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Thorverton

Thorverton is a village in Devon, England, located about a mile west of the bank of the River Exe, 8 miles north of Exeter. It is almost centrally located between Exeter and the towns of Tiverton and Crediton and contains the hamlets of Yellowford and Raddon. There are two churches and three public houses (the Thorverton Arms provides accommodation). The population is approximately 900. The Millennium Green provides walking alongside the stream which runs through the centre of the village. The Memorial Hall provides a centre for entertainment with a monthly Saturday Market for local produce and the Big Breakfast.

A local village magazine "Focus on Thorverton" (download copies) is produced by volunteers monthly - A4 format, about 50-60 pages. It contains regular articles on village events and activities, and the occasional article on other issues of interest.

Geology

Thorverton, located on clay and sand, has a subsoil of red rock, which gives the fertile earth its distinctive red colouring. The area is rich in rare and unusual rocks and minerals. Manganese has been found near Upton Pyne, and small quantities of gold in local streams. The igneous rock has been quarried at Raddon since the 12th century and the bubbled rock can be seen in numerous examples of local stonework.

Early history

There is more than one theory as to how the parish got its name. Some believe that its name may be Scandinavian in origin and so it might have been named after its founder. Old records mention the parish as Toruerton in 1182. In 1340 the parish was called Thorferton. Other sources believe that the name is an ancient reference simply to a thorn-bush besides a river crossing.

There was briefly a small settlement here during Roman times, perched on a hill overlooking a fording point across the River Exe (near to the current day bridge). As a key crossing for the military garrisoned at Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum), it made sense to place an encampment here.

There is no evidence however to suggest that there was a settlement here by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, although Thorverton Mill was running at this time on the River Exe (and continued to do so until its closure in 1979). (Raddon, a hamlet 1 mile W of Thorverton is mentioned in the Domesday book. "William holds RADDON (in Thorverton) from the abbott. Wulfmaer held it in TRE, and it paid geld for 1 virgate of land. There is land for 2 ploughs. There is 1 villan with half a plough and 1 slave and 13 acres of meadow and 50 acres of pasture. It is worth 5s")

The very centre of the village is The Bury, which is likely to be the oldest part of the village. After the Anglo-Saxon conquest, Thorverton became a military plantation. The Bury today still forms a wide rectangle - a stockade from the natives. It could house all the cattle until the crisis passed. Over time, the space became more commonly used for cattle trading. The earliest such indication of a market comes from a charter for a fair in 1250 for 'Thormerton'.

The Civil War

During the Civil War, Thorverton, as the location of a major crossing, was often on the front line. In 1644 the Parliamentarians under the Earl of Essex were sieging Royalist Exeter. Some of the Roundhead troops marched into Thorverton, destroyed a large stock of oats, damaged possessions of the Church and took money from the parson and Mr Tuckfield at Raddon Court. Parson Travers and Mr Tuckfield were known loyalists and were therefore targeted for rough treatment.

The Roundheads moved off into Cornwall and subsequent defeat, leaving Thorverton in Royalist control with a military presence. A line against attack from the Midlands was formed between Eggesford and Cullompton, with Thorverton the bridgehead and the headquarters of General Goring along with several thousand troops.

It was to Thorverton that the 15-year old Prince of Wales (later Charles II) came out from the walled city of Exeter to review his troops. The force retreated in the face of Fairfax and his Roundheads however in October 1645. Fairfax and a seemingly endless line of Parliamentary infantrymen moved through Thorverton on the way to Newton St Cyres and Crediton. Across the bridge, up Silver Street, past the Dolphin and out past Bullen Head.

Parliamentary troops were then stationed in Thorverton whilst Exeter was sieged for the second time and fell in April 1646. Following that all military activity left Thorverton in peace.

Agriculture, fairs and the community

Agriculture was the main activity associated with the village, and there are many ancient farmhouses within the parish. Raddon Court was a Saxon estate. Upcott farm, Bidwell farm and Lynch farm have also been there for many years. The fertile red soil produced excellent wheat, barley and apples, which were the main crops. An orchard covered the rear grounds (now gardens) behind the cottages on the south side of Bullen Street. A few apple trees remain. Thorverton was also once well known locally for its apricots.

