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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Beer-Alston in 1835

BEER-ALSTON, a small market-town in the parish of Beer-Ferris and hundred of Roborough, in the county of Devon, is situate in a most picturesque country between the rivers Tamar and Tavy, six miles S.S.W. from Tavistock, fourteen N. from Plymouth, and 212 W.S.W. from London.

According to Risdon, it was given by William the Conqueror to the French family of Alenson soon after the conquest, from whom it took its name. In the reign of Henry II, ‘this honour,’ says Risdon, ‘as well as Beer-Ferrers, erroneously called Bere-Ferris, was held by Henry Ferrers ; and Martin Ferrers, the last of that ancient house, was put in special trust to defend the sea-coast against the invasion of the French in Edward III’s time.’ Towards the close of the fourteenth century it belonged to Alexander Champernowne of Dartington, and through his grand-daughter it descended to Robert Willoughby, Lord Brooke. It is now the property of the Earl of Beverley.

Beer-Alston was an ancient borough by prescription, although it did not send members to parliament till the reign of Elizabeth. The electors nominally held land of the lord of the manor, at a rent of three-pence. But there really were no landholders except the lord, who created burgage tenures merely for the election. This is one of the flagrant abuses abolished by the Reform Act, Beer-Alston being by that act totally disfranchised, The election of members of Parliament, as well as portreeves, town-clerks, &c., took place in the open air, under a large oak-tree. The number of inhabitants in the borough alone is estimated at 360, but the return of the population is included in that of the parish, which in 1821 amounted to 2,198. but in 1831 had decreased to 1,876. The living of Beer-Ferris, a rectory in the gift of the dean and chapter of Exeter, is in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Bath and Wells, and was rated in the king’s books at £24, 1 shilling and a halfpenny. Lord Valletort is the present patron.

The church possesses some curious monuments of the Ferrers and Champernowne families. Beer-Alston was once famous for its silver-mines, which at one time were very productive, but at present they are not considered worth working. Perhaps to this and to the disfranchisement of the borough is to be attributed the unusual decrease of the population in this parish. It is a curious fact, that the annual value of real property, as assessed in 1815, in the parish of Beer-Ferris, is, with the exception of Plymouth and Devonport, the greatest in Devonshire, amounting to £25,550.