From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present


50° 32′ 42″ N 4° 9′ 0″ W

  • History
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
Tavistock, formerly Tavistoke, is a market town located on the River Tavy in Devon.

The area around Tavistock, was a good place to ford the River Tavy as runs wide and shallow, near the secure high ground of Dartmoor, and was inhabited at least as far back as the Bronze Age. The surrounding area is littered with archaeological remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages, it is also believed that a hamlet existed on the site of the present town long before the town's official history began, with the founding of the Abbey.

The abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Rumon was founded in 961 by Ordgar, Earl of Devon. After destruction by Danish raiders in 997 it was restored, it became the wealthiest house in Devon, including the hundred and manor of Tavistock among its possessions. Among its famous abbots was Aldred, who crowned Harold II and William I, and died Archbishop of York.

In 1105, a Royal Charter was granted by Henry I to the monks of Tavistock to run a weekly Pannier Market, named after the baskets used to carry good, on a Friday, which still takes place today. In 1116, a three-day fair was also granted to mark the feast of Saint Rumon, another tradition that is still maintained by the annual Goosey fair on the second Wednesday in October.

By 1185, Tavistock had achieved borough status, in 1295, it became a parliamentary borough, sending two members to parliament. The abbey church was rebuilt in 1285. In 1305, with the growing importance of the area as one of Europe's richest sources of tin, Tavistock was one of the four stannary towns appointed by charter of Edward I, where tin was stamped and weighed and monthly courts were held for the regulation of mining affairs.

The church of Saint Eustachius, dedicated to the Roman centurion who became a Christian, by Bishop Stapledon in 1318, although there are very few remains left of that building today. It was rebuilt and enlarged into its current form between 1350 and 1450, at which time the Clothworkers' Aisle, an outer south aisle, was included,

The greater part of the abbey was rebuilt in 1457–1458. In 1552 two fairs on 23 April and 28 November were granted by Edward VI to the Earl of Bedford, then lord of the manor

In the 17th century, great quantities of cloth were sold at the Friday market. The town continued to prosper in the charge of the abbots, acquiring one of England's first printing presses in 1525. Tavistock remained an important centre of both trade and religion until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey was demolished in 1539, leaving the ruins still to be seen around the centre of the town. From that time on, the dominant force in the town became the Russell family, Earls and later Dukes of Bedford, who took over much of the land following the Dissolution.

It is this Russell family connection through the Bedford Estates which gives the name by ownership to Russell Square and Tavistock Square in London..

Around 1540, Sir Francis Drake was born at Crowndale Farm, just to the west of what is now Tavistock College. A Blue Plaque is mounted on the current farmhouse, behind which Drake is believed to have been born, the original farmhouse having been dismantled and the stone transported for use in Lew Trenchard. He became a prominent figure of his age, a champion of Queen Elizabeth, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world from 1577 to 1580 and one of the English commanders in the famously decisive victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

By the 17th century, tin mining was on the wane and the town relied more heavily on the cloth trade. Under the stewardship of the Russells the town remained prosperous, surviving the Black Death in 1625 although sadly 52 townspeople died.

In the English Civil War, starting 1642, the town was at first held by the Parliamentarians under Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford, before later hosting King Charles I and his Royalist troops in 1643 after the defeat of the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Bradock Down. Tavistock's woollen industry also went into decline in the 17th century.

By 1800, cloth was heading the same way as tin had done a century earlier, but copper was starting to be mined in the area, with the the Tavistock Canal being dug by the labour of French prisoners of war due to the Napoleonic Wars, in1817. It carried copper to Morwellham Quay on the River Tamar, where it could be loaded into sailing ships.

In the mid-19th century, with nearby Devon Great Consols mine at Blanchdown one of the biggest copper mining operations in the world, Tavistock was booming again.

The railway came to the town in 1859, with connections to the Great Western Railway and the London and South Western Railway, LSWR. At around this time the centre of town was substantially and ruthlessly remodelled by the 7th Duke of Bedford, including the construction of the current town hall and Pannier Market buildings, the widening of the Abbey Bridge, first built in 1764, with a new Drake Road ramped up northwards from Bedford Square to the LSWR station.

Tavistock North railway station opened to much acclaim and fanfare in 1890 but in 1968, following the Beeching Report, Tavistock Station closed. In 1999 English Heritage listed the building as Grade II.

In 1911, the Bedford influence on the town came to an end after over 450 years, when the family sold most of their holdings in the area to meet death duties

In 1933 the long-disused canal was put to use providing hydroelectric power for the area.