Village Story

Roger Meyrick's 



The Village Story

Today the village of Peter Tavy nestles into the western borders of Dartmoor some three miles north of Tavistock. The name comes from the dedication of its church to St Peter and the river Tavy which forms the western boundary.


The early history of Dartmoor with its Bronze Age (2500 b.c.)settlements is shared by hut circles found within the parish at Wedlake and the Neolithic enclosures above the village at White Tor. The Tavi or Towi settlements comprising what is now Mary Tavy and Peter Tavy appear to have developed in Saxon times and were separately shown in the Domesday Book (1086) What is known is that a Saxon Lord called Siward owned the lands of Peter Tavy in 1042 but lost them to Alfred the Breton when the Normans distributed their conquests. Alfred the Breton also gained the Manors of Huntingdon and Wilsworthy, which were to form the original parish extending north as far as Beardown and east to the boundary with the Forest of Dartmoor. When the village changed hands to the Foliot family around 1200 it was known as Tavy Foliot but within a few short years it had been sold to Ralph de Gorges and by him granted to Rolf de Satchville. The greater part of the land then passed to Adam de Brankescombe who seems to have broken it up between five freehold landlords. The smaller portion had been given by Satchville to the Abbey at Tavistock, so that at the Reformation only a relatively small holding which included the Lordships of the Manor of Peter Tavy, and Huntingdon passed to the Russell family later to become the Dukes of Bedford.


The village is at the natural meeting place for farmers and other workers leaving the moor to sell the products of their labour. At the earliest times Tavistock, 'Tavi stoc' was no more than the summer pasture of the Tavi settlements according to Professor Finberg. The road leaving the village kept to the east of the Tavy and followed the line of what is now the A386 from Horrabridge on its way to Plympton and the coast. It may have crossed the river at Harford Bridge to turn northwards to Mary Tavy, with the road to Tavistock only developing after the foundation of the Abbey in 983 a.d. It is also possible that the main thoroughfare passed the church with the village green on its left towards the Inn fording the river north of the Colley Brook as shown on some old maps.

As may be expected in the village there were tradesmen. Of first importance was the Miller, Higher Mill can be traced to the 15th century, the dates of Lower mill are less certain. The Thatcher who covered and repaired virtually all the cottages until the arrival of slate in the middle of the 19th century, the Rat catcher, the Mole catcher and the Wheelwright whose yard now forms the front garden of Sunnyside Cottage, opposite the Village Blacksmith. The Shoemaker lived in one of the row of three cottages opposite the Village Hall, next door to the village shop. Two or three Stonemasons together with the village carpenter, worked on the houses many of which were rebuilt after the Napoleonic wars in the period between 1820-1850.

The Village Hall was built on land leased by the Duke of Bedford as a school between 1859-65. The previous school had been a western extension on Church House at the entrance to the churchyard. The building was removed in 1870.Church House itself was probably built in the 16th century and converted into the Poorhouse when the brewhouse was removed to the new Rectory in 1720. Originally the entrance was from the roadway by a door opening onto the churchyard. see also Church History


There is no evidence today of a medieval farm within the village, but many farms in the surrounding countryside can be traced back to the 13th century. Radge, though strictly in Tavistock parish was in existence by 1195, Wapsworthy and Wilsworthy by 1230 with a cluster including Higher & Lower Godsworthy, Harragrove, Huntingdon and Gnattor in the 1400s. Coxtor is claimed to be one of the last fortified farms dating it to about 1300. Many more farms developed in the 16th century and should be thought of as hamlets consisting of several smaller farms of perhaps 20-50 acres each. Even by the 1841 census the two Godsworthy farms returned over 40 people living there. Individual farms were at first encouraged to expand and many starting in the 14th century enlarged to 80-100 acres by the 16th century. It would be wrong to assume that these farms were solely engaged in the hill farming of cattle and sheep, for there was money to be gained from growing corn, probably rye, from caring and droving the animals of farmers with rights on Dartmoor but whose farm was several miles away, and of course in mine prospecting. During the 16th & 17th centuries all Devon residents except those living in Totnes and Barnstaple had the right to graze their stock on Dartmoor.

In the 17th century corn and sheep brought some affluence to Peter Tavy, the extensions to the church bear witness to this, but the village did not share to the same extent as its neighbours in the burgeoning mining industry. Turfers- independent workers cutting and carting away peat for smelting tin with charcoal in Cornwall, and masons cutting granite for buildings are but two, who made the area busy and industrial. It was farming and multiple employment such as these that saved the village when the mines failed in the middle of the last century. But farming itself was not proof against recession and in the fifty years between 1851 and 1901 the population of the parish fell from 561 to 340. Many went to South Wales others North America and Australia. One reason for the interest in Peter Tavy of so many genealogists from abroad! Correspondence from a villager in 1893 records, " I took cattle to market today but could find no sale", finds echoes today.


It is said that nothing has altered the appearance of Dartmoor more than mining. On the wider canvass the picture is of Tin mining between about 1400 and 1750, and Copper and Arsenic from around 1700 to 1850. More than 300 tin workings have been described on Dartmoor but relatively few in the north western sector. The moor above Peter Tavy certainly still shows the scars. From early records of registered tin coinage the land at Wilsworthy seems to have been most productive, but never enough to exploit successfully.

So far as copper and arsenic are concerned only one successful mine was sited within the parish and that falls outside the dates above. Devon United north shaft was sunk before 1850 and went out of production at about that time, the central and south mines were sunk later and the latter only closed its doors in 1923. The scars of much unsuccessful prospecting especially along the banks of the Tavy have largely healed, but the residue of open shafts and some mine equipment remains.


The Heritage of PETER TAVY is of great concern today. Already the effect of urbanisation is taking its toll. There is no Post Office, it closed in 1997 taking with it the last village shop. Milk and dairy produce is no longer available from local farms. The Coombe once known for its peace and tranquillity where the Heron and the Kingfisher could be seen now sports high wattage lights and mountain bicycles. Few of the old village families remain, soon no one will be able to recount the past for this rural village. If you can help by recounting what you know about the village its buildings, its people and its families. If you have photographs or documents in your keeping you would be willing to allow to be copied, or are happy to part with, please contact me:

Roger Meyrick, Boulters Tor, Smeardon Down, Peter Tavy, Devon. PL19 9NX


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