MODBURY is a small ancient market town, consisting chiefly of four streets, diverging to the cardinal points, and pleasantly situated at the foot and on the sides of three acclivities, in the heart of a fertile district, 12 miles E. by S. of Plymouth, 4½ miles S.E. of Ivybridge Railway Station, seven miles N.W. of Kingsbridge, and 208 miles W.S.W. of London. Its parish contains 5977 acres of land extending westward to the navigable river Erme, and including 143A. of woodland, 181A. of orchards, 144A. of waste, and 85A. of common. Its population amounted in 1801 to 1813 souls, and in 1831 to 2116, but in 1841 they had decreased to 2048. It has a small weekly market on Thursday; a great cattle market on the second Monday of every month; and a large annual fair, for cattle, &c., on the 4th of May, if that date falls on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and if not, on the Tuesday after. Petty Sessions are held at the White Hart Inn, every third Tuesday, by the magistrates of Ermington and Plympton Division, to whom Mr. Thomas Kelly, of Yealmpton, is clerk. Modbury is said to be an ancient borough, though neither incorporated nor represented. It sent two members to Parliament in the 34th of Edw. I., soon after which it petitioned, like many other places, to be exempt from this expense, on account of the poverty of its inhabitants. Among the officers appointed at the court leet of the manor, is a portreeve, who is commonly called the mayor; and by the permission of the lord of the manor, he and the leet jury and officers have the profits of the fair, which they expend in two dinners annually. The woollen manufacture was formerly carried on here extensively, but here is now only one small serge factory. The town consists chiefly of small houses, but is highly salubrious, and has numerous springs of pure water and three public conduits, one of which was built by Adrian Swete, Esq., in 1708. The parish has many scattered farm-houses and five corn mills; and the small hamlets of Caton, Leigh, Brownston, Penquit, and part of Ludbrook. It is in several manors, of which the following are the names and owners, – Modbury, Geo. Henry Legassicke Crispin, Esq.; Orchardton, Lady Bulteel; Wymston, W. L. Prettejohn, Esq.; Shilston, or Shilveston, C. Savery, Esq.; Edmerston, Archdeacon Froude; and Traine, J. B. Swete, Esq. Other manors and estates were sold to the tennants many years ago; and W. M. Praed, Hy. Collins-Splatt, S. T. Hood, J. B. Yonge, and S. Tozer, Esqrs., and several smaller owners, have freehold estates in the parish. Modbury, the chief manor anciently belonged to the Valletorts, from whom it passed to the Okestons. Sir John de Okeston, by command of Edward II., conveyed it to Sir Richd. Chmpernowne, whose family resided here in great splendour till the end of the 17th century, in a noble mansion called Modbury House, which was castellated in 1334, by royal license, but was all taken down in 1705, except a small portion, now a stable and hay-loft. Tradition speaks very highly of the grandeur of this seat, and of the magnificent manner in which the Champernownes lived; and particularly of their keeping a very fine band of singers and musicians, in the reign of Elizabeth, when they are said to have sold nineteen manors in this neighbourhood. Several of them were knighted for military services. In 1642, Modbury House was taken by a party of Parliamentarians from Plymouth, and Mr. Champernowne, with Sir Edward Fortescue, the sheriff, and others, were taken prisoners. In February, 1643, Sir Nicholas Slanning, having intrenched himself at Modbury, with 2000 men, was defeated by the Devonshire clubmen. In the reign of Stephen, a Priory was founded here for Benedictines, as a cell to the Abbey of St. Peter-sur-Dive, in Normandy, but was dissolved, with other alien monasteries, in the time of Henry VI., when its revenues were valued at £70 per annum, and granted to Eton College, to which the manors Priory and Penquit-and-Upton still belong, together with the great tithes of this parish. The Champernownes of Dartington are a younger branch of the family which was seated at Modbury. Oldaport, or Old Port, a farm in the south-west part of the parish, anciently belonged to the De la Ports, and afterwards to the Somaster and Hele families. On this farm, upon a tongue of elevated land, on the east side of the river Erme, where the stream spreads into an estuary, are the foundations of an ancient fort, the outer walls of which may still be distinctly traced, four to five feet in thickness, and enclosing about 29 acres. When excavating, some time ago, on the south and north-west sides, the foundations of two round towers were found, and also two openings in the walls, nine feet wide. Near the latter is a well of pure water, in which was found the head of a spear, now in the possession of Mr. Pearse, the occupier of the farm. Traine, Yarnacombe, and some other ancient “bartons” in this parish have long been occupied as farm-houses. During the late wars, here were barracks for a troop of horse.
Modbury Church (St. George,) is a spacious and handsome structure, with a tower, containing six bells, and crowned by a spire, rising to the height of about 134 feet. It is about to undergo a complete renovation. The spire was rebuilt soon after 1621, but the lower part of the tower and the body of the church are very ancient, but evidently underwent considerable repairs and alterations in the 15th century. Three galleries were erected in 1716. In the south aisle is an albaster effigy, supposed to represent one of the Champernownes; and on another altar tomb is a mutilated statue, supposed to be the effigy of a knight of the Prideaux family. The vicarage, valued in K.B. at £19. 11s. 0½d., and in 1831 at £355, with Brownston curacy annexed to it, is in the patronage of the Masters and Fellows of Eton College, and incumbency of the Rev. N. Oxenham, M.A., who has a good residence and 9A. of glebe. The tithes were commuted in 1840, the vicarial for £406. 15s., and the rectorial for £788. 8s. The latter belong to the patrons, but are leased to J. H. Rhodes, Esq. Brownston Chapel of Ease is a small Gothic building, which was erected in 1844, by subscription and grants, and has a small endowment from Eton College. In the town is a small Friends’ Meeting-house, built in 1799; a Baptist Chapel, erected in 1805; and a small Wesleyan Chapel. The Independent Chapel is now a British School, opened in 1832. The National School was built in 1836, at the cost of £269. Modbury Literary and Scientific Institution was founded in 1840, by Mr. Richard King, who was born here, but in early life settled at New York, in America, where he amassed considerable wealth. During one of his visits to his native place, he erected a neat and commodious building for this institute, and also two adjoining dwellings for its endowment. He vested the buildings in trust for the promotion of literature and useful knowledge, especially among young men. The institute has now a library of more than 500 volumes, and has occasional lectures. The building is the handsomest in the town, and its front is in the Doric order. Its members number about 100, and J. Andrews, Esq., is the president. The Church-house and garden were let on a lease for three lives, about 48 years ago, at only 13s. 4d. per annum, in consideration of a fine. The income is expended in the repairs of the church, as also is a yearly rent-charge of £5 out of Waishwell field, left by Thomas Prideaux, in the reign of James I. A Charity School for 12 poor boys was founded by subscription in 1730, and afterwards endowed with the interest of about £280, which arose from various benefactions. It is now connected with the National School. In 1684, John Swete left a house and a quarter of an acre of land, for the residence of poor parishioners. Here is also a small garden belonging to the poor, and now let for about 25s. This garden is supposed to have been charged with the yearly payment of 6s. 8d. for the poor, by Thomas Hill, in 1567.