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Devon ( ) is a large county in Englandmarker. The county is also referred to as Devonshire, although that is an unofficial name, rarely used inside the county itself and often indicating a traditional or historical context. The county shares borders with Cornwallmarker to the west and Dorsetmarker and Somersetmarker to the east. Its coastline follows the English Channelmarker to the south and the Bristol Channelmarker to the north.

Devon is the third largest of the English counties and has a population of 1,109,900. The county town is the cathedral city of Exetermarker and the county contains two independent unitary authorities: the port city of Plymouthmarker and the Torbaymarker conurbation of seaside resorts, in addition to Devon County Council itself. Plymouth is also the biggest city in Devon. Much of the county is rural (including national park) land, with a low population density by British standards. It contains Dartmoormarker 954 km2 (368 square miles), the largest open space in southern England .

The county is home to part of England's only natural UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site, the Dorset and East Devon Coast, known as the Jurassic Coastmarker for its geology and geographical features. Along with its neighbour, Cornwallmarker, Devon is known as the "Cornubian massif". This geology gives rise to the landscapes of Dartmoormarker and Exmoormarker, which are both national parks. Devon has seaside resorts and historic towns and cities, and a mild climate, accounting for the large tourist sector of its economy.



The name 'Devon' derives from the name of the Celtic people who inhabited the southwestern peninsula of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion c. AD 50, known as the Dumnonii, thought to mean 'deep valley dwellers'. In the Brythonic Celtic languages, Devon is known as Dyfnaint (Welsh), Devnent in Breton and Dewnans (Cornish). (For an account of Celtic Dumnonia see the separate article.)

William Camden, in his 1607 edition of Britannia, described Devon as being one part of an older, wider country that once included Cornwall:

There is some dispute over the use of 'Devonshire' instead of Devon, and there is no official recognition of the term 'Devonshire' in modern times, except for the name of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. One erroneous theory is that the 'shire' suffix is due to a mistake in the making of the original letters patent for the Duke of Devonshire, resident in Derbyshiremarker. However, there are references to 'Defenascire' in Anglo-Saxon texts from before 1,000 AD (this would mean 'Shire of the Devonians'), which translates to modern English as 'Devonshire'. The term Devonshire may have originated around the 8th century, when it changed from Dumnonia (Latin) to Defenascir.

Human occupation

Devon was one of the first areas of what is now England to be settled after the end of the last ice age. Dartmoormarker is thought to have been settled by Mesolithic hunter-gatherer peoples from about 6,000 BC. The Romans held the area under military occupation for around 250 years. Later the area became a frontier between Brythonic Dumnonia and Anglo-Saxon Wessexmarker, and it was absorbed into Wessex by the mid 9th century.

Devon has also featured in most of the civil conflicts in England since the Norman Conquest, including the Wars of the Roses, Perkin Warbeck's rising in 1497, the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, and the English Civil War. The arrival of William of Orange to launch the Glorious Revolution of 1688 took place at Brixhammarker.

Devon has produced tin, copper and other metals from ancient times. Devon's tin miners enjoyed a substantial degree of independence through Devon's Stannary Parliament, which dates back to the 12th century. The last recorded sitting was in 1748.

Economy and industry

Like neighbouring Cornwallmarker to the west, Devon is disadvantaged economically compared to other parts of Southern England, owing to the decline of a number of core industries, notably fishing, mining and farming. Consequently, most of Devon has qualified for the European Community Objective 2 status. The 2001 UK foot and mouth crisis harmed the farming community severely.

The attractive lifestyle of the area is drawing in new industries which are not heavily dependent upon geographical location ; Dartmoormarker, for instance, has recently seen a significant rise in the percentage of its inhabitants involved in the financial services sector. In 2003, the Met Office, the UK's national and international weather service, moved to Exeter. Devon is one of the rural counties, with the advantages and challenges characteristic of these. Despite this, the county's economy is also heavily influenced by its two main urban centres, Plymouth and Exeter.

Since the rise of seaside resorts with the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, Devon's economy has been heavily reliant on tourism. The county's economy has followed the declining trend of British seaside resorts since the mid-20th century, with some recent revival. This revival has been aided by the designation of much of Devon's countryside and coastline as the Dartmoormarker and Exmoormarker national parks, and the Jurassic Coastmarker and Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscapemarker World Heritage Sites. In 2004 the county's tourist revenue was £1.2 billion.

