Steeped in history and shrouded in legend, Ashburton is an ancient stannary town lying on the fringes of Dartmoor. Once vitally important to the tin mining trade that dominated much of local industry, today the town is filled with quirky antique shops, food stores run by local residents, as well as small passages just waiting to be explored…
A history of Ashburton
Ashburton is the largest town of Dartmoor; a National Park in central Devon, SouthWest England. There is evidence of human habitation of the region dating back thousands of years, with Neolithic and Paleolithic finds spread across Dartmoor.
The actual town of Ashburton was first recorded as a town in the Domesday Book (in 1086), under the name of ‘Essebretorne’. Since then, it has been used as a strategic point by Royalists during the English Civil War and was once famous for having its own champagne, Ashburton Pop. The annual Carnival held here may well be the oldest in Devon and dates all the way back to the 1880s.
But what the town is most famous for, is being one of only four stannary towns in Devon (along with Tavistock, Plympton, and Chagford). During the 14th-Century, and right on through to the Industrial Revolution, the area’s main trade was tin mining. Many local residents were tin miners and tin was Devon and Cornwall’s biggest export.
In the 14th-Century, a Charter by King Edward I announced that stannary towns were to be former for keeping track of all the tin. These four towns in Devon were the only ones allowed to conduct administration for tin mining, and as such became greatly important in local trade.
In a small building, on the crossroads between the town’s two main high streets, you’ll find Ashburton Museum. Once a brush factory, today it houses the rich history of the town and is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The entry fee is £1.50.
Golden Lion Hotel
Driving down the main high street towards the center of the town, you’ll see an ornate building flash past on the left-hand side. There’s a grand porch, Georgian architecture… and a golden lion resting on a globe. This life-sized lion is a small insight into the varied and deep history of the House.
Originally built for a surgeon in 1790, it was the headquarters of the Monster Raving Loony Party in the 1990s (a party created to satirize British politics and to create a means for local electors to cast a ‘protest’ vote against the current establishment).
The population of Ashburton was once deeply religious and as such had numerous churches. Like many towns throughout Southwest England, these buildings were often the focal point of the village/ town and offered much more than a place to worship. As such, they are normally the oldest buildings still standing in any given settlement, and often have the richest history.
Ashburton Methodist Church
Sadly the church is being sold and is currently for sale. It was not only used as a place of worship but also for playgroups and theater societies. The founder of the Church was a man named John Wesly. He once claimed that Ashburton was the ‘most heathen town he had ever visited’. The Methodist Church lies close to the Ashburton Museum and was constructed in 1835.
St Andrew’s Church
The largest church in Ashburton is that of St Andrew’s. Lying a little up the high street, it’s surrounded by a graveyard and plenty of ancient trees. The church was built as early as the 12th-Century but was completely renovated and rebuilt during the 15th-Century.
St Lawrence Chapel
The former chapel was once the private house for the Bishop of Exeter and is one of the oldest buildings in Ashburton. In the 14th-Century, the Bishop gifted the property to the Town of Ashburton. It was at this point that the private house was turned into a public chapel and place of worship.
Today, the chapel is in use as a Heritage Centre. It is also rented out to private organizations and is used for Music examinations. In the past Century, it has also been used as the town’s museum, as part of a local Grammar School and was home to the town’s library for forty years.
Where to Eat
If you’re visiting the Westcountry for the first time, then make sure to try a cream tea! This regional specialty comprises of a jam, clotted cream, and scone, together with a pot of traditional Westcountry blend tea.
There has long been a rivalry between the country’s two most western counties as to which way you should spread your cream and jam. The Cornish way advises that you put your jam on before the cream, while the Devonian way suggests that you spread the cream first (like you would butter), then add the jam.
This quaint pub dates all the way back to the 12th-Century and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. The Exeter Inn is the oldest pub in Ashburton and was once home to the workers of the St Andrew’s Church (which is directly opposite the Inn). Local legend suggests that Sir Francis Drake (a pirate in the employment of Elizabeth I) regularly drank at the bar here.
Best Food Shops in Ashburton
What makes Ashburton so unique is that most of the businesses are run by local residents. From the bakery to the greengrocers, food doesn’t get much fresher than this…
The Fish Deli
Despite its name, the Fish Deli stocks a wide range of fresh and local produce. Though the Fish Deli does stock fish, it also has plenty of other delicious products on offer; including bread, olives, and tinned goods.
There is not one, but two delicatessens in Ashburton. This particular Delicatessen has an amazing amount of various types of bread (a particular favourite of mine is the olive). There is also a large selection of homemade cakes, and other locally sourced foods.
This store is for lovers of all things sweet. Situated halfway up the high street, you’ll find a candy coloured building. Inside, all types of candy, chocolate, and other confectionery. Here, you’ll find a sweet tooth’s dream spread of sugary snacks…
A selection of Antique Shops in Ashburton
There are so many vintage stores and antique wares in Ashburton, that it would be hard to list them all. Here’s a small selection of what’s on offer when you visit this quaint former stannary town.
The Globe & The Shambles
The globe, and sister shop, the Shambles house a wide array of furniture (indoor and outdoor), as well as homeware and vintage items. The best part about any of the antique shops in the town is that you never quite know what you’ll stumble on next…
Tom Wood Antiques and Coins
This little antique shop is packed like a curios shop… but don’t be fooled. The objects here are the real deal. Tom Wood stocks everything from ancient Roman coins, to Victorian Books. Step inside his store for plenty more curios, but be warned: it will be hard to leave without purchasing at least a few interesting items!