In recent times Ashburton has flourished into a vibrant town full of high class boutiques, antique shops, pubs and a top class restaurant. Ashburton fulfills the every day shopping needs and a little more with two fine butchers a fishmonger, delicatessen, vegetable supplier, health and organic supplies and farm shop to mention a few. There many lovely cafés to take the weight of your feet. Take care to look above the shop fronts and see the slate hung fronts of the buildings. An ideal location to set out walking across Dartmoor and return to after a journey away.A Little Ashburton History
The town's past prosperity is based on the tin mining of Dartmoor and the woollen industry with the river providing ample power for the many mills that once lined its banks. Ashburton is one of only four Stannary Towns in Devon and tin was mined in the area as far back as Roman times and considered as recently as the 1970s.
The Stannary Towns were important centres for the trade of tin as all rough smelted tin had to be stamped before it was taken away for use. This process of weighing and checking of quality was carried out at very few towns and Ashburton was designated a Stannary Town as early as 1285 AD. Its importance as the main Stannary Town peaked in 1515 when nearly 40% of Devon's tin was sold through Ashburton. By the early 1700s the trade had all but died out but small amounts have been mined even up to comparatively recent times.
The Carnival is one of the oldest, possibly the oldest, surviving in Devon. Written records date it back to 1891, but it is believed to have been started in the mid 1880s to raise funds for a new hospital.
The original date for the Carnival was in November, after the harvest. 1999 saw its revival, as a supplement to the now established Summer Carnival (see the left hand column for details of dates/events).
At the Summer event ten days of activities culminate in the grand procession of floats on the Saturday and a National Tug-of-War event on the Sunday.
The main function of Carnival is to raise money for local charities, town groups and clubs. This ensures widespread local support.
Bread Weighing & Ale Tasting Ceremony
Another of the town's traditions kept alive and connected with the Office of Portreeve is the Annual Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing Ceremony held near the end of July each year. (see the left hand column for details of the next event)
Until the time of the Magna Carta, there was no check on the price or quality of bread and ale. Ashburton's records of its Ale Tasters fining brewers for selling bad ale date back to the 13th century, soon after the first Ale Conners were appointed in London in 1276.
Today's ceremony keeps alive this ancient tradition with a colourful procession through the town, in medieval dress, of members of the Court Leet and Baron Jury, Town Council and other local people, culminating in a Medieval Fair.
Mythes and Legends
The Dartmoor area is renowned for its Myths, legends and numerous ghost stories. This is maybe due in part to the bleak nature of the moor and its changeable weather conditions. Alternatively it could just be that Ghosts, Ghouls and Water Sprites enjoy the idyllic countryside living as much as the residents who live here and the many tourists who visit it each year.
"The word Dartmoor conjures up many things to many people. Some think of ponies and cream teas, others picture vast tracts of wilderness and bottomless bogs. To those who take the time to get to know the 'moor' it is 368 square miles of pure intrigue and fascination. Be warned, it is an addictive place and once you have fallen under the spell of 'Old Dartymoor' you will never want to be parted from it."
Legendary Dartmoor is a wonderful website which is packed full of legends, stories and folklore from the moor. The site covers all the ghosts, piskies, witchcraft and endless mysteries that abound Dartmoor. The site has been written as a personal labour of love for the moor and as such makes a superb and fascinating read.
Ashburton's most famous myth is that of Kutty Dyer, an evil little water sprite that lives in the river Ashburn under King's Bridge, next to the town hall. For many generations naughty children were warned to keep away or he would cut their throats and drink their blood.
Misbehaving children were not his sole clients - he was particularly active against those folk who drank too much. He would eagerly waylay anyone in a state of alcoholic stupor as they staggered home and they could expect the same treatment as the naughty children.
Kitty Jay's wayside grave is situated on the road between Hound Tor and Heatree Cross. It is believed that she committed suicide after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. In keeping with tradition she had to be buried at the nearest crossroads rather than in the consecrated ground of a parish church cemetery.
In 1860, James Bryant, a road mender, discovered bones in a rough grave and it was at first supposed they were that of an animal. When it was discovered they were from a young woman, his wife vaguely remembered a story told to her by her own mother about an orphan girl who hanged herself. The bones were reburied in their present position and to this day fresh flowers appear daily on her grave, creating their own mystery, as nobody knows who does this caring deed.
The Hairy Hands
Shortly after 1910 a series of strange incidents were reported along the road between Postbridge and Two Bridges. Most occurred near a farm called Archerton, near Postbridge. Cyclists felt their handlebars wrenched out of their hands, pitching them into the ditch and even ponytraps were put out of control and ended up in the ditch beside the road. Later, cars suffered similar fates, sometimes with fatal results. One account by an Army officer, who was injured on his motorcycle but survived, revealed that a pair of large, muscular hairy hands closed over his own and forced him off the road.
In the mid 1920s, a lady in a caravan parked on this stretch of the road, saw a large hairy hand clawing its way up the outside of the window.
