The Devon Historian vol. 81, 2012, pp. 3- 16.
Tracing the boundaries of the Borough of Bovey Tracey from Saxon times to the present
The start of the Borough in 1260
Henry de Tracy, Lord of the Manor obtained a charter in or around 1260 which granted him permission to establish a Borough in Bovey.1 This tells us two things. Firstly that there was a Lord of the Manor with manor lands, and secondly that Bovey was thought to be a good place to establish an official urban area. Although some boroughs at this time were positioned in new areas, it is probable that Bovey was already a trading area.
We know something about the land of Bovey Manor and its lords from the Domesday survey. Before 1066 the manor of ‘Bovi’ or ‘Boui’ had been held by Edric, but by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 the manor was held by Geoffrey de Mowbray, the Bishop of Coutances, and it was in the Teignton (Teignbridge) Hundred. The Hundred was an administrative area in Saxon times. The manor included Edric’s land together with the land of 15 theigns. Theigns were noblemen who held hereditary land. This additional land was Adoneboui (Little Bovey), Wermehel (Warmhill), Scobatora (Shaptor), Brungarstone (considered to be outlying land in what is now Widecombe in the Moor parish), Ailauesfort (Elsford), Olueleia ((Woolleigh), Hauocmora (Hawkmoor), Harleia (Hatherleigh), and Polebroc (Pullabrook).2 This is the start of our knowledge of the area which was included in the Manor of Bovey, but we do not know how much of a settlement this meant there was in any part of the manor lands of Bovey at this time.
We next learn about developments in Bovey from a document of 23rd October 1219 when the first known permission to hold a market in Bovey Tracey was granted to the Lord of the Manor Eva de Tracy.3 It is thought that this market lapsed and the next grant was made on 18 July 1260 when Henry de Tracy, Lord of the Manor, was granted permission to hold markets and fairs.4 It is around this time Henry de Tracy also obtained the charter to establish a Borough in Bovey Tracey. The establishment of markets and fairs and an urban centre was probably a development of activities which had already been in place for many years serving the local people.
Putting this in context with what was going on in the rest of Devon, from Domesday, and continuing until the middle of the 1300s, settlement in the whole of Devonshire was developing. There had been 4 boroughs in 1066 which were Exeter, Barnstaple, Totnes, and Lydford. Two hundred years later by 1238, the number of boroughs had increased to 14. These were developing urban areas or new urban areas. Bovey Tracey became part of this increasing development and was one of the approximately 70 Devonshire boroughs by the middle of the 1300s.
Gaining the borough charter and granting of the markets and fairs was an important time for Bovey Tracey as the Lord of the Manor would have been speculating on the borough developing into a larger settlement. He expected to make more money from land rents than he did through agriculture.
The charter was official approval for trading developments, as well as changes in the usage and tenure of land and in local government. Inhabitants could now become freeholders, called burgesses, as they could buy burgage plots which were narrow strips of land facing onto the main streets where they would live and trade. The burgesses could also hold markets and fairs, and be part of the local government of the borough through the newly established Court Leet; the latter being separate from the Court Baron of the Manor. Apart from trading and property rights the burgesses had new powers which gave them important roles in the administration of justice in the borough and also the advantage of no longer needing to provide services to the Lord of the Manor. At the time when the borough was established there were forty burgesses in Bovey Tracey. This would suggest a population of 180, and so would have been one of the smaller boroughs in Devon at that time.5 Because of the commercial aspects of a borough we can infer that its boundaries would be around the area where trade would occur, where people would be passing through, where a group of merchants and craftsmen would want to live in proximity to aid their commerce, and where markets and fairs could be held to maximum financial and social advantage. A borough is going to be in, or become, the centre of the population in the area.
The Borough boundary
Unfortunately Bovey Tracey’s charter document does not give us a clear description of the exact land included within the borough. In this way it is dissimilar from many other borough charters of the time.
