The history behind Ashburton
PUBLISHED: 15:42 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:13 23 August 2016
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne introduces a walk around historic Ashburton
This old stannery town, where locally-mined tin was assessed for duty, has hidden backwaters, easily overlooked on a shopping trip. Explore secret areas and surprising history, glimpse attractive town houses and cottages, and sample excellent eateries on this walk of just under two miles.
From the Town Hall, adjacent to the main car park (TQ13 7QQ), turn right along North Street towards the T-junction. Look carefully at the slate-hung building on the left. Formerly a gaming house, The House of Cards, the four card suits decorate its façade.
Nearby is a medieval granite archway, part of a building that was the 17th century Mermaid Inn. During the Civil War the Inn hosted Fairfax after his Parliamentarian troops put Royalists to flight.
At the junction turn right along West Street, passing the large Methodist Church founded after a visit by John Wesley. The 12th century Exeter Inn on the right is where Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested after the death of Elizabeth l in 1603.
West Street passes venerable St. Andrew’s Church (back here later). Beyond this bear left with the road, passing Copperwood Close. Fork left down Old Totnes Road.
Continue downhill, passing Stonepark and Stonepark Crescent, to reach a large stone cross. Here steps lead to St. Gudula’s Well. The background to its dedication is uncertain. Gudula was born in Belgium in the 7th century and is a patron saint of Brussels, but little connects her with ‘sight’ – these waters reputedly helping weak eyes. Neither is she known to have visited Ashburton. Alternatively, 6th century Welsh Gudwal was associated with the region and had a reputation for healing the sick. The cross is thought to be 14th century. It was removed from the site in the 16th century, its component parts then being used as a mounting block, support for cider vats and a gatepost, before replacement here in 1933.
Beyond the cross an old bridge spans the River Ashburn. Retrace your steps up Old Totnes Road to the second turning right, Stonepark. Go right here and continue 100m to a T-junction. Turn left here along Church Path, following a stone wall. As Church Path bends right, pass through a gate into the churchyard noticing the sad little grave of 10-day-old Alan Osborne and his parents. The church is impressive with origins in the 12th century, although today’s building is more recent, multi-layered over centuries.
Leave the church by the main porch and exit through large wrought iron gates. Turn immediately right on a narrow path and at the T-junction by Church Cottage go right again, churchyard railings to your right. At the next T-junction turn left between stone walls.
The path widens, crosses a stream then continues between walls. It opens up to the right, giving access to a road; ignore this and keep ahead along the path, Blogishay Lane, emerging onto St. Lawrence Lane.
Go left to see the Chapel of St. Lawrence, originally a private chapel for the Bishop of Exeter. In the early 14th century it was given to Ashburton by Bishop Stapledon and became a Chantry School which evolved into the Grammar School. This closed in 1938, the building was then used variously as a school annex, library and museum. Ashburton retains certain forms of Saxon civic administration, such as Court Leet and Court Baron. The Court Leet elects a portreeve (the steward of a market town) and bailiff who are appointed at an annual ceremony in this chapel.
Return along St. Lawrence Lane and after passing Blogishay Lane on the right, turn left. This is Vealenia Terrace (no sign).
As the road bends right, glance left up picturesque Woodland Road but continue to the right as the road bends into Whistley Hill. Just beyond the bend take the public footpath, Love Lane, passing a school and continuing on the broad tarmac path between walls. This narrows, keep straight on. At a T-junction, by a house called Woodlands, go left and follow the path, Hares Lane, to reach East Street. Turn right to visit the war memorial then return along East Street towards town centre.
On the left is The Golden Lion. Built for a surgeon in 1768, within 30 years it had become a coaching inn. Press gangs would visit, seeking ‘volunteers’ from imbibing sailors. In 1984 it became headquarters for the Monster Raving Loony Party, its owner, Alan Hope, being the first MRL councillor in 1987 when elected to Ashburton Town Council.
Beyond here on the right the pavement widens. Glance back to spot the ancient windows in the building facing down East Street. There are lovely views ahead to the countryside beyond Ashburton. Before the junction with North Street is the late-medieval Royal Oak Inn. At the junction turn right and wander along to the Great Hall, a former church that now houses an antiques centre. A good browse rounds off the walk nicely.