Chagford - Steeped in History
Chagford lies in the picturesque Teign Valley at the heart of the legendary Dartmoor National Park and is steeped in the fascinating history and legends of the South West of England.
As soon as you arrive in the centre of this historic Stannary town, the group of 15th and 16th century buildings starts to bring its past to life. One of the most striking is the octagonal 16th century Market House right in the centre. Also look out for Church Stile Cottage, Whiddons (once M. Parsons Tailor), the Church House (now Endecott House) and the Three Crowns Hotel (thought to be the town house of the Whyddon family). The local judge, Sir John Whyddon served at the court of Queen Elizabeth I (last of the Tudors - also known as Good Queen Bess). The mortally wounded Sidney Godolphin, poet and Helston MP, was carried into the porch of the Three Crowns during a Civil War Skirmish in 1643. You may wish to a raise a glass to the dashing cavalier Sidney when you pay a visit to the Three Crowns and visualise the action that was taking place here so long ago. Endecott House was named in honour of Pilgrim Father and governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endecott, who lived in Chagford before leaving for the New World.
So what exactly is a Stannary town? Well these towns were where the coinage of tin took place. Edward I made Chagford a Stannary town in 1305. Any person, who lived in the North East quarter of Devon and mined tin on Dartmoor, had to present their smelted tin to be assayed, stamped and taxed in Chagford. The county capital Exeter falls within the Chagford Stannary. Stannary towns also meted out justice via their own courts and had great power over the tinners. Although the tin-mining has now ceased, Chagford still maintains a very special character.
The Parish Of Chagford
Whilst the centre of Chagford is beautifully compact and buzzing with community spirit and historic links, the wider parish is quite large, extending over 15 square miles and including several hamlets and an area of Dartmoor. Five of the parishes' manors are mentioned in the Domesday Book (the famous great survey of England completed for William I in 1086). These manors are Chagford, Teigncombe, Rushford, Middlecott and Shapley. Chagford's historic Church of St Michael was dedicated by Bishop Bronscombe in 1261 and is definitely worth a visit.
View from The War Memorial
The well-maintained churchyard contains many graves of historical importance and interest. The War Memorial is a Dartmoor granite cross which was formerly the Market Cross which stood in the square. Here there is a bench from which one can enjoy the excellent view across the Teign valley to the Teign Gorge and Castle Drogo - arguably one of the finest of views in the country.
St Michael's Church contains a memorial to Mary Whyddon dated 11th October 1641 whose death was thought to be one of the inspirations behind R.D. Blackmore's world-famous novel Lorna Doone. Although his novel is set on Exmoor, the author is believed to have been moved by the fate of Mary who, it was claimed, was shot dead on her wedding day as she came out of the church. Lorna Doone includes such a shooting, (although the heroine in the story survives).
Markets and Fairs
In 1530 King Henry VIII granted a Charter to hold Markets and Fairs in Chagford. A translated Churchwarden's Accounts from 1482 - 1600 show great wealth accruing to the Church from the sale of wool and tin. The last tin mine closed in 1904 at nearby Great Weeke although Chagford is still noted for its vibrant range of festivals and events that draw visitors from far and wide.
In 1800, one of the most extensive serge manufacturers in the West of England opened in Chagford, with the right to employ workers within a 16 mile radius. They numbered as many as 1140 at one time. Chagford's early school log books show 'factory children' as reluctant part-time scholars.
Electric Street Lighting - A Chagford 'First'
Some years after the serge factory closed, an enterprising local engineer, George Henry Reed, used the old water wheel to generate electricity ensuring that Chagford was one of the first small towns in the West Country to have electric street lighting.
With many thanks to Chagford History Society for providing most of the information for this feature.