdiction; the stannary towns are Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton, and Tavistock. The stannary parliaments, which have long fallen into disuse, met in the open air, on an elevated spot called Crockern Tor, in Dartmoor; the prison was Lidford Castle, now in ruins.
In form this county, though irregular, is compact: its circumference is about 280 miles, of which 130 are sea-coast, 50 being on the Bristol Channel, and 80 on the English Channel. Its general surface is hilly, the most elevated ground being the Forest of Dartmoor, whose mean height is estimated at 1782 feet, and its extreme height, at Cawsand Bog, at 2090. Mildness and humidity are the general characteristics of the Climate, which in the southern part of the county, forming the district called the South Hams, is supposed to be milder and more salubrious than in any other part of England; and both here and on the northern coast the broad-leafed double-flowering myrtle, and even the more delicate aromatic and narrow-leafed sorts, constantly flourish in the open air, and not unfrequently form a part of the garden hedges. The Soil is extremely various, but may in general be characterised according to the subjacent strata, such as aganitical, slaty, calcareous, arenacious, argillaceous, gravelly, and loamy. Of the land in cultivation, the greater portion is Pasture: in the northern part of the county the grazing-land predominates, in the proportion of about three to one; but in the South Hams the Arable prevails, in at least the same proportion. The corn and pulse crops commonly cultivated are wheat, barley, oats, beans, and peas: a great quantity of corn is raised in the neighbourhoods of Hartland, Bideford, and Ilfracombe, much of which is exported. Flax is grown somewhat extensively at Haberton, and in the adjacent parishes towards Somersetshire. The common artificial grasses are red and white clover, trefoil, and rye-grass. A considerable portion of the grass-land is appropriated to the dairy, the produce of which in butter is chiefly sent to London, more especially from the neighbourhoods of Honiton, Axminster, &c. In no part of England are the Gardens on a more extensive scale than throughout this county. The cultivation of apples for making cider was first an object of general care about the commencement of the seventeenth century, and orchards are now to be seen in every part of the county; every valley, indeed, throughout the South Hams is more or less occupied by them, and this district is the most celebrated for the excellence of the cider which it produces. To the eye of a stranger there appears at first to be a deficiency of Woodland; but most of the hollows and the declivities bounding the larger valleys, particularly where sheltered from the violence of the westerly winds, are interspersed and adorned with a healthy, though not a large or towering, growth of oak and other timber. Much of the surface, also, is occupied by the remains of large and more ancient woodlands, now transformed into coppices of oak and other underwood, apparently the vestiges of a chain of forests which extended along the margins of all the rivers descending from Dartmoor and Exmoor; and some of the old red forest-deer still ramble unmolested through the glades and woodlands with which these rich and pleasant valleys are so highly decorated. The Waste lands occupy by estimation nearly one-fifth of the entire surface: the principal are Dartmoor and Exmoor, with the adjacent commons; there are also very extensive commons near Bridestowe, besides Roborough-down, Black-down near Tavistock, Black-down on the border of Somersetshire, Haldon, &c. The royal forest of Exmoor, of which part is included in this county, was divided under an act passed in 1815. Near the seacoast are various salt-marshes.
The grand geological divisions of Devonshire are, the district of granite and primitive argillaceous slate; that of transition slate, or greywackè; that of red sandstone; and that of green sand. The granite composes the greater portion of Dartmoor, in the south-western part of the county, and is closely surrounded by a district of argillaceous slate. The transition slate occupies the northern part of the county, including Exmoor. The red sandstone constitutes the less elevated portions, and skirts the base of the last-mentioned district, extending north-eastward into Somersetshire, and westward as far as Hatherleigh. The green sand formation comprises the larger portion of the hills in the south-eastern part, and its surface is generally marked by extensive tracts of common; the intermediate valleys being extremely fertile, as they are composed principally of red marl. History informs us that the Phnicians, and afterwards successively the Greeks and Romans, traded for Tin with the inhabitants of South-western Britain, and it is believed that this continued an article of commerce even in the middle ages. In the reign of Richard I., it constituted