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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Axminster in 1835

AXMINSTER, a market-town in the hundred of Axminster, county of Devon, on the road from London to Exeter, 147 miles W.S.W. of the former, and 26 miles E. of the latter. It is called Axeminstre in Domesday Book, and Axmyster in old writings. It is said that the name is owing to King Athelstan having given the church to seven priests who were to pray for the souls of certain earls and others slain in battle with the Danes, at or near Colecroft in this neighbourhood. The college was not however kept up after the death of the first members.

The town is on the left or S.E. bank of the river Ax or Axe, and is irregularly built on the side of a little hill rising from the river. The streets are sufficiently wide and airy and the place altogether is clean and healthy. The church, which stands on the S.W. side of the town, is cumbrous and heavy in its appearance, particularly on the inside. There is a Norman door-way with enriched mouldings, three stone stalls of unequal height, and the monument of an ecclesiastic with a mutilated effigy. Besides the church, there are three places of worship belonging respectively to the Roman Catholics, Independents and Methodists.

The chief manufacture of the place is carpets. In this it has rivalled the productions of Turkey and Persia so successfully, that the carpets of Axminster are considered little inferior to those imported. They are woven in one entire piece. Woollens, leather breeches and glove, and tape, are also made. There is a market on Saturday ; but the business done in corn has become inconsiderable There are three (or, according to some authorities, four) fairs in the year, chiefly for cattle. The population of the parish (which is subdivided into four tithings, and contains 6,590 acres, or above ten square miles) was 2,719 in 1831.

The living is a vicarage, with the curacies of Kilmington and Membury appended to it, all in the rural deanery of Honiton, the archdeaconry of Exeter, and the diocese of Exeter. There is a school, in which twelve children of the parish of Axminster and two of the parish of Kilmington are educated gratis. The master is allowed to receive other scholars on his own account, and the whole are taught in a school-house built by the parish above forty years ago.

The manor of Axminster was, in early times, the property of the Crown. King John bestowed it on the Lord Brewer or Briwere. After some changes it came to the Cistertian Monastery at Newnham, some very scanty remains of which are still seen near the town ; and upon the dissolution of the religious houses in the reign of Henry VIII, it fell again to the Crown. James I granted it to Sir W. Petre, afterwards Lord Petre, in whose family it still remains. It is said there was formerly a castle at Axminster. In an action near this town, between the Royalists and Parliamentarians, in October, 1644, during the great civil war, Sir R. Cholmondeley, who commanded the former, was killed.

The Rev. Micaiah Towgood, an eminent Dissenting minister of Exeter, was a native of this parish.