Stannary Town
Tavistock town centre
Coat of arms
Tavistock is located in Devon
Location within Devon
Population12,675 (2021 census)
OS grid referenceSX480740
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtPL19
Dialling code01822
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°32′42″N 4°09′00″W / 50.545°N 4.150°W / 50.545; -4.150

Tavistock (/ˈtævɪstɒk/ TAV-iss-tok) is an ancient stannary and market town within West Devon, England. It is situated on the River Tavy from which its name derives. At the 2011 census the three electoral wards (North, South and South West) had a population of 13,028. It traces its recorded history back to at least 961 when Tavistock Abbey, whose ruins lie in the centre of the town, was founded. Its most famous son is Sir Francis Drake.


Middle Ages

The area around Tavistock (formerly Tavistoke), where the River Tavy runs wide and shallow allowing it to be easily crossed, and near the secure high ground of Dartmoor, was inhabited long before historical records. The surrounding area is littered with archaeological remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Rumon was founded in 961 by Ordgar, Earl of Devon. After destruction by Danish raiders in 997 it was restored, and at the time of the Conquest ranked as the wealthiest house in Devon, including the hundred and manor of Tavistock among its possessions. Among its famous abbots was Aldred, who crowned Harold II and William I, and died Archbishop of York.

In 1105 a royal charter was granted by Henry I to the monks of Tavistock to run a weekly "Pannier Market" (so called after the baskets used to carry goods) on a Friday, which still takes place today. In 1116 a three-day fair was also granted to mark the feast of Saint Rumon, another tradition that is still maintained in the shape of the annual "Goosey" fair on the second Wednesday in October.

St Eustachius' Church, Tavistock

By 1185 Tavistock had achieved borough status, and in 1295 it became a parliamentary borough, sending two members to parliament. The abbey church was rebuilt in 1285. In 1305, with the growing importance of the area as one of Europe's richest sources of tin, Tavistock was one of the four stannary towns appointed by charter of Edward I, where tin was stamped and weighed and monthly courts were held for the regulation of mining affairs.

Parish church

The St Eustachius' Church (named after the Roman centurion who became a Christian) was dedicated by Bishop Stapledon in 1318 though there are very few remains of that building today. It was rebuilt and enlarged into its current form between 1350 and 1450, at which time the Clothworkers' Aisle (an outer south aisle) was included, an indication of the growing importance of the textile industry to the local economy—the trade was protected by a 1467 statute. The whole is in the Perpendicular style and consists of a nave and chancel; both with two aisles, tower and outer south aisle.

It possesses a lofty tower supported on four open arches, one of which was reputedly added to accommodate the 19th-century "tinners" or tin miners. Within are monuments to the Glanville and Bourchier families, besides some fine stained glass, one window being the work of William Morris and another of Charles Eamer Kempe. It also has a roof boss featuring one of the so-called 'Tinners' Hares', a trio of rabbits/hares joined at and sharing three ears between them. The font is octagonal and dates from the 15th century.

Early modern period

The greater part of the abbey was rebuilt in 1457–1458. The town continued to prosper in the charge of the abbots, acquiring one of England's first printing presses in 1525. Tavistock remained an important centre of both trade and religion until the Dissolution of the Monasteries—the abbey was demolished in 1539, leaving the ruins still to be seen around the centre of the town. From that time on, the dominant force in the town became the Russell family, Earls and later Dukes of Bedford, who took over much of the land following the Dissolution. In 1552 two fairs on 23 April and 28 November were granted by Edward VI to the Earl of Bedford, then lord of the manor.

In the 17th century great quantities of cloth were sold at the Friday market, and four fairs were held at the feasts of Saint Michael, Epiphany, Saint Mark, and the Decollation of John the Baptist. The charter of Charles II instituted a Tuesday market, and fairs on the Thursday after Whitsunday and at the feast of Saint Swithin.

