The historic mill town of Buckfastleigh and the neighbouring abbey village of Buckfast can be found nestling on the southern edge of eastern Dartmoor in Devon just off the A38, midway between the cities of Exeter and Plymouth.
The name “Buckfast” means “stronghold” – traditionally a place where deer and buck were held, and “Leigh” would have been the pasture belonging to Buckfast – hence the meaning: deer held in a pasture (buck-fast-leigh). Buckfast probably existed before Buckfastleigh as it is mentioned in the Domesday Book and in 1018 a Benedictine Abbey was founded and endorsed by King Canute at Buckfast.
Historically Buckfastleigh has grown as a mill town known for its woollen mills, corn and paper mills and a tannery supported by the rivers Dart, Mardle and the Dean Burn – water being an essential natural resource used in the manufacturing of wool and other products. Buckfastleigh is undoubtedly medieval in origin which is still evident in the original layout of the town. By the seventeenth century however, most of the properties had been rebuilt, but the medieval layout particularly in Fore Street is still visible today. Buckfastleigh town centre is now an area of mostly late eighteenth to early twentieth century buildings with an interesting collection of private dwellings, commercial and retail properties and public houses which retain many, if not all, of their original features, styles and character. The town centre during the first half of the twentieth century was a lively almost self-sufficient community with locally based employment and a large building programme of local authority housing initiated by Buckfastleigh Urban and District Council which commenced in the 1920′s and extended the town to the South West and the North West.
The most prominent benefactors of the town were the Hamlyn family who were the original owners of the woollen mills up until 1920 and, together with other philanthropists in the town, erected new cottages. In 1887 they were instrumental in the building of a new Town Hall and community building to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Land was also made available at this time for further public facilities which included Victoria Park, the tennis courts and the swimming pool.
The new primary school was built in 1875 and the railway line from Buckfastleigh and Ashburton to Totnes was opened in 1872. Today the town still retains much of its character and charm despite periods of hardship, and the popularity of a variety of local attractions and events has ensured that the communities of Buckfastleigh and Buckfast stay firmly on the map and attract visitors from far and wide.
Text: Judith M. Hart, Buckfastleigh Town Clerk
Buckfastleigh Town Council welcomes you to our town and our website, and we hope you enjoy your visit to our piece of Devon history.