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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Tavistock in 1842

TAVISTOCK, a parliamentary borough and market-town, on the south-western border of Devonshire, 207 miles from London, 34 from Exeter, and 11 from Plymouth. The parish extends between the western extremity of Dartmoor and the river Tamar, and, according to a survey made in 1781, comprises 13,987 acres, or nearly 22 square miles ; but it is probable that this survey included lands within the boundary of the borough which are not in the parish : in the census of 1831 the area of the parish is stated to be 11,660 acres.

The surface of the parish is diversified by hills from 300 to 600 feet in height, which rise in continued succession and are separated by valleys often deep and narrow, the general direction of which is from north-east to south-west. The higher ground towards Dartmoor is of granitic formation, and the neighbourhood of the town consists of schistose rock.

The town is situated nearly in the centre of the parish, on the north-west bank of the Tavy, which here flows rapidly through a narrow valley, from which the ground rises steeply on both sides to the height of several hundred feet. The river is crossed by two bridges within the town. A narrow valley, or gully, from the north, is also covered by houses. The climate is variable, and the average quantity of rain falling in the year is 45 inches.

In 961 an abbey was founded at Tavistock, which was burnt by the Danes, and afterwards rebuilt on a larger scale. Henry I (1100-1135) granted to the abbot a weekly market and a fair. In 1513 the thirty-fifth abbot :vas called to the House of Peers, but in 1536 his successor surrendered to the king, when the revenue of the abbey was estimated at £902.

A printing-press was established in the abbey soon after the introduction of the art into England. Fragments of the abbey still remain, but are chiefly incorporated with other buildings : and the refectory is used as an assembly-room. John, Lord Russell, ancestor of the Duke of Bedford, obtained a grant of the abbey lands. An ancient lazar-house once stood on the site of the workhouse.

The parish church is a spacious edifice, with a tower at the west end supported on arches. The interior consists of four aisles and a chancel, and contains some good monuments. The living is a vicarage, valued at £302 per annum. The Independents, Unitarians, Quakers, and Wesleyan Methodists have places of worship.

The date of the foundation of the grammar-school is not known, but in 1649 Sir John Glanville left an endowment for the education of one boy, which yields about £4 per annum ; and the Duke of Bedford, in whom the school-estate is vested, allows the master the use of a house rent-free besides other advantages, and £20 a-year for the education of eight boys. There is a Lancasterian school chiefly supported by subscription, which in 1833 was attended by 135 boys and 88 girls. At the same period seventeen other schools were attended by 203 boys and 224 girls ; and there were five Sunday-schools, in which 381 boys and 333 girls were instructed.

There are two almshouses, one for four poor widows, who each receive £2 a year ; and another for fifteen persons, nominated by the Duke of Bedford, who receive £3 a-year each. A sum of £15 is applicable to the apprenticing of poor children.

Tavistock returned two members to parliament previous to the passing of the Reform Act, a privilege which it had enjoyed since 1295 (23 Henry I). The right of election was in the resident freeholders. The Tavy formed the boundary of the borough on one side, and on the other its limits were defined by an artificial line. Under the Reform Act the borough was made co-extensive with the limits of the parish, the manor of Cudliptown excepted, and it still returns two members. The number of voters on the register, in 1840, was 347. Tavistock is not incorporated. The portreeve, who is elected annually at the court-leet of the lord of the manor, is the chief public officer, and makes the return of the elections. Tavistock is one of the polling-places for the county.

The parish registers of Tavistock from 1617 to 1836 have been made the subject of a more careful and elaborate examination than those of any other place in England. This task was undertaken by Dr. Barham, and the results are given in a series of tables which are printed in part ix. of the ‘Tables’ published by the Board of Trade ; and an abstract of them is given in vol. iv., part 1, of the ‘Journal of the. London Statistical Society.’

The population of the parish, in 1781, was 3,117 ; in 1811, 4,723 ; in 1821, 5,483 ; in 1831, 5,602. The increase between 1811 and 1821 is attributed to the extension of mining operations in the neighbourhood. There are some small manufacturing establishments.

Tavistock is one of the four stannary towns in the county. In 1817 a canal was opened, which, after a course of 5 miles, 2 of which are under a tunnel, enters the Tamar at Morwell Ham quay. The head of the canal is connected with the quay by an inclined plane 240 feet high. This canal connects Tavistock with Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake was a native of Tavistock.