900 YEARS OF HISTORY.
By Trevor James
When King Henry 1 'of England and France needed funds to mount a campaign in Normandy in 1105 he received what must have amounted to a handsome donation by the prosperous and wealthy Abbey at Tavistock. Henry showed his gratitude by granting the Abbey a weekly market to be held each Friday. The market has survived without a break for 900 years.
Henry King of England to Geoffrey de Mandeville and to all the Barons French and English of Devon and of Cornwall Greeting. May you know that I have granted to Saint Mary* of Tavistock and to the monks that they may have a market at Tavistock every week on Friday. And I grant to the merchants that they may sell and buy whatever they wish and that no-one to them on this account wrong shall do. With witness William Warelwast and Alfred of Lincoln and Harding son of Alnod and Walter son of Ansgar at Stamford.
* The Abbey was dedicated to ‘'Our Lady’ as well as the well-known St. Rumon.
It should be remembered that at this time the Benedictine Abbey itself was Tavistock. Apart from the Abbey buildings there were just a few humble dwellings that housed the workpeople who served the monks in various ways. All roads (rough tracks by today's standards) led to and from surrounding villages and hamlets - the main highways by-passed the town, unlike Launceston, Lydford and Okehampton which were connected by well used ancient tracks and where, incidentally, there were already established markets. The Tavistock Charter gave the monks the sole market rights within an area of 6 1/3 miles (equivalent to 2 leagues, the distance a person could comfortably walk to and from market bearing their goods) and attracted trade that previously went to the three towns mentioned. Lydford in particular was badly hit having already lost business to Okehampton market. Thus the Charter was a turning point towards further prosperity and expansion for Tavistock and Lydford's eventual decline. Naturally these changes did not go unchallenged by the local Barons. We do not know what form their protests took but in 1107 another Charter was issued by the King:
Henry King of England to William* Bishop of Exeter and to Richard son of Baldwin** and to all the Barons of Devonshire greeting“It is my will and order that the Abbot of Tavistock shall have peace in his market of Tavistock just as I have granted and no man on account of this shall harm do.”
1116 - The King granted the Abbey a three day Fair on the Eve, Feast and Morrow of St Rumon. (29th to 31st August)
1539 - King Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey, stripped it of its treasures and gifted the remainder to Lord John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford.
1551 - Succeeding Monarchs granted the Abbey further Fairs until they numbered 5, one of which is ‘Goose Fair’ for which Tavistock is renowned
1800's - On market days carts and horses would line every available space. The Friday market was one of the largest in Devon and huge quantities of meat and com were purchased for consumption in Plymouth and other towns. A hundred years later a farmer is said to have made an illuminating and informative remark: 'every human being from ten miles around - and some from Bristol and Truro - was in the town.
It was Francis Russell, the 7th. Duke of Bedford, who determined to establish a permanent market place and bring order to the Friday trading. White's Directory for 1850 states:
‘The corn market is held in a building on granite arches, erected by the Duke of Bedford * in 1839; and it is said to be his Grace's intention to erect a commodious Market House for the accommodation of butchers, greengrocers, and the vendors of poultry, butter, eggs &c., whose shops and stalls are now scattered and inconvenient.’
*John the 6th. Duke. He died that same year.
Francis implemented these ambitious plans with foresight and vigour. His father's Corn Market still stands at the junction of West St. and King St. having been converted long ago for other uses including a cinema and the present day shop. The erection of a 'commodious Market House' entailed what was probably the most momentous upheaval in the town's history.
The Tavistock Markets Act 1859' was a necessary requirement for what was planned and after being passed by Parliament gave the Duke enormous powers. Among them he was authorised to:
construct Market Houses or Market Places on any part of the Site marked on the Plan’.
‘stop up and abolish Saint Matthews Street and Higher Brook Street and open a new Street from Bedford Square to Lower Brook Street, and continue
Pepper Street southwards into the new street’.
‘purchase, either compulsorily or by Agreement, and enter upon, take, and use such of the Houses, Lands, and Hereditaments delineated on the said Plan.. ..as he may think necessary’.
There is mention also of a proposed Slaughter House and Cattle Market.
These measures tore the heart out of ‘Old Tavistock’. The sweeping away of St. Matthews Street and Higher Brook Street left a huge swathe in the town centre for the creation of what is now the aptly named Duke Street, the wide thoroughfare from Bedford Square to the beginning of (Lower) Brook Street. Pepper Street was extended to join Duke Street as can be seen today. An even more astonishing development took place when the River Tavy was diverted. The few dilapidated buildings along the river bank were demolished and a retaining wall was constructed to allow for the formation of Market Road. All of which measures were paid for by the Duke.
The Market House, or Pannier Market as it is now called was completed in 1864 and was the heart of all market activity. It is a large rectangular building with an access road all around it. Three stone arches allow pedestrian access from Duke Street and another, larger arch, enters under the Town Hall from Bedford Square.