Tavistock is tied from late medieval times with the Russells, the family name of the Earls of Bedford and since 1694, the Dukes of Bedford. This is clearly seen from the history of the town. The second title of the Duke of Bedford is the Marquess of Tavistock, taken as the courtesy title of the eldest son and heir to the dukedom, and illustrates the importance of this Devon town, its hinterland and the minerals beneath it to the family's fortunes. It is believed that the Russell family retains considerable interests in the locality. Most recently, Robin, the short-lived 14th Duke, as Marquess of Tavistock, was a frequent visitor to the town along with his wife, Henrietta. Andrew Russell is the 15th Duke of Bedford and Marquess of Tavistock.

It is this Russell family connection through the Bedford Estates which gives the name by ownership to Russell Square and Tavistock Square in London, famously home to the Tavistock Clinic, and the bus-bombing of 7 July 2005.

Francis Drake

Around 1540 (some sources state 1542 as the exact year), Sir Francis Drake was born at Crowndale Farm, just to the west of what is now Tavistock College. A Blue Plaque is mounted on the current farmhouse, behind which Drake is believed to have been born, the original farmhouse having been dismantled and the stone transported for use in Lew Trenchard. He became a prominent figure of his age, a champion of Queen Elizabeth, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world from 1577 to 1580 and one of the English commanders in the victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The famous statue of Drake on Plymouth Hoe is a copy of that on a roundabout on the A386 at the western end of the town, with panels not replicated on the Hoe copy. Drake later made his home at Buckland Abbey, about eight miles (13 km) away towards Plymouth, jointly owned/run by Plymouth City Council and the National Trust, and now a museum to Drake.


Mines of copper, manganese, lead, silver and tin were previously in the neighbourhood and the town played host to a considerable trade of cattle and corn, and industries in brewing and iron-founding.

By the 17th century, tin mining was on the wane and the town relied more heavily on the cloth trade. Under the stewardship of the Russells the town remained prosperous, surviving the Black Death in 1625 (though 52 townspeople died). In the English Civil War starting 1642, the town was at first held by the Parliamentarians (Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford was a leading figure in the parliamentarian movement), before later hosting King Charles I and his Royalist troops in 1643 after the defeat of the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Bradock Down.

In 1694, William Russell, 5th Earl of Bedford became the first Duke of Bedford.

Late modern period

Bedford Square and Tavistock Town Hall

By 1800, cloth was heading the same way as tin had done a century earlier, but copper was starting to be copiously mined in the area, to such an extent that by 1817 the Tavistock Canal had been dug (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. In 1822 the old fairs were abolished in favour of six fairs on the second Wednesday in May, July, September, October, November and December.

In the mid-19th century, with nearby Devon Great Consols mine at Blanchdown one of the biggest copper mining operations in the world, Tavistock was booming again, reputedly earning the 7th Duke of Bedford alone over £2,000,000. A statue in copper of the 7th Duke stands in Guildhall Square. The Duke built a 50,000 imperial gallon (230 m3) reservoir to supply the town in 1845, as well as a hundred miners' houses at the southern end of town, between 1845 and 1855. There is a strong, recognisable vernacular "Bedford style" of design, exemplified most strikingly in Tavistock Town Hall and "Bedford Cottages" ubiquitous across Tavistock and much of the local area to the north and west, where the Bedfords had their estate and summer "cottage" at Endsleigh House and Gardens, which since 2005 is the Hotel Endsleigh run by Alex Polizzi.

Tavistock was deprived of one member of Parliament in 1867 and finally disenfranchised in 1885. The railway came to the town in 1859, with connections to the Great Western Railway and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). At around this time the centre of town was substantially and ruthlessly remodelled by the 7th Duke of Bedford, including the construction of the current town hall and Pannier Market buildings, and the widening of the Abbey Bridge, first built in 1764, and a new Drake Road ramped up northwards from Bedford Square to the LSWR station. Tavistock North railway station opened to much acclaim and fanfare in 1890. The population had peaked at around 9,000. By 1901 the population had halved, recorded as 4,728. In 1968, following the Beeching Report, Tavistock Station closed, and in 1999 English Heritage listed the building as Grade II.

