A History of Newton Abbot

By Tim Lambert

Early Newton Abbot

Newton Abbot was created in the 13th century. However, originally there were two towns. In the 13th century, England was divided into areas called manors. One, south of the River Lemon was owned by the Abbey of Torre.

In 1220 the Abbot founded a new town south of the river. He was granted the right to hold weekly markets. In the Middle Ages, there were few shops, and if you wished to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market. The Abbot was also allowed to hold an annual fair. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area. The little town flourished and it became known as Newton (new town) Abbot.

Shortly afterward, in 1246, the Lord of the manor north of the river created another new town. In that year he was granted the right to hold weekly markets. From 1262 the manor was owned by the Bushel family. So this town became known as Newton Bushel. In 1309 the Bushels were granted the right to hold two annual fairs.

The two little towns prospered. In them, there was a wool industry and an industry making leather goods. However, both towns were very small. They only had a few hundred inhabitants each.

Then in 1663, a man named Richard Yarde joined the markets and fairs of the two towns together. The Newton Bushel market was closed and the business moved to Newton Abbot. However, the two towns continued to be separate entities. The Yarde family also built Bradley Manor House in the early 15th century.

In the 18th century boats from Newton Abbot sailed down the river and then to Newfoundland to fish. The connection is remembered today in Newfoundland Way although this industry died out in the 19th century.

Modern Newton Abbot

At the beginning of the 19th century, the twin towns had a combined population of about 2,400. (They were finally joined under one council in 1901). By that year the population of Newton Abbot had grown to over 12,500.

The reason for this huge growth was the coming of the railway in 1846. Workshops to repair locomotives and carriages were built in Newton Abbot and the town grew rapidly. In 1960 the workshops changed to repairing diesel engines.

A steam train

Furthermore from the late 18th century onward, ball clay quarrying was an important industry in Newton Abbot. (It was first used for making clay pipes).

Meanwhile, amenities in the little town improved. From 1839 Newton Abbot had gaslights. In 1873 a cottage hospital opened in Newton Abbot. In 1898 it was replaced by a larger hospital. A library opened in Newton Abbot in 1904. The town gained electric lights in 1924.

In 1922 a war memorial was erected to those from Newton Abbot who died in the First World War. However, Newton Abbot suffered from floods in 1851,1894, 1938, and 1979.

Market Walk Shopping Centre opened in 1979.

Newton Abbot grew rapidly in the 20th century. By 1951 the population was 16,000. In 2023 the population of Newton Abbot was 26,000.