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Barnstaple, or Barum (St. Peter and St. Paul)

BARNSTAPLE, or Barum (St. Peter and St. Paul), a port, borough, market-town, and parish, having exclusive jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Braunton, Braunton and N. divisions of Devon, 40 miles (N. W.) from Exeter, and 193 (W. by S.) from London; containing 7902 inhabitants. The origin of this place, which is of considerable antiquity, and is said to have been a Saxon burgh so early as the reign of Athelstan, is involved in obscurity. At the Conquest it was granted to Judael de Totnais, by whom, if not previously by Athelstan, the castle of Barnstaple, of which there are still some remains, is supposed to have been erected, and the town encompassed with walls defended by four gates, of which there were some vestiges in the time of Leland. In the reign of Henry I., and also in that of John, the inhabitants received many valuable privileges, and the town subsequently became the residence of numerous merchants, who traded with France and Spain, and soon raised it into importance. It was made one of the principal depôts for wool, from which circumstance it is supposed to have derived its name; and continued to increase in commercial prosperity till the reign of Elizabeth, when it equipped three ships of war for the fleet destined to repel the Spanish Armada. It suffered materially in 1606, from a flood which inundated the town, and did much damage to the property of the inhabitants. During the civil war of the seventeenth century, it was distinguished for its adherence to the cause of the parliament, and was the scene of frequent conflicts between the two parties, being alternately in the possession of each.

The town is pleasantly situated in a fertile vale sheltered by a semicircular range of hills, on the east bank of the river Taw, near its confluence with the Yeo; and consists of several spacious and well-paved streets, containing many well-built houses. The barracks, formerly appropriated to the reception of cavalry, were purchased from government in 1818, by H. Hole, Esq., and converted into a handsome range of dwelling-houses with gardens and coach-houses attached, called Ebberlyplace, and forming an interesting feature in the appearance of the town; there is a similar range of building, named Trafalgar-place, at Newport, close to the town. The inhabitants are amply supplied with excellent water, conveyed by pipes from the distance of half a mile; and the town is lighted with gas. The air is salubrious, and the surrounding scenery agreeably and richly diversified. Several charming walks upon the winding banks of the Taw (over which is a stately stone bridge of eighteen arches, within a few years considerably widened, and improved by iron railings) extend for nearly a mile; and one of them, called the North walk, is shaded by lofty elm-trees, and commands a fine view of the junction of the rivers Taw and Yeo, which here expand into a beautiful bay. On the quay is a handsome piazza of the Doric order, called Queen Anne's walk, surmounted by a statue of that sovereign, and formerly used as an exchange by the merchants for the transaction of their business. A light and elegant theatre has been erected in one of the chief streets; and there are assembly, reading, and billiard rooms, which are well attended.

The trade consists principally in the importation of deals from North America and the Baltic; wines, spirits, and fruits direct from the places of their growth; coal and culm from South Wales; and shop goods, chiefly groceries, from London and Bristol; and in the exportation of corn and other agricultural produce, oak-timber and bark, leather, wool, tiles, earthenware, &c. The quay, on which is the custom-house, is extensive and commodious; but, from the accumulation of sand, by which the navigation of the river is obstructed, it is not accessible to vessels of more than 100 tons' burthen. A few years since, the port obtained the privilege of bonding wines, spirits, and other articles of colonial produce; and by warrant of the lords of the treasury, lately issued, Ilfracombe has been deprived of the character of a separate port, and is now united as a creek to the port of Barnstaple. The Taw Vale railway and dock have been constructed here under the provisions of an act of parliament obtained for that purpose: the line extends from Penhill, in the parish of Fremington, to this place, is two miles and a half in length, and in its course passes under a tunnel 418 yards long; it was completed at an expense of £20,000. In 1846 an act was passed for the extension of this railway, 31 miles, to the Exeter and Crediton line at Crediton. The manufacture of serge and inferior broad-cloths has long been established; and in the town and neighbourhood are three factories for patent lace, or bobbin-net, employing more than 1000 persons. There are also six tan-yards and two paper-mills; an iron-foundry was established in 1822; and great quantities of bricks, tiles, and coarse earthenware are manufactured. Limestone of good quality is found within four miles of the town, and lead-ore has been discovered in the vicinity, but at such a depth from the surface as to afford little encouragement for the opening of mines. The market is on Friday; and there are great markets on the Fridays before March 16th, April 21st, and July 27th, and on the second Friday in December. A great market for cattle, for which this place is celebrated, is also held monthly; and a fair for horses, cattle, and sheep, on Sept. 19th, which is continued for three days.

