Barnstaple Clock Tower
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||EX31, EX32|
|Police||Devon and Cornwall|
|Fire||Devon and Somerset|
Barnstaple (// (listen) or //) is a river-port town in North Devon, England, at the lowest crossing point of the River Taw flowing into the Bristol Channel. From the 14th century, it was licensed to export wool. Great wealth ensued. Later it imported Irish wool, but its harbour silted up and other industries developed, such as shipbuilding, foundries and sawmills. A Victorian market building survives, with a high glass and timber roof on iron columns. The parish had a population of 24,033 at the 2011 census, and the built-up area of 32,411 in 2018. The town area with nearby settlements such as Bishop's Tawton, Fremington and Landkey, had a 2020 population of 46,619.
The spelling Barnstable is obsolete, but retained by an American county and city. It appears in the 10th century and is thought to derive from the Early English bearde, meaning "battle-axe", and stapol, meaning "pillar", referring to a post or pillar to mark a religious or administrative meeting place. The belief that the name comes from staple meaning "market", indicating a market here from the foundation of the settlement, is likely to be incorrect, as the use of staple in that sense first appears in England in 1423.
Barnstaple was formerly referred to as "Barum", a contraction of the Latin form of the name (ad Barnastapolitum) in Latin documents such as the episcopal registers of the Diocese of Exeter. Barum was mentioned by Shakespeare, and the name was revived and popularised in the Victorian era in several novels. It remains in the names of a football team, a brewery, several local businesses and on numerous old milestones. The former Brannam Pottery in Litchdon Street was known for its trademark "Barum" etched on the base of its products.
The earliest settlement in the area was probably at Pilton on the bank of the River Yeo, now a northern suburb of the town. Pilton is recorded in the Burghal Hidage (c. 917) as a burh founded by Alfred the Great, and it may have been the site of a Viking attack in 893, but by the later 10th-century Barnstaple had taken over its role of local defence. Barnstaple had a mint before the Norman Conquest.
The feudal barony of Barnstaple had its caput at Barnstaple Castle, granted by William the Conqueror to Geoffrey de Montbray, who appears as its holder in the 1086 Domesday Book. The barony fell to the Crown in 1095 after Montbray rebelled against King William II. William re-granted the barony to Juhel de Totnes, formerly feudal baron of Totnes. In about 1107, Juhel, who had already founded Totnes Priory, founded Barnstaple Priory, of the Cluniac order, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. After Juhel's son died without children, the barony was split between the de Braose and Tracy families, before reuniting under Henry de Tracy. It then passed through several other families, before ending in the ownership of Margaret Beaufort (died 1509), mother of king Henry VII.
In the 1340s, merchants of the town claimed the rights of a free borough had been granted them by King Athelstan in a lost charter. Although this was challenged periodically by later lords of the manor, it allowed the merchants an unusual degree of self-government. The town's wealth in the Middle Ages was founded on it being a staple port licensed to export wool. It had an early merchant guild known as the Guild of St Nicholas. In the early 14th century it was Devon's third richest town after Exeter and Plymouth, and the largest textile centre outside Exeter until about 1600. Its wool trade was further aided by its port, from which in 1588 five ships were contributed to a force sent to fight the Spanish Armada. Barnstaple was one of the "privileged ports" of the Spanish Company, (established 1577), whose armorials appear on two of the mural monuments to 17th-century merchants – Richard Beaple (died 1643), three times Mayor; Richard Ferris (Mayor in 1632), who together with Alexander Horwood, received a payment from the Corporation of Barnstaple in 1630 for "riding to Exeter about the Spanish Company."}} in St Peter's Church, and on the decorated plaster ceiling of the old Golden Lion Inn, 62 Boutport Street, now a restaurant beside the Royal and Fortescue Hotel.[b]
The town benefited from a developing trade with America in the 16th and 17th centuries, which brought wealth to wealthy merchants, who built impressive town houses. Some of these survive behind more recent frontages — they include No. 62 Boutport Street, said to have one of the best plaster ceilings in Devon. The merchants also built several almshouses, including Penrose's, and ensured their legacy by dedicating elaborate monuments to their families inside the church.