The borough charter, in the translation by Hugh Peskett states:
I have granted for me and my heirs to all my burgesses of Bovey and their heirs that they may hold their bugage in fee and inheritance for ever to them and their heirs or to whomsoever they shall wish to give …rendering for each burgage yearly…, twelve pence, … I have granted the aforementioned burgesses that they may have common pasture for their horses and beasts and sheep in all my Heathfield which extends from the great bridge on Bovey river as far as Brimley in the southern part, and turbary … And if it shall … please me or my heirs to cultivate the said Heathfield or to set burgages [there], it shall be fully lawful for us … Moreover I wish that the said burgesses shall be housed on their burgages within the space of two years.6
This gives us an indication that the boundary of the borough went down to the bridge and that it might be extended in the following two years into the Heathfiield area which was pasture and turbary. The Tithe map apportionment of 1841 (Figure 1) shows that Heathfield was used as the description for most of the land in what is now the central part of the current town, and part of the Brimley and Heathfield areas of Bovey Tracey parish.7
Figure 1: Burgage Plots on Mary Street Bovey Tracey, Tithe Map 1841 (reproduced with kind permission of the Devon Record Office)
The early borough of Bovey Tracey would have taken into account existing land divisions within the manor which were more than likely Saxon in origin. These would have been integrated into a pattern of burgage plots, along with various residences and other buildings, extending back from the interlinking roads that served the local community, that is: Hind Street, Mary Street, East Street and the main street. Today many long, narrow field strips extend behind Mary Street and East Street, and those which were behind Fore Street (only a few still remain) and Hind Street can be seen on the Tithe Map 1841. These are considered to correspond to some of those original 1260 burgage plots (Figures 2 and 3).8 The four roads in the centre form a roughly triangular shaped borough as supported by evidence in later documents.
Figure 2: Burgage Plot, Mary Street, Bovey Tracey 2012
Figure 3: Burgage Plot, Mary Street, Bovey Tracey 2012
Development of the Borough 1300s-1500s
Over the next three hundred years we still do not have evidence of the exact boundaries of the borough. We know from court rolls that by 1326 the number of burgage plots in Bovey Tracey had increased by a third to sixty four burgesses.9 This would suggest a borough population of approximately 288. This makes Bovey Tracey borough a reasonable size compared with others in Devon and Cornwall at that time as nearly half of the Devon and Cornwall boroughs of the 1300s had fewer than 200 inhabitants.10 There was then a time of population loss and slow growth in England following the Black Death and many years of poor harvests.11 The English population did not begin to expand again until the mid 1500s, so it is perhaps no surprise that from the Church Rate document of 1596 we find that Bovey Tracey borough had only increased by eleven more burgesses in two hundred and fifty years, making seventy five in all, which suggests a population of 375.12 This does not necessarily mean the boundaries of the borough had increased as holdings could have been divided. What it tells us is that the borough was continuing and that the number of rate paying inhabitants was not reducing. This Church Rate lists each tenant of manor ‘Land’ and each burgess in the ‘Borough’.
It is this Church Rate document which gives us our first tangible indication of the area of the borough at that time. Caution is needed when considering this document as a landholder might have property in both the land and the borough and only be listed for charges on one of the areas.
The Church Rate 1596 (see Appendix)
The borough included holdings directly on the four main streets as we know them today as well as on adjoining land.
– Mary Street; and holdings to the north – Atway tenement; Wises Meadow; Beare tenement , with Atway tenement being the last holding.
– High /Main/Fore Street: including holdings to the south and west – Undertown was the land where the Riverside and Methodist church are now.and the holdings went as far as Buck’s Lane and Mannings Meadow; Tanmilles and Lymes were probably south of Bovey river bridge where the mill is located on the Tithe Map; the holdings went as far as Pludda South of the bridge.
– Hind Street: including the Portreeve Park below Atway; Southbrook Lane; Ffryers Meadows (later called German’s fields also below Attway);
– East Street: Portreeve Park; with Trough Lane being the end of the borough at the top of the town
However other holdings in the list have not yet been identified as they were described by the name of the landholder – Parishaws Close, Sperkes Barn and Meadows, Ducke Park, Stantor, West Bovey, Bovetown, Higher House, Mans House, Fflodder and Roll. Further research such as using clues in the 1844 and 1846 Church Rate together with the more comprehensive Tithe Apportionment of 1841 might eventually help us find the location of these holdings.13
Land holdings in the manor formed a ring around the early borough, and as many of these can be identified today, this helps confirm the early borough boundary.
Development of the Borough 1600s-1700s
Later documents such as the records of the law court (Court Leet) and the Court Baron from 1654-1748 demonstrate how the borough was administered. One such is the Record of the Borough Law Court held at Thomas Dornian’s house on 11/10/1686.14 These documents tell us about the holders of office such as the portreeve, bailiff, constable, cryer, ale taster, scavenger and so on, but they do not indicate the boundaries of the borough.
It is the overseers of the poor accounts and the rate of 1630 and 1653 and the rent records of the Manor and Borough of Bovey Tracey in the 1600s and 1700s which begin to give us a much clearer idea of where the boundaries were.15 More burgesses were listed and the names of their holdings given and many of these correspond with areas we can still identify.These rent records continue to list rent payers by whether or not they lived in the borough.