Geography and geology

The principal geological formations of Devon are the Devonian (in north Devon, south Devon and extending into Cornwall); the granite batholith of Dartmoor in central Devon; and the Culm Measures (also extending into north Cornwall). There are small remains of pre-Devonian rocks on the south Devon coast.

Devon gave its name to a geological era: the Devonian era, so named by Adam Sedgwick because the distinctive Old Red Sandstone of Exmoor was studied by geologists here. The whole of central Devon is occupied by the largest area of igneous rock in South West England, Dartmoormarker. Devon's third major rock system is the Culm Measures, a geological formation of the Carboniferous period that occurs principally in Devon and Cornwallmarker. They are so called because of the occasional presence of a soft, sooty coal, which is known in Devon as culm. This formation stretches from Bidefordmarker to Budemarker in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape. It is also found on the western, north and eastern borders of Dartmoor.

Devon is the only county in England to have two separate coastlines; the South West Coast Path runs along the entire length of both, around 65% of which is named as Heritage Coast. Devon has more mileage of road than any other county in England: before the changes to counties in 1974 it was the largest by area of the counties not divided into two or three parts. (its acreage was until 1974 1,658,288: only exceeded by the West Riding of Yorkshire). The islands of Lundymarker and Eddystone are also in Devon.

Inland, the Dartmoormarker National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoormarker National Park lies in both Devon and Somersetmarker. Apart from these areas of high moorland the county has attractive rolling rural scenery and villages with thatched cob cottages. All these features make Devon a popular holiday destination.

In South Devonmarker the landscape consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, such as Dartmouthmarker, Ivybridgemarker, Kingsbridgemarker, Salcombemarker, and Totnesmarker. The towns of Torquaymarker and Paigntonmarker are the principal seaside resorts on the south coast. East Devon has the first seaside resort to be developed in the county, Exmouthmarker and the more upmarket Georgian town of Sidmouthmarker, headquarters of the East Devon District Council. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coastmarker World Heritage Site.

North Devonmarker is very rural with few major towns except Barnstaplemarker, Great Torringtonmarker, Bidefordmarker and Ilfracombemarker. Devon's Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangmanmarker, a 318 m (1043 ft) "hog-backed" hill with an 250 m (820 ft) cliff-face, located near Combe Martin Bay . Its sister cliff is the 218 m (716 ft) Little Hangman, which marks the edge of Exmoor. One of the features of the North Devon coast is that Bideford Bay and the Hartland Pointmarker peninsula are both west-facing, Atlantic facing coastlines; so that a combination of an off-shore (east) wind and an Atlantic swell produce excellent surfing conditions. The beaches of Bideford Bay (Woolacombemarker, Sauntonmarker, Westward Ho!marker and Croydemarker), along with parts of North Cornwall and South Wales, are the main centres of surfing in Britain.


Devon has a mild climate all year round, with warm summers and cool/cold winters.


The variety of habitats means that there is a wide range of wildlife (see Dartmoor wildlife, for example). A popular challenge among birders is to find over 100 species in the county in a day. The county's wildlife is protected by the Devon Wildlife Trust, a charity which looks after 40 nature reserves. The botany of the county is very diverse and includes some rare species not found elsewhere in the British Isles other than Cornwall. Botanical reports begin in the 17th century and there is a Flora Devoniensis by Jones and Kingston in 1829, and a Flora of Devon in 1939 by Keble Martin and Fraser There is a general account by W. P. Hiern and others in The Victoria History of the County of Devon, vol. 1 (1906); pp. 55–130, with map. Devon is divided into two Watsonian vice-counties: north and south, the boundary being an irregular line approximately across the higher part of Dartmoor and then along the canal.

Rising temperatures have led to Devon becoming the first place in modern Britainmarker to cultivate olives commercially.

Politics and administration

The administrative centre of Devon is the city of Exetermarker. The largest city in Devon, Plymouthmarker, and the conurbation of Torbaymarker (including Torquaymarker, Paigntonmarker and Brixhammarker) have been unitary authorities since 1998 - separate from the remainder of Devon which is administered by Devon County Council for the purposes of local government.

Devon County Council is controlled by the Conservatives, and the political resprentation of its 62 councillors are: 41 Conservatives, 14 Liberal Democrats, four Labour, two Independent and one Green. At a national level, Devon has five Conservative MPs, three Liberal Democrat MPs, and three Labour MPs.