one of the principal sources of revenue of the earldom of Cornwall; and in 1250, Henry III. granted a charter of protection to the tinners of Devon. The tin was formerly smelted and coined in the county, but on account of the great diminution in the produce of the mines, it is now conveyed to Cornwall. Some Copper mines were worked early in the last century, and they were greatly extended at the commencement of the present, the augmented value of the metal then stimulating the miners to increased exertions. The Lead ores of Devonshire and Cornwall contain a greater proportion of silver than those in any other part of the kingdom; the veins range from north to south, crossing the usual direction of the copper and tin mines: the greater part of the ore dug near Tavistock is shipped at Plymouth. Manganese was discovered here in 1770, since which period great quantities have been procured, and it has formed a considerable article of commerce. A very rich Ironstone is found near Combe-Martin, and another species on Black-down. Several attempts to procure Coal have been made, but they were ineffectual, and the most scientific geologists are of opinion that it does not exist to any profitable extent, although a very thin vein has been found at Chittlehampton, in the northern part of the county. The deposit of coaly matter found near Bovey-Tracey, and hence called "Bovey coal," is a species of wood coal: including the beds of clay with which the coal is interstratified, it is about seventy feet thick. Granite of the best quality may be obtained to any extent from the Dartmoor rocks, and since the construction of the two under-mentioned railways, to convey it to Plymouth and the estuary of the Teign, it has become an article of considerable commerce: the Heytor granite is said to be equal in quality to that of Aberdeen. Valuable beds of Limestone exist in almost every part of the county, and vast quantities of lime are obtained from them, in addition to which there are numerous kilns on the northern coast used for burning limestone imported from Wales, so extensively is this article applied as manure: in some places the limestone strata comprise beds of beautiful marble. Freestone and other kinds of stone useful for building, and slates of a good quality for roofing, are quarried in various places; and the soft sandstone on the side of Black-down is worked while wet into hones, which are sent to Bristol and other parts of the kingdom: another species of sandstone is converted into an inferior kind of millstones. There are also deep beds of pipe and potters' clay.
The principal branch of Manufacture is that of woollencloth, which was carried on here so early as the reign of Edward I., though only frieze and plain coarse cloths were made until that of Edward IV., when the manufacture of kerseys was introduced. Devonshire kerseys were an important article of commerce with the Levant, in the early part of the 16th century, and the trade experienced a further increase in the 17th, towards the close of which it was at its greatest height; but during the late continental war the demand from foreign countries very much declined, and the trade has not since recovered its former extent. The manufacture of bonelace at Honiton and Bradninch, introduced probably in the reign of Elizabeth, is now on the decline; but an extensive manufacture of machine lace has been established at Tiverton: the glove-trade is carried on to a considerable extent at Torrington. Large quantities of shoes, made at Ashburton, Dartmouth, and Kingsbridge, are sent to Newfoundland. Ship-building is an important feature in the trade of the county, at Plymouth, Teignmouth, Dartmouth, Devonport, and Bideford; and there are extensive potteries, from which great quantities of coarse earthenware are exported. The Fisheries afford employment to a considerable number of persons; but the herring-fishery on the northern coast has been of late years much less productive than formerly. The pilchard-fishery, on the southern coast, is carried on chiefly in Bigbury bay, at Dartmouth, and at Brixham. At Plymouth, fifty decked trawlers, besides a much greater number of yawls, are constantly engaged in procuring turbot, soles, whiting, &c., and more than 1000 men and boys are thus employed. At Star-Cross are oyster-beds; the oysters are brought from the Teign, and from Weymouth, Poole, Saltash, &c., and, having been fed here for some time, are sold in the Exeter market. Young oysters from the Teign are also sent to be fed in the Thames, for the London market. In connexion with these various branches of industry, the commerce is extensive: the principal exports are woollen goods, fish, corn, malt, cider, timber, and bark; silver, copper, tin, and lead ores; antimony (from Cornwall), manganese, marble, granite, lime, and pipe and potters' clay: the chief imports are coal, culm, dried fish from Newfoundland, hemp, tallow, deals, iron, wine, and groceries.
