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Etched on Devon's Memory

Tavistock Abbey, Devonshire
Creator: Fisher, S
Title: Tavistock Abbey, Devonshire / T.Allom ; S.Fisher
Imprint: London : Fisher, Son & Co.
Date: 1830
Format: Steel l. engr ; 99x153mm
Ref. no.: SC2764

Copies: WSL : M SC2764

Coverage: Devon . Tavistock . Abbeys . Tavistock Abbey . Exterior . 1830

Last Updated: 09/03/2007
Contributor: Allom, T

Associated text: Britton, J. Devonshire & Cornwall illustrated from original drawings by Thomas Allom, W.H. Bartlett, &c, by J.Britton & E.W.Brayley (London: H.Fisher, R.Fisher & P.Jackson, 1832). pp. 47-9.

[…] According to the monkish legends, TAVISTOCK ABBEY was founded by Ordgar, Earl of Devon, in the year 961, in consequence of an admonitory vision, and completed in 981, by Ordulph, his son, whom William of Malmesbury, has represented as so immense in stature, that he could stride over rivers ten feet wide! In 997, it was plundered and burnt by the Danes, who came up the Tamar from Plymouth, and ravaged all the country as far as Lydford. It was, however, subsequently rebuilt on a more extended scale, and having acquired great endowments, Henry the First bestowed upon the abbots the "whole Hundred of Tavistock," together with the right of holding a weekly market, and a three days' annual fair. Increasing in riches and influence, this first became a mitred Abbey in 1458, and in 1514, Richard Banham, the thirty-fifth Abbot, procured from Henry VIII. the privilege of sitting among the peers; he also obtained a bull from Pope Leo X. exempting the abbey both from episcopal and metropolitan jurisdiction. But these honours were of brief duration, for in 1538, John Peryn, the thirty-sixth and last abbot, was constrained to surrender his monastery, and all its possessions, to the King; who, in the following year, granted them, with the borough and town of Tavistock, to John, Lord Russel; and in his descendant, the Duke of Bedford, the whole is now vested. At the period of its dissolution, the revenues of this abbey were valued at £902. 5s. 7d. per annum. Its patrons were, the Virgin Mary, and the Irish St. Rumon: its inmates were of the Benedictine order.

"The church, monastic dwellings, and precincts of the Abbey of Tavistock," were, as remarked by Mr. Kemp, " situated within a few yards of the right bank of the Tavy, on a narrow plain, very slightly elevated above that river, and surrounded on the north, south, and eastern sides by eminences." Numerous remains yet exist, to attest its ancient grandeur, -and it is said to have " eclipsed every religious house in Devon-shire, in the extent, convenience, and magnificence of its buildings!

The Abbey Church, which appears to have been re-erected in Edward the Second's reign, and dedicated by Bishop Stapledon in 1318, was pulled down about the year 1670, to supply materials for a school-house: according to Leland, it was one hundred and twenty-six yards in length, exclusive of an eastern chapel, consecrated to the Virgin Mary. There were, also, extensive cloisters, (of which a solitary arch alone remains,) and a splendid multangular chapter-house, containing thirty-six arched stalls. Upon the site of the latter, and of a school for Saxon literature, which had been established within the Abbey precincts, a residence was built in 1736, for the steward of the manor. That edifice, which was called the Abbey-house, has been replaced by the Bedford Arms Inn, or Hotel, which was erected a few years ago, from designs in the Elizabethan style, by Mr. Foulston, of Plymouth. Behind the inn, is the old refectory, now a meeting- house, which has an arched porch ceiled with elegant tracery, and displaying a sculpture of the Abbey arms. A very handsome gate-house, (shewn in the annexed print); a massive wall, with a crenellated parapet; the abbot's private gateway; a tower called the Still-house, and another styled Betsy Grimbal's tower,*(both opening into the vicarage garden, formerly the Abbey grounds), are also yet standing, together with other vestiges of the conventual buildings.

Several of the abbots of Tavistock are recorded as eminent scholars, and encouragers of learning. The Saxon school, wherein lectures were read in that language until the period of the Reformation has been noticed above. There was also a printing-press established here very soon after the introduction of the art of printing into England, but its productions are extremely rare. The earliest printed copy of the "Stannary Laws, intituled "The Confirmation of the Charter perteyninge to all the Tynners," &c. and Walton's (a canon of Osney) " Boke of Comfort, called in Latin, Boetius de Consolatione Philosophiae," were issued from this press, in Henry the Eighth's reign. A copy of each work is preserved in Exeter-College Library, at Oxford.

*There is a vague tradition, that it was so called from the name of a female, who made it her abode after the dissolution of religious houses. In the recently-published romance, intituled " Fitz of Fitz-ford," by Mrs. Bray, the late widow of the much respected but unfortunate artist, Charles Stothard, this and other local traditions are interestingly combined with various notices of the history and topography of Tavistock and its neighbourhood.

[Text may be taken from a different edition than that listed as the source by Somers Cocks.]

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