In December 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Governmentmarker referred Exeter City Council's bid to become a Unitary Council to the Boundary Committee for England, as they felt the application did not meet all their strict criteria. The Boundary Committee was asked to look at the feasibility of a unitary Exetermarker in the context of examining options for unitary arrangements in the wider Devon county area, and reported back in July 2008 recommending a 'unitary Devon' (excluding Plymouth and Torbay), with a second option of a 'unitary Exeter & Exmouth' (combined) and a unitary 'rest of Devon'. These proposals were put out to consultation until September 2008 and the Committee was expected to make final recommendations to the Secretary of State by the end of the year. As a result of a number of legal challenges to the process and also dissatisfaction on the part of the Secretary of State with the manner in which the Boundary Committee is assesing proposals, it now looks likely that a recommendation will not be forthcoming until March or April 2009.

Cities, towns and villages

The main settlements in Devon are the cities of Plymouth, a historic port now administratively independent, Exeter, the county town, and Torbaymarker, the county's tourist centre. Devon's coast is lined with tourist resorts, many of which grew rapidly with the arrival of the railways in the 19th century. Examples include Dawlishmarker, Exmouthmarker and Sidmouthmarker on the south coast, and Ilfracombemarker and Lynmouthmarker on the north. The Torbaymarker conurbation of Torquaymarker, Paigntonmarker and Brixhammarker on the south coast is perhaps the largest and most popular of these resorts, and is now administratively independent of the county. Rural market towns in the county include Axminstermarker, Barnstaplemarker, Bidefordmarker, Honitonmarker, Newton Abbotmarker, Okehamptonmarker, Tavistockmarker, Totnesmarker and Tivertonmarker.

The boundary with Cornwall has not always been on the River Tamar as at present: until the late 19th century a few parishes in the Torpoint area were in Devon and five parishes now in north-east Cornwall were in Devon until 1974. (However for ecclesiastical purposes these were nevertheless in the Archdeaconry of Cornwall and in 1876 became part of the Diocese of Truromarker.)


Celtic and Roman practice were the first religion in Devon, although in the first centuries AD, Christianity in Devon began. Western Christianity was introduced into Devon along with the rest of Great Britainmarker. Over time it became the official religion, superseding previous Early Christianity in Devon was spread largely by the saints. Devon like other parts of Britain, is sometimes associated with the distinct collection of practices known as Celtic Christianity but was always in communion with the wider Roman Catholic Church. Many Cornish saints are commemorated also in Devon in legends, churches and placenames.

Saint Petrocmarker is said to have passed through Devon, where ancient dedications to him are even more numerous than in Cornwall: a probable seventeen (plus Timberscombemarker just over the border in Somerset), compared to Cornwall's five. The position of churches bearing his name, including one within the old Roman walls of Exetermarker (Karesk), are nearly always near the coast reminding us that in those days travelling was done mainly by sea. The Devonian villages of Petrockstowemarker and Newton St Petroc are also named after Saint Petroc and the flag of Devon is dedicated to him.

The history of Christianity in the South West of Englandmarker remains to some degree obscure. Parts of the historic county of Devon formed part of the diocese of Wessex, while nothing is known of the church organization of the Celtic areas. About 703 Devon and Cornwall were included in the separate diocese of Sherborne and in 900 this was again divided into two, the Devon bishop having from 905 his seat at Tawton (now Bishop's Tawtonmarker) and from 912 at Creditonmarker, birthplace of St Boniface. Lyfing became Bishop of Crediton in 1027 and shortly afterwards became Bishop of Cornwall.

The two dioceses of Crediton and Cornwall, covering Devon and Cornwall, were permanently united under Edward the Confessor by Lyfing's successor Bishop Leofric, hitherto Bishop of Crediton, who became first Bishop of Exeter under Edward the Confessor, which was established as his cathedral city in 1050. At first the abbey church of St Mary and St Peter, founded by Athelstan in 932 and rebuilt in 1019, served as the cathedral.

Later history

In 1549, the Prayer Book Rebellion caused the deaths of thousands of people from Devon and Cornwall. During the English Reformation, churches in Devon officially became affiliated with the Church of England. The Methodism of John Wesley proved to be very popular with the working classes in Devon in the 19th century. Methodist chapels became important social centres, with male voice choirs and other church-affiliated groups playing a central role in the social lives of working class Devonians. Methodism still plays a large part in the religious life of Devon today, although the county has shared in the post-World War II decline in British religious feeling.

The Diocese of Exetermarker diocese remains the Anglican diocese including the whole of Devon. A Roman Catholic diocese was established at Plymouthmarker in the mid 19th century.