Kelly College, a co-educational public school, to the north-east of the town, was founded by Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly, and opened in 1877 for the education of his descendants and the orphan sons of naval officers, and is a pastiche of the Bedford and High Victorian styles of building. It later amalgamated with Mount House to form Mount Kelly Foundation.

20th and 21st centuries

In 1911, the Bedford influence on the town came to an end after over 450 years, when the family sold most of their holdings in the area to meet death duties.

West Devon Borough Council is based in Tavistock, about 500 metres north of Bedford Square at Kilworthy Park. There was a small police station under part of the Bedford building complex on Bedford Square; this has closed and a new one is in Abbey Rise. The adjacent historic Magistrates Court has also closed and the nearest criminal court is now at Plymouth Law Courts.

In 1926 a meeting was held in Tavistock with representatives of the UK government and UK scientific instrument makers. A comparison was made on Dartmoor between UK theodolites and their European competition, especially the Swiss Wild T2 theodolite. One result of this conference was the 1930 "Tavistock" theodolite by Cooke, Troughton & Simms.

In 1933 the long-disused canal was put to use providing hydroelectric power for the area.

A war memorial in Bedford Square commemorates the townsfolk killed in the First and Second World Wars. Many families across Britain exercised their right not to have their family members named on these public memorials. In 2006 it was planned to move the monument to a site in the graveyard of the Parish Church, but due to local opposition this did not happen.

A map of Tavistock from 1946, showing the layout of the town and location of the two railway stations.

Tavistock had two railway stations, both now closed. Tavistock South was the Great Western Railway's station, on the route between Launceston and Plymouth. This was closed and mostly dismantled between 1962 and 1965. The station was sited to the south of Bedford Square, just over the bridge and to the right—now a council depot: no trace of the station remains. Tavistock North was the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway's station, operated by the London and South Western Railway, on the route between Lydford and Plymouth via Bere Alston. This opened on 2 June 1890 and closed on 6 May 1968. The main station building survives as railway-themed bed and breakfast accommodation while the extensive goods yard is now known as Kilworthy Park and houses the offices of West Devon Borough Council. The railway for around a mile south of Tavistock North station is open to the public as a footpath and nature reserve and one can walk across the viaducts that overlook the town.

The trackbed of the Tavistock North route is almost intact to Bere Alston, where it joins today's Tamar Valley Line. The possible re-opening of a rail link has been discussed for a number of years. Engineering assessment shows the rail-bed, bridges and tunnels to be in sound condition. In 2008 a housing developer offered to rebuild the railway to Bere Alston (from a new station slightly south of the town) if they were allowed to build 800 properties. This has also encouraged speculation about restoring the Tavistock-Okehampton rail link, which could provide an alternative to the Devon coastal main line to link the South West Region with the rest of the country. In December 2010 the developer published an update on the possibility of reinstating the line between Tavistock and Bere Alston and hence providing a train service between Tavistock and Plymouth. In April 2010 the Liberal Democrats had suggested that a Tavistock-Plymouth service could be included in the rail expansion plans should they win the 2010 General Election.

In 1986, the town's two newspapers, the Tavistock Gazette (founded in 1857) and the Tavistock Times (established in 1920) merged to form the current weekly publication, the Tavistock Times Gazette, with a circulation of around 8,000. The newspaper is owned by Tindle Newspaper Group. The newspaper celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007, with a visit from the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

In July 2006 Tavistock was named the eastern Gateway to the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, which runs westward through the Tamar Valley and Great Consols Mine, down the spine of Cornwall to Lands End. This £75 million project is likely to bring more tourists to Tavistock. There has been no progress with proposals for a £1.1 million World Heritage Site Interpretation Centre, planned for 2007, to be built in the area of the Guildhall, and overlooking the River Tavy.