By the 18th century, Barnstaple had ceased to be a woollen manufacturing town. Its output was replaced by Irish wool and yarn, for which it was the main landing place; the raw materials were carried by land to new clothmaking towns in mid and east Devon such as Tiverton and Honiton. However, the harbour was silting up — as early as c. 1630 Tristram Risdon reported that "it hardly beareth small vessels". Bideford, lower down the estuary and benefiting from the scouring action of the fast-flowing River Torridge, gradually took over the foreign trade.
Although between 1680 and 1730 Barnstaple's trade was surpassed by Bideford's, it retained economic importance until the early 20th century, when it was manufacturing lace, gloves, sail-cloth and fishing-nets and had extensive potteries, tanneries, sawmills and foundries, with shipbuilding also carried on. The Bear Street drill hall was completed in the early 19th century.
Barnstaple was one of the boroughs reformed by the Municipal Reform Act 1835. Between the 1930s and the 1950s the town embraced the villages of Pilton, Newport, and Roundswell through ribbon development.
The historic Borough of Barnstaple was long governed by the Mayor of Barnstaple and Corporation, seated at Barnstaple Guildhall. The mayor served a term of one year and was elected annually on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August) by a jury of twelve. However Barnstaple was a mesne borough and was not held by the Mayor and Corporation as tenant in chief from the king, but from the feudal barony of Barnstaple, later known as the lord of the Castle Manor or Castle Court. The Corporation tried several times to claim the status of a free borough answerable directly to the monarch and divest itself of this overlordship, but without success. The mayor was not recognised as such by the monarch, but merely as bailiff of the feudal baron. The powers of the borough were restricted under an inquisition ad quod damnum in the reign of King Edward III, which from an inspection of evidence found that members of the corporation elected their mayor only by permission of the lord; legal pleas were held in a court at which the lord's steward, not the mayor, presided; the borough was taxed by the county assessors; and the lord held the various assizes which the burgesses claimed. Indeed the ancient royal charter supposedly held by the corporation, granting it borough status, was suspected to be a forgery.
Since 1974, Barnstaple has been a civil parish governed by a town council.
From 1295 the Borough of Barnstaple had two members in the House of Commons until 1885, when this was reduced to one member. The constituency was replaced for the 1950 general election by the large modern constituency of North Devon, held by Nick Harvey MP of the Liberal Democrats from 1992 until 2015, when Peter Heaton-Jones of the Conservative Party was elected, and elected again in 2017. Since 2019 the MP has been Selaine Saxby of the Conservatives.
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Barnstaple, the main town of North Devon, claims to be the oldest borough in the United Kingdom. It lies 68 miles (109 km) west-south-west of Bristol, 50 miles (80 km) north of Plymouth and 34 miles (55 km) north-west of the county town and city of Exeter. It was founded at the lowest crossing point of the River Taw, where its estuary starts to widen, about 7 miles (11 km) inland from Barnstaple Bay in the Bristol Channel. On the north side of the town, the River Taw is joined by the River Yeo, which rises on Berry Down, near Combe Martin.
Most of the town lies on the east bank of the estuary, connected on the western side by the ancient Barnstaple Long Bridge, which has 16 arches. The town's early medieval layout still appears from the street plan and street names, with Boutport Street ("About the Port") following the curved line of the ditch outside the town walls. The area of medieval shipbuilding and repair is still called The Strand, an early word for shore.
