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HONITON, an ancient borough and market town, which has long been celebrated for the manufacture of beautiful lace, is picturesquely situated on rising ground, on the south-eastern side of the river Otter, 16 miles E.N.E. of Exeter, 9 miles W. by N. of Axminster, 16 miles E.S.E. of Tiverton, 152 W.S.W. of London, and nearly 10 miles E.S.E. of Collumpton Station on the Bristol and Exeter Railway. The town is well-built, and consists chiefly of one broad street, nearly a mile in length, mostly built since the destructive fires of 1747 and 1765, the former of which consumed three parts of the town, and the latter destroyed 180 houses. The town also suffered from fire in 1672 and 1754. It was a great thoroughfare from London to Exeter, before the opening of the abovenamed railway, and is now well paved and lighted, and has many good inns and well stocked shops. It has been much improved during the present century, and the higher parts of it command delightful views of the Otter valley, which presents a fine expanse of fertile corn and pasture lands, and boldly swelling hills, interwoven with that network of luxuriant hedge rows for which Devon is so famous. Its parish and borough are co-extensive, and comprise 3046A. 2R. 2P. of land, and upwards of 4000 inhabitants;- the population being 2377 in 1801; 3509, in 1831; and 3895, in 1841. Honiton gives name to a large Union, a Polling and County Court District, and a Petty Sessional Division; the latter of which comprises the 18 parishes of Awliscombe, Branscombe, Buckerell, Comb-Rawleigh, Cotleigh, Dunkeswell, Farway, Feniton, Gittisham, Honiton, Luppitt, Monkton, North and South Leigh, Offwell, Upottery, Widworthy, and Yarcombe, for which the county magistrates hold petty sessions here monthly, at the King's Arms Inn. The Mayor and ex-Mayor are magistrates for the borough. The Market House, for the sale of corn, cheese, butter, poultry, &c., is in the centre of the town, and over it is a large Public Room. It was built about 25 years ago, by the late Paving Trust Commissioners, at the cost of more than £2000. The market, held every Saturday, is extensively supplied with corn, cattle, and all sorts of provisions, especially butter, of which great quantities are sent to London. Two great markets, for cattle, &c., are held the second Saturday in April, and the Saturday before the 18th of October; and a large annual fair on the Wednesday after July 19th. The Gas Works were constructed in 1835, at the cost of £2700, raised in £25 shares: and the consumers are supplied at the rate of 9s. per 1000 cubic feet. The town possessed the advantage of a market as early as the reign of King John, who changed the market day from Sunday to Saturday. It obtained the grant of a fair from the lord of the manor, in 1257, and is said to have been the first town in Devon at which serges were made. Both this manufacture, and that of lace, are supposed to have been introduced here by the Lollards, who came to England during the religious persecutions in Flanders, in the reign of Elizabeth. (See page 63.) The serge trade went to decay many years ago; but the lace manufacture still flourishes here, though not so extensively as formerly. Much of the rich and beautiful fabric called Honiton Point Lace, and sometimes bone or thread lace, is made in the town and in this and other parts of the county. This lace sells at from 1s. to upwards of a guinea per yard; and the best kind was formerly made entirely from the finest Antwerp thread, which once sold as high as £70 per pound weight. An inferior kind of lace, made of British thread, in the villages along the coast, is called Trolley lace. In the early part of the present century, the lace manufacturers of Honiton employed about 21500 women and children in the town and neighbouring villages; but the introduction of a cheaper article, about 30 years ago, made of bobbin net, by machinery, gave a great check to this domestic manufacture, which has lately somewhat. revived in various parts of the county, under the patronage of her present Majesty, and the late Dowager Queen Adelaide. Honiton has a pottery of brown earthenware, a tannery, a brewery, an iron foundry, three corn mills, several maltkilns, and a branch of the National Provincial Bank of England. Its own local BANK, which was many years carried on by Messrs. Flood and Lott, has lately failed in liabilities amounting to £228,000, with assets amounting to about £220,000; but of the latter, £33,000 are doubtful balances, and £143,000 bad. The liabilities will be reduced by £86,000 in the partners' credit balances, so that the loss of the creditors will be less than £80,000, if the doubtful debts are recovered, and the bankruptcy is economically managed. The assizes were held at Honiton in 1590, on account of the plague being at Exeter, and seventeen criminals were executed. On July 25th, 1644, King Charles was at Honiton with his army on his route westward; and again on Sept. 23rd, on his return. Sir Thomas Fairfax halted here with his army on his march into Devon, Oct. 14th, 1645; but, happily, the town was not the scene of any fatal conflict during the civil wars.