There were two main fairs held in the parish each year, which were customary holidays for the scholars at the National School. One fair took place on the last Monday in February, chiefly for "fat sheep", and the second on the Monday following the 18th July for lambs - at which upwards of 40,000 were frequently sold for rearing. There was a monthly cattle fair and Thorverton was noted for its excellent breed of sheep. It would appear that sheep farming was a dominant occupation in the parish.

The fairs have since ceased, but in their place the village still enjoys annual festivities during the summer with Church Week and the Country Show.

Thorverton was once a thriving, self-sufficient community. In 1850, there were four bakers, three blacksmiths in the cottages along Bullen Street. One of the blacksmiths also covered any dentistry requirements. There were three butchers, one of which was located at the prominent stilted building in the centre of the village next to the green, built in 1763 in the local style of the time. Four grocers, two saddlers, two shoemakers, four tailors - one of which lived in Dinneford Street - two wheelwrights (a prosperous waggon-works in Jericho Street), and two plumbers.

In addition to these trades, Thorverton had a parson and a curate, a surgeon, a solicitor, an accountant, an auctioneer, and a veterinary surgeon.

For rural services there was a builder, a corn-miller, an apple-nurseryman, an agricultural machine-maker, a maltster, and a druggist.

The Bury was lined with shops, now almost all closed and converted to private homes, the broad windows of which still speak of a prosperous recent past. The last shop - known as 'The Dairy' finally closed in 2006. The needs of the village have since been served by a second hand mobile ex-library vehicle situated in the car park.

Next to this vehicle, the business of the Post Office is conducted from a portable cabin. The original Post Office, now a private home in the centre of the village on the corner of Bullen Street and School Lane, was run by three generations of the Cummings family from 1870 - 1994, commemorated today by a blue plaque.

The car park itself was created on the site of a former quarry.

A channelled stream, which drains the Raddon (literally 'red hill') Hills to the north and runs to the River Exe, winds through the village, characteristic of several East Devon villages. A pedestrian bridge and ford cross the stream at Silver Street.

The village green at the bottom of Jericho Street once hosted a large fir tree - planted by 10-year old Mary Norrish of Raddon Court Barton at the time of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. Its lop-sidedness is prominent in many of the old photographs of Thorverton. The tree eventually became too big and was taken down in 1947 for the price of the wood contained within it.

Cobbled streets have been preserved throughout the centre of the village, as has an elaborate system of watercourses established in the 1850s following an outbreak of cholera.

Bridges

Thorverton's population was once much larger as the village rested near the primary means for crossing the River Exe on the main road from London towards Cornwall. It remained so until the mid-1700s. Further to this, the bridge stands on the site of an ancient fordable crossing point and accounts for the main reason the village came into existence.

The bridge currently spanning the River Exe is a modern concrete construction, but it is the successor to several earlier bridges. The first bridge, constructed of timber, was placed here in 1307. The timber bridge was replaced with a stone one in 1415 thanks to a donation of £10 by Thomas Barton of Exeter.

The quarry at the site of the Council Car Park was used in 1811 to provide stone for the new Thorverton bridge, to be built by county surveyor, James Green. Within two years the bridge stood, but Mr Green complained that he had lost £1200 in building it because of issues with the quarry. Quarry owner, John Niner of the Barliabins estate, received payment for the stone as well as compensation for the damage done to his land. Green's bridge lasted until 1912, when the current bridge was constructed to take heavier traffic.

A 32 metre weir was constructed across the river here in 1973 due to the unstable condition of the riverbed. A monitoring station was put in place here by the Rivers Authority in 1956 for the purpose of flood warning monitoring in advance of Exeter. The Environment Agency has since installed web cameras here which can be viewed by the public online.

Public houses

Because of the centuries of national as well as local traffic crossing the bridge, there were once no less than five coaching inns in the village, three of which remain today.

The Thorverton Arms in the centre of the village, for the majority of its life known as 'The Dolphin', was built in the 16th century. Amusing, if lurid, tales of its past provide a glimpse of the human life of Thorverton's past. A traveller turned up at The Dolphin one evening in 1650 and took a room for himself and his sister. The landlord, after a while, had reason to suspect their relationship and confronted them. The traveller blandly replied that as Adam and Eve were the father and mother of us all, the lady could truthfully be described as his 'sister'. On another occasion, William Shapton was committed for saying that there were no two honest women in Thorverton. The Exeter Inn on Bullen Street and the Bell Inn on Dinneford Street were later built in the early nineteenth-century and all three are still open today.

