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Barnstaple and the River Taw viewed from the east
Barnstaple is located in Devon
 Barnstaple shown within Devon
Population 30,916 
OS grid reference
Civil parish Barnstaple
District North Devon
Shire county Devon
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district EX31
Dialling code 01271
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament North Devon
List of places

Barnstaple or [1] is the main town of North Devon, England, and possibly the oldest borough in the United Kingdom. It is a former river-port, located at the lowest crossing-point of the River Taw, flowing into the Bristol Channel.

From the 14th century, it was licensed to export wool, since the merchants claimed that the town had been declared a free borough in Saxon times. This brought great wealth to Barnstaple, whose town centre still preserves a medieval layout and character. Later the town became an importer of Irish wool, but its harbour silted up, and it developed other industries, such as shipbuilding, foundries and sawmills. Its Victorian market survives, with its high glass and timber roof on iron columns. Barnstaple railway station is the terminus of a branch line from Exeter, known as the Tarka Line.

Since 1974, Barnstaple has been a civil parish governed by town council.[2] The parish itself has a population of 23,710, but the population of the whole urban area is 30,916,[3] and including the satellite settlements known as the Barnstaple Town Area, it is 53,514.


  • Toponymy 1
  • History 2
  • Government 3
    • Internal government 3.1
    • Parliamentary representation 3.2
  • Geography 4
    • Climate 4.1
  • Demography 5
  • Economy 6
  • Culture and community 7
  • Landmarks 8
    • Barnstaple Castle 8.1
    • St Anne's Chapel 8.2
    • The Pannier Market and Butchers Row 8.3
    • Others 8.4
  • Transport 9
    • Railway 9.1
  • Education 10
  • Religious sites 11
  • Sport 12
  • Notable residents 13
  • Thorpe scandal 14
  • See also 15
  • Further reading 16
  • Notes and references 17
  • External links 18


The old spelling Barnstable[4] is now obsolete, but is retained by an American county and town and is still sometimes used for Bideford or Barnstable Bay.[5] The name is first recorded in the 10th century and is believed to derive from the Old English bearde, meaning "battle-axe", and stapol, meaning "pillar", referring to a post or pillar set up to mark a religious or administrative meeting place. The belief that the name derives from staple meaning "market", indicating that there was a market here from the foundation of the settlement, is incorrect, because the use of staple in that sense is not recorded in England before 1423.[6]

Barnstaple was formerly referred to as "Barum", from a contraction of the Latin form of the name (ad Barnastapolitum) in Latin documents such as the episcopal registers of the Diocese of Exeter.[7] Barum was mentioned by Shakespeare, and the name was revived and popularised in Victorian times, when it featured in several contemporary novels. The name Barum is retained in the names of a football team, brewery, and of several local businesses. The former Brannam Pottery works which was sited in Litchdon Street was known for its trademark "Barum" etched on the base of its products.


The earliest settlement in the area was probably at Pilton on the bank of the River Yeo, now a northern suburb of the present town. Pilton is recorded in the Burghal Hidage (c. 917) as a burh founded by Alfred the Great,[8] and it may have been the site of a Viking attack in 893,[9] but by the later 10th century Barnstaple had taken over its role of local defence. Barnstaple had its own mint before the Norman Conquest.[8]

The large feudal barony of Barnstaple had its caput at Barnstaple Castle. It was granted by William the Conqueror to Geoffrey de Montbray, who is recorded as its holder in Domesday Book. The barony escheated to the crown in 1095 after Montbray had rebelled against King William II. William re-granted the barony to Juhel de Totnes, formerly feudal baron of Totnes. In about 1107, Juhel, who had already founded Totnes Priory, founded Barnstaple Priory, of the Cluniac order, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.[10] After Juhel's son died without children, the barony was split into two, passing through the de Braose and Tracy families, before being reunited under Henry de Tracy. It then passed through several other families, before ending up in the ownership of Margaret Beaufort (died 1509), mother of king Henry VII. See Feudal barony of Barnstaple for full details.

