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Surprising Facts about Tavistock

Tavistock is brimming with plenty of history, culture and intrigue! Whether you have lived here your whole life, have just moved here or you are just visiting for the day, there are a few surprising facts you may not know about this market town nestling on the edge of Dartmoor.


1. Tavistock played a part in the D-Day Landings

From July 1943 until May 1944, American soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army were based at Abbotsfield Hall in Tavistock, commanded by Major General Charles. H. Gerhard. Part of V Corps United States 1st Army, the task that lay ahead for them was the invasion of Europe - now known as the D-Day landings - and they used their base in Tavistock to prepare for the military maneouvre. Locals recall tents and military vehicles on Whitchurch Down, even a field hospital and landing strip.

During their stay, many of the soldiers became part of life in Tavistock. They serviced their vehicles at Matthew's Garage on Duke Street, played baseball in the Meadows, had a social club on West Street and enjoyed a tipple or two at the White Hart on Brook Street. It is thought that some 40 local girls became GI Brides.

Tavistock lays claim to a number of high profile visits at this time including, in April 1944, a meeting between the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and Overall Land Commander, Lt General Sir Bernard Montgomery at Abbotsfield Hall. Today it is a nursing home and there is a plaque above the fireplace recording the meeting in the room they used.

The 29th Infantry Division left Tavistock for Europe in late May 1944, landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy as part of the operation to re-capture mainland Europe from German Occupation on the 6th June.

Credit: Tavistock Museum


2. Tavistock has links with William Morris

The most celebrated designer of the 19th Century, William Morris, was a regular visitor to the area since his Uncle, Thomas Morris, was the first managing director of the Devon Great Consols Mine and lived at Abbotsfield Hall.

The spectacular window in the St. Mary Magdalene Chapel in St. Eustachius is the work of William Morris, made from designs by Edward Burne-Jones and dates from 1876. Commissioned by Reginald Hornbrook Gill as a memorial to his late father, John, the window in the north-east corner of the chancel is the most admired piece of art in the building.

Credit: Gerry Woodcock’s “Homage to St Eustachius: a history of Tavistock Parish Church”


3. Royalty has passed through

Tavistock has played host to a number of Royal Visits but we think these are pretty cool!

In a twist of fate way back in October 1501, a 15-year old Spanish princess who would eventually become the first wife of King Henry VIII, enjoyed the hospitality of monks at Tavistock Abbey. The journey Catherine of Aragon was to make from Spain to London should have taken her via Southampton, but her fleet arrived in Plymouth on October 2nd 1501 after it was blown off course by storms. She was travelling to England to marry Prince Arthur who would become King Henry VIII. The unexpected arrival of an extravagant royal entourage would most likely have caused a stir at the religious staging post in Tavistock.

In 1644, as the first English Civil War raged and Plymouth was under seige by the Royalists, King Charles I came and stayed in Tavistock at the house of the Glanville family on Pym Street. His attempt to subdue Plymouth during this week-long visit failed, however. Plymouth would be blockaded until the very end of 1645 and Tavistock was then recaptured by the Parliamentarian New Model Army for good. King Charles I immortalised the town by later declaring 'If it is raining anywhere in my kingdom, it will be raining in Tavistock'.


4. Tavistock has one of the smallest, private libraries in the country!

Tavistock subscription library began life in 1976 as a literary club formed by four young men from Tavistock. The library itself was founded in 1799.

The original library, nicknamed the Propylaeum, was demolished when the Duke of Bedford remodeled the town centre. However, the Duke refurbished Court Gate as a purpose built library and librarian's cottage. In 1964, the library was threatened with closure when the property was sold but it helped to raise the money to buy Court Gate and the library became the tenants of the Town Council. Many books had to be sold but the remaining collection was saved. Here the library remains.


5. Tavistock is Home of the Cream Tea

Ancient manuscripts show that the monks of Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey were indeed the people who created the Cream Tea.

The Abbey, established in the 10th Century, was badly damaged by Vikings in 997AD. Restoration of the Abbey was undertaken by Ordulf, Earl of Devon, who rewarded his workers with bread, clotted cream and strawberry preserves made by the monks. A Devon cream tea! From this moment onwards, workers enjoyed them so much that they continued to make them for visitors passing through the town.

Where better to enjoy a tradition Devon cream tea than in Tavistock! You can enjoy this traditional afternoon tea from many establishments in the town:


6. Tavistock Pannier Market is REALLY old!

Tavistock Pannier Market has been around since 1105 when a Royal Charter was passed by Henry I to the Monks of the Abbey to run a local market. Originally held in Bank Square, the 7th Duke of Bedford moved the River Tavy sideways and built a magnificent Market Hall surrounded by delightful small shops in 1860.

The Pannier Market, so called after the baskets used to carry goods, has survived for 900 years - the only break in trading during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is considered the beating heart of the town and offers different markets throughout the week, from Tuesday to Saturday.

  • Tuesdays: Crafts, Antiques & Collectables

  • Wednesdays and Thursdays: A mixture of unique stalls

  • Fridays: Traditional Charter Market with stalls and organic produce

  • Saturdays: 1st - Aladdin’s Cave; 2nd - Craft; 3rd & 4th - Mixed.


7. Tavistock had not only one, but two Train Stations

Tavistock once homed two train stations; Tavistock North and Tavistock South. Unfortunately, both stations are now out of use but there is government support to reinstate the line to Bere Alston, reconnecting the town by rail to Plymouth.

Tavistock South was the Great Western Railway Service, connecting Launceston and Plymouth, passing through Tavistock. It was disassembled from 1962-1965. The cattle market alongside the station survives as does the bridge over Pixon Lane.

As for Tavistock North, this station was operated by the London and South Western Railway connecting Lydford and Plymouth via Bere Alston. It was opened in 1890 and later closed in 1968. The old station is located at the end of the viaduct that stands over Bannawell Street and has been redeveloped. The stunning viaduct that dominates the town is now a cycle/walking path, with wonderful views of some of the oldest streets of Tavistock and of Dartmoor. A must walk route on your Tavistock adventures!


Keep your eyes peeled for more facts you didn't know about Tavistock in our next blog!

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