Borough of Bovey Tracey Rentals 1753 (see Appendix)
One example is the 1753 Rentals record which shows that the borough continued to develop with there now being 105 burgesses, an increase of 30 in the two hundred years from 1596.16 As you would expect most of the 29 borough areas/holdings mentioned in 1596 can be identified in 1735, although names changed and some holdings had been divided. The land behind Hind Street was in the ownership of more people, as was that between Mary Street and Atway. A comprehensive list of newly named holdings within the borough, some of which have not yet been located, can be seen in the Appendix. With regard to these as yet un-located holdings, we do not know if they were within the earlier boundary or if they represented expansion at the edges.
However, looking at the manor land outside the borough we see that the main names for land holdings were very similar between 1596 and 1735, although some land had been sub-divided. This indicates that the borough boundary had not changed significantly since the early days, notwithstanding the uncertainty about some unidentified borough holdings, and some anomalies with the possibility that some borough holdings were listed under the ‘land’ owner, for example: ‘Towns and four closes of land called Undertown’.
The list in the Appendix also indicates the new names for land holdings in the 1735 rent records compared with the 1596 church rate.
Further development and final days of the Borough in the 1800s
The same borough boundaries continued until just over half way through the 1800s. They are described in the Manor and Borough rent records, Bovey Tracey Plans maps, the Tithe Map of 1841, the Church Rate Book for 1846, the Census 1841-1861 enumeration districts, and the 1842 and 1843 Rate and Tax of the Parish of Bovey Tracey, all of which give a list of the borough properties.17 Other documents such as the Portreeve Park Tithes of 1851 help to confirm these boundaries.18
In the 1841 Census Bovey Tracey was described as a parish in the Hundred of Teignbridge, referring back to the Saxon administrative division of land. This is the last time we see any formal reference to the Saxon Hundred. In this Census the area of residence within the town corresponds to the borough holdings list of 1735. This means that the triangle formed by Mary Street, East Street, Fore Street and Hind Street, and holdings behind them, continued to be the town centre.
The boundaries of the borough were obviously important to its inhabitants as reported in The Western Times on 1 May 1859. The article describes the annual Mayor’s Monday procession of hundreds of pedestrians visiting these boundaries followed by a dinner. Similar processions were reported from 1853 to 1863.19
It is the enumeration districts of the 1871, 1881 and 1891 Census which show a development in the borough lands. By 1871 the ‘whole of the town’ extended south of the river Bovey and included St John’s Cottages and all the houses on Bovey Heathfield. By 1881 and continuing into 1891 the ‘whole town’ enumeration district was from Crownley Lane to Cross Cottage, Station Gate, East Street,Mary Street, Hind Street, Fore Street, Station Road, Pludda, Townsend, Glendale, Turnpike, Heatheredge, Heathfield Terrace, St. Mary’s, Milverton, St,Mary’s View and more houses up to the Edgemoor. Clearly a far larger area than the original borough as it was now extending into parts of the ‘Heathfield’ and Brimley of charter description as lands of the manor in the thirteenth century. This was a time of population growth for the whole of the parish which had risen from 1,400 in 1810 to 2,100 by 1860, and 2,600 by the end of the century. These developments are also shown by the various Devonshire gazetteers and guides which put Bovey Tracey on the travellers’ route. 20
Local Government and Health Acts and the Land Tax Assessment Boundaries were changing the administration of local authorities in the latter part of the 1800s.21 Bovey Tracey was still a borough, but changes were coming with the developments in sanitation legislation and democratic elections. By the time of the 1891 Census the Civil Parish of Bovey Tracey was part of the Newton Abbot Rural Sanitary Board. Following the 1894 Local Government Act the Borough of Bovey Tracey and the Manor lands became part of Newton Abbot Rural District. In 1896 Bovey Tracey Parish Council was established and the borough and its courts ceased as an entity of local government.22
Twentieth and twenty-first century – can we still find the Borough on the ground?
Following a further Local Government Act in 1974 the Bovey Tracey Town Council was formed and this was when the term town became the official local authority designation of the area. A memory of the borough is in field systems we can still see in the town. A good vantage point is at the top of the footpath from Bovey Bridge to Indio where you can look up to behind East Street and Mary Street and still see the outline of some of the burgage plots and also one of the Portreeve’s parks. Those below Fore Street have now mainly been built on, but you can see where they were. You can also look left across to the land between Hind Street and the river and Southbrook to see where the borough extended. The other memory of the ancient borough is in the work of the Bovey Tracey Town Trust which continues to administer some charitable monies from the time of the Court Leet. We may no longer have the offices of portreeve and the cryer, the ale taster and the scavenger, but we do have a mayor, town councillors and churchwardens who continue some of the work of the Saxon borough.