Barnstaple has cool wet winters and mild wet summers. Mean high temperatures range from 9 C (48 F) in January to 21 C (70 F) in July. October is the wettest month with 103 mm (4.1 in) of rain. The record high is 34 C (94 F) and the record low −9 C (16 F). The mean annual rainfall is 862 mm (33.9 in), with rain on 138 days.
|Climate data for Barnstaple, United Kingdom|
|Record high °C (°F)||16
|Average high °C (°F)||9
|Average low °C (°F)||4
|Record low °C (°F)||−6
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||75
|Average rainy days||15||10||12||10||11||9||9||10||11||13||14||14||138|
|Average relative humidity (%)||83||82||80||77||76||78||79||79||79||81||83||83||80|
|Source 1: Weather2|
|Source 2: HolidayCheck.com|
In 2011 the racial make-up of the town was:
- White British 93.9%
- White Irish 0.3%
- Other White 2.6%
- Mixed race 1.2%
- Asian 1.6%
- Black 0.3%
- Other 0.1%
As a major town, Barnstaple has a similar ethnic make-up to other south-west towns such as Truro and Cullompton. It is more ethnically diverse than the North Devon district (95.9% White British) and Devon as a whole (94.2% White British).
North Devon is some distance from Britain's traditional areas of industrial activity and population. In the late 1970s it gained several industrial firms due to the availability of central government grants for opening factories and operating them on low or zero levels of local taxation. This was scarcely successful, with few lasting beyond the few years that grants were available. One success was the manufacturing of generic medicines by Cox Pharmaceuticals (now branded Allergan), which moved in 1980 from a site in Brighton, Sussex. A lasting effect on the town has been the development and expansion of industrial estates at Seven Brethren, Whiddon Valley and Pottington.
Whilst the 1989 opening of the improved A361 connection to the motorway network assisted trade in some ways, notably weekend tourism, it was detrimental to some distribution businesses. These had previously viewed the town as a base for local distribution networks, a need removed when the travelling time to the M5 motorway was roughly halved.
With Barnstaple as the main shopping area for North Devon, retail work contributes to the economy. There are many chain stores in the town centre and in the Roundswell Business Park, on the western fringe of the town. Tesco has several stores in the area, including a Tesco Extra hypermarket and a Tesco superstore. There are also Sainsbury's and Lidl supermarkets. The multi-million pound redevelopment in and around the former Leaderflush Shapland works at Anchorwood Bank is creating a conservation area near the River Taw, hundreds of new homes, a commercial retail area of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities, and a Asda superstore and petrol filling station. The new Asda store opened in November 2016.
However, by far the largest employer in the region is local and central government. The two main governmental employers are the Royal Marines Base Chivenor, 3 miles (5 km) west of the town, and North Devon District Hospital, 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north.
In 2005 unemployment in North Devon was 1.8–2.4 per cent, and the median per capita wage for North Devon was 73 per cent of the UK national average. The level of work in the informal or casual sector is high, partly due to seasonal tourism, as is the case in much of the South West of England. By 2018 unemployment in North Devon had fallen significantly from a 2010 high to 1.2 per cent, while median weekly full-time pay stood at £440 per week and average housing prices at £230,000. The number of businesses registered has increased by 370 since 2010 to 4,895. The year 2018 also saw marked government investment in the area through Coastal Community grants and Housing Infrastructure funds £83 million to upgrade the North Devon Link Road.
Twin towns and sister cities
Barnstaple is twinned with:
- Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States
- Uelzen, Germany
- Trouville-sur-Mer, France
- Susa, Piedmont, Italy
Barnstaple has an eclectic mix of architectural styles, with the 19th century probably predominant. There are remnants of early buildings as well as several early plaster ceilings. St Anne's Chapel in the central churchyard can be seen as the most important of the ancient buildings to survive. Queen Anne's Walk was erected in about 1708 as a mercantile exchange. The Georgian Guildhall is also of interest, as is the Pannier Market beneath it. The museum has an "arts and crafts" appearance with tessellated floors and locally made staircase and decorative fireplaces.
