St Petrock's Church, Lydford
Lydford shown within Devon
|Population||394 (2001 Census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Police||Devon and Cornwall|
|Fire||Devon and Somerset|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||Torridge & West Devon|
The village has a population of 458. The village stands on the small River Lyd, which traverses a deep narrow chasm, crossed by a bridge of single span; and at a little distance a tributary stream forms a cascade in an exquisite glen.
The village is noted for its history and surrounding countryside and is a popular with tourists. From its Perpendicular church of St Petrock fine views of the Dartmoor tors are seen. The parish of Lydford is immense, embracing some 50,000 acres (200 km²) of land. Close to the church are slight remains of the castle of Lydford.
Running south west from the village is Lydford Gorge, a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) wooded gorge which has been cut through the slate rock by the River Lyd. The gorge area is owned by the National Trust. The gorge is noted for its 30 metre (100 ft) waterfall.
The original Anglo-Saxon names for the village were Hlidaford or Hlidan, from hlid, meaning a cover or lid, referring to the almost perfect concealment of the river beneath the chasm at the bridge, and ford (crossing). Over the years the name mutated via Lyghatford, Lidefort and Lideford to the contemporary spelling.
Historically Lydford was an economic powerhouse, not the sleepy village which it is today.
The village was established as one of the four Saxon burhs of Devon by king Alfred the Great. It first appears in recorded history in 997, when the Danes made a plundering expedition up the Tamar and Tavy as far as Hlidaforda (i.e. Lydford). The attack is described in the following passage from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
- Her on ðissum geare ferde se here abutan Defenanscire into Sæfern muðan and þær heregodan ægðer ge on Cornwealum and on Norðwealum and on Defenum, and eodon him þa up æt Wecedport and þær micel yfel worhton on bærnette and on mannslihtum, and æfter þam wendon eft abutan Penwiðsteort on þa suðhealfe and wendon þa into Tamer muðan and eodon þa up oð hi comon to Hlydanforda, and ælc þing bærndon and slogon þe hi gemitton, and Ordulfes mynster Tæfingstoc forbærndon and unasecgendlice herehyðe mid him to scypon brohton.
- Translation: In this year, they (the Vikings) visited Devonshire and at the mouth of the Severn, pillaging in Cornwall, Devon and Wales. They went to Watchet, and there caused much damage by dint of arson and wholesale slaughter. Then they turned at Penwith Tail to the south and up into the mouth of the Tamar, travelling to Lydford, burning and slaughtering anything they came across, and burned down Ordwulf's monastery at Tavistock, carrying vast amounts of loot back to their ships.
During the reign of Ethelred the Unready, there was a mint, and coins minted there were inscribed LVD., LVDA, and LVDAN. In the reign of Edward the Confessor it was the most populous centre in Devonshire after Exeter, but the Domesday Book relates that forty houses had been laid waste since the Conquest, and the town never recovered its former prosperity Under the Normans, and according to the Domesday Book, Lydford is taxed equally with London, giving an idea of its significance at the time, the reason being that the parish of Lydford embraced the entirety of the Forest of Dartmoor under the Normans (as it did until the 20th century).
Until the 12th century parishioners from across more or less the entirety of Dartmoor were brought to Lydford for burial. The path used to make this final journey is known as the 'Lych way'. Many reports have been made of monks in white and phantom funeral processions seen walking along this path.
The history from the 13th century centres round the castle, which is first mentioned in 1216, when it was granted to William Briwere, and was shortly afterwards fixed as the prison of the stannaries and the meeting-place of the Forest Courts of Dartmoor. A gild at Lideford is mentioned in 1180, and the pipe roll of 1195 records a grant for the reestablishment of the market. In 1238 the borough, which had hitherto been crown demesne, was bestowed by Henry III on Richard, earl of Cornwall, who in 1268 obtained a grant of a Wednesday market and a three days fair at the feast of St Petrock. The borough had a separate coroner and bailiff in 1275, but it was never incorporated by charter, and only once, in 1300, returned members to parliament.
During the English Civil War, Lydford was the haunt of the then notorious Gubbins band, a gang of ruthless cut-throats and highwaymen, who took advantage of the turmoil of the times to ply their villainry. According to one account of the time:
- Gubbins-land is a Scythia within England, and they pure heathens therein. Their language is the drosse of the dregs of the vulgar Devonian, They hold together like burrs: offend one and all will avenge their quarrel.
In 1987 the parish of Lydford finally lost its claim to be the largest parish in England. It was split into two civil parishes, Lydford and Dartmoor Forest. The ecclesiastical parish has also been split, with Princetown made a separate parish.
The first Christian church in Lydford was a wooden structure built c. 650 AD. It is probable that this church was burnt down by the Vikings in their raid of 997 AD.
The church was later rebuilt in the perpendicular gothic style, and although ostensibly Norman, some of the architectural furniture, for example the font, were of the Anglo-Saxon style (or at latest, early Norman), thus it would appear that the church was rebuilt upon the site of the earlier building.
The church was enlarged in the 13th century, the tower being added in the 15th century. A further enlargement occurred c. 1890 with the addition of the vestry and northern aisle.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lydford Castle.|
Two castles have been built at Lydford, the first immediately in the wake of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
The second castle was built on the site of the first castle in c. 1132 AD. It was a 3-storey tower, commanding a strategic view over much of the surrounding countryside, and was eminently defensible, with Lydford Gorge on one side, and the land sloping steeply away from it.
Its use changed under the aegis of Edward I of England who made the castle the Stannary prison; its reputation was not good. Sir Richard Grenville used the prison as an oubliette for his political opponents. An order of Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII describes the prison in 1512 as: one of the most hanious, contagious and detestable places in the realm, and Lydford Law was a by-word for injustice. It was also one of the seats of the Bloody Assizes of Hanging Judge Jeffreys.
- I've often hear of Lydford law,
- How in the morn they hang and draw,
- And sit in judgement after
At the time of Cromwell's Commonwealth, the castle was entirely in ruins, but in the 18th century it was restored and again used as a prison and as the meeting-place of the manor and borough courts. The site is now maintained by English Heritage, and entry is free of charge.
Lydford's toll road
Lydford is located on the former stage-coach route between Tavistock and Okehampton, now the A386. On this old toll road near Beardon is a 'Take-off' stone set in the verge. On steep hills heavily laden waggons or coaches could add an extra toll-free horse to help pull the vehicle up the hill, but this horse had to be taken off at the top. Very few of these stone still exist in situ.
Lydford's railway stations Gallery
Lydford is twinned with:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lydford.|
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Lydford village website
- Lydford Parish Council website
- St Petroc's Church, Lydford website - for information on church services, booking weddings and baptisms, church history and genealogy searches
- Lydford Castle and Saxon Town - official site at English Heritage
- Wilson, John Marius. "Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72)". Retrieved 2011-03-29.
- Devon County Council, 2001. "West Devon parish population estimates."
- National Trust, 2004. "Lydford Gorge."
- Hippisley Coxe, Anthony E. (1973). Haunted Britain. Pub. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-116540-7. P. 30.
- Lydford Parish Council website
- Diocese of Exeter: parish profile, Princetown
- Palmer, D.W., 2004. "Lydford Castle."
- Minchinton, Walter, 1974. Devon at Work : Past & Present. Pub. David & Charles. P. 77.