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Introduction to the history of Axminster

The information below is organised under five main headings:

Axminster’s timeline, from its founding to the present

new_email_requestThis is a work in progress, particularly as regards the period from about 1900 onwards, and we are particularly keen to receive comments, corrections and suggestions from residents and others who know the town well, and have views on those events which have shaped the town.

Timeline Page

Click here to download a large Excel file of Time line dates that allows you to filter and search

An introduction to some of the best books about Axminster and its surrounds

Over 150 years after his death, Axminster’s leading chronicler remains James Davidson, who moved to the town as a young man, and died here in 1864. There is general agreement among commentators and critics that his extensive researches and writings can be regarded as both reliable and comprehensive.

What is so frustrating is that his overarching ‘History of the Town and Parish of Axminster’ (dated 15 August 1832 on the flysheet) was never published. This may well have been due to its sheer bulk, and the unwillingness of publishers to take a chance on an as-yet unknown author. Fortunately a bound manuscript copy can be consulted in the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC ref Z19/21/1). We can also take comfort from the fact that Davidson himself treated his unpublished manuscript as raw material for several smaller books which did indeed find a publisher, and which established his professional reputation (see below for further details).

As well as the main ‘History’, Davidson assembled an accompanying, and substantially larger, bound book of notes (called the ‘Collections for a History of the Town and Parish of Axminster’). The ‘Collections’ includes some information which he gathered after 1832 (DHC ref Z19/21/2).

The table of contents of the ‘History of the Town and Parish of Axminster’ is as follows:

Chap. Title Page
Introduction 1
I British Period 3
II Roman Period 23
III Saxon Period 59
IV Introduction to the Manorial History 135
V Hundred of Axminster 161
VI Manor of Axminster 183
History of the Family of Brewer 217
History of the Family of Mohun 237
VII Manor of Uphay 251
History of the Family of Bonville 263
VIII Manors of Haccombfee and Umphraville 279
IX Manor of Weycroft 289
History of the Family of Brooke 309
X Manor of Smallridge 319
XI Manor of Trill 337
XII Manor of Wick 351
XIII Notices of Several Estates and Dwelling Houses (See Note 1) 361
XIV Abbey of Newenham 379
Shapwick Grange 495
Bevor Grange 505
Fursleigh Grange 509
Brewershayes 513
Manor of Plenynt (See Note 2) 515
Manor of Norton (See Note 2) 525
XV Ecclesiastical History, Rectory and Vicarage 533
XVI Church and Vicarage House 565
XVII Dissenters Western Academy (See Note 3) 613
XVIII Biographical Notices (See Note 4) 625
XIX Miscellaneous History 659
XX Public Charities, Parochial School 707
XXI Manufacturers 737
XXII Proposed Canals and Rail-road (See Note 5) 749
Appendices 761

 

Note 1 The estates covered are: Ballhays / Balls, Beerhall, Bevor*, Brewershays*, Cuthays, Clocombe, Fawnsmoor, Fursleigh*, Hunthay, Lodge Farm, Shapwick*, Secktor, Sisterwood (includes some information on Greatwood), Tolshays and Yeatlands. Those marked * are covered in Chapter XIV, and the entries in Chapter XIII are simply cross-references.

The named houses are: Pursebrook House, Hilary House, Terrace Lodge, Furzebrook House, Hill House and Hill Cottage. In addition several other unnamed houses are covered, based on descriptions of their locations.

Note 2 Plenynt and Norton are in Cornwall.
Note 3 Chapter XVII actually covers all non-Church of England denominations represented in Axminster, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Note 4 The persons covered were mainly clerics, as follows: William Tyler (16thC), Bartholomew Ashwood (17thC), John Ashwood (17thC), Joseph J Crabb (17thC), John Prince (17thC, author of ‘The Worthies of Devon’), Micaiah Towgood (18thC) and John Cranch (18thC).
Note 5 The rail-road described was not the railway as built in 1860, but a proposed tram-way to link Axminster to the harbour at Axmouth.

 

James Davidson’s published books include: (1) ‘The British and Roman Remains in the Vicinity of Axminster’ (1833); (2) ‘The History of Axminster Church in the County of Devon’ (1835, re-published in 1895 with an additional chapter); (3) ‘The History of Newenham Abbey in the County of Devon’ (1843); and (4) ‘Axminster during the Civil War in the Seventeenth Century’ (1851). Copies of all four of these books can be borrowed from Axminster Library.

A very different, and much more populist, approach can be found in ‘The Book of the Axe’ by George P R Pulman. Most copies that are found today are of the 4th edition, which was published in 1875, and which is very significantly bulkier and more informative than earlier editions. The Devon library service has several copies (including more than one in Axminster Library) which can be borrowed.