In the 1340s the merchants of the town claimed that the rights of a free borough had been granted to them by King Athelstan in a lost charter. Although this was challenged from time to time by subsequent lords of the manor, it still allowed the merchants an unusual degree of self-government.[11] The town's wealth in the Middle Ages was founded on its being a staple port licensed to export wool. It had an early merchant guild, known as the Guild of St. Nicholas. In the early 14th century it was the third richest town in Devon, behind Exeter and Plymouth, and it was the largest textile centre outside Exeter until about 1600.[12] Its wool trade was further aided by the town's port, from which in 1588 five ships were contributed to the force sent to fight the Spanish Armada. Barnstaple was one of the "privileged ports" of the Spanish Company,[13] (established 1577) whose armorials are visible on two of the mural monuments to 17th century merchants[14] in St Peter's Church, and on the decorated plaster ceiling of the former "Golden Lion Inn",[15] 62 Boutport Street (now a restaurant next to the Royal and Fortescue Hotel).[16] The developing trade with America in the 16th and 17th centuries greatly benefited the town. The wealthy merchants that this trade created built impressive town houses, some of which survive behind more recent frontages—they include No. 62 Boutport Street, said to have one of the best plaster ceilings in Devon.[17] The merchants also built several almshouses, and they ensured they would be remembered by installing elaborate monuments to their families in the church.[17]

By the 18th century, Barnstaple had ceased to be a woollen manufacturing town, but this business was replaced by the import of Irish wool and yarn, for which it was the main landing place; the raw materials were carried by land to the new clothmaking towns in mid- and east Devon, such as Tiverton and Honiton.[12] However, the harbour was gradually silting up—as early as c. 1630 Tristram Risdon reported that "it hardly beareth small vessels"—and Bideford, which is lower down the estuary and benefits from the scouring action of the fast flowing River Torridge, gradually took over the foreign trade.[12]

Although for a time between 1680 and 1730, Barnstaple's trade was surpassed by Bideford's, it retained its economic importance until the early 20th century,[12] when it was manufacturing lace, gloves, sail-cloth and fishing-nets, it had extensive potteries, tanneries, sawmills and foundries, and shipbuilding was also carried on.[18]

Barnstaple was one of the boroughs reformed by the Municipal Reform Act 1835. Between the 1930s and the 1950s the town swallowed the villages of Pilton, Newport, and Roundswell through ribbon development.

Barnstaple Clock Tower, erected in 1862 as a memorial to Prince Albert


Internal government

The historic

  • Barnstaple Town Council Website
  • Barnstaple at DMOZ
  • Barnstaple in the Domesday Book
  • Barnstaple Town Centre Website

