- This page is about the English county, for alternative meanings see Devon (disambiguation).
Devon is a county in South West England, bordering on Cornwall to the west, Dorset and Somerset to the east. The name Devonshire was common but is now rarely used, although it does feature in some names and titles (such as the Duke of Devonshire), and is still to be seen on signposts in the county.
- Main article: History of Devon.
Devon was one of the first areas of England settled following the end of the last ice age. Dartmoor is thought to have been settled by Mesolithic hunter-gatherer peoples from about 6000 BC, and they later cleared much of the oak forest, which regenerated as moor. In the Neolithic era, from about 3500 BC, there is evidence of farming on the moor, and also building and the erection of monuments, using the large granite boulders that are ready to hand there; Dartmoor contains the remains of the oldest known buildings in England. There are over 500 known Neolithic sites on the moor, in the form of burial mounds, stone rows, stone circles and ancient settlements such as the one at Grimspound. Stone rows are a particularly striking feature, ranging in length from a few metres to over 3Km. Their ends are often marked by a cairn, a stone circle, or a standing stone (see menhir). Because most of Dartmoor was not ploughed during the historic period, the archaeological record is relatively easy to trace.
The name "Devon" derives from name given by the Romans to the Celtic people who inhabited the south western peninsula of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion c.AD50, the Dumnonii - meaning 'Deep Valley Dwellers'. The Romans held the area under Military Occupation for approx 25 years, and maintained a garrison at Exeter, which they named 'Isca Dumnoniorum. There was a Roman Civitas here for the following three centuries at least. The Germanic peoples who settled England from the fifth century on did not conquer Devon until relatively late. The Saxons are believed to have reached Devon in small numbers in the seventh century, and the king of Wessex launched an invasion in 614. Over the next 100 years there was repeated fighting between Dumnonia and Wessex, and some historians claim that this resulted in the effective conquest of Devon by Wessex by 715 and its formal annexation around 805. However these dates and the degree of conquest are debated as the Dumnonian kings continued to be able to maintain (nominal) influence for some time thereafter. In 823 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the "Defnas" (Devonians) as fighting against the "Wealas" (literally foreigners or strangers) in Cornwall. Later William of Malmesbury claimed "that the Britons and Saxons inhabited Exeter aequo jure" ("as equals") in 927, and the notion of two nations within the city at that time was confirmed by E A Freeman in his History of the Norman Conquest. Nineteenth century studies suggested that a significant ethnic Celtic element remains in the local population, and this has been confirmed by DNA analysis in the late twentieth century.
Although Devon's placenames are generally not as obviously Celtic as its neighbour Cornwall, some common Devon name components, such as the ending "-combe" or "tor", are of Celtic origin (compare Welsh (language) cwm and twr, pronounced almost identically). Devon also retained a number of Celtic customs (such as its own form of Celtic wrestling when as recently as the nineteenth century a crowd of 17,000 at Devonport (Plymouth) attended a match between the champions of Devon and Cornwall).
By the ninth century, however, the major threat to Saxon control of Devon came not from the native British but from Viking raiders, and sporadic incursions continued until the Norman Conquest. A few Norse placenames remain as a result, for example Lundy Island, though the Vikings' most lasting legacy is probably the move of the cathedral from Crediton to Exeter.
Devon has featured in most of the civil conflicts in England since the Norman conquest. William the Conqueror besieged Exeter for eighteen days; both Exeter and Plympton were held against King Stephen in 1140; there were local skirmishes during the Wars of the Roses; Perkin Warbeck besieged Exeter in 1497; the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 was largely a Devon affair; and Exeter and Dartmouth were both besieged during the English Civil War. Perhaps most notably, the last successful military invasion of Britain, the arrival of William of Orange to launch the Glorious Revolution of 1688, took place at Torquay.
Devon has produced tin, copper and other metals from ancient times. Tin was found largely on Dartmoor's granite heights, and copper in the areas around it. The Dartmoor tin-mining industry thrived for hundreds of years, continuing from pre-Roman times right through to the first half of the 20th century. In the eighteenth century Devon Great Consols mine (near Tavistock) was believed to be the largest copper mine in the world. Devon's tin miners enjoyed a substantial degree of independence through Devon's stannary parliament, which dates back to the twelfth century. Stannary authority exceeded English law, and because this authority applied to part time miners (eg tin streamers) as well as full time miners the stannary parliament had significant power. The stannary parliament met in an open air parliament at Crockern Tor (Dartmoor) with stannators appointed to it from each stannary town. The parliament maintained its own gaol (at Lydford) and had a brutal and 'bloody' reputation for justice, and once even gaoled an English MP in the reign of Henry VIII. The last recorded sitting was in 1748, and it is believed they then adjourned to a pub in Tavistock.
Devon is also known for its mariners, such as Sir Francis Drake, Gilbert, Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Walter Raleigh. Plymouth Hoe is famous as the location where Drake continued to play bowls after hearing that the Spanish Armada had been sighted.
Devon has its own (unofficial) flag which has been dedicated to St Petroc, who is a local saint with numerous dedications throughout Devon and neighbouring counties. This flag was adopted in 2003 after a competition run by BBC Devon . The winning design was created by website contributor Ryan Sealey, and won 49% of the votes cast. The creation of the flag has however caused some controversy.
Geology, landscape and ecology
- Main article: Geology of Devon .
The Dartmoor National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoor National Park partly so (the remainder is in Somerset). In addition Devon is the only county in England to have two completely separate coastlines. Both the North and South coasts offer dramatic views: much of both coastlines is named as Heritage Coast, and the South West Coast Path runs along the entire length of the both. The inland of the county has much attractive rolling rural scenery, and villages with thatched Cob cottages. All these features make Devon a popular holiday destination for many Britons. The variety of scenery and habitats means that there is an exceptional range of Dartmoor wildlife. A popular challenge among birders is to find over 100 species in the county in a day.
The landscape of the south coast consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, such as Dartmouth, Salcombe, Totnes etc. The towns of Torquay and Paignton are the principal seaside resorts on the south coast. The north of the county is very rural with few major towns except Barnstaple, Great Torrington and Bideford.
Like its neighbouring county to the west, Cornwall, Devon is relatively disadvantaged economically (as compared to other parts of southern England) because of the decline of many traditional industries such as fishing, mining and farming. Most of Devon has qualified for the European Community Objective 2 status. The epidemic of Foot and Mouth (Hoof and Mouth) disease in 2001 harmed much of the farming community severely and had knock-on effects on the rest of the county. The attractive lifestyle of the area is drawing in many new industries which are not heavily dependent upon geographical location; Dartmoor, for instance, has recently seen a significant rise in the percentage of its inhabitants involved in the financial services sector. Devon is one of the rural counties, with the advantages and problems characteristic of these.
Politics and administration
The administrative centre of Devon is the city of Exeter. The city of Plymouth, the largest city in Devon, and the conurbation of Torbay (including the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) are now unitary authorities separate from Devon for the purposes of local government.
Nearly half of the holdings of the Duchy of Cornwall are in Devon.
Cities, towns and villages
The inner harbour, Brixham
, south Devon, at low tide
Part of the seafront of Torquay
, south Devon, at high tide
This is a list of the main towns and cities in Devon, for a complete list of settlements see list of places in Devon.
Places of interest
See also: Category:Rivers in Devon
Devon as a descriptor
- General information about Devon
- Tourist information:
- Places to stay: