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HER Number:MDV21792
Name:Medieval Borough of Tavistock


The medieval borough of Tavistock was created in the early 12th century and referred to in documents of the 12th and 13th centuries


Grid Reference:SX 480 743
Map Sheet:SX47SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTavistock
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishTAVISTOCK

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX47SE/120

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • BURGH (XII to XVI - 1101 AD to 1600 AD (Between))

Full description

Gover, J. E. B. + Mawer, A. + Stenton, F. M., 1931, The Place-Names of Devon: Part One (Monograph). SDV1312.

Tavistock was mentioned as 'Tefing stoce', 'Tavestocha' and 'Tavestocha' in the 11th century and 'Taefingstoc', 'Taefistoc' and 'Tauistoc' in the 12th century. In 1602 it was referred to as 'Tastocke'.

Finberg, H. P. R., 1947, The Borough of Tavistock: Its Origin and Early History, 129-53 (Article in Serial). SDV344360.

In 1086 there were twelve serfs, twenty bordars and seventeen villani settled under the abbot's lordship. Tavistock was a large manor covering approximately eighteen square miles and comprising several scattered hamlets. A market was granted by Henry I, probably in 1105. The Borough of Tavistock covering half a square mile was created in the 12th century and the rural district became known as the manor of Hurdwick.

Beresford, M. W. + Finberg, H. P. R., 1973, English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist, 98 (Monograph). SDV6626.

A market was granted to the Abbot of Tavistock in 1105. Grant to the Hospitallers of a rent-change from a burgage in Tavistock recorded in circa 1185. The Borough Court was called the Shammel-Moot in 1220. The town was represented as a Borough at the Eyre by a jury of its own in 1238.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 165-179 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

The Domesday entry for Tavistock shows the settlement to be a prosperous agricultural community but gives no indication of any urban status. The first documentary evidence for urban growth comes from the 12th century when, in 1105, the abbot obtained the grant of a weekly market and a three day market was added in 1116. Shortly before 1185 an are of 325 acres was marked out as the site of a new borough. The abbey lay within the physical limits of this new borough although it was officially part of the abbot's manor of Hurdwick.
Tavistock was to be assessed at the fifth highest rate in the county in 1332 and by the mid 15th century it had risen to fourth place, overtaking Dartmouth to lie behind only Exeter, Barnstaple and Plymouth.
The early growth of the borough centred around efficient farming and the production of an agricultural surplus. The borough's location between Dartmoor and the Tamar also brought other sources of economic growth with Morwhellham already being used as a shipping port in the 12th century. Tavistock was made one of the four stannary towns in 1304 being accessible to the tinners working the western slopes of the moor. It also developed its own manufacturing industries, becoming an important centre for woollen cloth and leather. The town became noted for the production of coarse serges known as 'tavistocks'.
In 1539 after the dissolution the borough was among the abbey possessions given to the Russell family who, although they were never resident in the town, held political control over the borough even after a charter of incorporation was obtained in 1682. The local manufacturing industries continued to function, there was a large leatherworking community through to the 18th century and there were still 100 looms at work in 1838. These industries pale into insignificance, however, in comparison with the exploitation of mineral resources, especially of copper, which commenced in the 1790s and continued into the second half of the 19th century, effectively turning Tavistock into an industrial town. Today though Tavistock serves as an important market town with a modicum of light industry.

The Tavistock and District Local History Society, 1994, About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks, 11, 28 (Monograph). SDV354806.

The main thoroughfare of the medieval borough was Market Street.

Exeter Archaeology, 1997, Archaeological Assessment of Tavistock Sewer Overflows Scheme, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV344347.

In the early 12th century a market and fair were granted to Tavistock Abbey by Henry I and later in the 12th century circa 300 acres centred on the abbey were separated form the rural manor to form a new Borough which achieved parliamentary status in 1295. The town's Medieval fortunes were dominated by the tin trade augmented by the manufacture of woollen cloth. The copper industry became important in the 19th century when a new canal and road were constructed.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV1312Monograph: Gover, J. E. B. + Mawer, A. + Stenton, F. M.. 1931. The Place-Names of Devon: Part One. The Place-Names of Devon: Part One. VIII. A5 Hardback.
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 165-179.
SDV344347Report - Assessment: Exeter Archaeology. 1997. Archaeological Assessment of Tavistock Sewer Overflows Scheme. Exeter Archaeology Report. 97.02. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV344360Article in Serial: Finberg, H. P. R.. 1947. The Borough of Tavistock: Its Origin and Early History. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 79. A5 Hardback. 129-53.
SDV354806Monograph: The Tavistock and District Local History Society. 1994. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. A5 Paperback. 11, 28.
SDV6626Monograph: Beresford, M. W. + Finberg, H. P. R.. 1973. English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist. English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist. A5 Hardback. 98.

Associated Monuments

MDV21702Related to: Lower Market House, Tavistock (Building)
MDV76330Related to: Tavistock (Monument)
MDV3919Related to: Tavistock Abbey (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4597 - Assessment of Tavistock Sewer Overflow Scheme

Date Last Edited:Feb 5 2015 1:04PM