Today the town centre is 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 still retaining many, if not all, of their original features, styles and character.
Tourism is an important economic contributor. Proximity to Dartmoor making the town an ideal base for walking and cycling, while Buckfast Abbey and its infamous eponymous tonic wine, known as Buckie, manufactured by the monks and particularly popular in parts of Scotland, is also a magnet for visitors.
In 1018 a Benedictine Abbey was founded and endorsed by King Canute at Buckfast, a name which means stronghold, traditionally a place where deer and buck were held, while leigh would have been the pasture belonging to Buckfast.
In 1315 Buckfast was listed along with Forde, Newenham and Torre Abbey as an exporter of wool to Florence, but like most Abbeys in the country it is probable Buckfast was sending wool to Italy by the end of the previous century.
Medieval in origin and originally a quiet market town filled with pilgrims, Buckfastleigh was transformed during the Industrial Revolution in to a mill town, known for its woollen mills, corn and paper mills and a tannery driven by the water power of the rivers Dart, Mardle and the Dean Burn.
By the seventeenth century most of the original properties had been rebuilt but the medieval layout, particularly in Fore Street, can still be seen today. Even so, until around the middle of the nineteenth century Buckfastleigh was effectively two separate settlements, Lower Town and Higher Town, each with its own main street, namely Fore Street and Market Street respectively.
The railway from Buckfastleigh and Ashburton to Totnes was opened in 1872 and the line from Buckfastleigh to Totnes still operates today as a heritage railway, using vintage steam locomotives and carriages in the tradition of a bygone age.
During the first half of the twentieth century the town centre was a lively almost self-sufficient community with locally based employment. In the 1920′s Buckfastleigh Urban and District Council began a large building programme of local authority housing that extended the town to the South West and the North West.
The town hall was built in 1887 by the Hamlyn family, the owners of the woollen mills up until 1920, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Founded by Earl Aylward in 1018 Buckfast Abbey was looted and destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, standing in ruin for almost 350 years until, in 1882, six Benedictine monks arrived, having been exiled from France. When the first new abbot Boniface Natter died in a shipwreck in 1906 Anscar Vonier, his successor pledged to fulfil his predecessor’s dying wish. The rebuilt abbey was consecrated in 1932.
A village inn for more than two centuries until it closed in the 1960s, The Valiant Soldier still retains the atmosphere of a working-man’s pub during the 1940s and 50s. Today it is a visitor attraction where everything, including the pub artefacts and furniture, was simply left while the premises remained closed for over 30 years.