A local community group known as "Tavistock Forward" have been negotiating to take over the Guildhall complex with police and English Heritage endorsement, with leaseback of the existing police station to Devon & Cornwall Police, while developing the Guildhall itself.


Tavistock lies on the edge of Dartmoor, around 24 kilometres (14.9 mi) north of Plymouth on the A386, with a population of 11,018. The town is centred on the paved amenity of Bedford Square, around which are found St. Eustachius' Church and the abbey ruins, to the west, the Grade 2-listed town hall, the disused former Guildhall/magistrates' court buildings, and Pannier Market buildings behind the town hall. Abbey Bridge crosses the River Tavy to the south, while West Street and Duke Street, on either side of the north end of the square, form the main shopping areas, with the indoor [Pannier] market running behind Duke Street.

Plymouth Road, the A386 heading west from the centre of the square, is home to much of the town's tourist trade, with many hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, as well as the town's bus station. Between Plymouth Road and the Tavy is the park, known locally as the Meadows, along with car parks, the Wharf theatre, cinema and culture centre, and a public recreation pool. West of the Meadows are found the substantial playing fields and buildings of Tavistock College, reached by an underpass below the A386. Further south along the Plymouth Road/A386 lie industrial estates, supermarkets and other large retail outlets. To the north and east of town lies Whitchurch Down, where Dartmoor begins immediately.


Tavistock has an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb).

Climate data for Tavistock
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 8
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 3
Source: Weather Channel

Religious sites

  • See also Tavistock Abbey
  • For the parish church of St Eustachius, see above, Parish church
  • The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Mary Magdalene, Fitzford, was built at the expense of the Duke of Bedford in 1867. It is an ambitious building in the neo-transitional style and the tall spire is conspicuous from the high ground surrounding the town. This church was intended as a place of worship for miners. It fell into disuse and was bought in 1952 for use as a Roman Catholic church.


Church of St Mary Magdalene


Most secondary education is provided by Tavistock College, a state-funded specialist Language College with approximately 2,000 pupils, drawn from a catchment area of about 20 km (12 mi) radius. The college has links with Japan, Uganda, Spain and India where staff exchanges and student visits and projects take place.

Some children who pass the optional Eleven-Plus exam at a high level travel to one of the three remaining grammar schools in Plymouth. Others who leave school at 16 attend the City College C of F E there. Tavistock has a choice of primary schools: Church of England St Peter's and also St Rumon's, together with Devon County Council's Tavistock Community Primary and Whitchurch Primary.


Mount Kelly School is the independent school in Tavistock. It has two main sites, the College which is situated on Parkwood Road and the Preparatory School which is situated on Mount Tavy Road. The school has 570 pupils between the ages of 3 and 18. Mount Kelly was formed in 2014 after two independent schools, Kelly College and Mount House School merged.

Life and events

Market village and shopping centre

Tavistock remains a small market town, providing shopping and entertainment for its residents, many small outlying villages and the local farming community. The town is now a centre for the West Devon and Dartmoor tourist trade. It is a fast-growing dormitory area for commuters working in Plymouth and has a sizeable retired population, perhaps drawn by the rural tranquillity and scenery, giving Tavistock an average resident age of 43.

Markets were originally held in Bank Square. A specialist Corn Market was erected on the corner of West Street and King Steet in 1835. The main market continues to operate in the large covered market building, the Pannier Market, completed in 1860; the main market is on Fridays, on other days the market hosts specialised events, such as craft fairs and antiques fairs. A Farmers' Market takes place in the Square fortnightly and has been voted Best Farmer's Market in the South West.

In 2005 Tavistock was voted 'Best Market Town' in England and in 2006 'Best Food Town', largely on the strength of the many independent food shops and suppliers in the town and nearby, such as a long-established family grocer and delicatessen in Brook St and the cheese shop behind the Pannier market. The town also became Devon's second Fairtrade Town (in 2006). In 2006 the town was in the news for having successfully cold-shouldered to closure the local branch of McDonald's.