A wooden castle was built by Geoffrey de Mowbray, Bishop of Coutances in the 11th century, who cleared housing to make room for it. Juhel of Totnes later occupied the castle and founded Barnstaple Priory just outside its walls. The castle's first stone buildings were probably erected by Henry de Tracey, a supporter of King Stephen. In 1228, the Sheriff of Devon ordered the walls to be reduced to a height of 10 feet (3 m). By the time of the death of the last Henry de Tracey in 1274, the castle was beginning to decay. Its fabric was used in constructing other buildings and by 1326 it was a ruin. Remaining walls blew down in a storm in 1601. Today only a tree-covered motte remains.
St Anne's Chapel
It was an ancient Gothic chantry chapel, whose assets were acquired by the Mayor of Barnstaple and others in 1585, some time after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A deed of feoffment dated 1 November 1585 exists in the George Grant Francis collection in Cardiff.
The Pannier Market and Butchers' Row
Barnstaple has been the major market for North Devon since Saxon times. Demands for health regulation of its Victorian food market saw the construction in 1855–1856 of a Pannier Market, originally known as the Vegetable Market and designed by local architect R. D. Gould. This has a high glass-and-timber roof on iron columns. At 107 yards (98 m) long, it runs the length of Butchers' Row. Market days are Monday – Crafts and General (April to December), Tuesday – General and Produce, Wednesday – Arts Collectables and Books, Thursday – Crafts and General, Friday – General and Produce, and Saturday – General and Produce.
Built on the other side of the street at the same time as the Pannier Market, Butchers' Row consists of ten shops with pilasters of Bath Stone and wrought-iron supports for an overhanging roof. Only one is still a butcher's, although successor shops still sell local agricultural goods. There is a baker, a delicatessen, two fishmongers, a florist and a greengrocer.
In early 2020, the local Council web site provided this summary of the Pannier Market: "Largely unchanged in over 150 years, Barnstaple's historic Pannier Market has a wide range of stalls, with everything from fresh local produce, flowers and crafts, to prints and pictures, fashion and... two cafés."
|Accessible open space|
|Museum (free/not free)|
- Albert Clock in The Square
- Barnstaple Cemetery, the town's burial ground
- Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
- Queen's Theatre
- Barnstaple Heritage Trail
- Businesses and Markets
- Barnstaple Town F.C.
- North Devon Crematorium, the largest crematorium in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Penrose's Almshouses
- Tarka Trail – The cycling and walking trails were established by Devon County Council, to celebrate Henry Williamson's 1927 novel Tarka the Otter. The book depicts Tarka's adventure travelling through North Devon's countryside.
- Arlington Court, 8 miles (13 km)
- Lundy Island, ferry sails from Bideford, 10 miles (16 km)
- Watersmeet House 20 miles (32 km)
- The South West Coast Path National Trail runs through the town, and gives access to walks along the spectacular North Devon coast.
- Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, 15 miles (24 km)
In 1989, the A361 North Devon Link Road was built to link Barnstaple with the M5 motorway, some 40 miles (65 km) to the east. Traffic congestion in the town was severe, but in May 2007, the Barnstaple Western Bypass was opened to take traffic towards Braunton and Ilfracombe away from the town centre and ancient bridge. The bypass consists of 1.6 miles (2.6 km) of new road and a 447 yards (409 m) long, five-span bridge. It was expected to have cost £42 million. As part of this, the town's main square was remodelled as the entrance to the town centre, and The Strand was closed to traffic. The A39, the Atlantic Highway, follows after the A361 to Bideford and to Bude and then further towards Cornwall.
The majority of the Barnstaple bus network is run by Stagecoach South West & Filers. The main bus station is at the junction with Queen Street and Belle Meadow Drive.
Main bus services:
- 19 roundswell – Barnstaple bus station- North Devon Hospital
- 21 Westward Ho! – Bideford – Fremington – Barnstaple – Braunton – West Meadow Road/Ilfracombe
- 21A Appledore – Bideford – Fremington – Barnstaple – Braunton – West Meadow Road/ georgeham
- 71 Barnstaple – Torrington – (Holsworthy)/Shebbear
- 155 Barnstaple – South Molton – Tiverton – Exeter
- 301 Barnstaple – Ilfracombe – Combe Martin
- 309/310 Barnstaple – Lynton – Lynmouth
National Express offers coach services to London, Heathrow Airport, Taunton, Bristol and Birmingham.
The nearest airport is Exeter Airport.
Barnstaple railway station is the terminus of a branch line from Exeter known as the Tarka Line after a local connection with Tarka the Otter. The station is near the end of the Long Bridge, on the opposite bank of the River Taw to the town centre. The town had several other stations but all closed with the publication of the Reshaping of British Railways (the Beeching Axe) report in the 1960s. The surviving station was opened on 1 August 1854 by the North Devon Railway (later the London and South Western Railway), although a service had operated from Fremington since 1848 for goods traffic only. The station became "Barnstaple Junction" on 20 July 1874, when the railway opened the branch line to Ilfracombe, reverting to plain "Barnstaple" when this was closed on 5 October 1970. It is now a terminus and much reduced in size, as part of the site has been used for the Barnstaple Western Bypass.
The Ilfracombe branch line brought the railway across the river into the town centre. Barnstaple Quay was situated close by the Castle Mound. It was closed in 1898 and replaced by a nearby Barnstaple Town station at North Walk, which was also the terminus of the narrow-gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, until this closed in 1935. The narrow-gauge line's main operating centre was at nearby Pilton.
A separate Barnstaple station, renamed Barnstaple (Victoria Road) in 1949, was opened to the east of the town in 1873 as the terminus of the Devon and Somerset Railway and later part of the Great Western Railway. A junction was provided to allow trains access to Barnstaple Junction and these ran through to Ilfracombe. It was closed in 1970.
|The Park Community School||State||38%||44%||45%||47%||54%|||
|Pilton Community College||State||47%||51%||50%||53%||49%|||
Petroc (formerly North Devon College) is a tertiary college offering a wide range of vocational and academic further education to more than 3,000 young people over 16. It was due to spend £100 million on a new campus to be opened on Seven Brethren in 2011, but this fell through when the Learning and Skills Council withdrew £75 million in funding in January 2009. Petroc was launched in September 2009, a year after NDC merged with Tiverton's East Devon College.
St Peter's Church is the parish church of Barnstaple. Its oldest parts probably date to the 13th century, though the nave, chancel and tower date from 1318, when three altars were dedicated by Bishop Stapledon. The north and south aisles were added in about 1670. The church has a notable broach spire, claimed by W. G. Hoskins to be the best of its kind in the country. Inside the church are many mural monuments to 17th-century merchants, such as Raleigh Clapham (died 1636), George Peard (died 1644) and Thomas Horwood (died 1658), reflecting the prosperity of the town at that time. The interior of the church was heavily restored by George Gilbert Scott from 1866, and then by his son John Oldrid Scott into the 1880s, leaving it "dark and dull", according to Hoskins.
Other religious buildings include St Anne's Chapel (a 14th-century chantry chapel, now a museum) in the parish churchyard. The Church of St Mary the Virgin in the suburb of Pilton is 13th-century and a Grade I listed building; Holy Trinity, built in the 1840s but necessarily rebuilt in 1867 as its foundations were unsound. It has a fine tower in the Somerset style. The Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception is said to have been built to designs supplied by Pugin, in Romanesque Revival style. The late 19th-century church of St John the Baptist stands in the Newport area of the town. There is a Baptist chapel of 1870, which includes a lecture hall and classrooms.
In birth order:
- Henry de Bracton (c. 1210 – c. 1258), cleric and jurist, was appointed Archdeacon of Barnstaple in 1264.
- Robert Carey (1515–1586), landowner, became Barnstaple MP in 1553, Sheriff of Devon in 1555–1556 and Recorder of Barnstaple from 1560.
- Richard Ferris (died 1649), merchant and MP for Barnstaple from 1640, founded Barnstaple Grammar School.
- Pentecost Dodderidge (died c. 1650), was elected MP for Barnstaple in 1621, 1624 and 1625.
- Richard Callicott (1604–1686), born in Barnstaple, was a leader of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
- John Dodderidge (1610–1659), was elected MP for Barnstaple in 1646 and 1652.
- John Loosemore (1618–1681), born in Barnstaple, was a noted builder of pipe organs, including the one in Exeter Cathedral.
- John Gay (1685–1732), poet and dramatist
- James Parsons (1705–1770), physician, antiquary and prolific medical author born in Barnstaple
- Graham Gore (c. 1809 – c. 1847), naval officer and polar explorer lost during the Franklin Expedition
- Henry Fry (1826–1892), born in Barnstaple, was a politician and merchant in British Columbia.
- William Hoyle (1842–1918), born in Barnstaple, became a politician and furniture maker in Ontario.
- Francis Carruthers Gould (1844–1925), caricaturist and cartoonist, was born in Barnstaple.
- Fred M. White (1859–1935), author of science-fiction and disaster novels, spent his old age in Barnstaple and set three of his novels there.
- Hubert Bath (1883–1945), born in Barnstaple, composed musical scores for many films in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Francis Chichester (1901–1972), pioneering aviator and solo sailor
- George Hart (1902–1987), first-class cricketer with Middlesex, died in Barnstaple
- Stafford Somerfield (1911–1995), News of the World editor, was born in Barnstaple.
- Brian Thomas (1912–1989), an artist best known for church paintings, born in Barnstaple
- Racey Helps (1913–1970), children's writer and illustrator, lived in the town from 1962 until his death.
- Jeremy Thorpe (1929–2014), Liberal Party leader, sat as MP for North Devon constituency centred on Barnstaple in 1959–1978.
- Nigel Brooks (born 1936), born in Barnstaple, is a musical composer and served as conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
- Johnny Kingdom (1939–2018), wildlife film-maker and photographer
- John Keay (born 1941), historian and radio presenter born in Barnstaple
- Richard Eyre (born 1943), a film, theatre, television and opera director, was born in Barnstaple.
- Tim Wonnacott (born 1951), antiques expert and television presenter
- David Spiegelhalter (born 1953), statistician
- Dermot Murnaghan (born 1957), Sky News television broadcaster, was born in Barnstaple.
- Anne-Marie Dawe (born 1968), born in Barnstaple, became the RAF's first fully qualified female navigator in 1991.
- Tim Montgomerie (born 1970), political activist, blogger and columnist
- Phil Vickery (born 1976), rugby player and former England captain
- Stuart Brennan (born 1982), BAFTA winning actor
- George Friend (born 1987), professional footballer born in Barnstaple
- Andy King (born 1988), professional footballer born in Barnstaple
- Ian King, Journalist and presenter on Sky News
- Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon has no information, whether regarding provenance, date or subject matter, on this very large painting hanging on the wall of the first floor, which dominates the staircase of the museum building in Barnstaple.
- The royal charter of 1605 which re-established the Spanish Company names several hundred founding members from named English ports, the Barnstaple members being: William Gay, John Salisbury, John Darracott, John Mewles, George Gay, Richard Dodderidge, James Beaple, Nicholas Downe, James Downe, Robert Dodderidge, Richard Beaple and Pentecost Dodderidge, "merchants of Barnstaple". Richard Dodderidge and James Beaple were named as amongst the "first and present assistants and chief councillors of the fellowship".
- G. E. Pointon, ed. (1983) BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names; 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; p. 18 (only latter pronunciation)
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- Lamplugh, p. 165, note 2, chapter 12, quoting Borough Records Vol II, p. 150.
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- "Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club". Barnstaple Pilot Gig Club. Archived from the original on 16 May 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Papers of Barnstaple Borough 1150–1950, North Devon Record Office, B1
- Gray, Todd, ed. (1998). The Lost Chronicle of Barnstaple, 1586–1611 (PDF). Devonshire Association. ISBN 0-85214-063-0.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Barnstaple .|