Notes and references
- Letters 2010, Gazeteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516, online at: www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/gazweb2html:[devon](2010); 1903-1907, Calendar of Patent Rolls (1226-1516) 6 vols, London, online at: www. sdrc.lib.iowa.edu/patent rolls, also The National Archives (TNA) web-site; Kowaleski 1995; Everitt 1967; Finberg 1951; Hoskins, W.G. 1954; D. and S. Lysons 1822, Magna Britannia Devonshire, vol. 6, London: Thomas Cadell, online at: www.britishlibrary.ac.uk; Lega-Weekes 1913; Peskett 1971.
- and F. Thorn (eds) 1985, Domesday Book, vol. 9, Devon part 1, Chichester: Phillimore; Reichel 1895; Reichel, O.J. (ed.) 1906, ‘Introduction to the Devonshire Domesday: Domesday Survey’, pp. 375-411, and ‘Translation of the Devonshire Domesday; Text of the Exeter Book’, in The Victoria History of the Counties of England. A History of Devonshire in Five Volumes, vol. 1, London: Constable).
- Reichel 1906.
- Letters 2010.
- Fox 1999.
- Peskett, pp.176-178.
- Devon Record Office (DRO), 3861 M-I/PB 1841 Bovey Tracey Tithe Map Parish Copy.
- Teignbridge District Council (2008) Bovey Tracey Character Appraisal; Devon County Council (2005) Historic Environment Record.
- Calendar of Patent Rolls; Finberg.
- Sommerville 2012.
- DRO, 2160A-99/PW3 Transcript of Church Rates 1596; DRO, 312M-7/Z1/7 Hugh Watkins letters 1936 regarding Church Rate 1596; Hyde H.B. 1918-1919.
- DRO, 2160/A/PW2 – PW3 1844 and 1846 Church Rate Book.
- DRO, 1508/M/Bovey Tracey/1.1654-1751. 2. 1655-1729 Manor.
- Webb and Webb 1908 and 1927; DRO, 3861M/89 (89-93) Bovey Tracey Rent Bill 1700, transcribed 1795.
- DRO, 3861M/89.
- DRO, D1508/M/E/Rentals/North Bovey/2 (1824); DRO, 1508/M/E (3424/E/2); DRO, L 1508M/E/Rentals2 1836-1845; DRO, D 1508M/E/MPA/Bovey Tracey/Plans, A1 1837 MAP PLAN; Ravenhill and Rowe 2002; Ordnance Survey, First Series, sheet 22; British Library, A Vision of Britain Through Time, online at: visionofengland.org.uk; DRO, 2160/A/PW3 1846; TNA, Census 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, online at: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk; DRO, 2160A APW/I 1842 and 1843 Rate and Tax of the Parish of Bovey Tracey; DRO, 2160A/PP 15 1851 Portreeve Park Tithes.
- DRO, 2160A/PP 15.
- Worth 1886.
- The Western Times, 14 May 1853, 14 May 1859, 11 May 1861, 12 May 1863; Kelly 1856, 1866, and 1883, Post Office Directory of Devon and Cornwall, London: Kelly and Co.; Billing 1857, Directory and Gazeteer of the County of Devon, Billing.
- DRO, 2160/A/PW2 – PW3; Kelly 1856, 1866 and 1883; Billing; Smellie 1946.
- Finberg; DRO, 2160A/PO/1 1884 Land Tax Assessment Boundaries; Redlich and Hirst 1958.
Everitt, A. (1967) ‘History of Medieval Towns c 1500-1640’, in Thirsk, J. (ed.) Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 468-75;
Finberg, H.P.R. (1951) ‘The Boroughs of Devon’, Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries, 24, pp. 203-9;
Fox, H. (1999) ‘Medieval urban development’, in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, E. (eds) Historical Atlas of South West England, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 401-7.
Hoskins, W.G. (1954) Devon, 1992 edn, Tiverton: Devon Books.
Hyde H.B. et al (1918-1919) ‘Bovey Tracey Church Rate 1596’, Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries, 10, pp. 329-36.
Kennedy, V. (2004) The Bovey Book, Cottage publishing.
Kowaleski, M. (1995) Local Markets and Regional Trade in Exeter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lega-Weekes, E. (1913) ‘The Freemans of Ashburton, Buckfastleigh, Bovey Tracey etc.’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 45, p. 453;
Peskett, H. (1971) ‘The Borough Charter of Bovey Tracey’, Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries, 32, pp.176-178.
