Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Devonshire
DEVONSHIRE, one of the south-western counties of England, the third in extent in the country, being exceeded only by York and Lincoln. According to the latest survey, it contains 1,594,852 acres—equal to about 2492 square miles. On the N. and N.W. the county is bounded by the Bristol Channel, on the S. by the English Channel ; on the W. it adjoins Cornwall, on the E. Dorset and Somerset. In form, Devonshire is very irregular; but it sends out one long promontory towards the S., and on the N. the coast line trends sharply southward near Ilfracombe, and is broken into the deep hollow of Bideford Bay.
General aspect.—Nearly the whole area of Devonshire is uneven and hilly. It contains the highest land in England, south of the Yorkshire Ingleborough ; and the scenery, much varied, is in most parts of the county very striking and picturesque.The great feature of Devonshire is the granitic district of Dartmoor, so named from the principal river which rises on it, the Dart, and occupying an area of about 130,000 acres. This great plateau, the mean height of which is about 1500 feet, rises in the southern division of the county, and is more or less conspicuous from all the lower tracts. It is the highest and easternmost in a broken chain of granite elevations, which extends to the Scilly Islands. Steep heights, crested with masses of broken granite, locally named tors, break up from the main table land in all directions, and are often singularly fantastic in outline. The highest of these is Yestor, 2050 feet, in the northern quarter; whilst one of the most conspicuous is Heytor, 1501 feet, in the south. Dartmoor is a region of heather, and the central portion has been a royal forest from a period before the Conquest. Its grand wastes contrast finely with the wild but wooded region which immediately surrounds the granite (and along which occurs the most picturesque scenery in Devonshire), and with the rich cultivated country lying beyond. It is this rich country which has given Devonshire the name of the Garden of England. The most noticeable districts are the so-called Vale of Exeter, covering an area of about 200 square miles, and including the meadows which surround Crediton, the richest in the county ; and the South Hams, the extent of which is not very clearly defined, but which covers the deep projection between the mouths of the Dart and the Erme. Another very picturesque division extends eastward of Exeter as far as the Dorsetshire border. The north and south coasts of the county differ much in character and climate, the north being by far the more bracing. Both have grand cliff and rock scenery, not exceeded by any in England or Wales ; and, as a rule, the country immediately inland is of great beauty. The general verdure of Devonshire, and its broken hilly character, are the features which everywhere most strongly assert themselves. The least picturesque part of the country is that toward the centre, which is occupied by some portions of the Carboniferous formation.
The principal rivers rise on Dartmoor, and are—the Teign, the Dart, the Plym, and the Tavy, falling into the English Channel, and the Taw and the Torridge, flowing north towards Bideford bay. The lesser Dartmoor streams are the Avon, the Erme, and the Yealm, all running south. The Exe rises on Exmoor in Somersetshire ; but the main part of its course is through Devonshire (where it gives name to Exeter), and it is joined on its way to the English channel by the lesser streams of the Culm, the Greedy, and the Clyst. The Otter, rising on the Blackdown hills, also runs S., and the Axe, for part of its course, divides the counties of Devon and Dorset. These eastern streams are comparatively slow and still-flowing. The Dartmoor rivers, rapid, dashing, and rocky, are famous trout streams. None have courses of any great length.
The geological formations of Devonshire are of course the main cause of the general appearance of the county. Dartmoor, as has been said, is a granite region. By far the greater part of central Devon is occupied by Carboniferous rocks, consisting chiefly of sandstones, often siliceous, and of slates. All this formation has been subjected to great disturbances, and the strata (as may be seen on every part of the coast between Boscastle and the mouth of the Taw), are twisted in a manner which defies description, the result being some very extraordinary and picturesque cliff scenery. True coal does not exist, but anthracite occurs near Bideford. These rocks are also associated with trappean and other ashes, which bear a striking analogy to those of existing volcanoes. Underlying the carbonaceous deposits are the grauwacke or Devonian rocks, forming the extreme north of the county, and great part of the South Hams. They extend west of Plymouth, and cover the greater part of Cornwall. These rocks are generally held to be the equivalents of the “ Old Red” system, although the characteristic Old Red rocks, so largely developed in Scotland, Herefordshire, and elsewhere, are not found at all in Devonshire. The Devonian rocks consist of clay-slates, grey limestones, brown sandstones, and flags. The fossils of the two series also differ ; but although these Devonians offer many complexities, this and other differences seem capable of explanation. The third great formation of Devonshire is the New Red, which occupies much of the eastern portion of the county, extends along the coast from Sidmouth to Torbay, and sends out a long spur westward into the Carboniferous district. The upper beds of the series consist principally of marls, the middle of sandstones, and the lower of breccias or coarse conglomerates, coloured red by peroxide of iron. The formation is characterized by a scarcity of organic remains, and by the extreme fertility of some of its soils.
