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Bovey Tracey is one of the main gateway towns to Dartmoor, with a number of unique visitor attractions and a good mixture of shops. A pretty cob and Dartmoor-granite built town, situated on the River Bovey it is home to the internationally renowned Devon Guild of Craftsmen, based in a 19th century water mill on the river.
Other local attractions include the House of Marbles glass blowing and visitor centre, Cardew Tea pottery factory and the National Trust’s Parke estate. On alternate Saturday mornings, the town’s Farmers Market sells local produce.
Close to Bovey Tracey is Heathfield, which is a substantial residential and significant business area within the Parish. Nearby to Heathfield is Bovey Heathfield, site of a Civil War battle and a haven for rare plants and wildlife, which is now owned and managed by Devon Wildlife Trust.
Bovey Tracey has a long and colourful history dating from the Saxon settlement times and was known as Boffa in about 500AD
The de Tracey’s were the old lords of the manor, and one of them, Sir William, who had a share in the murder of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, is said to have built the Parish church (which was dedicated to St Thomas) as a penance for his crime. The unbroken list of vicars dates from 1258.
de Tracey later added his name to the town and is said to have lived in the Manor House in East Street that was built about 1200. In 1260 Henry III granted the town a fair and Market Charter.
A gateway standing a little off the main street is known as Cromwell’s Arch and is a reminder of Bovey Tracey’s historical connection with the English Civil War. During the wars between Charles I and his Parliament, in January 1646, the town was the headquarters of Lord Wentworth. Cromwellian troops reputedly surprised Royalist officers playing cards in a house in East Street, thought to be Front House Lodge. The Royalists evaded capture by throwing coins out of the windows for the poorly paid Cromwellian troops to fight over, whilst they escaped by the back door and fled the town to Heathfield. The Battle of Bovey Heath was fought the following day with Cromwell’s army winning 400 horses and capturing seven regimental colours.
Following its part in the battle, a section of Bovey Heath is now a site of a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a number of important artefacts from the battle have been found over the years.
As the area is at the edge of the Bovey Basin, famous for its production of valuable clays, the town’s pottery industry was established in the 1750’s. Josiah Wedgwood visited the Indio Pottery on 31st May 1775 to see the competition for himself and noted:
“I went to Bovey Tracey to see a potwork….It is a poor trifling concern, and conducted in a wretched slovenly manner….We can carry their clay and flints from Devonshire to Staffordshire, there manufacture them into ware, and send it back to their own doors better and cheaper than they can make it!”
Nonetheless, recent research by Adams & Thomas in their book ‘A Potwork in Devonshire’, published in 1996 by Sayce Publishing, suggests that far from being a ‘poor trifling concern’, these potteries played a significant role in the foundation and development of English industrial pottery.
In spite of Josiah Wedgwood’s comments, with the easily available ball clay and lignite, and a basic coal, the industry expanded in the town with the Bovey Tracey Potteries providing employment at its height for about 250 people. By the middle of the 20th century, the pottery was in decline. All that remains today are the bottle kilns and local pottery museum located at the House of Marbles.