ASHBURTON, in the hundred of Teignbridge and in the deanery of Moreton, anciently written Asperton, is an ancient market-town, 19 miles from Exeter, and 192 from London, on the road to Plymouth, from which it is distant 24 miles.
King Edward II. granted a market at Asperton on Saturdays, to Walter Stapleton, Bishop of Exeter, and a fair for three days at the festival of St. Lawrence. (fn. 28) The market is still held on Saturday for corn, provisions, &c. Mr. John Ford in 1672 procured another market on Tuesdays, chiefly for wool and yarn (spun in Cornwall), which has been some years discontinued, since the introduction of machinery into the manufactures. Andrew Quicke, Esq., first elected member for the borough in 1712, procured a charter for two fairs; the first Thursday in March, and the first Thursday in June. These fairs are still held; the other fairs are the first Tuesday in August, and the first Tuesday in November. The March fair has a large supply of cattle, chiefly for the east-country dealers; the November fair is a great sheep fair.
A considerable manufacture of serges has been carried on for many years at Ashburton. The serges now made here are only for the East-India Company.
Ashburton was made one of the stannary towns in 1328. (fn. 29) The number of inhabitants in Ashburton was returned at 3080 in 1801, and in 1811 at 3053.
The borough of Ashburton has sent members to parliament ever since the reign of Edward I. The right of election is vested in the inhabitant householders and the holders of burgage tenures. Their numbers are estimated at between 3 and 400. The two portreeves are the returning officers.
Ashburton was taken by Sir Thomas Fairfax on his march westward in 1646. The general had his head-quarters there on the 10th of January, and on his departure, left a regiment to keep possession of the town. (fn. 30)
The manor of Ashburton was in the see of Exeter till the reign of James I., when it was alienated to the crown. Some years afterwards, it was in moieties vested in Sir Robert Parkhurst and the Earl of Feversham. Sir Robert Parkhurst conveyed his moiety to Sir John Stawell, from whose family it passed to Tuckfield. The heiress of Roger Tuckfield, Esq. brought it to Samuel Rolle, Esq. from whom it descended, with the manor of Halwell in this parish, to Lord Clinton. Lord Feversham's moiety was sold to Richard Duke, Esq. of Otterton. It was purchased of the heirs of Duke by Sir Robert Palk, Bart., and is now the property of his grandson, Sir L. V. Palk, Bart. The lord of this manor had formerly the power of inflicting capital punishment. (fn. 31)
In the parish church, a handsome, spacious structure, is the monument of the Right Honourable John Dunning, the late Lord Ashburton, who died in 1783: he was a native of Ashburton, and educated at the grammar-school in this town.
In the church-yard is buried Mr. Thomas Martyn, who published the map of Cornwall, and was employed in the Survey of Devon at the time of his death, in 1752.
The chapel of St. Lawrence was a chantry chapel, endowed with a stipend of 6l. 13s. 4d. per annum. (fn. 32) The chantry priest was to keep a grammar-school. In the early part of the last century, this chapel was used for marriages and other occasional parochial duty: the grammar-school is now held in it; elections for the borough, and other public meetings. It is repaired out of the parish lands, most probably what formed the endowment of the chantry. The endowment of the present grammar-school is from other sources. Mr. Blundell, founder of the school at Tiverton, gave lands, now let for about 30l. per annum, and Edward Gould, in 1735, the sum of 200l., laid out, in 1737, in lands now let for about 20l.
Mr. John Ford in 1677 founded a charity school for reading and writing, which he endowed with 8l. per annum, charged on the yarn market. This original endowment has of course been lost, the market having been annihilated, but it has an endowment in land, now producing 120l. per annum, purchased with the sum of 640l. given by Lord Middleton, and John Harris, Esq., then members for the borough, in 1754. Mrs. Mary Dunning, in 1805, gave 6l. per annum for instructing ten poor girls in reading, sewing, &c.
There are meeting-houses at Ashburton for the Independents, the particular Baptists, and the Wesleyan Methodists.