The Manor of Honiton was possessed by Drago, a Saxon, but was given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother, Robert Earl of Moreton. Henry I. gave it to Richard de Rivers, Earl of Devon. Isabel, Countess of Devon sold it to Edward I., who gave it to Sir Gilbert de Knovill. It afterwards passed, probably by purchase, to Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon. It remained with the Courtenay family till sold by the late Viscount Courtenay, about 1810. Joseph Locke, Esq., M.P., one of the borough representatives, is now lord of the manor, but many other freeholders have estates in the parish, and some of them have neat houses here. The manor was anciently parcel of the barony of Plympton, and its lords had the power of inflicting capital punishment. The estates called Batteshorne, Littletown, Northcote, Blanicombe, &c., belong to various owners. An old legend relates that, at an early period, nearly all the women of Honiton were barren, and that to remedy this evil, they were enjoined by the priests to repair to St. Margaret's chapel, and pass one whole day and night in prayer, when by means of a vision, they would become pregnant. The arms of the borough seem to allude to this legend, as they represent a pregnant woman kneeling to an idol, with an obstetric hand above them; and the very name of the town is said to refer to it, as honi, in the old Norman French, signified shame or disgrace.
BOROUGH.- Honiton is an ancient borough by prescription, and till 1846 was governed by a portreeve, bailiff, and other officers, elected annually on Michaelmas-day, at the court leet of the manor. It first returned two members to parliament in the 28th of Edward the First, and sent two others to a subsequent parliament, after which it neglected this privilege for nearly 400 years, until the 16th of Charles I., when, through the influence of Wm. Pole., Esq., it was restored. The right of election was in all the householders; but for a time they were disfranchised by a charter of James I., which instituted a mayor and a select number of pocket freemen, consisting of country gentlemen, to whom the right of election was confined. This obnoxious charter was soon abolished, and the borough remained under its portreeve till Nov., 1846, when it received a Royal Charter of Incorporation, in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. By this charter, the borough is divided into two wards, and placed under the government of a Town Council, consisting of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors. The boundaries of the borough previous to the passing of the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832, were uncertain, but they were extended by that act so as to comprise the whole parish. Before the passing of this act, the right of election was in the male householders not receiving alms, but paying scot and lot, and boiling their own pots, from which they were called potwallers, or pot-wallopers. The registered lists of borough voters entitled to vote for the two parliamentary representatives, in 1949, comprised 205 occupiers of houses of the yearly value of 310 or upwards, and 399 potwallers.; but many of the former are also on the list of the latter. The total number on the register in 1837 was 455, of whom 372 were potwallers. The latter, who have enjoyed the elective franchise since 1831, may retain it for life, as long as they remain householders, and are never excluded from the register two years in succession. The borough has not been contested since 1837, and its present MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT are Joseph Locke, Esq., and Sir James Weir Hogg, Bart. The C0RPORATION for 1849-50 is as follows:-
There are four CIIAPELS in Honiton, belonging to Unitarians, Independents, Baptists, and Wesleyans. That belonging to the Unitarians was built in 1776, in lieu of the old Presbyterian Meetinghouse, founded in 1696. The Rev. Wm. Harris, a Presbyterian minister, who died here in 1770, was author of the "Lives of Hugh Peters, James I., Charles II.,, and Oliver Cromwell." Sunday schools are connected with the church and chapels, and the various congregations subscribe to the support of several institutions for the promotion of religion. The town has a Literary and Scientific Institution, which has a valuable library, and a long list of subscribers. It has also a talented Choral Society and a Glee Club; and at the Dolphin Hotel and the Golden Lion Inn are commodious Assembly Rooms, where balls, concerts, lectures, &c., are often held. Honiton and 01lery Agricultural Society has a numerous list of members. Here are two old benefit societies called the "Friends United" and the "New United Brethren," and in 1848, a Tradesmen's Friendly Society was established at the Dolphin Hotel. The East Devon Friendly Society, which has offices here, was amalgamated with the Western Provident Association, in November, 1849.
