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Lydford (St. Petrock)

LYDFORD (St. Petrock), a parish, in the union of Tavistock, hundred of Lifton, Lifton and S. divisions of Devon, 7¾ miles (N. by E.) from Tavistock; containing, with Dartmoor Forest, 1213 inhabitants, of whom 933 are in the Forest. This place, anciently of some consequence, in 997 sustained severe injury from the Danes, who, after the destruction of Tavistock Abbey, burnt forty of the houses in the town of Lydford. In the reign of Edward the Confessor it is recorded as a borough, and had eight burgesses within the walls, and forty-one without: at the time of the Conquest, these had increased to 140; the town was fortified, and was considered of such importance as to be taxed on an equality with London. In 1238, the Forest of Dartmoor, and the castle of Lydford, were bestowed by the king upon Richard, Earl of Cornwall; and the manor now belongs to the duchy. Situated in the centre of a mining district, Lydford was the great mart for tin, then the staple commodity of the county; and there are still extant a few pieces of money coined at the mint here, which is said to have existed in the time of Ethelred II. In the reign of Edward I. the place twice sent members to parliament; in 1267, a weekly market was granted, with an annual fair for three days. The stannary courts were held in the town till the close of the last century, and offenders against the stannary laws were imprisoned in a castle here, the dungeons of which have been considered scarcely less frightful than those of the Spanish inquisition: until the reign of Edward III., a gaol delivery took place only once in ten years. The village now consists merely of a few cottages; the scenery which surrounds it is of the most beautiful description, and about a quarter of a mile southward is a small bridge of one arch, near which is a romantic fall of the river Lyd, the water rushing over the rugged bed of a narrow chasm of the depth of 80 feet. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £15. 13. 9., and in the patronage of the Crown, in right of the duchy of Cornwall: the tithes have been commuted for £144, and there is a glebe-house. The only remains of the castle consist of the shell of the keep, situated on a mound at the eastern end of an area formerly surrounded by a wall and a ditch; the western side overlooks a narrow dell of considerable depth. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the foundations of the town gates, and vestiges of the trenches, were visible.

Dartmoor Forest, a dreary but interesting waste, is said to comprise not less than 130,000 acres. Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, about the year 1800, built a mansion at Tor Royal, in its very heart, made extensive plantations, and much improved the land in the vicinity; and in 1808, at his instigation, a prison was erected for the reception of the numerous French captives that had previously crowded the prison ships at Plymouth. This immense building comprises, besides an hospital and dwellings for the petty officers, five rectangular edifices, each capable of holding 1600 men. The governor's house adjoins the prison; and at the distance of a quarter of a mile are the barracks for the guards. For the supply of the prison, numerous tradesmen established themselves in the vicinity; a small town, called Prince Town, was soon formed, and a chapel built; but at the close of the war the place was almost deserted. The minister of the chapel, however, retains his appointment, and divine service is performed weekly. In 1819, an act was obtained for making a tramway from Dartmoor to Plymouth. From the granite works with which the line is connected, great quantities of stone are forwarded to the port; and the rail-wagons, on their return, are chiefly loaded with lime, manure, and coal. At Two Bridges, east of Prince Town, a cattle-fair is held on the first Wednesday after August 16th.

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