Devon (pronounced /ˈdɛvən/) is a large county in South West England. The county is also referred to as Devonshire, although that is an unofficial name, rarely used inside of the county itself and often indicating a traditional or historical context. The county shares borders with Cornwall to the west and Dorset and Somerset to the east. Its coastline follows the English Channel to the south and the Bristol Channel to the north. It is the only county in England with two separate coastlines.
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 Exeter and the county contains two independent unitary authorities: the port city of Plymouth and the Torbay 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 Dartmoor 954 km2 (368 square miles), the largest open space in southern England .
The county is home to part of England's only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dorset and East Devon Coast, known as the Jurassic Coast for its geology and geographical features. Along with its neighbour, Cornwall, Devon is known as the "Cornubian massif". This geology gives rise to the landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, 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). William Camden, in his 1607 edition of Britannia, described Devon as being one part of an older, wider country that once included Cornwall:
THAT region which, according to the Geographers, is the first of all Britaine, and, growing straiter still and narrower, shooteth out farthest into the West, […] was in antient time inhabited by those Britans whom Solinus called Dunmonii, […] But the Country of this nation is at this day divided into two parts, knowen by later names of Cornwall and Denshire, […]
—William Camden, Britannia.
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 Derbyshire. 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.
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 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 Wessex, 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 Brixham.
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 Cornwall 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.
Part of the seafront of Torquay, south Devon, at high tide
The attractive lifestyle of the area is drawing in 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. 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.
Dartmoor, view to Sharpitor from the Meavy River
This revival has been aided by the designation of much of Devon's countryside and coastline as the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, and the Jurassic Coast and Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Sites. In 2004 the county's tourist revenue was £1.2 billion.
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, Dartmoor. Devon's third major rock system is the Culm Measures, a geological formation of the Carboniferous period that occurs principally in Devon and Cornwall. 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 Bideford to Bude in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape.
Heathland at Woodbury Common in south east Devon
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).
Inland, the Dartmoor National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoor National Park lies in both Devon and Somerset. 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 Devon the landscape consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, such as Dartmouth, Ivybridge, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, and Totnes. The towns of Torquay and Paignton are the principal seaside resorts on the south coast.
The Village of Muckwell, South Devon
East Devon has the first seaside resort to be developed in the county, Exmouth and the more upmarket Georgian town of Sidmouth,
headquarters of the East Devon District Council. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
Lynmouth Harbour, North Devon
North Devon is very rural with few major towns except Barnstaple, Great Torrington, Bideford and Ilfracombe.
Geography of North Devon
Open coastal plateaux
Found along the Atlantic Coast between Bude and Ilfracombe, frequently interrupted by lower-lying landscape types, especially between Westward Ho! and Woolacombe this type is characterised by dense low hedges (often elm) with occasional hedgerow oaks, little woodland, few roads but many rights of way, very low settlement density, influence of geology on land form, and extensive views along the coast.
Farmed lowland moorland
Lying inland from Hartland Point, between Clovelly and Welcombe, this landscape type is characterised by very flat moorland, predominantly inland character with small coastal fringe, pastoral cultivation with dominant conifer plantations, notably regular field patterns with areas of unenclosed moorland heath and scrub, shallow streams and rush-dominated roadside ditches indicative of impeded drainage, sparse settlement pattern of hamlets and isolated farms with some tourism and leisure uses, and a sparse highway network of narrow straight lanes.
Mainly at intervals along the western Atlantic coast to the south of Hartland Point this type landscape type is characterised by narrow, steep individual or multiple branching valley systems ,dense woodland, predominantly with broadleaf trees, small areas of pasture and scrub with irregular small-scale field patterns marked by low hedgebanks, extremely sparsely settled with stone as dominant building material, limited or absent road network, limited vehicle access to coast and coastal rights of way, and scattered with tranquil and remote enclosed in combes.
Settled coastal slopes and combes
Facing north to the Atlantic around Ilfracombe and Clovelly this landscape type is characterised by steeply sloping narrow valley systems, a mix of unenclosed woodland and small to medium irregular fields with wide hedgebanks, pasture with frequent wet pasture and horse paddocks, extensive linear settlement just above narrow, flat valley floor, with Victorian architecture and small scale 20th Century ‘resort’ development, sparse winding narrow lanes, and lush vegetation. Steep open slopes
This west-facing coastal type between Morte Point and Braunton, overlooking series of sandy beaches, is characterised by sloping hillside adjoining but not part of coastal cliffs, open pastoral farmland without woods or trees but with low hedges and hedgebanks, mix of pasture, rough grazing and low scrub, regular field patterns of variable size, limited network of minor roads, smallscale hamlets of vernacular style or extensive coastal settlements with much leisure-related development, and extensive coastal views
These small areas above the beaches and dunes at Croyde and Braunton are characterised by their gently rolling landform sloping up from valley floor, small fields with medium to tall boundaries, a variety of building ages, styles and settlement size, much leisure-related development with strong influence of coastal or marine activities, much use of stone, winding narrow lanes, streams, and largely tranquil out of season.
Related to the Braunton Great Field and Braunton Marsh, this landscape type is set back from the river Taw to the south and protected from westerly maritime influence by Saunton Sands and Braunton Burrows. Its key characteristics include; open flat landform, often with distinct vegetated floodplain edge, shallow watercourses screened by riparian vegetation, pastoral or arable land use with variable field sizes, rare survival of medieval open field strip system (Braunton Great Field), unenclosed or with stone walls and hedges as well as drainage ditches, unsettled, narrow winding lanes, open internally with views out screened by boundary vegetation, estuarine or river valley character and exceedingly tranquil.
Unsettled marine levels
Predominantly centred on the Skern mudflats on the southern flank of Taw/Torridge estuary this character type is distinguishable as a flat unsettled river valley, with marine influence on terrestrial habitats. Its proximity to roads and settlements in adjoining areas reduces tranquillity, however it retains traditional floodplain habitats and a high level of biodiversity.
Either side of the Taw Torridge estuary mouth and further north along north-western Devon coast (Woolacombe, Croyde, Saunton and Westward Ho! beaches this landscape type is characterised by enormous flat sandy beaches, extensive recreational use, a protected by pebble ridge, low rocks, cliffs and dune systems, unenclosed, unsettled and without roads, good access but few footpaths and with extensive views along the coast.
Along north-western Devon coast, to east of extensive beaches and characterised by its extensive dune systems, this landscape type has been recognised as internationally important for its biodiversity. Other characteristics include extensive recreational use, some rush-dominated pasture, almost entirely unsettled and without roads and is open but not exposed except along western edge.
To the north and west coasts of North Devon, excluding Taw-Torridge estuary, this landscape type demonstrates near-vertical, steeply sloping cliffs which remain unsettled and inaccessible. Scattered with narrow shingle beaches, small stony coves or rocky foreshore at foot of cliffs, these areas are only accessible along cliff top via South West Coast Path where there are also extensive views along coastline.
The Great Hangman
Devon's Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman, 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 Point 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.
Westward Ho Beach
The beaches of Bideford Bay (Woolacombe, Saunton, Westward Ho! and Croyde), along with parts of North Cornwall and South Wales, are the main centres of surfing in Britain.
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 Britain to cultivate olives commercially.
Cities, towns and villages
2. East Devon
3. Mid Devon
4. North Devon
6. West Devon
7. South Hams
9. Plymouth (Unitary)
10. Torbay (Unitary)
The inner harbour, Brixham, south Devon, at low tide
The main settlements in Devon are the cities of Plymouth, a historic port now administratively independent, Exeter, the county town, and Torbay, 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 Dawlish, Exmouth and Sidmouth on the south coast, and Ilfracombe and Lynmouth on the north. The Torbay conurbation of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham 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 Axminster, Barnstaple, Bideford, Honiton, Newton Abbot, Okehampton, Tavistock, Totnes and Tiverton.
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 Truro.)
Coat of arms
The coat of arms of Devon County Council
There was no established coat of arms for the county until 1926: the arms of the City of Exeter 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 Arms.
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 University, 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 Whimple every January 17th and the carrying of flaming tar barrels in Ottery St. Mary, 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 back.