Take a look at Tavistock

Tavistock is an ancient stannary town on the border of Devon and Cornwall and supposedly the home of the cream tea. Once home to the wealthiest Benedictine abbey in Devon founded in 974 it grew to become a market town (named after the river Tavy and ‘stoc’ which is an Old English word for settlement) and a significant producer of woollen cloth.

After 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.

Francis the 7th Duke of Bedford by public subscription 1864

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. The Pannier market has different themed markets throughout the week and you can find unusual crafts, second-hand items and clothing. Shops and cafés line the outside pedestrian walk.

Cheesemonger’s sign

We selected the town as a base to explore this western part of Devon as it is on the doorstep of Dartmoor National Park. Tavistock is especially rich in independent stores: a brilliant bookseller and music shop, butchers, an award-winning cheesemonger, clothiers, a fine delicatessen, framers, fruit and veg shops, hardware, lighting, and stationers, among others.

Abbey Chapel

We stayed in the unusual looking Bedford Hotel which is opposite the Parish Church and close to the impressive Guildhall. The Bedford Hotel takes its name from the Duke of Bedford, who appointed the architect Jeffry Wyatt (who was also responsible for the transformation of Windsor Castle in 1824) to transform the inn into The Bedford Hotel which was completed in 1822, and a ballroom was added in 1830. Although somewhat old-fashioned we enjoyed our stay there, the room was rather tired, though clean, and on the 3rd floor (no lift) but the food was excellent and it is in a perfect location for exploring the town and the area.

The Bedford Hotel

At the back of the hotel is a rather lovely secret walled garden. We didn’t manage to sit out in there, but on a warm evening it is probably a lovely spot to take a bottle of wine and relax and smell the many beautiful roses.

Remains of the cloister of Tavistock Abbey, destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, can be seen in the churchyard of the rather beautiful St Eustachius church which is directly opposite the hotel.

St Eustachius Church

The church is well worth visiting though we never managed the time to revisit and use the helpful information leaflet to guide us around.

There are lovely walks alongside the River Tavy as it meanders softly over granite pebbles and slate stones beside the Abbey walls and the nearby canal, which was created (most of the labour being performed by French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars) to carry copper to Morwellham Quay on the River Tamar, where it could be loaded into sailing ships weighing up to 200 tonnes.

Abbey Weir looking towards Abbey Bridge and the weir.

Another interesting find was Betsy Grimbal’s Tower, one of the entrances to the Abbey, which dates from the fifteenth century. Its popular name is probably a corruption of  Blessed Grimbald, a ninth century saint revered by the Benedictine monks.

Remains of the Abbot’s lodging and western gate house. Traditionally known as Betsy Grimbal’s Tower it opened onto the gardens and fishponds. Below the archway is a sarcophagus unearthed when the cloisters and chapter-house were demolished in the 18th century.

The buildings around Bedford Square (header image) are quite unusual. Here you will find the Guildhall and the Pannier Market and this gateway.

Grade I listed Court Gate – one of the original entrances to the Abbey

An unusual weathervane on the Bedford Hotel sits above a turret over the Portrait Room. It’s not old, it was created in copper in 2001 by Greens Weathervanes, who at that time had a workshop at Tor Royal in Princetown.

The Portrait Room Veranda.

Based in design upon the White Rabbit, Herald to the Queen of Hearts, drawn by Sir John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the vane is a veritable work of art.

White Rabbit, Herald to the Queen of Hearts Weather Vane

And I even managed to capture a Cheshire Cat…

Tavistock is definitely a town worth visiting and there are plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafés to enjoy as well as walks to discover the many medieval remains and the newly opened Guildhall Gateway Centre formerly a courtroom and police station. And in the autumn the famous Goose Fair is held on the second Wednesday of every October and sees fair rides, stalls and activities take place. The fair dates back to the 12th Century, when a Michaelmas Fair was held every 29 September.

We could be back.

Jo’s Monday Walk

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

30 thoughts on “Take a look at Tavistock”

  1. I’ve never been to Tavistock, but you’ve definitely sold it to me. I like a town with an interesting industrial past: in fact it seems to have quite a history. It’s a bit early in the day, so I’ve only just worked out what Pongers are!

    1. We didn’t buy any. Pongers that is. Though we did want to get some sausages from the butcher to have when we got back home. As usual with us the shop was closed…

    1. I’m not a fan of stinky cheeses, sometimes I buy Camembert before I remember that I dislike it! A mild brie is my limit, though I do enjoy a nice creamy blue.

  2. Fantastic! I love it, Jude! Thanks for the link up. Fascinated to see the town as a good friend has an apartment there in a Heritage building. I can definitely see the attraction of the Bedford Hotel and that garden. A bit like Ludlow, I’m wondering if this would make a good future base for you and the OH?

    1. We were impressed with the variety of shops and the market. Nice flat level walk along the river too and plenty of buses to Plymouth and Okehampton. Close to Dartmoor and not too far from the south coast. I am having a look at property there just in case something pops up that I fancy😉

  3. Looks like a great place to visit. i enjoyed my virtual look around with you and it’s on the ‘list’ for the future. 🙂

  4. The last time I was in Tavistock was some time in the late 1970s. We had gone to visit friends in Newton Abbot, and decided to drive over to look at Tavistock. It started snowing on the way, and by the time we had a look round and headed back, the snow was a couple of feet deep. The journey back should have taken about an hour, but took over two. Nice to see it again, Jude.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

  5. Liking the sound of Tavistock, a town I’ve never visited. I did however live in Bedford for 20-odd years where, like the Russell Square area of London, the Dukedom’s extensive property portfolio contained linked names…in the case of Bedford, there’s Tavistock (Street), Russell (Square and Park), Woburn (Street). The same names plus Bedford appear all around Russell Square. I think I need to add Tavistock AND Glastonbury to our itinerary next time we head down to Padstow.

  6. Your neck of the woods has been on my mind all day after hearing a friend in Devon hasn’t been too well. We visited Tavistock and it was lovely to see it again via you, Jude. Great that you are enjoying a few trips out and about. As always I enjoyed your photography.

    1. Thanks Suzanne. There won’t be any more trips for a while as the car has broken down and the earliest it can be looked at by a specialist garage is early August! A nightmare when we don’t have a bus service.

      1. Yes, I can understand that. On a more minor scale we had to wait months to get our dishwasher fixed. The novelty of washing dishes soon worn off. Hopefully, your car gets in earlier with a cancellation from someone else.

        1. Not just here then, there seems to be a shortage of workers and supplies to add to all the other woes that are going on. Maybe time for us to start looking for a house in a town with amenities we can walk to.

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