External links

  1. ^ Pointon, G. E., ed. (1983) BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names; 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; p. 18 (only the latter pronunciation)
  2. ^ a b "Barnstaple Town Council". Archived from the original on 25 January 2001. 
  3. ^ "Barnstaple Town Study Report - October 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-03-07. 
  4. ^ e.g. in Daniel Defoe: A tour through the whole island of Great Britain
  5. ^ e.g. DEFRA, Shore Management Plan Guidance (2011), Annex E1 pp.28,30
  6. ^ Watts, Victor (2010). The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-names (1st paperback ed.).  
  7. ^ Hingeston-Randolph, F. C., ed. Episcopal Registers: Diocese of Exeter. 10 vols. London: George Bell, 1886–1915 (for the period 1257 to 1455)
  8. ^ a b c d Harris, Helen (2004). A Handbook of Devon Parishes. Tiverton: Halsgrove. pp. 13–15.  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Lamplugh, L., Barnstaple: Town on the Taw, 2002, Cullompton, p. 9
  11. ^ Kowaleski, Maryanne (1992). "The Port Towns of Fourteenth-Century Devon". In Michael Duffy; et al. The New Maritime History of Devon Volume 1. From early times to the late eighteenth century. London: Conway Maritime Press. p. 64.  
  12. ^ a b c d e f g  
  13. ^ , London Record Society, Volume 9, London, 1973The Spanish CompanyCroft, Pauline,
  14. ^ Richard Beaple (d.1643), thrice Mayor; Richard Ferris (Mayor in 1632), who together with Alexander Horwood, received a payment from the Corporation of Barnstaple in 1630 for "riding to Exeter about the Spanish Company"(Lamplugh, p.165, note 2 to chapter 12, quoting "Borough Records Vol II, p.150"
  15. ^ Lamplugh, p.165, note 2 to chapter 12
  16. ^ The royal charter of 1605 which re-established the Spanish Company names several hundred founding members from named English ports, the Barnstaple members being: William Gay, John Salisbury, John Darracott, John Mewles, George Gay, Richard Dodderidge, James Beaple, Nicholas Downe, James Downe, Robert Dodderidge, Richard Beaple and Pentecost Dodderidge, "merchants of Barnstaple". Richard Dodderidge and James Beaple were named as amongst the "first and present assistants and chief councillors of the fellowship" (, London Record Society, Volume 9, London, 1973The Spanish CompanyCroft, Pauline, )
  17. ^ a b c d e f  
  18. ^ Wikisource:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Barnstaple
  19. ^ See further: Oliver, W. Bruce, Barnstaple Borough, Transactions of the Devon Association, vol. 62, (1930) pp.269-273
  20. ^ History of Parliament, Barnstaple [5]
  21. ^ a b c d History of Parliament, Barnstaple
  22. ^ "Climate Profile for Barnstaple". Aug 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  23. ^ "Temperature Barnstaple – climate Barnstaple England – weather Barnstaple". Aug 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  24. ^ Census 2001 : Parish Headcounts : North DevonOffice for National Statistics : Retrieved 28 January 2010
  25. ^ "British towns twinned with French towns". Archant Community Media Ltd. Retrieved 2013-07-11. 
  26. ^ "Some Men who Made Barnstaple..." 2010 by Pauline Brain
  27. ^ Ford, David Nash. "History of Barnstaple Castle in Devon". Retrieved 13 December 2007. 
  28. ^  
  29. ^ RISW GGF 1/122 Feoffment, dated 1 Nov. 1585; [1 parchment, 4 papers, 3 seals, in English, originally A10 or Box IX/i [6]
  30. ^ "Civic Centre webcam". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  31. ^ a b Rogers, Simon (24 January 2013). "Secondary School League Tables". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  32. ^ "Education | League Tables | Park School". DFE. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  33. ^ "Pilton Community College". DFE. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  34. ^ "£100M Funds Go-Ahead For College". BBC News. 31 January 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  35. ^ "Our New College: Planning". North Devon College. Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. 
  36. ^ "Projects threatened by £56m cuts". BBC News. 8 June 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  37. ^ Montgomery, Angus (23 September 2009). "Interbrand renames North Devon College as Petroc | News". Marketing Week. Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  38. ^ Pevsner, p.150
  39. ^ Play-Sport New Media (13 June 2002). "Play-Cricket the ECB Cricket Network". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  40. ^
  41. ^ "North Devon Leisure Centre| Gym, Swimming Pool, Group Exercise Studio, Sports Hall, Squash Courts, Dojo - Martial Arts room | Devon, United Kingdom". Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  42. ^ "Welcome to Barnstaple Squash Club". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  43. ^ "Tarka Tennis indoor center Barnstaple North Devon". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  44. ^

Notes and references

  • Papers of Barnstaple Borough 1150-1950, North Devon Record Office, B1, [4]

Further reading

See also

In 1975, Barnstaple was the home of Norman Scott, the male model who was blackmailing local MP and Liberal Party Leader Jeremy Thorpe over an alleged sexual relationship between the two of them. According to the investigative journalists Simon Freeman and Barry Penrose, Thorpe’s colleague David Holmes phoned an accomplice, ex-airline pilot Andrew Newton, with instructions to intimidate Scott, whom he would meet at a hotel in Barnstaple. But it was a bad line, and Newton spent time hanging around Dunstable in Bedfordshire.