Coat of arms

There was no established coat of arms for the county until 1926: the arms of the City of Exetermarker were often used to represent Devon, for instance in the badge of the Devonshire Regiment. During the forming of a county council by the Local Government Act 1888 adoption of a common seal was required. The seal contained three shields depicting the arms of Exeter along with those of the first chairman and vice-chairman of the council (Lord Clinton and the Earl of Morley).

On 11 October 1926, the county council received a grant of arms from the College of Armsmarker. The main part of the shield displays a red crowned lion on a silver field, the arms of Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cornwall. The chief or upper portion of the shield depicts an ancient ship on wavers, for Devon's seafaring traditions. The Latin motto adopted was Auxilio Divino (by Divine aid), that of Sir Francis Drake. The 1926 grant was of arms alone. On 6 March 1962 a further grant of crest and supporters was obtained. The crest is the head of a Dartmoor Pony rising from a "Naval Crown". This distinctive form of crown is formed from the sails and sterns of ships, and is associated with the Royal Navy. The supporters are a Devon bull and a sea lion.

The County Council adopted a 'ship silhouette' logo after the 1974 reorganisation, adapted from the ship emblem on the coat of arms, but following the loss in 1998 of Plymouth and Torbay re-adopted the coat of arms. In April 2006 the council unveiled a new logo which was to be used in most everyday applications, though the coat of arms will continue to be used for "various civic purposes".


Devon also has its own flag which has been dedicated to Saint Petroc, a local saint with dedications throughout Devon and neighbouring counties. The 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 colours of the flag are those popularly identified with Devon, for example, the colours of Exeter Universitymarker, the rugby union team, and the Green and White flag flown by the first Viscount Exmouth at the Bombardment of Algiers (now on view at the Teign Valley Museum), as well as the county's most successful football team, Plymouth Argyle. On 17 October 2006, the flag was hoisted for the first time outside County Hall in Exeter to mark Local Democracy Week, receiving official recognition from the county council.

Place names and customs

Devon's place names include many with the endings 'coombe/combe' and 'tor' - Coombe being the Brythonic word for 'valley' or hollow (cf Welsh 'cwm') whilst tor derives from a number of Celtic loan-words in English (Old Welsh twrr and Scots Gaelic tòrr) and is used as a name for the formations of rocks found on the moorlands. Its frequency is greatest in Devon, where it is the second most common place name component (after 'ton', derived from the Old English 'tun' meaning farm, village).

Devon has a variety of festivals and traditional practices, including the traditional orchard-visiting Wassail in Whimplemarker every January 17th and the carrying of flaming tar barrels in Ottery St. Marymarker, where people who have lived in Ottery for long enough are called upon to celebrate Bonfire Night by running through the village (and the gathered crowds) with flaming barrels of tar on their backs.


Devon has a mostly comprehensive education system. There are 37 state and 23 independent secondary schools. There are three tertiary (FE) colleges and an agricultural college (Bicton Collegemarker, near Budleigh Saltertonmarker). Torbay has 8 state (with 3 grammar schools) and 3 independent secondary schools, and Plymouth has 17 state (with 3 grammar schools - two female and one male) and 2 independent secondary schools. East Devon and Teignbridge have the largest school populations, with West Devon the smallest (with only two schools). Only one school in Exeter, Mid Devon, Torridge and North Devon have a sixth form - the schools in other districts mostly have sixth forms, with all schools in West Devon and East Devon having a sixth form. The county also plays host to two major UK universities, the University of Exetermarker (split between the Streatham Campusmarker and St Luke's Campusmarker both in Exeter and a campus in Cornwallmarker); in Plymouth the University of Plymouthmarker, the fourth largest university in the UK is present, along with the Marjon's Collegemarker to the city's north. Both the universities of Exeter and Plymouth have co-formed the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry which is based in Plymouth. There is also Schumacher College.


The county has given its name to a number of culinary specialities. The Devonshire cream tea, involving scones, jam and clotted cream, is thought to have originated in Devon (though claims have also been made for neighbouring counties); in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealandmarker, it is known as a "Devonshire tea". In New South Walesmarker, Australia, Devon is a name for luncheon meat (processed ham).

In October 2008, Devon was awarded Fairtrade County status by the Fairtrade Foundation.