Between 1910 and 1930 there was a spate of serious incidents, but since those times the strange occurrences, which have undoubtedly happened along that road, have not been as dramatic. There was at least one fatal accident involving an overturned car but as the young occupant was found dead at the scene, we will never know whether the Hairy Hands played out their murderous role or whether, indeed, it was simply an accident. Nevertheless, many folk will always feel a sense of unease, particularly between the Cherry Brook bridge and Postbridge and keep a wary eye out for any hairy intruders
Churches and Architecture
Ashburton's extensive history is today best seen through its buildings and architecture. The historical architectural diversity is evident throughout the town, with some buildings dating back over 1000 years.
Most notable for its History is the Chapel of St Lawrence which is now a heritage centre and has its own page on this site. There are now only three working churches in Ashburton, all shown below and all very different in their architecture and history.
The Parish Church of St Andrew
The Church is a distinguished building with an impressive exterior and a magnificent tower 92 feet high. Near the base of the tower is the grave of a French Officer Prisoner of War who died just one month after the Battle of Waterloo, a reminder that many French prisoners were billeted here on parole during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Church was erected at the end of the twelfth century and entirely re-built in the fifteenth. The excellent proportions outside are reflected in the interior. Noteworthy is the long wagon roof, the arches and piers of the nave (one pier is a monolith), the memorial to Lord Dunning (penned by his friend the lexicographer, Samuel Johnson), the first Lord of Ashburton, in the South Transept Chapel and the ancient Parish Chest in the North Transept Chapel.
Well-to-do members of the tinners and wool merchant guilds, both of which had Guild Chapels in the transepts, made the re-building of the church possible.
Ashburton's Methodist Church
When John Wesly, the founder of the Methodist Church, originally passed through Ashburton he declared it was "the most heathen town he had ever visited". (Although to be fair he was inclined to say this about most towns he passed through!)
Eventually a 'House Church' was established on Woodland Road which led to the building of the Ashburton Methodist Church in 1835.
Today the church is not only used for worship, weddings and funerals, but also for play-groups, theatre societies and community groups.
Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Petroc
In 1882, when the Benedictine monks came to Buckfast, there was not one Catholic in Ashburton to greet them.
St Lawrence Chapel
The Chapel of St Lawrence is one of Ashburton's oldest and most interesting buildings. It started its life as a private chapel for the Bishop of Exeter. Ashburton was held by Bishop Stapledon who was Lord of the Manor and stayed in his 'Palace' in the Town.
In 1314 he gave the Chapel to the Town to be administered by the original Guild of St Lawrence, led by the Portreeve of the day on the stipulation that a Chantry School was maintained there. This evolved into a Grammar School, which celebrated 600 years of history in 1914. The school closed in 1938 due to a fall in numbers but the building was still used as an annex to the county and primary schools until 1994. The building also housed the town's library for over forty years and the Town's museum.
At present the local community, through a reformed Guild of St Lawrence in partnership with the Dartmoor National Park Authority, is providing this unique building's continued use as a Heritage Centre throughout the summer season (see opening times, left).
The Courts Leet and Baron and the Portreeve have used it for many centuries and many other town groups also use the recently improved facilities for community events.
Two decades later, however, the situation was different, and it was then that Abbot Boniface Natter decided to revive Catholic life in the vicinity.
The first Mass was celebrated in 1911 in a temporary chapel in a barn in Roborough Lane. The present site in Eastern Road was acquired in 1933, and in November 1935, the Church of Our Lady and St. Petroc was opened.
The Card House now a small supermarket, this building was formerly a Gaming House. The slate hung frontage is carved with the different suits of a pack of cards.
The Golden Lion originally built in 1790 for Nicholas Tripe, a surgeon. It was the home of publican Alan Hope and the Monster Raving Loony Party until 2000 and is now private houses.
United Reform Church now an antique fireplace emporium. Ashburton's earliest Nonconformist Church, which finally closed in the 1980s still retains much of its features including stained glass windows and memorials on the walls.
Ashburton Information Centre
The Ashburton Information Centre is located behind the Town Hall in North Street directly opposite the town's car park, and is open Monday to Saturday throughout the year from 9.30am to 4.30pm (during the winter, the Centre closes at 1pm on Saturdays).
With funding from the Dartmoor National Park Authority, Ashburton Town Council and Teignbridge District Council, the Centre is staffed by a team of around 16 volunteers whose extensive local knowledge is put to the test by some 20,000 visitors and members of the local community every year.
Ashburton Information Centre is staffed entirely by local volunteers.
The Information Centre provides a single point of contact where visitors and local residents can access a variety of information relevant to Ashburton and the surrounding district, particularly the Dartmoor National Park.
If you need to know about local shops and services, places to visit, things to do, where to stay, job opportunities, buses, trains, theatres, cinemas, where to walk or cycle, if you need maps, books, postcards or that special local souvenir, then drop in and see us.
Information Centre Opening Times:
9.30am - 4.30pm Mon - Sat (closes at 1.00pm Sat during winter)
Address Ashburton Information Centre
Phone 01364 653426
Fax 01364 653426