The rivers, owing to the extent and unevenness of the surface, and the humidity of the climate, are very numerous; the principal are the Axe, the Otter, the Exe, the Teign, the Dart, the Avon, the Erme, the Yealme, the Plym, the Tamar, the Tavy, the Torridge, the Taw, and the Okement. The Exe, from Topsham to Exmouth, where it falls into the sea, is, on an average, nearly a mile broad, and is here navigable for ships of large burthen: vessels formerly ascended it to Exeter, but the navigation having received successive injuries, only sloops and barges now reach that city by a canal, five miles in length, originally constructed in the reign of Henry VIII., but recently extended and improved. The Dart falls into the sea at Dartmouth, and is navigable up to Totnes, forming in its lower reaches a deep and romantic estuary. The Teign, in its course to the sea between Shaldon and Teignmouth, becomes a wide estuary near King's-Teignton; it is navigable to Newton-Bushell. The Yealme falls into the sea at Yealmemouth, and is navigable for small brigs up to Kitley quay, and for barges and small boats half a mile higher. The Plym, in its course to the sea below Plymouth, forms a wide estuary near Saltram, and is navigable for vessels of war up to Catwater, and for ships of about fifty tons' burthen up to Crabtree. The Tamar becomes a wide estuary near Beer-Alston, and a little below Saltash forms the magnificent harbour of Hamoaze, which, sweeping past Devonport, opens into Cawsand bay, between Stonehouse and Mount-Edgcumbe; it is navigable for vessels of 130 tons up to New Quay, about twenty-four miles above Plymouth. The Torridge spreads into a wide estuary at Bideford, and near Appledore unites with that of the Taw, about two miles below which it falls into Barnstaple bay; it is navigable for ships of large burthen up to Bideford, and for boats up to Wear-Gifford. The Taw expands into a broad estuary at Barnstaple, and about six miles lower joins the Torridge: it is not usually navigated up to Barnstaple by vessels of more than eighty tons' burthen, though vessels of 140 tons sometimes sail to that port; for boats and barges it is navigable as high as Newbridge. Salmon are caught in all the principal rivers, those of the Exe and Dart being most esteemed; but here, as in other parts of the kingdom, the salmon-fishery has much declined, in consequence of the fish being destroyed in the spawning season: salmon-peel is found in the Tavy, the Tamar, the Otter, the Dart, the Erme, and the Mole; trout abound in nearly all the larger streams, and the lamprey is found in the Exe and the Mole.
The Stover or Teigngrace canal, from Bovey-Tracey to the river Teign at Newton-Abbott, was completed about the year 1794, at the expense of James Templer, Esq. Under an act obtained in 1803, a canal was completed in 1817, from the tideway of the Tamar, at Morwelham Quay, near Calstock, to the town of Tavistock, a distance of about four miles, in a north-eastern course, in which it passes under Morwelham Down, by a tunnel about 2640 yards long, and 460 feet beneath the highest point of the down. A branch, three furlongs in length, extends from Crebar to the slate-quarries at Mill-Hill bridge; and near the point at which this diverges, the main line is carried across the Lambourn stream, by an aqueduct 200 yards long and 60 feet high. In 1819, an act was obtained for the construction of the Bude canal, which reaches from Bude, in Cornwall, to Thornbury, in Devonshire, and affords facilities for the importation of sea-sand and Welsh coal. The Grand Western canal, the intended line of which was to connect the Exe, at Topsham, with the Parret, at Bishop's-Hull, was undertaken pursuant to an act passed in 1796, and slowly carried on under others obtained in 1811 and 1812, but is still only partially completed: entering from Somersetshire, a branch from Burlescombe extends as far as Tiverton. The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway, chiefly for the conveyance of granite from Dartmoor to the port of Plymouth, was constructed under an act passed in 1819, and was extended, by a branch from Crabtree to the lime-works at Catdown and Sutton Pool, under another obtained in 1820, and still further improved under a third procured in 1821. A similar railroad extends from Heytor, in the eastern part of Dartmoor, to the Stover canal. The Bristol and Exeter railway enters the county from Somerset, and, passing by Cullompton, has its terminus at Exeter; a short branch leads to Tiverton, from a point a few miles north of Cullompton. The South Devon line, between Exeter and Plymouth, commences at Exeter, and proceeds along the west side of the river Exe and along the coast to Dawlish and Teignmouth: it then takes a western course north of the Teign, to Newton-Abbott, and passes inland by Totnes to Plymouth. A railway has also been opened from Exeter to Crediton; and the Taw Vale line has been partly opened, at Barnstaple.
The most remarkable remains of the ancient Britons are, a circular inclosure of loose stones, called Grimspound, in the parish of Manaton, and smaller circles found, often in groups, on many parts of Dartmoor, also near Widdecombe-on-the-Moor, and at Nightacott, in the parish of Bratton-Fleming; a large cromlech at Drews-Teignton; some sepulchral stones; and numerous tumuli, or barrows, on various parts of the downs, especially the northern. Many of these last are composed of stones, and called cairns; and urns, coins, celts, &c., have been found in the barrows. Of the numerous encampments, not a few are believed to be British; and it is the opinion of some writers that the chain of strong posts on the eastern side of the county was constructed by the Danmonii, to defend their frontier against the Morini: several of these camps, however, were occupied, if not formed, by the Romans, as is evident from the discovery of Roman coins. Notwithstanding the existence of the stations Isca Danmoniorum, Moridunum, Durium, Tamara, Termolus (perhaps at Molland-Bottreaux), and Artavia, the remains of Roman antiquity that have been discovered are comparatively few and unimportant; and the site of only one of the stations has been fixed with certainty, viz., Isca Danmoniorum, now Exeter. The principal ancient roads still traceable in parts of their course are, the Ikeneld, or Iknield way, which crossed the county from Dorsetshire into Cornwall, passing through Exeter, and was originally of British construction; the Fosse-way, which fell into or crossed the former, near the eastern border of the county; and the Port-way, which led from the centre of Somersetshire towards Exeter, in the line of the present turnpike-road from Taunton. British roads are supposed to have extended from the mouth of the Exe to the great camp at Woodbury; from Exeter respectively to Cleeve House, to the north-western part of the county, and to Molland-Bottreaux; and from Seaton, by the camp at Hembury, to Molland: these were subsequently used by the Romans, and various remains of them are yet visible. A considerable Roman road may be traced nearly across the north-eastern part of the county, from Taunton to Stratton, passing by several camps of undoubted Roman construction, and designated, in some places, the Rumansleigh ridge.