The Exeter Inn has been independently owned by the Mann family since just after the Second World War. It contains an old well in the centre of the bar, and sports an impressive collection of antique firearms on its walls.

The Bell Inn was rebuilt entirely after fire destroyed its earlier incarnation. It now serves food and old photographs of Thorverton can be viewed on the walls.

Of the 'lost' inns, the 'Royal Oak' was situated at the junction of Bullen Street and The Bury, where Berry House now stands. The name was applied after the Restoration of Charles II to commemorate his flight during the Civil War. It is likely that its name prior to that was The Cornish Chough. The fifth inn in the village was located east of the Thorverton Arms at Acorn House (now a private residence). The hatch to the beer cellar is still visible. In addition to these, there are also hints of a Stag Inn in the 18th century and a Ship Inn in the 19th century, both within The Bury.

Schools

Berry House, which now stands where the Royal Oak used to, was the home of Thomas Broom Row and before 1860 was known as Pugh's House. Mr Row was the village Vestry Clerk, accountant, insurance agent who went bankrupt in 1860. The house was subsequently converted by his wife and daughters to a Ladies Seminary, and the house was renamed Berry House in keeping with the Berry School at Silverton.

There was a substantial yeoman called Mr John Berry, who in the mid-1600s held five farms and 22 houses and cottages in the village, which he leased from the Dean and Chapter of Exeter and sub-let as an investment. Of his considerable fortune, he paid for the Berry's Bridge to be built, and provided a gift of £60 in 1618 'to be lent to poor tradesmen', thus started a long tradition of charitable commissions within the village to support poor labouring men and widows, or bread and money to be distributed at Easter.

In 1673, Thomas Adams left £100, half to be spent 'teaching poor children' and the other half to be used to distribute bread. Donations to education were a constant theme. In 1710, Margaret Tuckfield donated £30 towards providing 'Bibles and coats for poor children'.

So the village school slowly came into existence from 1673 and grew. But by 1815 there had been no further endowments since 1743, and it had become inadequate following the rise in the village population. A petition was therefore made to the court of chancery. It appealed that of the 140 poor children in the parish, only a small number could receive education.

A National School was therefore built in Thorverton in 1845 by the Rev. James Duke Coleridge, to educate 130 children. Average attendance at the school in 1893 was about 112 pupils and the school-master was John Ashton Martin. The education of children in the parish was partly supported by a small endowment from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who were Lords of the Manor.

Thorverton also added an infants school and a boarding school around the same time.

Churches

The Dean and Chapter of the cathedral in Exeter had been the lords of the manor since the days of Edward I. The Church continues to hold significant tracts of property within the village to this day. As such the village never had a squire.

The Gothic church of St Thomas a Becket was built from locally quarried stone in the 15th century, although parts of the church may date back to the 13th century. The western tower contains a clock and 10 bells, which date respectively from 1861, 1674, 1673 (4 and 6) the fifth from 1662 and the tennor was added in the late 90's. The church was successfully restored in 1834.

There is also a baptist church on Berrysbridge Road built in 1832 by the Baptists that lived in Thorverton, with John Hockin preaching the first sermons. They began with steep standards. In 1833, Mary Squire had her membership revoked due to her 'improper walk and conduct'. Another, Mrs Harris, for 'unchristian spirit' in 1837. A Roman Catholic Chapel was located in the hamlet of Raddon, but by 1850 this had become part of a farmhouse called Chapel St. Martin.

Damage caused by fires

Individual fires throughout the 1800s altered the face of Thorverton. With so many thatched cottages and the only means of light and heat being fire, it was perhaps inevitable.

Just opposite the ford, six dwellings and their outhouses were consumed in 1770, but an insurance policy with the Sun Fire Office allowed a new settlement to be built. In 1816, seventeen cottages on Jericho Street burned to the ground as a result of a boy, a candle, and some straw. The Dolphin was almost completely destroyed in 1849, despite the efforts of early fire-engines from Silverton. Much of the building today dates from the rebuilding. It was the turn of the Exeter Inn in 1855. Next to the Thorverton Arms today is Leigh Gardens, developed in 1970 over the ruins of the cob and thatch Leigh House from where the saddler and the mason worked.