At or near the junction of the Carboniferous and New Red formations, from Washfield, near Tiverton, on the N. to Haldon on the S., occur numerous masses of igneous rock, feldspathic traps. These traps are for the most part excellent building stones, and many of the quarries have been worked for ages. Greenstones and elvans are also associated with the Devonian series. Greensand strata cap the Blackdown hills, and the heights near Axminster, Seaton, and Sidmouth, and, with beds of chalk, occupy a depression in the coast at Beer (near the eastern border of Devonshire), coming down to the level of the sea at Beer Head. A very interesting and remarkable Tertiary deposit, belonging to the Lower Miocene period, occurs at Bovey Tracy, below the eastern escarpment of Dartmoor. It consists of beds of lignite, clay, and sand, with an aggregate thickness of more than 100 feet. In the lignites at least 50 species of plants have been found, all indicating a sub-tropical climate ; but the greater part of the lignite beds is formed by fragments of an enormous coniferous tree, belonging to the genus Sequoia, the only living species of which are to be found in California. Great lumps of inspissated resin occur occasionally. The clay which overlies the lignites is of much more modern date, and contains leaves of the dwarf birch, now an arctic plant, and of 3 species of willow, which all betoken a much colder climate than that of Devonshire at present. Fine potters' clay occurs above this “ head” of coarse clay and sand, and has been turned to account. The lignite called “ Boveycoal” burns with a disagreeable smell, and is not much used.
The ossiferous caverns of Devonshire are famous in geological history. The most important is Kent's Hole, near Torquay, which has been carefully explored, and appears to have been frequented by bears, hyænas, and, at last, by primitive man. There are others at Brixham, at Chudleigh, and at Oreston near Plymouth.
Minerals.—The minerals of most account are tin and copper. Iron occurs, but to no great extent. The silver-lead mines at Combe Martin on the N. coast, and at Beer Alston, on the Devonshire side of the Tamar, were formerly worked to advantage ; but the former have long been abandoned, and the latter, since 1860, have been swamped by water from the river, under the bed of which the principal mine extended. Tin has been found on Dartmoor (in stream works) from an unknown period. Copper was not much worked before the end of the last century. Tin occurs in the granite of Dartmoor, and along its borders, but rather where the Devonian than where the Carboniferous rocks border the granite. It is found most plentifully in the district which surrounds Tavistock, which, for tin and other ores, is in effect the great mining district of the county. Here, about 4 miles from Tavistock, are the Devon Great Consols mines, which from 1843 to 1871 were among the richest copper mines in the world, and by far the largest and most profitable in the kingdom. The divided profits during this period amounted to Pound1,192,960. But the mining interests of Devonshire are affected by the same causes, and in the same way, as those of Cornwall. The quantity of ore has greatly diminished, and the cost of raising it from the deep mines prevents competition with foreign markets. In many mines tin underlies the general depth of the copper, and is worked when the latter has been exhausted. The metalliferous character of the Tavistock district is indeed very mixed, and besides tin and copper, ores of zinc and iron are largely distributed, but these have as yet received no great attention. At the Devon Great Consols more than 2000 tons of refined arsenic are annually produced by elimination from the iron pyrites contained in the various lodes. This amount is calculated to be about one-third of the arsenic produced throughout Europe. Manganese occurs in the neighbourhood of Exeter, in the valley of the Teign, and in N. Devon ; but the most profitable mines, which are shallow, are, like those of tin and copper, in the Tavistock district. The other mineral productions of the county consist of marbles, building-stones, slates, and potters' clay. Marbles