Exploring Cornish Mining Heritage: The Duke of Bedford's Grand Plan for Tavistock

By Jamie Maddison | 17 August 2012
a photo of an old stone bridge and river with waterfall
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
The town of Tavistock exudes a quiet and peaceful charm. It is the perfect place for a pleasant wander on a hot summer’s day; a gentle cooling breeze ruffling your clothes as you pace the airy open streets. Unbeknownst to many of its casual visitors, this leafy Devonshire stannary and market town is also considered by those in the know as the urban jewel in the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site crown.

With its rich and intimate links to the mining industry right across the South West, this impressive gothic settlement keeps much hidden in plain view, awaiting discovery by the inquisitive and the keen.

Luckily, www.cornish-mining.org.uk have put together an audio trail for interested visitors to make the most out of any trip to this picturesque and modest capital of an industry past.

And so, armed with a trusty camera, I set out along this audio trail to record my impressions of a journey where mining heritage jumps out from behind every corner:

Bedford Square

a photo of a stone square with period stone buildings and archways
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Standing in the wide and spacious Bedford Square, just before Tavistock Town Hall, one can truly get a sense of the grandiose flamboyance of the Seventh Duke of Bedford.

The Duke funded the square’s construction through his immense wealth, amassed from copper royalties paid by the Devon Great Consols copper mine, which was discovered on the eastern bank of the River Tamar in 1844. Today, the area makes for an idyllic starting place to my journey; with youths running to greet each other on the street corner and the elderly nonchalantly tucking into their ice-creams on the many benches that line the side of the plaza.

a photo of a picturesque stone bridge pver a river with a waterfall in the foreground
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Abbey Walk, River Tavy: A short ramble along the street brings one to the river from which the town derives its name: Tavy means ‘little river’ and stock a settlement and hence ‘Tavistock’.

Above its dark but clear waters children fish for trout from atop a cobbled bridge, whilst the distant splash and play of happy families can be heard emanating from just a bit further downstream.

It is also from here that the Tavistock canal is fed, from an intake at the side of the river.

Tavistock Canal Wharf

a photo of a canal and pathway with church in the distance
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
This quiet wharf was at one point the town’s link to Morwellham on the River Tamar, once the busiest copper ore port in Queen Victoria’s empire. On my visit all is quiet. Only the occasional cyclist passes by, and all there is to hear is the distant grunts and thumps of sporting activity coming from the Sir Francis Drake’s tennis courts just across the way.

The Meadows, Tavistock Canal

a photo of a couple sat in a park
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Walking onward, the scenery opens out into a long and verdant parkland. From time immemorial townspeople have strolled, met, played and picnicked here. Originally belonging to the Bedford Estate, the green area was eventually bought by the Tavistock Urban District Council in 1911, which took on responsibility of the area on behalf of the people of the town.


a photo of a residential street with cottages and gardens spilling with foliage
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
This region is named after the Fitz family, who once lived in a mansion not far from where I currently stand; ahead, the statue of Sir Francis Drake, Tavistock’s most famous son, stands somewhat sceptically over the hurrying cars passing below him.

Fitzford Church

a photo of a church spire against a twilit sky
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Towering above even Sir Francis stands the grand Fitzford Church, opened in 1867 to meet the spiritual needs of a growing working-class population.

Blotting out the sun from where I look, this impressive piece of Italian-inspired architecture never really recovered when the mining industry slumped in late 19th century and the mining population started to migrate elsewhere in Britain and aboard in search of work.

Pannier Market

a photo of a veranda with iron ballustrades
© Photo Jamie Maddison / Culture24
Returning to Bedford Square, I poke my head into the famously bustling Pannier Market. Today all is quiet and empty, with a few obscure figures strolling off in the distance and the occasional pigeon indolently pecking around my feet. Now, with the sun setting and my head filled with images of the hustle and bustle of markets and miners, I retreat back to the car and the conclusion of this walking trail.

Over the course of two pleasant, roundabout hours I had wandered across this town of great inheritance, waffling my way between the impressive relics of an industrial age which express the grand optimism of the times.

It had been a fun, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable journey discovering the odd facts and quirky titbits of information about this beautiful Devon town. If you would like to experience the same tour for yourself, then one only has to download the audio trail to get out and get exploring Tavistock’s great mining history: go do it!

  • Access the suite of audio trails available within the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, by downloading ‘Cousin Jacks – The Cornish Mining App’ for free at: www.cornishmining.org.uk/cousinjacks

Cornish Mining World Heritage Logo
Jamie Maddison is the Culture24/Cornish Mining World Heritage 2012 bursary journalist, filing stories about Cornwall's UNSECO World Heritage Site mining landscape. Contact him at jamie@culture24.org.uk. Read his blog at www.jamiemaddison.com

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