A fire tore across the thatched roofs of Jericho Street in 1890. Four cottages were ablaze within minutes. William Cummings (postmaster named on the blue plaque) acted quickly to summon an engine from Exeter. They used water from the nearby stream. The labourers and artisans that inhabited the houses threw their furniture into the street in desperation, but uninsured they faced destitution. The plentiful supply of water allowed the fire to be extinguished before it reached the stack of timber stored at the Waggon Works.

The cottages lining The Bury, Dinneford Street and the top end of Bullen Street were almost completely cob until the spate of fires in the 1800s. Where the tall brick buildings of Ferndale and Fairfield are now, there was until the late 1880s old cob cottages known as Elyots.

The then cobbed Bell Inn caught fire in June 1904 when a fire burned the pub, the bakery next door and the house next to that to the ground. The pub was rebuilt, but the location of the other two buildings remain empty. Recent excavation work on the garden of the modern Bell Inn revealed a layer of charred earth from the fire.

Railway station

There was once a railway station at Thorverton on the Exe Valley Railway, part of the Great Western Railway. The station was located at the far end of Silver Street. The wooden signpost at the road junction still notates the location as 'Station'. Following the removal of the train line as part of the Beeching Axe, the old station was converted into a private home. The raised beds can still be seen on either side of the road. The line crossed Silver Street on a bridge, now removed.

Dunsaller

'Dunsaller', a six-bedroomed 15th century Grade II-listed farmhouse on the outskirts of the village was bought in 1993 by Lord Hambleden and his wife Lesley.

Lord Hambleden is the heir to the WHSmith empire established by his great-grandfather William Henry Smith. The grounds have since been redeveloped by award-winning garden designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd.

The property had been extensively altered since its original building, but was neglected by its Russian former-owner in the fifty years before Lord Hambleden's acquisition. The only structural change they made was to create a proper, turned staircase to the first floor, which English Heritage allowed, as it replaced one of no architectural merit. But overall renovations cost around £900,000.

The property has been valued at around £2.25 million.

Street names

Street names had not taken a firm hold in Thorverton until the second half of the 18th century. Bullen Street was named from Bullen's Orchard, which was located where Bullens Close now stands. It is most likely that the orchard was owned by a gentleman of, or approximating, that name.

Silver Street is simply a shortening of Silverton Street.

Milfords Lane, which takes a dog-legged route through the ford received its name from the well-known local family of Milfords which have played an integral part in the history of the village.

The Bury comes from the Saxon word burgh for fortified enclosure.

Dinneford means hidden ford and refers to the stream that crosses the road here, now bridged.

The roots of the name Jericho Street are unknown.

Dark Lane, which links Dinneford Street with Bullen Street at Crossways was so known in the village before parish registers included addresses in 1840.

School Lane was previously known as Vicarage Lane, the vicarage being along this street still to this day. Nothing more than a nameplate put in place by the District Council introduced this change.

There used to be houses running from the church to Dark Lane, before the churchyard was extended, that are no longer there. The path that ran alongside them was known as Castle Hill.

Cleaves Close, built in 1952, was built on a field in the Cleaves estate named originally after Henry Clyve of 1569. Contemporaries of Henry Clyve included a Mr Barlebyn and Mr Retcliffe - other names lent to properties within Thorverton. Bullens Orchard, on which Bullens Close was built in the 1970s, was also part of the Cleaves estate.

Broadlands has no historic significance to the estate built on what was Burt's and Milford's estates.

The Glebe was developed (in 1979) on the grounds of the former vicarage, hence the name (see glebe).

Population statistics

  • 1801 (1168)
  • 1811 (1248)
  • 1821 (1317)
  • 1831 (1455)
  • 1841 (1445)
  • 1851 (1474)
  • 1861 (1211)
  • 1871 (1082)
  • 1881 (922)
  • 1891 (863)
  • 1901 (813)
  • 1911 (734)
  • 1921 (737)
  • 1931 (717)
  • 1949 (751)
  • 1951 (701)
  • 1961 (674)
  • 1971 (709)
  • 1981 (852)
  • 1991 (878)
  • 2001 (916)

External links

  • Thorverton Community Page
  • Thorverton History Society
  • From White's Devonshire Directory (1850)
  • The Thorverton Arms
  • Focus On Thorverton - village magazine

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