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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Tiverton in 1843

TIVERTON, a borough and market town in the hundred of the same name, is situated at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Loman, 169 miles south-west of London, and 14 miles north of Exeter. It derives its name (formerly Twyfordton, and now, by an easy gradual alteration, Tiverton) from its situation between the two ancient fords, through the Exe on the west, and the Loman on the east. The hundred of Tiverton is described in Domesday Book under the head of Terra Regis, or land belonging to the king, held by several persons during the reign of Edward the Confessor as vassals of the crown. Soon after the Norman invasion these lands were held by Baldwin de Brionis, who had married Albreda, the niece of William the Conqueror, and was created by him hereditary earl of Devon: they descended to his son, Richard de Brionis ; and at his death, in 1100, without male issue, the manor and lordship were given by Henry I to Richard Rivers, who was also created earl of Devon ; and, in 1106, built Tiverton Castle for his residence.

In 1293 the manor came into the possession of Hugh de Courtenay, second baron of Okehampton, created earl of Devon, in whose family it continued until 1466, when Henry Courtenay being attainted of treason, and beheaded on the 4th of March, his possessions were given to Sir Humphry Stafford, of Southwick, who was however also executed on the 17th of August following ; and during the wars of the Roses and the succeeding convulsions the estates frequently changed owners. On the accession of Henry VII, in 1485, the house of Courtenay was again restored ; and about the commencement of the sixteenth century William Courtenay married Catharine, seventh and youngest daughter of Edward IV, who survived him seventeen years, and lived during her widowhood in the castle of Tiverton : she was buried in the church adjoining. She was succeeded by her son and grandson, at whose death, in 1556, the lordship and manor were divided between the heirs of the four sisters of Edward, his great-grandfather ; and soon after so subdivided, that when Risdon wrote, in 1630, there were then forty parts or shares, the principal of which came into possession of the Wests ; and by the marriage of Dorothy, the heiress of that family, to Sir Thomas Carew, of Haccombe, in 1759, the family of Carew succeeded to the lordship and manor, which is now held by Sir Walter Palk Carew, Bart., together with the castle and adjoining estate, with a few other farms in fee, and different undivided eighths of many other lands in the parish.

Tiverton is supposed to be one of the largest boroughs in the kingdom, being about eleven miles in length, and nearly ten in breadth : the area is 20,000 acres, and it contains, according to the census of 1841, 1,930 inhabited and 109 uninhabited houses ; having a population of 10,041 inhabitants, 4,648 males and 5,393 females. The country on the west and north sides is very hilly and well wooded. The town is pleasantly situated on rising ground between the Exe and Loman, and is well watered by a brook called the Town Leat, which rises about 5 miles north of the town, and was given, about 1260, by the then countess of Devon, for the use of the inhabitants. On the west side of the river Exe is a large suburb called Westex, very densely populated, and principally inhabited by operatives. One of the greatest attractions of the town is the trout fishing in the two rivers. On the east side of the town is the Tiverton branch of the Great Western Canal, by which limestone, coal, culm, coke, &c. are imported.

The parish church, or at least part of it, was first built in 1073; consecrated by Leofricus, first bishop of Exeter ; and enlarged and improved at various times by the families of Rivers and Courtenay previous to the fifteenth century. Between 1517 and 1529 John Greenway, an eminent merchant, rebuilt and enlarged the whole of the south aisle and south front, together with the elegant chapel bearing his name ; and also erected the fine Gothic screen which separates the chancel from the body of the church. The south front and porch (of which an engraving appeared in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’), together with Greenway’s Chapel, have lately been rebuilt, and the whole of the church new seated. It is a fine Gothic pile, 136 feet long and 82 feet wide ; and the tower is 27 feet square at the base and 116 feet high. St. George’s Chapel, which was finished in 1730, is of the Doric order, and situated in a large yard in the centre of the town. The tithes of the whole parish were granted, in 1146, by Baldwin de Rivers to the Cluniac monks at Exeter ; but the parish was afterwards divided ; for in 1257, as appears by the episcopal registers at Exeter, there were, as at present, four quarters, or ecclesiastical portions, viz., three rectories (Clare, Pitt, and Tidcombe), and an impropriation (Priors), which Henry VI gave to the provost and fellows of King's College, Cambridge, who still retain the tithes, and appoint a stipendiary curate to perform a fourth part of the duty, although they deny their liability to do so. The tithes have lately been commuted : Clare at £565 ; Pitt, £850 ; Tidcombe, £731 10 shillings ; Priors, £400; and certain small detached pieces of land, technically called ‘All Fours,’ £66.

