The Eighteenth Century in Peter Tavy: Part 2

By Roger Meyrick

How did people get about? There were of course no railways and no coaches in the west of the County. Many, if not all the lanes in the parish date back to at least Saxon times. They had developed, first from tracks made by people moving through or about their work on the open moor. Later, those on horseback moved more widely to trade with nearby settlements. Some of these roads linked with the ancient trackways over the moor for the parish lies where it is possible to cross the fast flowing river Tavy. Peter Tavy is the churchtown where farmers and others would meet on their way to market in Tavistock or Okehampton and for services at the church or festivals at Church House. They brought their corn to the two corn mills and horses or iron work to the two sometimes three blacksmiths. Travellers could stay at the Inn. Peat was cut on the moor and brought to market, but there were no wheeled vehicles in the parish until well after 1800, pack horses and sledges were used to cross the wet, rocky land and unmade roads. However by 1791 a small coach did leave Exeter at seven o'clock every morning for the King's Arms at Plymouth Dock using the southern road through Ashburton where passengers could change to a horse to complete their journey to Peter Tavy or Tavistock

The choice of venue chosen by those from Peter Tavy and Wilsworthy for the 1723 swearing of allegiance indicates a majority from the village and Sowton Town choosing to go to Horrabridge, which lay on the Plymouth road along the old track from the moor. Those who farmed in Wilsworthy and Hilltown took the road to Tavistock as did those from Mary Tavy. By the end of the eighteenth century very few people in Peter Tavy had been out of Devon.

The road south of the moor from Exeter to Plymouth established as a Post Road in 1625 carried the mail only twice a week. It ran by way of Ashburton and was famously described by Celia Fiennes as narrow, muddy and scarcely allowing two horses to pass. Post to Peter Tavy came by this route and Rev Andrew Gove in a letter to his Bishop in 1673 remarks that he is sending a package to Ashburton for transfer to the carriage for Exeter. Tavistock became a sub post office served from Okehampton in 1722. In 1791 Tavistock finally got the status of main post office but it was not until after 1861 that Peter Tavy first gained a post office at Gatehouse Farm to sort and deliver its local post.

The majority of travellers to Plymouth from Exeter and the east used the northern route around Dartmoor as far as Okehampton. Turning south to Meldon they broadly followed what is now the A386 until it reached Blackdown, north of Mary Tavy. Here the track used by the King's Messengers going to Tavistock, went west of the village to drop down into the valley at Wringworthy meeting the road now known as Old Exeter Road out of Tavistock. Much of that road is no longer highway for by the middle of the eighteenth century a road north of Brent Tor had replaced it. The turnpike road on the west of the river, between Mary Tavy and Tavistock providing better access for the ore from the mines to reach the newly cut canal to Morwellham was not completed until 1822. Until then the ore from the mines in Mary Tavy took the road to Plymouth, which did not go through Tavistock, but crossed the river to pass through Peter Tavy using the less steep hills at Coppythorne, or Harragrove and Sowton Town farms. The date when Batteridge Hill was cut is not known. Harford bridge however appears in records before 1800 and is probably much older as it gives access to the road from Peter Tavy to Tavistock on the eastern side of the river. It is doubtful if a loaded pony could readily climb the long steep pull of Batteridge hill.

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