‘The Book of the Axe’ traces the length of the river, from its source near Beaminster to the sea at Seaton, together with the main tributaries. Pulman was a very keen angler, and fishing is the theme that runs through the book. Nevertheless he provides a great deal of local colour and history along the way. He readily acknowledged his debt to Davidson’s researches and writings. He also incorporated several very attractive illustrations produced by William Newbery, a well-known local artist who lived in Axminster.

In terms of balancing thorough research and accessibility to a lay reader, the best single book on the history of Axminster is (in this writer’s opinion) ‘The Book of Axminster: The making of a town within its landscape’ by Angela M W Dudley (Barracuda Books, 1988). As well as clear text (which draws heavily on Davidson’s work) this book contains many maps and illustrations, including a high proportion by the author herself. The main criticism which can be levelled against it is that the illustrations are not closely integrated with the text, but this should be qualified by the observation that both are excellent in their own right.

This book was published in a limited edition, and hence is much less freely available than the other sources cited here. However, one copy is held by Axminster Library, and another is in the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC) in Exeter.

Les Berry and Gerald Gosling have together produced two books about Axminster, both of which contain a lot of the best old photographs and images of the area. They are entitled ‘The Book of Axminster with Kilmington: Portrait of a Devon Market Town’ (Halsgrove, 2003), and ‘Around Axminster – in old photographs’ (Alan Sutton Publishing, 1993). There are other books published by Halsgrove in the series of ‘The Book of XXX’ covering other neighbouring towns and villages.

Mention must be also be made of ‘A History of Axminster to 1910’ by Geoffrey Chapman (Marwood Publishers, 1998). This adds considerable detail to the other histories listed above, but it suffers from the fact that its author had to stop at 1910 because of failing eyesight. This very unfortunate development also impacted adversely on the proof checking and editing process. However, so long as it is understood that some errors and inconsistencies were not ironed out, there is much to enjoy in the text which had been completed by the time the author drew a line in the sand (some of which does in fact extend beyond the notional 1910 cut-off).

One other source which covers Axminster and all of the adjacent parishes, indeed all of Devon, is ‘Magna Britannia: Volume 6, Devonshire (A general and parochial history of the county)’ by Daniel and Samuel Lysons. (T Cadell and W Davies, 1822). This can be found on-line in full via the british-history.ac.uk website (see the Links page). There is an equivalent history of Dorset and its parishes available via the same website.

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How to find old maps of the town and area, including on-line resources

The earliest detailed map of Devon

The earliest detailed map of Devon was published in 1765 by Benjamin Donn. It can most easily be accessed via his Wikipedia entry.

The main 19th century maps

There is a remarkable range of 19th century mapping freely available on-line, and the purpose of this note is to pull together in one place information on where and how to find it. The Ordnance Survey (OS) First Series map which, in the case of Devon, was published in 1809, was based on a survey made in 1808/09. This was followed by Greenwood’s map of 1827 and the individual parish maps produced as part of the Tithe Apportionment process (which in Axminster happened in 1838).

After a considerable gap we then have the 1891 OS map of Devon, based on a survey made in 1886/87, and the revised and more detailed 1905 OS map.

All of the websites mentioned below can be accessed via this website’s Links page.

To access the 1809 map, go to the home page of visonofbritain.org.uk and click on ‘historical maps’ and then ‘topographical maps’ The map that covers Axminster is Sheet 21.

For Greenwood’s 1827 map go to devon.gov.uk/devonmaps and the section called ‘early maps’. Click anywhere on the map of Devon and you will be taken to the relevant segment of Greenwood’s map. Unfortunately Axminster is at the corner of four segments. Nevertheless it is relatively easy to navigate around.

The 1838 map produced as part of the tithe apportionment process in Axminster is detailed, but not complete. This is because it excludes land which was exempt from tithes, which accounted for a substantial proportion of Axminster parish. A scan of the ‘Tithe Apportionment Map’ is accessible on-line either via the axminstertowncouncil.gov.uk website (on the Axminster Information tab) or on the eastdevonaonb.org.uk website (search for ‘tithe’: the map is in the ‘conservation’ section of the website, under the ‘Parishscapes’ project). Maps for adjacent Devon parishes can be found via the same website.

For the 1891 map, the quickest way to find the map sheet(s) covering any location is to use the british-history.ac.uk website, and then to put either the modern postcode or the place name into the website’s main search box. If you put a place name the list of results that is then offered is not restricted to maps, whereas if you put ‘EX13’ (or any other modern postcode of interest) you will simply be offered a list of maps from which to choose. Beware: the descriptions (e.g. the villages named in association with specific map sheets) can be a bit arbitrary.

