Tavistock. Report from the Buildings Section

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Author(s): Wilson. Helen; Year published: 2015; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): buildings; Location(s): Tavistock

The buildings of Tavistock owe much to the former landowners, the Earls and later Dukes of Bedford, and to the mining and wool industries upon which they and the town thrived. The remains of Tavistock Abbey, around which the settlement developed, are evident but the overwhelming character is one stamped upon it by the Bedfords. The main streets of Tavistock town centre, Plymouth Road, West Street, Duke Street, Market Road and Dolvin Road, run parallel to the River Tavy NE to SW, with King Street and Drake Road leading NW. The majority of buildings listed by English Heritage can be found within a relatively small area encompassing these streets, although several important buildings lie beyond.

The Bedford Hotel (grade II) was converted from a circa 1725 house on the site of monastic buildings and extended by the Bedfords in the mid C19th. The older part retains its early C18th panelled dining room and staircase. Near the hotel lie remnants of Abbey buildings, the Abbot‘s Hall (grade II), its Porch, Betsy Grimbal’s Tower and, in Abbey Place, a Gatehouse restored by John Foulston in 1824 (all grade I). Opposite the Bedford Hotel lie the L-shaped remains of the NW corner of the Abbey Cloister and Church Wall (grade I), within the churchyard of C14th/C15th St Eustachius (grade II), with its William Morris stained glass. On Plymouth Road, a new boulevard put through in the mid C19th, are many fine terraces of grade II listed houses.

When the railway arrived in 1859, the 7th Duke substantially remodelled the town centre, resulting in the complex of buildings around Bedford Square, including the Guildhall, Police Station (both grade II*), Town Hall, Pannier Market and shops along Duke Street (all grade II). West Street, Market Street and King Street contain a high concentration of grade II listed buildings, mostly C18th and C19th, some with original shop fronts but mostly later. At the top of King Street lies a prominent railway viaduct dated 1889, and further east one of the two former stations (grade II). Characteristic buildings of Tavistock are the mid C19th Bedford Cottages, of which there are several good examples, all grade II. Westbridge Cottages (opposite the service station on the west side of town) and Fitzford Cottages (further along near Drake’s statue) are both typical of those built across the Bedford estate. The ones in Dolvin Road (on the other side of town), with their accompanying primary school, are rather different.

On the outskirts of Tavistock are two Bedford estate farms, one at Crowndale (grade II) and the other at Kilworthy (grade II*), that have good examples of planned farmyards. Other buildings out of the centre include two more churches. The first, in Callington Road, is Church of Our Lady and St Mary Magdalene (grade II*), built as an Anglican church but now Roman Catholic. The other is St Andrew’s (grade I) in Whitchurch village, with its Norman south door and circa 1300 chancel.

Running through Tavistock, with a take-off point from the River Tavy behind the Bedford Hotel, is the Canal that was constructed between 1803 and 1817 by John Taylor, connecting the town to the port of Morwellham, 4 1/2 miles away, to ease the transport of ore and other goods. Only two buildings at Tavistock Wharf, where goods were loaded and unloaded, and the portals either end of the tunnel at Morwell Down are listed (grade II). However, a walk along the canal, taking in views of the magnificent Shillamill railway viaduct, a section past lock gates and an aqueduct over the River Lumburn, makes for an interesting outing.

Helen Wilson