Thorpe scandal

For full list, see Category:People from Barnstaple

Notable residents

Cricket is played at Barnstaple and Pilton.[39] Barnstaple Town F.C. have been based at Mill Road since 1904 and play in the Western Football League. Rugby union is played at Barnstaple Rugby Football Club[40] whose first team play in the National League 3 South West, which is fifth tier league in the English rugby union system. More sports are available at the North Devon Leisure Centre,[41] which is the home of Barnstaple Squash Club.[42] There are numerous bowling greens and tennis courts, including those at the Tarka Tennis Centre which has six indoor courts and which hosts the Aegon GB Pro-Series Barnstaple.[43] In February 2010 a Cornish Pilot Gig Rowing Club was established, bringing this sport to Castle Quay in the centre of Barnstaple.[44] There is also hockey available. Taw Valley Ladies Hockey Club (as well as a Junior set-up) and North Devon Men's Hockey Club - they both play at Park School.


Other religious buildings in the town include St Anne's Chapel (a 14th-century chantry chapel, now a museum) in the parish churchyard; Holy Trinity, built in the 1840s but necessarily rebuilt in 1867 as its foundations were unsound—it has a fine tower in the Somerset style; the Roman Catholic church of the Immaculate Conception, said to have been built to designs supplied by Pugin, in Romanesque Revival style; and a Baptist chapel of 1870 which includes a lecture hall and classrooms.[12][17]

John Oldrid Scott into the 1880s,[17] leaving it "dark and dull", according to Hoskins.[12]

St Peter's church with its broach spire

Religious sites

Petroc was launched in September 2009 – a year after NDC merged with Tiverton's East Devon College.[37]

Petroc (formerly North Devon College) is a large tertiary college providing a wide range of vocational and academic further education for more than 3,000 young people over 16. The college was due to spend £100 million on a new campus, to be opened on Seven Brethren in 2011,[34][35] but this fell through when the LSC removed its £75 million funding in January 2009.[36]

Percentage of students achieving 5 GCSEs grade A* to C
School Name Type 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
The Park Community School State 38% 44% 45% 47% 54% [32]
Pilton Community College State 47% 51% 50% 53% 49% [33]

In 2012, the county of Devon 58%[31] of students achieved 5 GCSEs grade A* to C. The UK average is 59%.[31]

There are a selection of well-regarded primary and secondary state schools and a tertiary college in Barnstaple.

Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon


A separate "Barnstaple" station, renamed Barnstaple (Victoria Road) in 1949, was opened to the east of the town in 1873 as the terminus of the Devon and Somerset Railway, eventually a part of the Great Western Railway. A junction was later provided to allow trains access to Barnstaple Junction and these ran through to Ilfracombe. It was closed in 1970.

The Ilfracombe branch line brought the railway across the river into the town centre. Barnstaple Quay was situated close by the Castle Mound. It was closed in 1898 and replaced by a nearby Barnstaple Town station at North Walk which was also the terminus of the narrow gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway until this closed in 1935. The narrow gauge line's main depot and operating centre was at nearby Pilton. The station building still exists, and can be viewed on-line from a webcam mounted on Barnstaple Civic Centre.[30]

Ilfracombe Branchline in the late 1960s.

Barnstaple railway station is the terminus of a branch line from Exeter, known as the Tarka Line after the local connection with Tarka the Otter. The station is near the end of the Long Bridge but on the opposite bank of the River Taw to the town centre. The town used to have several other stations but these have all closed since the publication of the Reshaping of British Railways (the so-called Beeching Axe) report in the 1960s. The surviving station was opened on 1 August 1854 by the North Devon Railway (later the London and South Western Railway), although a service had operated from Fremington since 1848 for goods traffic only. The station became "Barnstaple Junction" on 20 July 1874 when the railway opened the branch line through to Ilfracombe, reverting to just plain "Barnstaple" again when this was closed on 5 October 1970. It is now a terminus and much reduced in size as part of the site is now used for the Barnstaple Western Bypass.

A map of Barnstaple from 1937, showing the railway lines.


The nearest airport is Exeter

The Barnstaple bus network is privatised and run by many bus operators including Stagecoach Bus Group. The main bus station is located on the junction with Queen Street and Belle Meadow Drive. National Express also run services from here.

In 1989, the A361 North Devon Link Road was constructed, linking Barnstaple with the M5 motorway, approximately 40 miles (65 km) to the east. Traffic congestion in the town used to be severe, but in May 2007, the Barnstaple Western Bypass was opened so traffic heading towards Braunton and Ilfracombe avoids travelling through the town centre over the ancient bridge. The bypass consists of 1.6 miles (2.6 km) of new road and a 447 yards (409 m) long, five-span bridge. It was expected to have cost £42 million. As part of this work, the town's main square was re-modelled as the entrance to the town centre, and The Strand was closed to traffic.

Barnstaple Long Bridge


Around Barnstaple

In Barnstaple


Built on the other side of the street at the same time as the Pannier Market, Butchers Row consists of ten shops with pilasters of Bath Stone, and wrought iron supports to an overhanging roof. Only two of the shops remain as butchers although the new shops still sell local agricultural goods. There is one baker, one delicatessen, two fishmongers, a florist and a greengrocer.

Barnstaple has been the major market for North Devon since Saxon times. Demands for health regulation of its food market in Victorian times saw the construction in 1855 to 1856 of the town's Pannier Market, originally known as the Vegetable Market and designed by R D Gould. The building has a high glass and timber roof on iron columns. At 107 yards (98 m) long, it runs the length of Butchers Row. Market days are Monday – Crafts and General (April to December), Tuesday – General and Produce (all year), Wednesday – Arts Collectables and Books (all year), Thursday – Crafts and General (all year), Friday – General and Produce (all year) and Saturday – General and Produce (all year).

The Pannier Market and Butchers Row

"i) Robert Appley the elder, Robert Cade, Hugh Brasyer and Richard Wetheridge of Barnestaple to: ii) William Plamer, mayor of Barnestaple, Richard Dodderidge, Roger Cade, Symon Monngey, Robert Appley the younger, Robert Pronze (Prouse?), Roger Beaple, George Pyne, gent., Jacob Wescombe, Gilbert Hareys, Robert Marlen, Thomas Mathewe, James Beaple, George Baker, James Downe, William Bayly, John Collybeare, Robert Collybeare and John Knyll of Barnestaple; 1 Chancery and Chapel of St Anne lately dissolved in Barnestaple with 1 house with land belonging to the late Chancery and Chapel; also 1 house and land in Barnestaple which John Littlestone of Barnestaple, merchant and John Buddle, potter granted to (i)."

[29] St Anne's Chapel was restored in 2012. It was an ancient

St Anne's Chapel

A wooden castle was built by Geoffrey de Mowbray, Bishop of Coutances in the 11th century, clearing houses to make room for it. Juhel of Totnes later occupied the castle and founded Barnstaple Priory just outside its walls. The castle's first stone buildings were probably erected by Henry de Tracey, a strong supporter of King Stephen. In 1228, the Sheriff of Devon ordered the walls of the castle to be reduced to a height of 10 feet (3 m). By the time of the death of the last Henry de Tracey in 1274, the castle was beginning to decay. The fabric of the castle was used in the construction of other buildings and by 1326 the castle was a ruin. The remaining walls blew down in a storm in 1601.[27] Today only the tree covered motte remains.[28]

Barnstaple Castle Mound, 11th century, now next to the public library and car park

Barnstaple Castle

Barnstaple has an eclectic mix of architectural style with the 19th century probably now predominant. There are some remnants of early buildings to enjoy as well as several early plaster ceilings. St. Anne's Chapel in the central churchyard is probably the best of the ancient buildings to survive. [26]

Queen Anne's Walk, formerly the Mercantile Exchange, c. 1708, with the town's main quay to the left. The statue of Queen Anne was given in 1708 by Robert Rolle (died 1710), MP, of Stevenstone


Barnstaple is twinned with Barnstable, Massachusetts in the USA, Uelzen in Germany, Trouville-sur-Mer in France,[25] and Susa in Italy.