occur in the Carboniferous series at Chudleigh and elsewhere, but of very inferior character and beauty to those among the Devonian rocks, at Ipplepen, Babbacombe near Torquay, and Plymouth. These are largely worked, and are used extensively in the decoration of churches and other buildings. Among building stones, the granite of Dartmoor holds the foremost place. It is much quarried near Prince Town, near Moreton Hampstead on the N. of Dartmoor, and elsewhere. The annual export is considerable. There are very large and ancient quarries of a chalky greensand at Beer, near the eastern border of the county. This is an excellent building-stone, nearly white, and composed of carbonate of lime, mixed with argillaceous and siliceous matter, and with particles of green silicate of iron. Hard traps, which occur in many places, are also much used, as are the limestones of Buckfastleigh and of Plymouth. The Roborough stone, used from an early period in Devonshire churches, is found near Tavistock, and is a hard, porphyritic elvan, taking a fine polish. Excellent roofing slates occur in the Devonian series round the S. part of Dartmoor. The chief quarries are near Ashburton and Plymouth (Cann quarry), but none of them are so extensive or important as those at Delabole in Cornwall. Potters' clay is worked at King's Teignton, whence it is largely exported, at Bovey Tracy, and at Watcombe near Torquay. The Watcombe clay is of the finest quality, and is capable of retaining the most delicate form. China clay or kaolin, is found on the S. side of Dartmoor, at Lee Moor, and near Trowlesworthy. There is a very large deposit of umber, as yet little known, close to Ashburton.
Climate.—The climate varies greatly in different parts of the county but everywhere it is more humid than that of the eastern or south-eastern parts of England. Both Devon and Cornwall have a mean annual temperature about 1°·5 above that of the midland counties ; but in the summer they are cooler than the whole range of country from the south coast to the 53° of lat. The air of the Dartmoor highlands is sharp and bracing. Mists are frequent, and snow often lies long. On the south coast frost is little known, and many half hardy plants, such as hydrangeas, myrtles, geraniums, and heliotropes, live through the winter without protection. The climate of Sidmouth, Teignmouth, Torquay, and other watering places on this coast, is very equable, and the mean temperature of the winter months is about 47°. The N. coast, exposed to the storms and swell of the Atlantic, is far more bracing ; although there also, in the more sheltered nooks (as at Combe Martin), myrtles of great size and age flower freely, and produce their annual crop of berries.
Agriculture.—While the eastern division of England, ranging from Yorkshire to Hampshire and Sussex, is essentially a corn-growing country, the south-western is as specially the grazing or pasture-land division. The total amount of land in Devonshire under corn crops in 1876 was 283,332 acres, of which 112,652 were under wheat, 152,370 under green crops, 189,761 under clover, sanfoin, and grasses under rotation; and the permanent unbroken pasture (exclusive of the moors) extended to 442,406 acres. Of horses used solely for agricultural purposes, the number returned in 1876 was 51,753 ; of cattle, 217,111 ; of sheep, 943,542 , of pigs, 90,773. These numbers, as compared with those of former years, show a steady progress, and an annual increase in the extent of permanent pasture. In the small farms on Dartmoor and along its borders grain crops are very uncertain, and on Dartmoor itself even oats do not ripen in unfavourable seasons. The root and other crops obtained on the land attached to the convict prison are due to the amount of manual labour expended on them, which in ordinary cases would be altogether without profit. Devonshire is one of the cider-producing counties of England, soil and climate being favourable to the growth and bearing of the apple. The acreage of Devonshire orchards in 1876 was 24,097. The two other principal cider counties had respectively—Hereford, 24,616 acres planted with fruit trees (apples and pears), and Somerset, 21,029.
