Tavistock lies on the western edge of Dartmoor National Park, about 15 miles north of Plymouth. Its name is derived from the River Tavy, which flows through the town, and ‘stoc’ which is an Old English word for settlement. For over 900 years Tavistock was dominated by two wealthy and powerful institutions: the medieval Benedictine abbey and the Dukes of Bedford. Under the patronage of the abbey, which was founded in 974, Tavistock grew to become a market town, a significant producer of woollen cloth, a parliamentary borough and one of Devon’s three original stannary towns.
Charles Delafontaine's 'South East Prospect of the Town of Tavistoke', 1741 - click to zoom in
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Henry VIII transferred the abbey and most of its assets to John Russell, the first in a succession of Earls and Dukes of Bedford to own most of the town. In the 19th century Tavistock’s economy and society were transformed by the expansion of metal mining, mainly for copper, around the town and in the Tamar Valley. The 6th and 7th Dukes used the revenues from copper mines on their land to redevelop the town centre, provide fine public buildings including the Guildhall and Pannier Market, and erect ‘model’ cottages for industrial workers.
Standing in the heart of an area of tremendous natural beauty, Tavistock today is a thriving market town – the largest in West Devon – with a population of around 14,000. Tavistock’s rich and varied history is clearly visible in the fabric and culture of the modern town, and continues to fascinate both locals and visitors. Particularly important parts of the town’s built heritage include: