Chagford's famous ironmongery stores, Webbers and Bowdens
Chagford shown within Devon
|Area||11.7 sq mi (30 km2) |
|Population||1,449 (2011 Census)|
|– density||125.6/sq mi (48.5/km2)|
|OS grid reference|
|– London||194 miles (312 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||NEWTON ABBOT|
|Police||Devon and Cornwall|
|Fire||Devon and Somerset|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||Torridge and West Devon|
Chagford is a small town and civil parish on the north-east edge of Dartmoor, in Devon, England, close to the River Teign. It is located off the A382, about 4 miles (6 km) west of Moretonhampstead. The name Chagford is derived from the word chag, meaning gorse or broom, and the ford suffix indicates its importance as a crossing place on the River Teign. At the 2001 Census it had a population of 1,470 which decreased at the 2011 census to 1,449.
Archaeological remains confirm that a community has existed here for at least 4000 years. In historical times, Chagford grew due to the wool trade and from tin mining in the area, and in 1305 was made a stannary town where tin was traded. Among the most prominent tin-mining families in the 16th century were the Endecotts, Knapmans, Whiddons and Lethbridges. A cattle market in the town survived until the 1980s.
Today Chagford is a thriving community with high property prices, busy streets, and an unusually wide range of shops for a town of this size. It is also known for its vibrant arts community, celebrated through the autumn Chagford Film Festival, the springtime Chagword literary festival (every two years), the summer's Chagstock Music Festival, the annual Wonderworks crafts weekend, and other regular cultural events. The two large hardware stores in the town square have been run by the same two families for many years, but one of these is for sale in 2016. There are several tea rooms and whole food cafés, one restaurant, and several pubs. There are numerous guest houses and hotels in the surrounding countryside. These provide accommodation for the large influx of visitors during the year.
The town has a Parish Council.
In 1976 Chagford was twinned with:
Regular twinning activity was sustained for over 20 years, but has now lapsed. Chagford retains its "Bretteville Close", and Bretteville its "Rue de Chagford".
A 16th century building called Endecott House, on the edge of the town square, was given this name in the early 1990s in honour of Pilgrim Father and governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endecott, who lived in Chagford before leaving for the New World. (In view of his family's tin-mining business it is interesting that Governor Endecott showed a particular wish to develop copper mining when ore was discovered.) This building was possibly built as a "church house", and has certainly been in community use for many years, including use as a village school. It now serves as a meeting hall.
One of the social centres of Chagford is the village hall, the Jubilee Hall, in the south-east corner of the town next to the public car park. Built in 1936 by public subscription, it also houses the library (which opens three part-days a week). It provides a venue for the regular Friday morning flea markets as well as for a whole host of other activities: badminton, table tennis, parties, discos, comedy nights, kung fu, Pilates, etc. The town is beginning to outgrow this Hall, and it is being extended during 2016 and 2017.
The Anglican parish church of St Michael the Archangel was dedicated in 1261, although little remains from this period. The tower dates back to the 15th century. The Grade I listed building was restored in 1865 and extended during the 20th century. It features carved roof bosses, similar to those found at St. Pancras' church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, including the tin miners’ emblem of three hares.
Chagford forms part of a "united benefice" of seven ecclesiastical parishes, known as The Whiddon Parishes of Dartmoor, the others being Throwleigh, Gidleigh, Drewsteignton, Spreyton, Hittisleigh and South Tawton.
A Wesleyan Chapel (est. 1834) was replaced by a Methodist church built in 1861; it closed in the 1990s and is now in secular use. Victorian era directories list a Baptist church (established 1829), but long since disappeared. However, the Bible Christian Chapel (est. 1844) continues to flourish as Chagford Gospel Church, and a purpose-built Roman Catholic church was founded in 1963.
The Legend of Mary Whiddon
St Michael's church contains a memorial to Mary Whiddon, dated 11 October 1641, whose death is thought to have been one of the inspirations behind an episode in R.D. Blackmore’s novel, Lorna Doone. Although his novel is set on Exmoor, the author may have been moved by a local legend about Mary who, it is claimed, was shot dead on her wedding day as she came out of church. The climax of Lorna Doone involves such a shooting, but in that case the heroine survives.
Whether this actually happened is unclear. Mary's tomb records that she died "a matron, yet a maid" ("a married woman, yet a virgin"). On the other hand, "maid" is a common term in Devon for a "girl" and the inscription may just mean that Mary died young ("although married, still just a girl"). The church's Marriage and Burial registers for the Civil War period are lost, and the only contemporaneous record is Mary Whiddon's undated will. It mentions no husband, but as her maiden name is also thought to have been Whiddon (i.e. she married a cousin), it might have been written before her marriage.
In the 21st century, a tradition has developed whereby new brides at the church lay a bouquet of flowers on Mary's memorial. This ritual is aimed at bringing good luck in the forthcoming marriage.
The ghost of Mary Whiddon is said to haunt Whiddon Park House, 2 miles outside the town.
Chagford's War Memorial Playing Fields were redeveloped in the late 1980s to provide a cricket ground to the south west of the town, overlooked by a modern clubhouse. In the winter, the ground provides two football pitches for the football club. There are public tennis courts in the town, with an associated Tennis Club, and an open-air swimming pool. A popular local running race, the Two Hills race takes place in Chagford every May, a 5k race starting from the cricket club and going up and around Meldon and Nattadon Hills, which are to the North of Chagford.
- White's Devonshire Directory (1850) Present day parish boundaries are essentially the same as the 1850 boundaries
- "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- research by Sir Roper Lethbridge - "Hands Across the Sea", 1912.
- "The Chagford Cavalier". Retrieved 26 October 2012.
- Pearce, Fred (5 February 1987), "A deadly gas under the floorboards", New Scientist, pp. 33–35
- Wikipedia article on John Endecott
- Codd, Daniel (2013). Paranormal Devon. Amberley. p.76-77. ISBN 978-1848681668
- "The Dartmoor Legend of Mary Whiddon". Legendary Dartmoor. Retrieved 22 July 2014.