As respects the ownership of the land, according to the Owners of Land Return for 1873, the county was divided among 31,809 proprietors, whose aggregate estimated rental amounted to £2,881,665. Of that number 21,647 or 68 per cent. owned less than 1 acre—the proportion of small proprietors in all England being 71 percent. ; and the rental per acre averaged £1, 18s. 0d, as against £3, 0s. 2d. in all England. Nearly one fifth of the land was owned by 15 proprietors:—To the Duchy of Cornwall belonged 48,457 acres ; Hon. Mark Rolle, Stevenstone, Torrington, 45,088 ; Duke of Bedford, 22,607 ; Earl of Devon, Powderham Castle, 20,588 ; Earl Fortescue, Castle Hill, 20,171 ; Lord Poltimore, Court Hall, 17,047 ; F. W. Knight, Exmoor, 16,903 ; Earl of Portsmouth, Eggesford House, 16,414 ; Sir George Stucley, Bart., Hartland Abbey, 15,144 ; Sir T. D. Acland, Bart., Killerton, 15,018 ; Lord Clinton, Heanton Satchville, 14,431 ; Sir Massey Lopes, Bart., Maristow, 11,977 ; M. Preston, Chulmleigh, 11,280 ; Sir W. P. Carew, Bart., Newton Abbot, 10,889 ; and Sir Lawrence Palk, Bart., Haldon House, 10,109.
Industries.—Devonshire has few manufactures, and no very important industrial works. There is a considerable pottery at Bovey Tracy, manufacturing white, printed, and painted ware ; and another at Watcombe, where the productions are finer and more artistic. Blankets and serges are made at Buckfastleigh and at Ashburton, and the factories employ many hands. At Tiverton there is an extensive lace-making factory. The manufacture of Honiton lace, made by hand on the pillow, is now confined to Beer and some other villages on the S.E. coast. Shoes and boots, chiefly for export, are made at Crediton. The greatest industrial works in the county however, are the vast Government establishments at Plymouth and Devonport—the victualling yard, and the dockyard. The convict prisons in Dartmoor may also be regarded as an industrial establishment. They were built for French prisoners in 1809, and in 1850 were adapted for receiving convicts. Since that year more than 100 acres round the prisons have been brought into cultivation under convict labour ; and 1000 acres more were added to the prison lands in 1871. In addition to the old buildings, a large prison, arranged on the latest principles, was erected in 1872.
The fisheries of Devonshire are in no way so important as those of Cornwall. About 200 trawlers belong to the port of Brixham, the head quarters of the fisheries of Tor Bay. Herrings and mackerel visit the coasts in their seasons, but not in the vast shoals known farther west. It may be said that trawling is the main feature of the Devonshire fishery whilst seining and driving characterize that of Cornwall.
History.—The British tribes inhabiting this western portion of the island are called Dumnonii by Ptolemy ; and Dumnonia, or Dammonia, the Latinized name of a kingdom which long remained independent after the arrival and early conquests of the West Saxons, seems to be identical with the Cymric Dyfnaint, which survives in the present Devon. The Saxon settlers, as they advanced into the country, called themselves Defenas, i.e., men of Devon or Dyfnaint, thus adopting the British name, and indicating the broad difference between their settlements in such a district as Devon, where British influence so long survived, and where they came as Christians, and those in southern or eastern England, where the Britons were either expelled or exterminated. In Devonshire the Christian Britons became subjects of the Christian Saxons. “ The Celtic element can be traced from the Somersetshire Axe, the last heathen frontier, to the extremities of Cornwall, of course increasing in amount as we reach the lands which were more recently conquered, and therefore less perfectly Teutonized. Devonshire is less Celtic than Cornwall, and Somersetshire is less Celtic than Devonshire ; but not one of the three counties can be called a pure Teutonicland, like Kent or Norfolk” (E. A. Freeman). Celtic names are accordingly found in various parts of Devonshire, and especially on Dartmoor, side by side with those which are truly Saxon.
