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The Exe at Tiverton
Grid reference: SS955125
Location: 50°54’9"N, 3°29’15"W
Population: 18,621  (2001)
Post town: Tiverton
Postcode: EX16
Dialling code: 01884
Local Government
Council: Mid Devon
Tiverton and Honiton

Tiverton is a town in Devonshire, in the Exe Valley due north of Exeter. It is a small country town, once a prosperous centre of the wool trade

The town's name is thought to derive from 'Twy-ford-ton' meaning 'two fords town'. The town stands at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Lowman.

Tiverton's revival in recent years began with the construction of the A361 (known as the North Devon Link Road), in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, a new industrial estate was built at Little Gornhay on the north-eastern edge of the town, and a new junction was added to the Link Road, with a distributor road (now the A396) into the town, which has become its main gateway. Western Way, linking this road to the Exeter Road along the line of the old railway, was also constructed. These two roads opened up a new aspect to the town, and paved the way for expansion.

The demand for housing particularly in the South-West has driven house prices up, and many now look to towns on the periphery of employment centres. Tiverton has become a popular commuter town for Exeter and Taunton, and this growth has been supported by large housing projects to the north of the town by most national house builders. The resulting influx of population has led to further development of the town's services and shops. The town now has a newly-built hospital, which has left the old hospital derelict in the town centre. It has also replaced its out-of-date swimming pool with a new Leisure Centre (swimming pool and small gymnasium), which is near the main campus of the East Devon College, re-branded as "Petroc" after its amalgamation with North Devon College in 2009 - the largest local Further Education college. Additionally the council has recently built new offices at Phoenix House at the foot of Phoenix Lane, close to the site of the old Starkey, Knight & Ford Brewery. The building incorporates a new public library.

Since 2005, new, large edge-of-town retail outlets have begun to open, though apparently without undue harm to town centre shops as the new stores' car parking allows shoppers stop to walk to Tiverton town centre too.


View from the bridge over the Exe

An Iron Age hill fort, Cranmore Castle stands atop Exeter Hill above the town, and a Roman camp, was discovered on the hillside below Knightshayes Court near Bolham, just to the north of the town.

The town itself began as an Anglo-Saxon estate, though it escapes notice in the records until the Domesday Book of 1086, in which it appears as Tovretone'. In 1106, King Henry I had Tiverton Castle built, originally as a motte and bailey type, though in the 13th and 14th centuries it was rebuilt extensively.

The wool trade brought prosperity to Tiverton and rapid growth in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many wealthier wool merchants added to the town's heritage; John Greenway (1460–1529) added a chapel to St Peter's Parish Church in 1517, and a small chapel and almshouses in Gold Street which still stand; the Almshouse Trust still houses people today. Peter Blundell, another wealthy merchant, who died in 1601, bequeathed the funds and land to found Blundell's School to educate local children. The school was founded in Tiverton in 1604, and in 1882 relocated to its present location on the outskirts of town, where it functions to the present day as an independent school[1]

During the English Civil War Tiverton Castle, held by the Royalists, was the scene of a brief Siege by Thomas Fairfax's Parliamentarian forces. The siege ended quickly when Fairfax's artillery broke one of the drawbridge chains and an alert squad of roundheads gained swift entry.

By the end of the 18th century the wool trade was peaking, and a century of turmoil followed during the early Industrial Revolution with many riots by the town's newly formed societies of Woolcombers and Weavers. By the end of the century, due to imports of cotton and the expansion of industrialization elsewhere, along with the effect of the Napoleonic Wars on exports, the town's woollen industry was in terminal decline.[2]

In 1815, the industrialist John Heathcoat bought an old woollen mill on the river Exe with a view to setting up a lace manufactory in the town. Following the destruction of his lace-making machinery in Loughborough by Luddites in the pay of the lacemakers of Nottingham, he moved his entire operation to Tiverton.[3] factory turned the fortunes of Tiverton around once again, and it became an early industrial centre in the South West. Trade was aided when a branch of the Grand Western Canal from Taunton to Tiverton was opened in 1838, followed shortly afterwards by a Branch of the Great Western Railway in 1848.

Tiverton gained a reputation as one of the rotten boroughs targeted by those seeking electoral reform. Although small, it had two MPs representing it, amongst who for much of the 19th century was Henry Temple, later Lord Palmerston. In 1847, the Chartists, a radical group seeking to change the electoral system, stood one of their leaders, George Julian Harney, against Palmerston, but Harney withdrew when Palmerston called a ballot, aware that only the borough's 400 burgesses of the borough, not the 7,000 or so common townsfolk, were entitled to vote. The Reform Act of 1867 ended Tiverton's right to elect two MPs, though it lends it name to a current constituency.

The borough was the last in the Devon and Cornwall area to retain an independent borough police force, until 1945. In the second half of the 20th century, Tiverton once again slowly declined in prosperity, as the Heathcoat factory became ever more mechanised, and the Starkey Knight & Ford Brewery was taken over by Whitbread as its regional brewery, but later closed, becoming just a bottling plant. It then lay derelict for some years before being demolished to make way for a supermarket and multi-storey car-park. The manufacture of agricultural machinery adjacent to the River Lowman dwindled, the Railway closed in 1964 and the Globe Elastic plant in Kennedy Way also closed down in the 1980s. However, also in this period a few far-sighted individuals, most notably probably William Authers, secured some important assets for the future of the Town. The Tiverton Museum was opened during this time, the trackbed of the old Railway was bought up and now remains as footpaths and the Adventure Playground, and the Grand Western Canal was saved from dereliction and revived as a Country Park.

During the 1990s, retailing in the town declined still further after the opening of the Southern Relief Road (now Western Way) led to the closure of Fore Street in the town centre to all but pedestrian traffic. This decline has been reversed by various regeneration projects, and Tiverton now thrives, especially on the main Market Days of Tuesday and Friday.


  1. Martin Dunsford, Historical Memoirs of Tiverton (Brice, Exeter, 1790)
  2. Martin Dunsford, Historical Memoirs of Tiverton (Brice, Exeter, 1790)
  3. W. Gore Allen, John Heathcoat and his Heritage (Christopher Johnson, London, 1958)

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