The Camps of acknowledged Roman antiquity are, Countisbury, on the northern channel; the camp in Sir Thomas Acland's park at Killerton, where coins have been found; Bradbury, between Exeter and Stratton; and Bury Castle, in Witheridge, between Exeter and Molland. Shorsbury, in the parish of High Bray, is, perhaps, of the same origin; and Hembury, if not constructed by the Romans, was at least occupied by them. In the extreme eastern part of the county are the camps of Membury, Musbury, and Oxendown Hill near Axmouth: there are two in the parish of Widworthy; and proceeding westward, are found the Dumpton and Hembury forts; Belbury Castle, commanding the vale of the Otter; Blackbury, near Southleigh; Honeyditches, near Seaton; and a fortification on the hill above Sidbury. To the west of the Otter are, Woodbury Castle; the camps on Haldon, and at Ugbrook on Melbourne down: a small camp near Newton; that at Denbury; the fort called Hembury, in the parish of Buckfastleigh; a camp at Berry-head, commanding Tor bay; Stanborough Castle, in the parish of Morleigh; and a large camp at Blackadon, in the parish of Loddiswell. The most remarkable Fortress on the northwestern coast is that of Dickenhills, or Clovelly dykes; and there are others at or near Appledore, Barnstaple, Braunton, Berry-Narber, Bratton-Fleming, Paracombe, Linton, and Charles. Among the principal inland fortresses are, Cadbury; Broadbury, between Ashbury and Bratton-Clovelly; and Ramsdon, near Kelly. There is also a line of strong posts from Exeter to Dartmoor, and several camps and posts extended nearly in a line from Exeter, through Crediton, to Molton and Molland. Various other fortified posts are scattered over the surface; and on Black-down are some singular excavations, said to mark the site of a British town.
Before the Reformation there were 33 religious houses within the limits of the county, including one preceptory of the Knights Templars, and thirteen collegiate establishments, of which only that of the church of St. Peter at Exeter remains; there were likewise sixteen hospitals, of which seven are still in existence. The remains of monastic buildings consist only of some vestiges of those at Frithelstock, Ford, Tavistock, Hartland, Polsloe, Exeter, Slapton, Tor-abbey, Plymouth, Buckfastleigh, and Buckland. Of the ruins of ancient castles and fortified mansions the most remarkable are those at Oakhampton, Plympton, Lydford, Dartmouth, Berry-Pomeroy, Compton, Hemyock, and Tiverton. The most perfect ancient mansion is Bradfield Hall, in the parish of Uffculme; and Buckland Abbey, Bradley near Newton-Bushell, Collacombe, Colyton vicarage-house, Dartington Hall (erected in the reign of Richard II.), the episcopal palace at Exeter, Ford House near Newton-Abbott, Fulford House, Morwell House, Sydenham House in Maristow parish, and Whiddon in that of Chagford, are also worthy of notice. The most distinguished modern seats are Mount-Edgcumbe, Castle Hill, Powderham, Saltram, Mamhead, Killerton, Kitley, Haldon House, Tavistock, Bicton, Watermouth, Endsleigh, Heanton, &c. Chalybeate springs abound, and many of them have enjoyed a temporary celebrity: at Ashburton, and near the Dart, are springs saturated with ochre; Lay Well, at Brixham, ebbs and flows. Among the sports and pastimes of the county may be noticed the practice of wrestling, which prevails mostly in the north of Devon, and in the neighbourhood of Plymouth, and elsewhere on the border of Cornwall. Devonshire gives the title of Duke to the family of Cavendish, and that of Earl to the family of Courtenay, who are styled Earls of Devon, and whose claim to the earldom was established by a decision of the House of Lords, in 1831.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.