If you know which map sheet you want, you can simply put (for example) ‘072/NW’ into the search box, and then select the map sheet from Devon. Each numbered sheet comes in four quarters: NW, NE, SW and SE. Most of Axminster parish can be found on Devon sheets 072/NW and 072/SW, though the area to the east of the town is also well covered by Dorset sheet 027/SE. Other sheets relevant to Axminster parish include Devon 071/NE (for Yeatlands and Higher Westwater) and 059/SE (for Wellands), as well as Somerset sheet 095/NE (for Smallridge and adjacent areas).

Having found the right map sheet, click first on ‘View result’ and then on the square symbol below the + and – controls (when your mouse is in the right place the words ‘View full screen’ will be seen). Click on the + symbol at least once to focus on the place of interest to you.

Both the 1890 map and the 1905 map can be accessed via the National Library of Scotland’s website. This is not so easy to use at first, but is well worth the effort. To get to the right place go through the following sequence.

  • Hover you cursor over ‘Digital resources’ and select ‘Map images’ from the list of options offered
  • Click on ‘Series maps’
  • Scroll down and click on ‘Ordnance Survey Six-inch England & Wales, 1842-1952’
  • Click on ‘Seamless zoomable overlay area 1888-1913’

By clicking and dragging on the large-scale map you can navigate yourself to the place you want. This has the advantage that the various map sheets have been put together into one big map.

It has another very big advantage, which is that by using the ‘drop-down’ box on the left of your screen you can change the date of the map that you are looking at. The ‘OS 25 inch, 1890s-1920s’ option is particularly good.

In the sequence of clicks set out above, you can change the final choice to show the old map alongside a modern map or satellite image, or to show the individual map sheet boundaries. Whereas the british-history.ac.uk website has modernised the numbering of map sheets (e.g. 072/NW), the nls.uk website uses Roman numerals (e.g. LXXII.NW).

When using this sheet boundary option, by going to the right-hand side of your screen you can select from the particular version of the map that you want to look at (and you also have the option of buying any of the maps revealed in this way as either paper or digital copies).

The survey made in 1903 was used as the basis for the 1905 map and then for all mapping up to 1938. However, not all physical changes over that period (such as new buildings) were necessarily picked up in the printed revisions.

Geological maps

The 1808/09 survey also provided the base mapping for an 1844 geological map, which is also worth viewing because of the extra information which it provides. It can be found via the British Geological Survey website, by selecting ‘Geological Survey of England & Wales 1:63,360 geological map series [Old Series]’ and then Sheet 21 for Axminster. Sheet 22 covers the coast, from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis. The same website also offers the ‘Geological Survey of England & Wales 1:63,360 [New Series]’ published in 1906, based on a different series of base maps, but again offering helpful information. Axminster is covered by ‘Sheet 326, 340 (Sidmouth)’.

More modern mapping

The visionofbritain.org.uk website also offers access to OS mapping from 1945-48, which is actually based on a survey from 1930 with later corrections. The map showing Axminster is Sheet 177.

Current mapping is available via Sheet 116 of the 1:25,000 OS map in their ‘Explorer Map’ series, or on-line via the East Devon DC website. From their home page click on ‘View planning applications’ and then on the ‘Map’ tab, and then zoom in to the place of interest.

The simplest way to see current parish boundaries superimposed onto modern OS base mapping is to use the neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk website. From their home page select the map viewer, put ‘Axminster’ into the search box, and choose ‘Axminster, East Devon’ from the options then offered. Now click on ‘Parishes 2011’ in the list of boundaries offered, and finally click on ‘Update map’ to see the map itself.

Less easy-to-use mapping is also available on the devon.gov.uk website (put ‘footpaths’ into their search box, choose the option called ‘Public Rights of Way’ and then click on ‘interactive map’): this provides definitive guidance on the routes of footpaths and bridleways.

Finally, there is good base mapping on the geograph.org.uk website, which also includes a large number of photographs. It is not the easiest website to navigate, but if you put ‘SY2998’ in the home page search box, and then click on ‘Open Interactive OS Map Overlay’ (where it appears just beneath the thumbnail map image), you will have access to a map and all of the images taken around Axminster.

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Photographs and images

This section of the website is not yet ready, but it will provide information about old photographs and other images of Axminster held by Axminster Heritage Centre.

If you have any interesting old photographs of Axminster or the surrounding area of which you would be prepared to let Axminster Heritage Centre have a copy (which we can scan from your original), please come in a speak to us. We are particularly keen to increase our collection of photographs which show people doing things (e.g. ploughing a field, rather than standing in front of a farmhouse).

 


The Gallery is now closed for Winter

We Re-open Easter 2017

Contact

Thomas Whitty House
Silver Street
Axminster
Devon
EX13 5AH
01297 639884

info@axminsterheritage.org

Bradshaw Room

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info@axminsterheritage.org


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