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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Ashburton in 1833

ASHBURTON (anciently written ASPERTON), a borough town in the hundred of Teignbridge, in Devonshire, on the road from London (by Exeter) to Plymouth : 192 miles from London, 19 from Exeter, and 24 from Plymouth.

The town is situated a short distance eastward from the river Dart, and consists mainly of a long street, through which the London and Plymouth road passes, and of a second street, turning off to the right, through which passes the road across Dartmoor to Tavistock. The houses are neat, and are mostly covered with slate, which abounds in the neighbourhood. A small stream, which turns several mills, runs through the town, and falls into the Dart about two miles lower down, just where the Plymouth road crosses the Dart.

The church, dedicated to St. Andrew, is a spacious structure in the form of a cross, in the perpendicular style of Gothic architecture. The tower is ninety feet high, and is surrounded by a small spire. In the chancel are several stalls, as in collegiate churches.

Adjoining the church is the ancient chapel of St. Lawrence, in which the grammar-school is held, and also the meetings for parliamentary elections and other public business. This chapel was formerly endowed with lands valued in the time of Edward VI at £10, 15 shillings and 8 pence per annum. Of this amount, ten marks, or £6, 13 shillings and 4 pence went as stipend to the chantry priest, who was to keep a grammar-school ; and the remainder to maintain and repair the leaden pipes ‘for the conduction of wholesome water for the relief of the infected, when plague should be at Ashburton, that they might not infect others.’ These lands, it is probable, are the parish lands now devoted to the repair of the chapel : the endowment of the grammar-school coming from other sources. The chapel was used for marriages and other occasional parochial duty in the early part of the last century.

Besides the grammar-school, there are some endowments for the instruction of the children of the town, especially one given in 1754 by Lord Middleton and the Hon. John Harris (at that time members for the borough), under which, in 1821, upwards of ninety children received education from two schoolmasters of Ashburton. In 1805, the late Miss Dunning founded a gift of £6 per annum for the instruction of ten girls in reading, sewing, &c.

The independents, particular baptists, and Wesleyan methodists have meeting-houses in the town.

The chief manufacture of Ashburton is that of serge, which is made for the East India Company. The market is on Saturday, for corn, provisions, &c. A yarn market, formerly held on Tuesday, under letters patent, granted by Charles II, has been discontinued for many years. There are four fairs, on the first Thursdays in March and June, and the first Tuesdays in August and November. The March fair is a large cattle fair, and that in November a great sheep fair. The number of houses in the parish of Ashburton was, in 1831, 552, including thirty nine uninhabited, and the population at the same time amounted to 4,165.

Ashburton was a parliamentary borough in the time of Edward I, but did not again, except once in the reign of Henry IV, return members till the last parliament of Charles I in 1640. The right of election was in the inhabitant householders and the holders of burgage tenures ; but the boundaries of the borough were not clearly known. The number of voters was estimated at between 300 and 400, but the members were really the nominees of Lord Clinton and Sir Lawrence Palk. By the Reform Bill the number of representatives was reduced from two to one, and the boundary of the parish made the boundary of the borough. The number of houses in the parish, of £10 value and upwards, was estimated in the boundary reports at 342. The returning officer is the portreeve, who is chosen annually at. the court leet and baron of the lord of the manor.

The living is a vicarage in the rural deanery of Moreton, the archdeaconry of Totness, and the bishopric of Exeter ; and in the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury. It includes the chapelries of Bickington and Buckland-in-the Moor. The dean and chapter of Exeter are the patrons.

Ashburton is one of the four towns in which the stannary courts are held. These courts are held before the lord warden or his substitutes, for the administration of justice among the tinners of Devonshire and Cornwall, by virtue of a privilege granted to them to sue and be sued only in their own courts. The other stannary towns are Chagford, Plympton, and Tavistock.

This town was the birth-place of John Dunning, the first Lord Ashburton, and of the late William Gifford, editor of the Quarterly Review.