The inhabitants have received various charters of incorporation, of which that of James I., in the 8th year of his reign, was the governing charter, until the passing of the act 5th and 6th William IV., c. 76, when the borough was divided into two wards, and the control vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and 18 councillors. The elective franchise was granted in the reign of Edward I., since which time the borough has regularly returned two members to parliament. The right of election was once vested in the corporation and free burgesses, in number about 700; but, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, it was confined to the resident burgesses only, and extended to the £10 householders of the borough, the limits of which, both for parliamentary and municipal purposes, include by computation 980 acres: the mayor is the returning officer. Courts of quarter-session are held for the borough, for determining on all offences not capital; and a court of record, having jurisdiction over the four neighbouring hundreds, is held on alternate Mondays, for the recovery of debts to any amount, and for other business relative to the police of the borough. The powers of the county debt-court of Barnstaple, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-district of Barnstaple. The guildhall, in which the courts are held, is a spacious building, erected by the corporation in 1826; and contiguous to it is a handsome market-place for butchers' meat, with convenient shops. A substantial and convenient prison, containing 20 cells, was erected some years since, at the joint expense of the inhabitants and the corporation.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £15. 8. 9.; net income, £324; patron, Lord Wharncliffe; impropriator, R. N. Incledon, Esq. The church is a spacious and ancient structure, with a spire. A church district, named St. Mary Magdalene's, was formed in 1845, under the 6th and 7th of Victoria, cap. 37, and endowed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners: the living is a perpetual curacy with an income of £150, in the patronage of the Crown and the Bishop of Exeter alternately. The church, commenced in Oct. 1844, and consecrated in Nov. 1846, is a simple and elegant structure of beautiful proportions, in the early English style, from a design of Mr. B. Ferrey's. The cost, about £3500, exclusive of £500 for the site, was raised by subscription, aided by a grant from the Church Building Society; the tower and spire were the gift of the first appointed incumbent. Another church, that of the Holy Trinity, a very handsome cruciform building in the later English style, has been erected at an expense of nearly £10,000, defrayed almost wholly by the Rev. John James Scott; the site was presented by Mr. Charles Roberts. This edifice was consecrated in June, 1845; and the living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Rev. J. J. Scott. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyans. The free grammar school, of uncertain foundation, was endowed in 1649 by R. Ferris, and a small annuity was added in 1760 by the Rev. John Wright: the school-house, an ancient building in the churchyard, formerly belonged to the Cluniac monastery established here by Judael de Totnais. Jewell, the celebrated Bishop of Salisbury; Thomas Harding, Jesuit professor at Louvain; and Gay, the poet, who was born in the neighbourhood, received the rudiments of their education in the school. The charity school, for clothing and educating 50 boys and 24 girls, was founded in 1710, and is maintained by the rent of land purchased with several benefactions, and by subscription.

Litchdon almshouse, an ancient building, consisting of a centre and two wings, in one of which is a chapel, was founded in 1624, and endowed with a considerable estate by John Penrose, Esq., for 40 aged persons of either sex. Horwood's almshouses, for sixteen people, established in 1658, and Paige's almshouses, established in 1553, and enlarged in 1656, were both endowed by the respective founders whose names they bear. The late Mr. Roberts, in 1830, gave £500 four per cent. annuities, the interest to be distributed among the poor of the various almshouses, in number 70 persons; and an elegant building, comprising three sides of a square, and containing twelve almshouses, has lately been erected near Litchdon almshouse, at the expense of Mr. Charles Roberts, son of the above-named gentleman, for 24 decayed housekeepers. A noble hospital, or infirmary, for the reception of the afflicted poor of the north of Devon, was erected by subscription in 1826; it is a lofty and handsome structure, situated on the south-east of the town. An extensive establishment, called the North Devon Dispensary, was also founded in 1830. The union of Barnstaple comprises 39 parishes and places, and contains a population of 37,452. On the quay is an ancient building, now used as a warehouse, said to have been a chantry chapel dedicated to St. Anne. A priory was founded by Judael de Totnais, soon after the Conquest, and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, for monks of the Cluniac order; it was at first a cell to the abbey of St. Martin de Campis, at Paris, but was afterwards made denizen, and flourished till the Dissolution, when its revenue was estimated at £123. 6. 9. Some notice also occurs of a house of Augustine friars, and of an hospital dedicated to the Holy Trinity, founded here; but no particulars are recorded.

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