Tavistock is an ancient market town within the district of West Devon, in Devon, England. It is situated on the River Tavy from which its name derives. At the 2001 census it had a population of 11,018. It traces its recorded history back to at least AD 961 when Tavistock Abbey, whose ruins lie in the centre of the town, was founded. Its most famous son is Sir Francis Drake.
In addition to being the name of an ancient hundred, Tavistock was a Poor Law Union and Registration District from 1837 until 1930, and an Urban District from 1898 until 1966. In 1966 it joined Tavistock Rural District and the whole area became part of West Devon District in 1974.
In 1105 a Royal Charter was granted by Henry I to the monks of Tavistock (the abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Rumon was founded in 961) to run a weekly "Pannier Market" (so called after the baskets used to carry goods) on a Friday. This market still takes place today. In 1116 a three-day fair was also granted to mark the feast of Saint Rumon, another tradition that is still maintained in the shape of the annual "Goosey" fair on the second Wednesday in October.
In the 17th century great quantities of cloth were sold at the Friday market and four fairs were held at the feasts of Saint Michael, Epiphany, Saint Mark, and the Decollation of John the Baptist. The charter of Charles II instituted a Tuesday market, and fairs on the Thursday after Whitsunday and at the feast of Saint Swithin.
In 1305, with the growing importance of the area as one of Europe's richest sources of tin, Tavistock was one of the four stannary towns appointed by charter of Edward I, where tin was stamped and weighed and monthly courts were held for the regulation of mining affairs.
The town continued to prosper in the charge of the abbots, acquiring one of England's first printing presses in 1525. Tavistock remained an important centre of both trade and religion until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey was demolished in 1539, leaving the ruins still to be seen around the centre of the town.
The Russell Family
From this time on, the dominant force in the town became the Russell family, Earls and later Dukes of Bedford, who took over much of the land following the Dissolution.
Tavistock is tied from late medieval times with the Russells, the family name of the Earls of Bedford and since 1694, the Dukes of Bedford. This is clearly seen from the history of the town. The second title of the Duke of Bedford is the Marquess of Tavistock, taken as the courtesy title of the eldest son and heir to the dukedom, and illustrates the importance of this Devon town, its hinterland and the minerals beneath it to the family's fortunes. It is believed that the Russell family retains considerable interests in the locality. Most recently, Robin, the short-lived 14th Duke, as Marquess of Tavistock, was a frequent visitor to the town along with his wife, Henrietta. Andrew Russell is the 15th Duke of Bedford and Marquess of Tavistock.
Around 1540 (some sources state 1542 as the exact year), Sir Francis Drake was born at Crowndale Farm, just to the west of what is now Tavistock College. He became a prominent figure of his age, a champion of Queen Elizabeth, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world and one of the English commanders in the famously decisive victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Tavistock, Devon.