Newton Abbot

Bradley Manor
Bradley Manor

New Town of the Abbots

With so many tourist options for visitors to this part of the world it’s not surprising that the workaday market town of Newton Abbot sees many of them pass straight by.

If you’re expecting me to say that it would be a mistake you’d be wrong, but even so, it’s not without interest and if you find yourself here then it’s worth knowing what those snippets of interest are.

One of the reasons that it’s one of the biggest towns in South Devon is because it goes back a long way. Torre Abbey’s ‘New Town of the Abbots’ became a market town in the mid-13th century and has hosted a market here ever since.

The land around the town not only provides livestock for the market, but also ball clay for making ceramic objects such as tiles. The River Bovey runs off of Dartmoor and into the River Teign bringing with it deposits of granite, which over the years has become clay. Ball clay is different to China clay and is relatively rare, and the area between Newton Abbot, Bovey Tracey, and Kingsteignton is regarded as one of the most important deposits found anywhere.

To help facilitate the export of this Ball Clay, the Stover Canal was built by James Templar in 1792, and although the canal has become obsolete, the clay industry is as important as ever to the locality. The Stover Canal is now part of the ‘Templar Way’.

Just as important as the Stover Canal, probably even more so, was the arrival of the railway in 1846. Newton Abbot became a major repair and maintenance depot for the Great Western Railway, eventually employing over a thousand people. If you’re interested in this part of the town’s history (and plenty of people are), then you can find out more in the local museum.

Ball clay and railways may not tick too many boxes for people hoping to come to South Devon for a good time, but if you like a drink or two there are plenty of establishments in the town that will quench your thirst, including one of the few traditional cider houses left in the country, and while we’re on the subject of drinking, you can visit Tucker’s Maltings which is the only working malthouse open to the public in the country today.

It probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that not far outside of the town are some attractions that will probably appeal more to tourists. Places like Bradley Manor and Ugbrooke House for example, but the countryside and villages can be every bit as picturesque as some of the more well-known South Devon honeypots – and some people may just prefer that – and if I’m being honest so do I.