Dating from the eighth century and located within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the small market town of Modbury, some 12 miles to the east of Plymouth and about 5 miles from the South Devon coast, lies surrounded by rolling hills, wooded glades and winding country lanes. With a current population of approximately 1,700 the town boasts a strong community spirit and where, since April 2007, local traders have refused to give their customers plastic bags for environmental reasons, an initiative since copied by other communities around the country.
The local centre for the surrounding villages, Modbury boasts a good number of independent shops, pubs and cafés, many maintaining period frontages.
The town centre has a designated conservation area, with listed buildings including St George's Church, whose spire can be seen from many miles around, providing a focal point for both travellers and visitors.
Annual highlights include The May Fair, where events include the Modbury Mile, a race around town for both young and old, and the switching on of the Christmas Lights.
By the early tenth century the town was a trading centre with a portreeve to oversee all transactions. Chosen by the freemen at the Michaelmas Fulfilling Court and assuming office at the following Leet the position of portreeve survived until 1963, when the custom was discontinued.
In 1155 a charter from the Lord of the Manor, Roger de Valletort, permitted markets and fairs to be held regularly. The earliest written reference to a borough town appears to be 1238, when it is recorded that Henry the wool carder was outlawed for killing Benedict le Combere, a crime which involved Modbury Burgh with the itinerant justices of the Crown.
Katherine Champernowne, the mother of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humprey Gilbert, both of whom made their way across the Atlantic, was born in or around Modbury towards the end of the fifteenth century or the start of the sixteenth. And, from the middle of the sixteenth century through to the middle of the twentieth a noticeable number of families from in and around the town emigrated to America. Perhaps the most famous were a family of hatters named Stidson, one of whose descendants, John Patterson Stetson, was to create the eponymous cowboy hat.
In the seventeenth century the town was the setting for two of the battles in the English Civil War. The first, fought on 9 December 1642, was a minor royalist victory, when a small Royalist force put to flight a smaller Parliamentarian force. The second took place on 21 February 1643 when, outnumbered approximately four to one and running short of ammunition, the 2,000 royalist defenders retreated. This victory was largely instrumental in the lifting of the Siege of Plymouth, and the driving of the encircling Royalist forces into Cornwall.
In 1774 a cattle and livestock market was established, taking place on the second Monday of every month. Sheep pens were set up outside the White Hart and pig pens outside the Exeter Inn.
At the start of the nineteenth century the population had risen to 1,813, with almost half engaged in the wool trade. However the mechanisation of the wool trade from the middle of the 1820s and onwards severely impacted on the economic prosperity of the town and many left in search of employment.
The town’s Heritage Trail takes in 12 sites, each of which are highlighted with brass plaques. These include the Town Reservoir in Brownston Street; The Modbury Literary and Scientific Institution, also in Brownston Street; the fourteenth century Exeter Inn; The Barracks where soldiers were stationed to defend the South Devon coast and Plymouth against invasion during the Napoleonic Wars; and the Chain House, again in Brownston Street.
Dedicated in 1320, St George's Church is a Grade 1 listed building and a dominant feature of the town.