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History Gazetteer and Directory of Devonshire 1850
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The following collection provides a gazetteer and historical look at the county of Devonshire prior to 1850.
DEVONSHIRE, the largest county in England, except Yorkshire, and the most westerly except Cornwall, ranks among the first in agricultural importance, and the sixth in amount of population. It has mines of copper, tin, lead, and iron ores; inexhaustible quarries of durable granite, slate, lime, building stone, marble &c. ; and is one of the oldest seats of the oldest seats of the lace and coarse woollen manufactures, of which it still retains a considerable share, though greatly reduced since last century, by the machinery and factories of the midland and northern counties. Occupying the whole breadth of the central portion of that great south-western peninsula of the British Island, which juts out between the Bristol and English Channels, and having more than 150 miles of sea coast, and some fine navigable rivers and broad estuaries, Devonshire is one of the most important maritime counties in the kingdom. It has many sea ports, spacious harbours, and noble bays, and the great naval station, Plymouth and Devonport, is at its south-western angle, adjoining Cornwall. On it coast are many handsome and delightful bathing places, the principal of which are Torquay, Teignmouth, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Dawlish, and Budleigh Salterton, on the south-east coast, celebrated for their mild and genial climates; and Ilfracombe on the north coast. It comprises 30 market towns, including nine parliamentary boroughs, and its large and handsome capital – the city of Exeter, which is a county of itself. In picturesque beauties, embracing all the associations of hill and dale, wood and water, fertile valleys, elegant mansions, with sylvan parks and pleasure grounds; lofty moorland hills and dells, and extensive land and marine views, it yields to no county in England. In its greatest length and breadth it extends about 70 miles east and west and north and south; and though of an irregular figure, it may be said to occupy (if we include its large bays,) nearly all the area of a circle 70 miles in diameter, lying between the parallels of 50 deg. 12 min. and 51 deg. 14 min. north latitude; and 3 degrees and 4 deg. 30 min. west longitude. It is traversed in a south westerly direction by the Bristol and Exeter and South Devon Railways, which have branches to Tiverton, Crediton, and Torquay; but the Taw Valley line and some other projected railways are not yet made, though acts were obtained for their construction a few years ago. The boundaries of Devon are Somersetshire and part of Dorsetshire on the north-east; the Bristol Channel on the north; the river Tamar, which divides it from Cornwall, on the East; and the English Channel on the south and south- east, where its coast line is more than 100 miles in extent, and is beautifully diversified and broken by numerous bays, estuaries, creeks, promontories, and headlands; presenting in many places high rocky cliffs, fine sandy shores, pretty towns, villages, and villas, and busy ports and fishing stations. The north coast, including the large semi-circular sweep of Barnstaple Bay, is more than 50 miles in extent. The county is in the Diocese of Exeter, Province of Canterbury, and Western Circuit, and comprises 533,460 inhabitants, and about 1,700,000 acres of land, or 2403 square miles, as will be seen in the following Statistical Summary of its 32 Hundreds &c.
Devon was called Dunan by the Cornish Britons; Deuffneynt by the Welsh; and Devnascyre by the Anglo-Saxons. It is supposed that it was inhabited at a very remote period, and that its inhabitants had commercial transactions in tin, &c., with the Phoenicians and Greeks. Polwhele says that its aborigines were the Danmonii; but Whitaker supposes the latter were the Belgic invaders, and that the first inhabitants were the Cimbri, some of whom, after the invasion of the Belgae from Gaul, emigrated to Ireland, and others continued in the north-west parts of Devonshire. Caesar tells us that when he landed in Britain, he found the Belgae occupying the sea coast; but Richard of Cirencester says the Cimbri were on the north, and the Danmonii on the south coast of Devon. The county was included with Cornwall, under the name of Danmonium, which is supposed to be derived from the Phoenician words dan or dun, a hill; and moina, mines; or from Welsh words signifying deep valleys. Under the Roman domination, Devon was included in that large and important division of the island called Britannia Prima; and by the Saxons it was made art of the kingdom of Wessex, and so continued till the incorporation of the seven Saxon Kingdoms into one monarchy, in the time of Egbert; as will be seen at pages 52 to 59, where most of the momentous events relating to the general history of Devon, are necessarily incorporated with the history of the city of Exeter. There has been nothing peculiar in the government of Devonshire, except that of the Stannary Laws, which have been in force from a very early period in the mining districts. The “STANNARY PARLIAMENTS” were anciently held in the open air, on an elevated spot called Crockentor, in Dartmoor. Polwhele, who wrote about 1795, says that the president’s chair, the jurors’ seats, &c., cut in the rude stone, remained entire nearly till that period, though it had been customary for a very long time only to open the commission and swear in the jury on the site of the ancient court, and then to adjourn to the court house of one of the stannary towns, viz., Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton, and Tavistock. The stannary prison was a miserable dungeon at Lidford Castle. The custom of opening the court at Crockerntor, has been many years disused.
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