For some time after the landing of William I. and the battle of Hastings, the western counties remained undisturbed. In the spring of 1068 Exeter was besieged and taken by the Conqueror, who built a castle there, which was besieged in 1137 by Stephen for three months. In 1469 Exeter, which was Lancastrian, was besieged for twelve days by the Yorkists, but held out successfully ; and in 1497 the city was again besieged by Perkin Warbeck. A more important siege occurred in 1549, when the western counties rose in defence of what was called the “ old religion.” This lasted for 35 days. Both Exeter and Plymouth were besieged for many months during the civil war of the Commonwealth. This was a period of considerable disturbance in the west. The golden age of Devonshire is, however, that of Elizabeth. Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh, and the Gilberts, besides a host of others, were all of Devonshire; and the history of the county at that time is bound up with the story of its harbours and seaside towns, and is in close connection with the general history of England. It was from Plymouth that the English ships sailed for the attack and dispersion of the Armada, the near approach of which was there first made certain. The landing of William of Orange at Brixham, November 5, 1688, is perhaps the event most fraught with important results which has taken place in the western counties.
Antiquities.—In primeval antiquities Devonshire is not so rich as Cornwall ; but Dartmoor abounds in remains of the highest interest, the most peculiar of which are the long parallel alignments of upright stones, which, on a small scale, resemble those of Carnac in Brittany. On Dartmoor the lines are invariably straight, and are found in direct connection with cairns, and with circles which are probably sepulchral. These stone avenues are very numerous. Of the so-called sacred circles the best examples are the “ Longstones” on Scorhill down, and the “ Grey Wethers” under Sittaford tor. By far the finest cromlech is the “ Spinster's Rock” at Drewsteignton, a three-pillared cromlech which may well be compared with those of Cornwall. There are numerous maenhirs or single upright stones ; a large dolmen or holed stone lies in the bed of the Teign, near the Scorhill circle ; and rock basins occur on the summit of nearly every tor on Dartmoor (the largest are on Kestor, and on Heltor, above the Teign). It is,however, tolerably evident that these have been produced by the gradual disintegration of the granite, and that the dolmen in the Teign is due to the action of the river. Clusters of hut foundations, circular, and formed of rude granite blocks, are frequent ; the best example of such a primitive village is at Batworthy, near Chagford ; the type resembles that of East Cornwall. Walled inclosures, or pounds, occur in many places ; Grimspound is the most remarkable. Trackways, or boundary lines, run across Dartmoor in many directions ; and the rude bridges, formed of great slabs of granite, deserve notice. All these remains are on Dartmoor. Scattered over the county are numerous large hill castles and camps, all earthworks, and all apparently of the British period. Roman relics have been found from time to time at Exeter (Isca Damnoniorum), the only large Roman station in the county.
Buildings.—The churches are for the most part of the Perpendicular period, dating from the middle of the 14th to the end of the 15th century. Exeter Cathedral is of course an exception, the whole (except the Norman towers) being very beautiful Decorated work. The special features of Devonshire churches, however, are the richly carved pulpits and chancel screens of wood, in which this county exceeded every other in England, with the exception of Norfolk and Suffolk. The designs are rich and varied, and the skill displayed often very great. Granite crosses are frequent, the finest and earliest being that of Coplestone, near Crediton. Monastic remains are scanty ; the principal fragments are those at Tor, Buckfast, Tavistock, and Buckland Abbeys. Among domestic buildings the houses of Wear Gifford (15th century), Bradley (15th century), Dartington (15th), Bradfield (Elizabethan), and Holcombe Rogus (Elizabethan) deserve notice. The ruined castles of Okehampton (Edward I.), Exeter (with vast British earthworks), Berry Pomeroy (Henry III., and with ruins of a large Tudor mansion), Totnes (Henry III.), and Compton (early 15th century), are all interesting and picturesque.
The dialect of Devonshire belongs, of course, to the West Saxon division ; but the mixture of races here was, as has been said, considerable ; and in the language as well as in the folk-lore of the people Celtic words and ideas are found closely united with those of Teutonic origin.
The episcopal see for Devonshire was at first established at Crediton, in 909. The ancient Cornish see, which had existed during the British independence of Cornwall, was afterwards united to that of Crediton ; and in 1050 the place of the united sees was removed by the Confessor from Crediton to Exeter. There was no further change until 1876, when the Cornish see was again separated from that of Devonshire, and the place of it fixed at Truro. The diocese of Exeter is now therefore confined to Devonshire.
