An Introduction to Tiverton, Devon UK

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I was born in Tiverton, Devon in the United Kingdom in 1968. Tiverton is a traditional English market town in the middle of the county of Devon. It is named so because it is located at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Lowman. The town’s name derives from the old English for town of two fords, Twy Forde Town. More than one town or village across England is called Twyford, presumably for similar reasons. I am not sure why Tiverton ended up as Tiverton and not another Twyford. Possibly it was due to the broad Devonshire accent spoken by the locals. Even today the accent can be so strong that I have trouble understanding what someone is saying eventhough I grew up only twenty or so miles away.

Although I was born in the town, my family moved away before I was two years old. We did not move far away; only twenty or so miles away to East Devon village of Newton Poppleford. My maternal grandmother continued living in Tiverton and, as a result, I regularly visited the town for just under forty years until my grandmother’s death a few years ago.

Fortunately, Tiverton has far more significant claims to fame to fall back on than just being the place I was born.
Tiverton is known mainly for its participation in the wool trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, Blundells school, the Grand Western Canal, Knighthayes Court, and its castle.

Tiverton’s early prosperity and growth was due to the wool trade. When this declined so did Tiverton for a significant period of time. However, the influence of wealthy wool traders and merchants can still be seen in and around the town. One particularly wealthy merchant founded Blundells school in Tiverton, now a very successful independent school. As a mere grammar school boy, I considered Blundells the poshest and snobbiest school in the county. I did get to play them one year at rugby when they deigned to visit us at the Kings School, Ottery St. Mary. I remember because I was very chuffed when we beat them. I also remember them s being very well drilled  and our scrum being marched back further on one occasion than any other time in my eleven years of playing rugby.

Tiverton used to have a railway station in the town. Initially serving a short branch line connected to the main Exeter-Bristol-London line, it later became a through route to the north of the county. However, the line did not survive the cuts in the 1960’s. The last locomotive, The Tivvy Bumper, was saved from the scrap heap and was always a point of interest when passing it on entry to the town when visiting my grandmother as a child. Today it can still be seen but protected from the elements inside the Tiverton Museum. For toady’s train passengers, there is the modern-day Tiverton Parkway station located an inconvenient six miles outside town on the actual Exeter-Bristol-London mainline.

Before the railways rendered them obsolete, the canals where kings of the freight. Tiverton stands at the end of the Grand Western Canal. Today this is an eleven mile stretch of waterway owned by the Devon County Council and run as a Local Nature Reserve and Country Park. Views from the towpath over the Devonshire countryside make it a popular destination for walkers and cyclists. There is also the possibility of taking a ride on a horse-drawn barge along a length of the canal.

Originally the canal continued as far as Taunton in Somerset but the Somerset portion of the canal was closed earlier than the Devonshire part and has unfortunately fallen into considerable disrepair. The canal was part of an overly ambitious scheme to link the river Parrett at Bridgewater to the mouth of the river Exe at Topsham (just up the road from where I live today). Had it been completed, this link would have provided a quicker and safer route for heavy freight from Bristol and South Wales to the south coast of england than sailing it around the often treacherous Cornish peninsula.

With the decline of the wool industry, Tiverton also went into decline for a while until the establishment of a lace factory restored the town’s prosperity for a while. The town declined again during the second half of the 20th century but has recently started to establish itself as a commuter town being conveniently located half-way between the growing city of Exeter and major Somerset town of Taunton. Tiverton is also an ideal holiday base from which to explore Exmoor and the north Devonshire coast, as well as East Devon seaside towns of Seaton, Sidmouth, and Exmouth. Dartmoor is also within easy reach, just the other side of Exeter.

Like many towns in Devon, Tiverton has a castle. Unlike the ruins at Totnes and Berry Pomeroy, Tiverton castle remains intact. As child I had no interest in visiting Tiverton castle because it looked more like a fortified stately home and not nearly as exciting as clambering around ruined walls, peering into damp dungeons, and waling in awe through the remains of towering gatehouses. However, like nearby Knighthayes Court, it is worth a visit now that I no longer want to play at being a Knight of the Round Table quite as much as I used to.


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