Ravenhill M.R. and Rowe, M. (eds) (2002) Devon Maps and Map Makers, Exeter: Devon & Cornwall Record Society;
Redlich , J. and Hirst, F.W. (1958) The History of Local Government in England, 2nd edn, Keith-Lucas, B. (ed.), London: Macmillan.
Reichel, O.J. (1895) ‘Devonshire Domesday and the Geld Roll’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol. 27, pp. 165-198.
Smellie, K.B. (1946) A History of Local Government, London: Allen and Unwin.
Sommerville, J.P. (2012) Medieval English Society, online at: www. faculty.history.wisc.ed/sommerville
Stanyer, J. (1989) A History of Devon County Council 1889-1989, Tiverton: Devon Books.
Tregonning, L. (1983) Bovey Tracey and Ancient Town, Exeter: Wheaton and Co.
Tregonning, L. (1989) Bovey Tracey in Bygone Days, Tiverton: Devon Books.
Webb, S. and B. (1908) The Development of English Local Government: The Manor and the Borough, London: Longmans.
Webb, S. and Webb, B. (1927) English Poor Law History Part 1, London: Longmans.
Worth, R.N. (1886) A History of Devonshire, London.
Frances Billinge is a retired assistant director of education living in Bovey Tracey. After completing her Ph.D at the University of Nottingham she commenced a career in educational psychology and later in educational policy and planning. She now spends her time researching the area where she lives.
Appendix: Comparison between named holdings in the Borough and Land 1596 Church Rate and 1735 Borough Rentals
Pludde (Pludda) (Part of the Land in 1735)
Mary Streete Mary Street (included Pinns and Yeo
Marystreete and Rack Park TM 1553)
and Meadow, Mary Street
and Hind Street Lane
Sops House and Garden in the end of
Hendestreete/ Hindestreet and Lane Renstreet Lane fields included the
Union Inn (TM 1440 [Cromwell
Arms]), Goswills (TM 889,890),
Bulling meadow (TM 889 behind Hind
Street), Southbrook Lane
Ffryers Meadows (later German’s field
Sops Meadow (TM 885,886, behind Hind Sopers Meadow and the Moor
East Street Easton Street
Hores House and Land*
Sperkes Barn and Meadowe*
Sops Undertown (Undertown Barton TM 1224-1227)
Sops house and Meadowe at Bridge end (TM
1522, 1524 Bridge tenement)
Close at Stantor*
Two Portreeve Parks (TM1403, 873)
Tanmilles and Lymes (TM1836 Tan House,
TM1214 Mill House)
Wises Meadow (TM 852, just before Atway)
Mannings Meadow (TM1326 off East St) Mannings Meadow
Bradleyford (TM1676, its position is likely to
Closes at Fflodder*
Hores House Meadow*
Way (Atway) tenement Lower and Higher Attway/ Higher Atway Way Parks (TM 851 before Atway on N side)
Roll Roll Gate
Barton Land Bakers Meadow (T M 933)
Shaptor’s Close TM 897
Head of Strentford Lane (likely to be in
the Land, TM2609, 2405)
Pitt Tenement Pump
Alms House (opposite the Dolphin
Two fields near Furzeley Lane
House called Fryers*
House called Dunkirk*
House called Sopers*
Croundell Lower Crowndell
Morehaies (TM 2097-2101) Moorhayes
Combe Combe/ Combe Parkes/MiddleCombe/
Heigher Combe/Hatherdown Hill
Cockleigh Park and Woodland
Combe and Cley pkes Combe and Clayland; Combe Parkes
Lower Cridiford Lower Cridiford;
Higher Cridiford Heigher Cridiford
Luscombe and Cley tenement Lushcombe
Crowdell Higher and Lower Crowndale
Littlebovey Little Bovey
Chorlebrook Challabrook; Challabrook Moors
Yearner Wood Yernor
Pullabrooke Pullabrook and Mill
Great Salrudge Soldridge/Little Soldridge
Cottage by the Mills and Cottages and Orchards by the Mills
Westbovye Westa Bovey
Meadows by Jewes Bridge
Ffoxes Meadows by Jewes Bridge
(TM 2219,2220 Foyes meadow)
Pludda (which was listed in the borough
Fairs and markets (not part of the church
rate so not mentioned in the 1596 list)
Warmhill in Hennock
Bove Town and Half Pound Barn*
Little Dear Parkes
Soldridge and Little Soldridge Pound House*
Bux grounds Scotway alias Scotweare and
Towns and four closes of land called Undertown
* Not yet identified
TM number refers to field numbers on Tithe Map
Posted 7 September 2017.