Ottery St Mary

Ottery St Mary, known locally as just "Ottery" (pronounced ɒtərɪ or, more colloquially, ɒtrɪ), is a town in the East Devon district of Devon, England, on the River Otter, about ten miles east of Exeter on the B3174. It is part of a large civil parish of the same name, which also covers the villages of West Hill, Metcombe, Fairmile, Alfington, Tipton St John and Wiggaton.

The town was the birthplace of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and where the noted diplomat Sir Ernest Satow spent his retirement (1906-29) at the house called 'Beaumont' which still stands. Satow was buried in the churchyard; there is a commemorative plaque to him is in the church.

Ottery's notable buildings include the Tumbling Weir and Ottery St Mary church. The town is the site of The King's School, now a comprehensive school, founded in 1545 by Henry VIII, a former grammar school.

Tar Barrels

Major events are held in Ottery near the 5th November - Guy Fawkes Night, when flaming tar barrels are carried through the town. A 17th century tradition, barrels soaked in tar are set alight and carried aloft through parts of the town.

The festivities begin in the early evening with the children's, youths' and women's events, culminating in the men's event later in the night. A total of seventeen barrels are lit outside each of seventeen pubs in Ottery. The barrels increase in size up to 30kg and are carried through a packed town centre. It is an exhilarating and risky spectacle to watch, indeed, in recent years it has nearly been called off, due to increasing public liability insurance cover. Only those born in Ottery, or who have lived in the town for most of their lives, may carry a barrel. Generations of the same family have been known to compete across the years. It is thought that the event is to ward off evil spirits and is similar to other British fire festivals.

Pixie Day is another old tradition that takes place annually on a Saturday in June. The day commemorates the age old legend of Ottery St Mary's infamous 'Pixies' being banished from the town (where they caused havoc) to the local caves known as 'Pixie's Parlour'.

One mile to the north-west of the town is the Elizabethan Manor House of Cadhay.

Interesting Facts

  • An inhabitant of Ottery St Mary is an "Ottregian".
  • There is a hymn tune called Ottery St Mary by Henry Ley (1887-1962)
  • J K Rowling named the fictional home village of the Weasley family in the Harry Potter series 'Ottery St Catchpole' after Ottery St Mary. (See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).


The parish church of Ottery St Mary has been referred to as a miniature Exeter Cathedral and is renowned for its painted roof and fan vaulted aisle.

The south transcept (Bell Tower) houses the Astronomical Clock, one of the oldest surviving mechanical clocks in the country. It is commony attributed to Bishop John de Grandisson, who was Bishop of Exeter (1327 - 1369) and adheres to Ptolemaic cosmology with the Earth at the centre of the solar system.


Whitham J. (1984) Ottery St Mary Camelot Press ISBN 0 85033 526 4

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