Culture and community

In 2005 unemployment in North Devon was 1.8–2.4%, and the median per capita wage for North Devon was 73% of the UK national average. The level of work in the informal or casual sector is high, partly due to the impact of seasonal tourism, as is the case in much of the South West of England.

Because Barnstaple is the main shopping area for North Devon, retail work is a contributor to the economy. There are many generic chain stores in the town centre and in the Roundswell Business Park, on the western fringe of the town. However, by far the largest employer in the region is local and central Government. The two main government employers in the area are the Royal Marines Base Chivenor, 3 miles (4.8 km) west of the town, and North Devon District Hospital, 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north.

Whilst the 1989 opening of the improved A361 connection to the motorway network helped in some ways to promote trade, notably weekend tourism, it had a detrimental effect on a number of distribution businesses. The latter had previously viewed the town as a base for local distribution networks, a need that was removed with an approximate halving of travelling time to the M5 motorway.

North Devon is some distance from the UK's traditional areas of industrial activity and population. In the late 1970s Barnstaple gained a number of industrial companies due to the availability of central government grants for the construction of factories and their operation on low or zero levels of local taxation. This was only partially successful, with few of these lasting more than the few years that grants were available. One success was the manufacturing of generic medicines by Cox Pharmaceuticals (now branded Allergan), who moved in 1980 from their site in Brighton, Sussex. The most lasting consequence for the town was the development and expansion of the industrial estates at Seven Brethren, Whiddon Valley and Pottington.


  • White British 98.7%
  • White Irish 0.2%
  • Mixed race 0.2%
  • Chinese 0.4%
  • Other 0.5%

As of 2005 estimates the racial make-up of the town was as follows:

Barnstaple parish's population in the 1801 census was 3,748, in the 1901 census 9,698, and in the 2001 census, the population was 20,724.[24]


Climate data for Barnstaple, United Kingdom
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 16
Average high °C (°F) 9
Average low °C (°F) 4
Record low °C (°F) −6
Average rainfall mm (inches) 75
Average rainy days 15 10 12 10 11 9 9 10 11 13 14 14 138
Average relative humidity (%) 83 82 80 77 76 78 79 79 79 81 83 83 80
Source #1: Weather2[22]
Source #2:[23]

Barnstaple has cool, wet winters and mild, wet summers. Temperatures range from 9 C (48 F) in January to 21 C (70 F) in July. October is the wettest month with 103 mm (4.1 in) of rain. The record high is 34 C (94 F), and the record low is −9 C (16 F). Barnstaple gets 862 mm (33.9 in) of rain per year, with rain on 138 days.


The greater part of the town lies on the eastern bank of the estuary, connected to the western side by the ancient Barnstaple Long Bridge which has 16 arches.[8] The early medieval layout of the town is still apparent from the street plan and street names, with Boutport Street ("About the Port") following the curved line of the ditch outside the town walls.[17] The area of medieval shipbuilding and repair is still called The Strand, the Old English word for shore.

Barnstaple is the main town of North Devon and claims to be the oldest borough in the United Kingdom. It lies 68 miles (109 km) west-south-west of Bristol, 50 miles (80 km) north of Plymouth and 34 miles (55 km) northwest of the county town and city of Exeter. It was founded at the lowest crossing point of the River Taw, where its estuary starts to widen, about 7 miles (11 km) inland from Barnstaple Bay (or Bideford Bay) in the Bristol Channel.[8] On the north side of the town, the River Taw is joined by the River Yeo, which rises on Berry Down, near Combe Martin.


From 1295 the Borough of Barnstaple was represented in the House of Commons by two Members of Parliament until 1885, when its representation was reduced to one member. The constituency was abolished for the 1950 general election and was consolidated into the large modern constituency of North Devon, which has been held by Nick Harvey, MP, of the Liberal Democrats since 1992.

Parliamentary representation

Since 1974 Barnstaple has been a civil parish governed by a town council.[2]


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