CHARITIES.- For repairing Allhallows Chapel and the school house, "c., which adjoined it, and for such other public and charitable uses as the trustees should think meet, Sir John Kirkham and Elizens Harding, in the 15th of Henry VIII., left 17 tenements, &c., in Honiton, and a house and 11A. of land at Yarcombe, now worth £150 a year, but let for only £47, on long leases. subject to fines on every renewal of the leases. One of the houses worth £20 a year, is occupied rent free by the master of the Grammar School, and another of the same value was long used as the parish workhouse. The same trustees have the management of the following charities. HENRY BEAUMONT, in 1590, left Rapshays farm, (26A.) at Buckerell, and directed the yearly proceeds to be distributed among the poor of Honiton parish. It is now let for about £40 per annum. ELIZABETH BEAUMONT, widow of the above named donor, gave for the same purpose, in 1595, the Steevely Land, (36A. 3R. 29P.,) in Allott's Isle, now let for only £17 a year, under a lease which will expire in 1866. THOS. MARWOOD, in 1617, left for the poor, four small tenements, now let for £6. 8s. 8d. per annum, subject to fines on the renewal of the leases. HAYES TRUST, comprises about 10A. of land in Buckerell parish, purchased in the 16th century with £200, left to the poor by James Rodge and three other donors. It is now let for £10 a year. WARWICK LANE TRUST consists of four tenements, purchased in 1658, with £65 poor's money, and now let for only £4. 8s. per annum, in consideration of fines, paid when the 99 years' leases were granted. The BRIDEWELL HOUSES, purchased with £130 poor's money, in 1675, were formerly one of the county prisons, and now consist of a public-house called the Carpenters' Arms, a large Garden, and several small tenements, worth £30, but let for only £5. 5s. per annum, on a 99 years' lease in 1805, in consideration of a fine of £50. STOCKER'S LAND, (18A. 1R. 3P.,) in the parish of Luppitt, was purchased by the feoffees in 1691, with £270 poor's money, of which £100 was left by Henry Marwood. This land is now let for about £30 a year. To the general fund arising from the above named charities, are added the dividends of £300, three per cent. consols, purchased with unapplied income; and £12 a year from three Annuities for the support of the schoolmaster, viz., £6 and £2, given by JOHN FLEY, in 1614; ad one of £4, purchased with £80, given by the parishioners, in 1662. The total annual income arising from all these sources is about £190, of which about £120 is distributed among the poor parishioners, and the remainder is absorbed in repairing the buildings, and in other incidental expenses. The GRAMMAR SCHOOL, sometimes called Allhallows School, has been for many years conducted as a classical boarding school, but for the use of the house and schoolroom and the £12 a year above named, the master is required to teach four free scholars, appointed by the trustees. Here is a large National School, built in 1829, and attended by 140 boys and 90 girls; and a British School, supported by dissenters. The Charity School, which was free to all the poor children of the parish, and was established by subscription in 1813, is consolidated with the National School, together with its endowment of £300, four per cent. stock, left by the Rev. James How, in 18 16.
ST. MARGARET's HOSPITAL, on the Exeter road, was anciently a house of lepers, and was refounded by John Chard, in 1642, for five poor people, and enlarged in 1808 by the erection of four new houses, so that it is now the residence of nine almspeople, one of whom is called the governor. It is endowed with 18A. 2R. 27P. of land, let for about £60 a year. The governor has 3s., and the other eight inmates have each 1s. per week. Each of them also receives a donation of 10s. or 12s. at Christmas. It was in the ancient chapel of this hospital where the legend (see page 365,) says the barrenness of the women of Honiton was miraculously changed to fertility.
The poor parishioners have £6 a year as the rent of half of East Rhodes field, (15 ¼A.,) purchased with a £100 left by Richard Minifie, in 1707. They have also the interest of £50 left by Eliz. Harris, in 1782.
HONITON UNION comprises the 28 parishes of Awliscombe, Branscombe, Broadhembury, Buckerell, Combe Rawleigh, Cotleigh, Dunkeswell, Farway, Feniton, Gittisham, Harpford, Honiton, Luppitt, Monkton, Northleigh, Offwell, Ottery St. Mary, Payhembury, Plymtree, Salcombe, Sheldon, Sidbury, Sidmouth, Southleigh, Tallaton, Upottery, Ven-Ottery, and Widworthy, whieh comprise an area of 131 square miles, and had 23,891 inhabitants in 1841, living in 4591 houses; besides which they had 262 empty houses and 38 building, when the census was taken. Their total average annual expenditure, during the three years preceding the formation of the Union, was £10,244; but for the year ending Lady-day, 1849, it was £12,997. 5s. 10¼d., including salaries, county rates, &c. The Union Workhouse, built in 1830, at the cost of £5022, is a stone building, with room for about 230 inmates. Ten surgeons are employed by the Union, and the Rev. H.K. Venn is the chaplain. H.V. Mules, Esq., is the union clerk; John and Mrs. Coren are master and matron of the Workhouse; and Wm. Gayler and Francis George Edwards are the relieving officers. Philip Mules, Esq., is superintendent registrar, and H. V. Mules, Esq., is his deputy. Mr. John Knight is registrar of marriages; and Jph. Manley and Edw. Carter are registrars of births and deaths, the former for Honiton District and the latter for Ottery St. Mary and Sidmouth District.
Brian Randell, 6 Mar 1999
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