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Let's move to Tavistock, where the past is always present

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 18, 2013

  • The Seventh Duke of Bedford benevolently looks over the square. left. Above, the popular Pannier Market and Tavistock's High Street. For a little tranquility, visit the Tavistock canal, far right

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Louise Thomas visits Tavistock and enjoys a glimpse of the past.

Taking its name from the River Tavy which runs through it, the ancient stannary and market town of Tavistock (formerly Tavistoke) has a recorded history dating back more than a 1,000 years.

Many of the West Devon town's historic buildings and ancient streets have survived the test of time, offering precious glimpses of the past.

It is this period charm, together with its rich mix of independent traders, pubs, restaurants and community life that make Tavistock a popular place to live and visit.

Tavistock has a population of more than 11,000, and its easy to see why it is so well-loved. It has an enviable position on the western edge of Dartmoor National Park and a busy events calendar which includes the famous annual Goose Fair.

The town's recorded history stretches back to at least AD 961 when Tavistock Abbey, whose ruins lie in the centre of the town, was founded.

In 1105 a Royal Charter was granted to the monks of Tavistock to run a pannier market on a Friday. It is a tradition that Tavistock has kept up ever since with a market in the heart of the town. The original Charter Market takes place on Fridays and there are others throughout the week.

Here you can buy everything from organic local produce to antiques and collectables, crafts and homeware.

In 1116 a three-day fair was also granted, another tradition maintained to this day with the annual Goose Fair in October. The fair was a chance for locals to buy their Christmas goose. Nowadays it draws people from across the area to enjoy stalls, rides and games.

Tavistock Abbey was once the largest and wealthiest abbey in the South West. It was dissolved in the 16th century and the lands given to the Russell family, the future Dukes of Bedford.

It is to the 7th Duke of Bedford that Tavistock owes much of its present form. Putting his mining wealth to good use, he became Tavistock's greatest benefactor, funding extensive town restoration. Bedford Square, the Pannier Market and the Town Hall are all the Duke's work, as well as the Grade II listed Bedford Cottages. These neat rows of model workers' cottages remain popular homes for people in the town today.

In 1911, the Bedford influence on the town came to an end after more than 450 years, when the family sold most of their holdings in the area to meet death duties. However, the Bedford name can still be seen in many place names around the town including The Bedford Hotel, which was built on the remains of the town's Benedictine Abbey.

Other popular places to dine include Browns Hotel, a restored 17th century coaching inn, and local cehf Peter Gorton's well-regarded Gorton's restaurant.

The town also boasts a theatre, cinema and culture centre, plus a swimming pool.

Surrounding the town are pretty villages and wonderful countryside of moorland and woodland. Plymouth is 15 miles away, making the town popular with commuters.

Tavistock's most notable son is Sir Francis Drake who was born at Crowndale Farm, just to the west of what is now Tavistock College. A prominent statue of him stands not far from the town centre, on the road to Plymouth where he set sail to beat the Spanish Armada.

To buy or not to buy?

The case for: Tavistock is steeped in history with beautiful buildings, a thriving community and affordable homes. There is plenty to see and do in Tavistock.

The case against: Many of the town’s coffee shops, restaurants and interesting independent stores close on Sundays. There is a distinct lack of free parking in the centre.

Who lives here: A real mix. Families, commuters to nearby Plymouth and a sizeable and rapidly-growing retired population.

Where to buy: Tavistock has many historic properties to choose from. The Grade II listed Duke of Bedford worker’s cottages cost from £130,000 to £160,000, while handsome Victorian houses are priced around £500,000 and perfect for family life. Traditional three-bed cottages cost around £200,000. For something more modern, check out the contemporary apartments with views over the River Tavy.

Well connected? If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, a car’s your best option. There are regular bus services into Plymouth but it can take over an hour. There is talk of reinstating a railway connection from Tavistock to Plymouth but only time will tell.

Shopping: Tavistock’s pannier market is a great place to buy and browse. The town has numerous independent food shops and suppliers, such as the renowned Country Cheeses, specialising in Westcountry cheese.

Schools: Most secondary education is provided by Tavistock College, which is alas, only “satisfactory” according to Ofsted. Kelly College is a well-regarded private school, as is Mount House Preparatory School.

Hanging out: Tavistock Wharf is the place to be for live music, cinema and arts. The Terrace and the HQ bar are popular with a young crowd. Gorton’s restaurant offers fine dining, as do The Bedford Hotel and Browns Hotel.

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