The biggest event in the town's calendar is the annual Tavistock Goose Fair (known locally as the "Goosey Fair") which has existed since 1116. It occurs on the second Wednesday of October, and takes over much of the town for several days either side, drawing crowds which far outnumber the resident population. Traditionally, the Fair was an opportunity to buy a Christmas goose, with plenty of time to fatten the bird before Christmas; nowadays, along with a multitude of gypsy street vendors selling a vast range of wares, there are all the rides and games associated with funfairs, such as fortune tellers.

There is an annual two-day garden festival held on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend and a carnival with a two-day Balloon Fiesta each August bank holiday weekend. In May there is an annual Tavistock Music & Arts Festival.

In 2010, the town was chosen to be a stage depart town in the Tour of Britain cycle race.

On the first Sunday in October, the annual Abbots Way Walk finishes in Tavistock. Started in 1962, this challenge walk starts at Buckfast Abbey and participants walk 24 miles (39 km) across Southern Dartmoor to finish at Tavistock.


Bus services

The main bus operator in Tavistock is Stagecoach South West. Stagecoach's service 1 runs frequently into Plymouth 7 days a week. Other Stagecoach services include the 87 to Bere Alston and service 89 Town Service. Plymouth Citybus run rural services onto Dartmoor from Tavistock. Dartline operate service 118 to Okehampton.

Coach excursions

Lomax Tours run coach day excursions from Tavistock and surrounding areas.

Rail Links

Currently Tavistock doesn't have a railway station although it used to have two. Okehampton and Plymouth are the nearest current stations.


The A386 connects Tavistock to the A30 in the north and the A380 in the south.

Culture and sport

Tavistock's coat of arms is blazoned "Per pale, gules and azure, a fleece banded; a chief, dexter a lion passant gardant, sinister a fleur-de-lys, all or". The earliest record of these arms is in 1684. The fleece refers to the wool trade and the fleur-de-lys probably to Our Lady, joint patron of Tavistock Abbey. The town's motto is "Crescit sub pondere virtus", meaning "virtue flourishes under a burden".

Tavistock Penny Token

Bigbury Mint Ltd, medal makers based near Plymouth in Devon, produce a semi-reproduction of the Tavistock Penny Token which is distinguished from the original by the Bigbury Mint mark stamped on both sides of the coin. There is an example of the original coin held in the Science Museum Collection. The Bigbury Mint reproduction coin is struck in copper as a celebration of the proud mining history of the town, the obverse of the coin features the Tavistock fleur-de-lys and the reverse of the coin has a carving of the mine, along with the words "Devon Mines, 1811".


Tavistock was the birthplace of the poet William Browne. The town is mentioned in some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, including The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Adventure of Silver Blaze". It is also receives a mention in R. D. Blackmore's classic Lorna Doone and Neal Stephenson's novel, The System of the World. Anna Eliza Bray was the author of The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy (1836), an account of the traditions and superstitions of the neighbourhood of Tavistock in the form of letters to Robert Southey.


Tavistock has one senior football team, Tavistock A.F.C. and two junior football teams, Tavistock Town and Tavistock Thistles. Together the three clubs form Tavistock Community Football Club offering coaching and competition to players of all ages from 5 years old to veterans. There is also a rugby team with a large and active minis and junior section, Tavistock Rugby Football Club.


Local TV coverage is provided by BBC South West and ITV West Country. Television signals are received from the Caradon Hill and the local relay TV transmitters.

Tavistock's local radio stations are BBC Radio Devon on 103.4 FM, Heart West on 96.6 FM, and Greatest Hits Radio South West (formerly The Breeze) on 105.5 FM.

The Tavistock Times Gazette, published on Thursdays, is the town's local newspaper.

Twin towns

The town has had twinning links with Pontivy in France since 1958 and Celle in Germany.

Notable people

See also

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