Devon has been home to a number of customs, such as its own form of wrestling. As recently as the 19th century, a crowd of 17,000 at Devonport, near Plymouthmarker, attended a match between the champions of Devon and Cornwall. Another Devon sport was outhurling which was played in some regions until the 20th century (e.g. 1922, at Great Torrington). Other ancient customs which survive include Dartmoormarker step dancing, and 'Crying The Neck'.

Devon has three professional football teams, based in each of its three most populated towns and cities. Competing in the Football League Championship, Plymouth Argyle F.C. are the biggest and most successful team in the county whilst Exeter City F.C. play in Football League One. Torquay United compete in the Football League Two. Plymouth's best performance came in 1987 when they finished seventh in the Football League Second Division, while Torquay and Exeter have never progressed beyond the third tier of the league. The county's biggest non-league club is Tiverton Town F.C. which competes in the Southern Football League Premier Division.

Rugby Union is popular in Devon. Two teams — Plymouth Albionmarker and Exeter Chiefs — are, as of 2009, in the Championship (the national second tier). In basketball, Plymouth Raiders play in the British Basketball League. Tamar Valley Cannons, also based in Plymouthmarker, are Devon's only other representatives in the National Leagues. Motorcycle speedway is also supported in the county, with both the Exeter Falcons and Plymouth Devils succeeding in the National Leagues in recent years.

There are four rugby league teams in Devon. Plymouth Titans, Exeter Centurions, Devon Sharks from Torquay and East Devon Eagles from Exmouth. They all play in the Rugby League Conference.

Devon also boasts a field hockey club who play in the National Premier League - the University of Exeter Hockey Club

Famous Devonians

Devon is known for its mariners, such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Francis Chichester. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the crime writer Agatha Christie, the painter and founder of the Royal Academymarker, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the dog breeder John "Jack" Russell and frontman Chris Martin from the English rock group Coldplay were born in Devon. Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Christopher Wolstenholme from the English group Muse all grew up in Devon. Actor Bradley James was born in Devon. Trevor Francis, former Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City professional footballer was born and brought up in Plymouth. Singer Joss Stone was also born and brought up in Devon as was Peter Cook the satirist, writer and comedian.Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (poets).

See also


  1.|Natural England: Dartmoor retrieved 13 May 2009
  2. In Devon, the county council estimated that 1,200 jobs would be lost in agriculture and ancillary rural industriesHansard, 25th April 2001
  3. Devon County Council, 2005. Tourism trends in Devon.
  4. Edmonds, E. A., et al. (1975) South-West England; based on previous editions by H. Dewey (British Geological Survey UK Regional Geology Guide series no. 17, 4th ed.) London: HMSO ISBN 0-11-880713-7
  5. Dewey, Henry (1948) British Regional Geology: South West England, 2nd ed. London: H.M.S.O.
  6. Whitaker's Almanack, 1972; p. 631
  7.|Exmoor National Park, National Park Facts |accessdate=2009-05-10
  9. Jones, John Pike & Kingston, J. F. (1829) Flora Devoniensis. 2 pts, in 1 vol. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green
  10. Martin, W. Keble & Fraser, G. T. (eds.) (1939) Flora of Devon. Arbroath
  11. Bowen, E. G. (1977) Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands. Cardiff: University of Wales Press ISBN 0 900768 30 4
  12. A. C. Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition, London, 1915
  13. W. C. Scott-Giles, Civic Heraldry of England and Wales, 2nd edition, London, 1953
  14. A brief history of Devon's coat of arms (Devon County Council)
  15. Council's designs cause logo row (BBC News)
  16. Policy and Resources Overview Scrutiny Committee Minutes, April 3 2006
  17. BBC - Devon Community Life - Devon gets its own flag
  18. Devon County Council Press Release, 16 October 2006
  19. Mason, Laura; Brown, Catherine (1999) From Bath Chaps to Bara Brith. Totnes: Prospect Books
  20. Pettigrew, Jane (2004) Afternoon Tea. Andover: Jarrold
  21. Fitzgibbon, Theodora (1972) A Taste of England: the West Country. London: J. M. Dent

Further reading

  • Oliver, George (1846) Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis: being a collection of records and instruments illustrating the ancient conventual, collegiate, and eleemosynary foundations, in the Counties of Cornwall and Devon, with historical notices, and a supplement, comprising a list of the dedications of churches in the Diocese, an amended edition of the taxation of Pope Nicholas, and an abstract of the Chantry Rolls [with supplement and index]. Exeter: P. A. Hannaford, 1846, 1854, 1889
  • Pevsner, N. (1952) North Devon and South Devon (Buildings of England). 2 vols. Penguin Books

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