Chagford, Devon - Genealogy and Family History

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St. Michael

St. Michael's Church, Chagford, Devon - showing back of church


Historical Overview

Overlooking ChagfordChagford is steeped with historical interest and the evidence of prehistoric remains in the area, suggest that it has been a settlement for over 4000 years.  Situated in the Teign Valley, it is regarded as part of beautiful Dartmoor and lies just over 3 miles north-west of the small market town of Mortonhampstead, but a good distance from any of the other larger towns such as Okehampton (lying 9 miles north-west).

Archaeological research in the area has found evidence of tin being mined right back to Roman times and that Chagford certainly played its part in the production of tin.  A charter in 1305, legislated that Chagford should become one of Devon's Stannary Towns.  The word "stannary" meaning a place where smelted tin was collected for stamping and taxation. Early records show that at least 40% of Devon's total tin production passed through the parish and that it was the most important Devon Stannary until the 15th century. (Source: "Dartmoor Visitor")  Kelly (1893) goes on to tell us that it continued as a Stannary Town until the end of the 18th century.

Chagford also played a part in Devon's thriving Woollen industry and was particularly prosperous in the 16th, 18th and 19th century.  (Source: "Dartmoor Visitor")   There was a Woollen Mill in Chagford until 1848, but it then closed causing a decline in the population of the town. Many families consequently moved away in search of work elsewhere. Unemployment is not just a modern day phenomena and changes in population sizes in the past were often the result of changes in the employment circumstances of an area.

The entrance to St. Michael's Church in Chagford, presumably where Mary WHIDDON was shot in 1641.St. Michael's Church and other Religious Denominations

Chagford's beautiful church of St. Michael's has a 15th century tower and itself retains some fascinating history.  It is believed that it holds the key to the famous story of Lorna Doone written by R. D. Blackmore, first published in 1869 by Sampson Low.  Inside the church is an inscription on the sanctuary floor in memory of Mary WHIDDON who died on 11th October 1641.  The legend is that Mary was shot on the steps of the church immediately after her marriage and it is believed that this story provided Blackmore with the inspiration to write the Lorna Doone. (Source: "Dartmoor Visitor")  Published in times of the staunt Victorian era, initially the book was regarded as unsuitable reading, but it later went on to become one of the best selling novels in the 19th century.

St. Michael's graveyard, showing the Devon hills in the background.Evidence of Chagford's strong connections with tin mining can be found within the church.  One of the bosses of its beautifully carved interior roof, shows the symbol adopted by the local tinners, of three rabbits joined together.  (Source: "Dartmoor Visitor")

From White (1850), we find that Chagford had other denominations of religion in the parish.  A Baptist church was formed there in 1829, a Wesleyan Chapel was leased to the parish in 1834 for a period of 21 years by the then late Mr. John BERRY and a Bible Christian Chapel was established in 1844.

Parish Life

Information from Devon Places (Source: Devon Local Studies Library) is able to provide the evidence that Chagford had its own market between 1600 and 1822 and that a fair was also recorded here in 1792.  Although, from White (1850) and Kelly (1893) there is evidence that these events continued in the parish beyond these dates.

Each Saturday, there was a market held in the market square that sold meat and vegetables.   The chief crops grown in the parish were wheat, barley and oats.  There were also large annual fairs for the selling of cattle and sheep held at various times throughout the year.  Kelly (1893) lists the dates as the first Thursday in May, September and October and the last Thursday in March.    

The Three Crowns, opposite the church in Chagford, complete with its thatched roof.The Ring of Bells, with its black and white sign hanging outside.The Globe Inn, also opposite the Church in Chagford.
Some Public Houses in Chagford
The Three Crowns (left), The Ring of Bells (middle) and The Globe Inn (right)

Both WHITE's (1850) and KELLY's trade directories show that Chagford had a number of public houses in the parish.  Their landlords are listed below.

Name WHITE (1850) KELLY (1893)
Bakers' Arms Rd. HOLMES (wheelwright) William LYDDON
Globe Inn Henry COOPER (cooper) James Usher WINKFIELD
King's Arms (listed as family and commercial hotel and posting house in 1893) John HOOPER
Samuel Henry JEWELL
Royal Oak George HARVEY (butcher)  
Ring of Bells Richard STANBURY Lewis HOLMES (butcher)
Three Crowns (listed as Hotel in Kelly's) John BROCK Joseph COLLINS

Kelly's (1893) also lists quite a few other properties that were either hotels or lodging houses, used for people staying in the parish.  Because of the area's beauty and evidence of the prehistoric remains of stone circles and the like, which appear to have fascinated the Victorians, Chagford appears to have been quite a popular tourist resort in the latter half of the 19th century when the idea of "holidays" began to take off.  Kelly tells us that:

"This portion of Dartmoor is much frequented in the summer time by invalids, its dry and bracing air having been found very beneficial to persons having consumptive tendency; it is also a constant resort of tourists, antiquaries and anglers." (p. 105)

Chagford Today

Chagford today, still remains a popular visitor attraction to those who venture to Dartmoor.  As you can see from the pictures of Chagford above, I have visited the parish and can truly vouch that it is a lovely place and well worth a visit, if you get the chance.   Although today the parish still only has around 1500 inhabitants, to some designating that it should be a "village", its residents strongly defend its status of being a town because of its historical importance in the history of Dartmoor.


Books - click for sources.

My special thanks to the Dartmoor National Park Authority for allowing me to use their free newspaper entitled "Dartmoor Visitor" as a source for some of the historical information connected with Chagford, as cited above.

Dartmoor National Park Authority (2002) "Dartmoor Visitor", Dart Publishing Dartmouth, Devon.

Please note that where cited - information from the Dartmoor Visitor, remains copyright to the Dartmoor National Park Authority and permission must be obtained to use this material in publication. This piece has been written in my own words and information added from other sources, as listed.  The pictures of Chagford are my own.

Historic Populations

Year 1801 1851 1901 1931 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 1115 1557 1397 1584 1346 1250 1394 1421 1466

Source: 1801-1991 Census ©Crown Copyright
Source: 2001 Registrar General Population Estimates

Data originally from Devon Facts and Figures part of the Devon County Council website. [no longer available]

Maps of the Area


  • Chagford in GENUKI giving information about the parish and an old map of the Parish Boundaries.
  • Welcome to Chagford the parishes very own lovely website with lots of photo's and information about Chagford.

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