Located just to the west of the A38 Devon Expressway on the southern slopes of Dartmoor the ancient stannary town of Ashburton lies roughly half way between Plymouth and Exeter. As the largest town within the Dartmoor National Park, housing a population of 4,170, it is home today to many galleries, book and antique shops.
One of the oldest still surviving in Devon, and believed to have been started in the mid 1880s to raise funds for a new hospital, the Ashburton Carnival is held every summer and lasts 10 days, culminating in a grand procession of floats through the town on the Saturday, helping to raise money for local charities, town groups and clubs.
Another annual event, held towards the end of July, the Bread Weighing & Ale Tasting Ceremony, sees a procession through the town of members of the Court Leet and Baron Jury, the Town Council and other local people in medieval costume, and culminating in a Medieval Fair.
September sees the highly popular annual Food & Drink Festival, when more than 60 stalls line St Lawrence Lane and North Street, along with live entertainment, street food, talks and cookery demonstrations.
In July 2017 the former Methodist Chapel was purchased by the community and has since been reborn as a community arts centre and work hub, staging concerts and other events.
One of only four Stannary Towns in Devon, the others being Plympton, Chagford and Tavistock, and designated as such as early as 1285, Ashburton owed much of its early prosperity to the tin mining of Dartmoor and the woollen industry.
Tin had been mined in the area since Roman times, and all rough smelted tin had to be weighed, checked for quality and stamped before being taken away for use. At its peak in 1515 almost 40% of Devon's tin was sold through Ashburton but, by the beginning of the eighteenth century the trade had all but ceased.
By the same time many of the woollen mills lining the River Ashburn had also gone in to decline and, from then on, the town largely made its living from trade passing on the main Plymouth to Exeter road.
In 1766 the Methodist John Wesley wrote: “In the evening I preached in the street at Ashburton. Many behaved with decency; but the rest, with such stupid rudeness as I have not seen, for a long time, in any part of England.”
In 1868, according to the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, the town’s population numbered 3,062, dwelling in a total of 574 houses.
One of the oldest buildings in Ashburton, The Chapel of St Lawrence began life as a private chapel for the Bishop of Exeter, but in 1314 was given to the town on condition a Chantry School was maintained there. It is now, throughout the summer season, a Heritage Centre, open to the public.
Erected at the end of the twelfth century and entirely re-built in the fifteenth, the Parish Church of St Andrew boasts a tower 92 feet high and is noteworthy for the long wagon roof, the arches and piers of the nave.
Another historic site with religious connections is St Gudula's Well and Cross on the Old Totnes Road. The well and cross are thought to be named for St Gulval
The building now occupied by the Museum was once a brush factory, housing a collection of items of local interest as well as a large collection of North American Indian artifacts.
The Town Hall, built in 1848, began life as an open and arcade pannier market, the arches of which are still clearly visible today when viewed from North Street.