There are still many richly-endowed charities in Tiverton. Blundell’s free grammar-school was founded by Peter Blundell, merchant, in 1599 : the income has increased, owing to the rise in the value of land, from under £100 to about £1,200 per annum. There is now a surplus income of £500 or £600 a year. There are several fellowships, scholarships, and exhibitions connected with this school at Cambridge and Oxford. There is also a free English school, founded in 1609 by Robert Comyn, alias Chilcott, the nephew of Blundell. A blue-coat or charity school, where a number of poor children of both sexes are educated and clothed, has lately been erected in lieu of an old building, and it is supported by various bequests. There is also a national school, just built, which is supported by voluntary contributions ; and an elegant school is now being erected in Westex, to be put under the direction of the British and Foreign School Society.

Among the miscellaneous charities are Greenway’s alms-houses, founded in 1517, for the support of five poor men, with eightpence weekly for each ; but the revenues are now so much augmented that there are eleven houses the inmates of which receive five shillings per week each. and ten of which the inmates have four shillings, and four additional almshouses are now being built. There is also an excellent charity, founded by Walter Tyrrel in 1568, the proceeds of which are employed in repairing Exe bridge, and the overplus distributed weekly in bread. There are many others of less importance ; and it has been said that if all the charitable donations had been properly looked after, there would not at present be any need of a poor-rate.

The woollen trade of Tiverton was formerly very extensive. From 1560 to 1566 there were only 2,500 inhabitants, whereas in 1591 the population had increased to 5,000 ; and Dunsford states, on the authority of Risdon and Chapple, that it was the principal place in Devonshire for the making of kersies, which were known all over the kingdom as ‘Tiverton Kerzies,’ and generally sent to the London market. In 1612, 8,000 persons were constantly employed in the manufacture of woollen cloth, and the annual returns of the trade exceeded £300,000 ; but an extensive fire shortly afterwards destroyed property to the amount of a quarter of a million, the operatives were dispersed over the country, and the town never recovered its former prosperity. After this the trade in kersies gradually declined ; but in 1690 the manufacture of mixed worsted serges was established, and by 1715 there was again a population of 8,700, with a trade returning £350,000 annually.

In 1741 an epidemic fever scattered the population, and as serges were supplanted in Holland by the Norwich stuffs, the manufacturers engaged in making common duroys, &c., for the Spanish and Italian markets. In 1756 there were 56 fulling-mills regularly employed, but the French revolution, and the long wars consequent upon it, put an end to the foreign trade, and the improvement of machinery in Yorkshire has taken away the woollen manufacture. In 1790 however a large building was erected in Westex for a cotton-mill, but finally converted into a manufactory for spinning wool, which was afterwards woven into coarse fabrics for the East India Company. This undertaking did not answer, and it was shut up in 1815. In 1816 Mr. Heathcoat of Loughborough, in consequence of the Luddite disturbances in that neighbourhood, removed to it with his beautiful machinery for making bobbin-net, for which he had obtained a patent in 1808, and many successive improvements having been made on it, the trade is still carried on to the great benefit of the town. It gives permanent employment to above 900 persons, besides temporary employment to several hundred girls and women.

The venerable remains of the old castle of the Riverses and Courtenays stand on an eminence near the Exe ; some parts of the building are still in pretty good preservation, and might with a little repair last for several ages, but a considerable part of it was pulled down about a century since, and a modern house erected on its site. There is also a spacious market-place, erected in 1830, with a suite of rooms for assemblies, several dissenting chapels, a theatre, union workhouse, and bridewell, which is about to be pulled down, and a building on an improved plan erected in lieu of it.

Soon after the fire of 1612, James I incorporated Tiverton by the title of mayor and burgesses, but the elective franchise then conferred was confined to the corporate body (25 in number), and continued in that state until the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, under which the constituency is about 500. The castle was bombarded and taken by General Fairfax in 1645, when Sir Gilbert Talbot was the governor.

Cosway the painter was a native of Tiverton, and painted an altar-piece of ‘Peter delivered out of Prison,’ which he presented to the parish, and it was placed in the church in 1777 ; the celebrated Bampfylde Moore Carew, the gipsy king, who lived a century ago, was a son of the rector of Bickleigh, an adjoining parish, and ran away from Blundell’s school, to join the gipsies. Although nearly related to the most respectable families of the western counties, nothing could induce him to give up his connection with this singular people, and his adventures, dictated by him to Mrs. Goadby of Sherborne, and which have been very frequently republished, contain an amusing account of his vagabondism.

The principal market is on Tuesday, and is very abundantly supplied with live cattle, corn, meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruit ; there is another smaller market on Saturdays, and two fairs. There is an anniversary meeting of the trustees and other gentlemen educated at the grammar-school about the last week in August, and on the two following days there are races over a very excellent course, in the castle meadows adjoining the town. The borough is divided into three wards : Westex ward, Castle ward, and Loman ward, and the municipal body consists of six aldermen and eighteen councillors, out of whom the mayor is chosen ; the recorder is, as in other cases, nominated by the crown ; he holds a session four times a year, and is the judge of the court of record for debts under £100. The town is well lighted with gas, and the streets are under the control of the commissioners empowered by act of parliament, who keep them very clean.