Devonshire is in the western circuit, and the assizes are held at Exeter. It has one court of quarter sessions and 22 petty sessional divisions. The city of Exeter, a county of itself, and the boroughs of Barnstaple, Bideford, Dartmouth, Devonport, Plymouth, South Molton, Tiverton, and Totnes have commissions of the peace, and, with the exception of Totnes, separate courts of quarter sessions. The jurisdiction of the court of the vice-warden of the stannaries extends over the county of Devon as well as that of Cornwall. There are 23 lieutenancy subdivisions. For the purposes of parliamentary election, Devonshire is divided into east, north, and south each of which divisions returns 2 county members. The city of Exeter, in East Devon, returns 2 ; Barnstaple and Tiverton, in North Devon, 2 each ; Devonport and Plymouth, in South Devon, 2 each ; and Tavistock, also in South Devon, returns 1 member. There are thus altogether 17 members returned for Devonshire.
One of the earliest railways in England was that from Plymouth to the prisons at Prince Town on Dartmoor, opened in 1825. It was, and is, used only by horse cars. The county is now well intersected by railways. Of canals, the most important (and, except “ Morton's Learn,” running from near Peterborough to the sea, the most ancient in England) is the Exeter Ship canal, cut in the reign of Henry VIII., and extended in 1826. It is about six miles in length, and connects the city of Exeter with the mouth of the River Exe. Tiverton is connected with Taunton by the Grand Western canal, 23 miles long; and a canal completed in 1817 connects Tavistock with the Tamar.
The principal gentlemen's seats in Devonshire are Saltram (earl of Morley), Maristow (Sir Massey Lopes, Bart.), Kitley (Baldwin Bastard, Esq.), Stover (duke of Somerset), Ugbrooke (Lord Clifford), Haldon (Sir Lawrence Palk, Bart.), Mamhead (Sir Lidstone Newman, Bart.), Powderham Castle (earl of Devon), Killerton (Sir Thomas Acland, Bart.), Bicton (Lady Rolle), Castle Hill (Earl Fortescue), Tawstock (Sir Bourchier Wrey, Bart.), and Eggesford (earl of Portsmouth). There are many lesser houses noticeable for beauty of situation or for the ornamental grounds in which they stand. Of these by far the most remarkable are Endsleigh (duke of Bedford), near Tavistock, commanding some of the finest scenery in the upper valley of the Tamar, and Buckland Court, on the Dart (Baldwin Bastard, Esq.).
The principal towns in the county are those already mentioned as returning members to Parliament, or as possessing courts of quarter sessions. Besides these are the watering-places of Teignmouth, Torquay, and Ilfracombe, and the smaller towns of Crediton, Honiton, Axminster, Ashburton, and Newton Abbot.
Population.—The total population of Devonshire in 1851 amounted to 567,098 persons ; in 1861 to 584,373 ; and in 1871 to 601,374, of whom 285,248 were males, and 316,126 females. There were, at the last census, on an average 0.36 persons to an acre, or 2.75 acres to each person. The number of inhabited houses was 105,200. There were 480 parishes and 33 hundreds. The population of the county in 1801 was 340,308 persons ; so that the increase since that time has been at the rate of 77 for every hundred. Of the 52 counties in England and Wales, Devonshire is now the ninth in point of population. The comparative density of the population is considerably below the average. In England generally there are 389 persons to every square mile ; in Devonshire the number is not more than 232.
(R. J. K.)
- For a full account of the literature connected with the caverns, and of the discoveries made in them, see Transactions of the Devonshire Association, and the annual reports, by Mr W. Pengelly, of the committee appointed by the British Association in 1864.
- Sic. Actually, the work described is Thomas Westcote's A View of Devonshire in mdcxxx, with a Pedigree of Most of its Gentry, whereas the Survey of Devon was a separate work by Tristram Risdon written in 1632 and published in 1811.—Ed.