South Brent lies on the River Avon just to the west of the A38 Devon Expressway, and nestles within the eastern foothills of Dartmoor, five miles north east of Ivybridge, six miles west of Totnes and seven miles south south-west of Ashburton.
South Brent today is a thriving community, having expanded considerably in recent years, with a supermarket, shops, businesses, school, village hall, two pubs and a community centre.
Although usually classified as a large village, its size and amenities are such that it could be considered a small town.
Some industry still remains, but proximity to the A38 means that many residents now commute to work elsewhere in the county.
Evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the area sill clearly remains, particularly on Brent Moor where hut circles abound in several clusters, while South Brent itself was certainly settled in Saxon times. Stonework from that period survives in the lowest part of the tower of St Petroc’s Church, which was otherwise reconstructed in Norman times as the central feature of a cruciform plan that had transepts on each of its sides.
By 1247 South Brent was described as being no more than a village with a Church and seven houses, yet it was also said to be at the heart of one of the richest manors in the area, with a flourishing economy based almost entirely on the husbandry of sheep and the processing of wool.
It is probable that the tin industry also made a contribution to the local economy in medieval and later times. There is evidence of tin streaming along the Bala Brook and other sites on Brent Moor, while south of Corringdon Ball a tin mill is recorded at a site beside the Glaze Brook.
From the fourteenth century onwards no fewer than five mills lined the banks of the River Avon between the Crackhills Mill site north of Lydia Bridge and the Brent Mill site a little way out of the village to the south. In later years Brent Mill was converted to a paper mill before it was finally closed in the 1930s. The Crackhills Mill began life as a flour mill but later became one of the principal sail canvas mills supplying the Devon shipbuilding industry until the advent of steam-driven vessels brought an end to demand.
The village also lay on the packhorse route between Exeter and Plymouth, and when the road was turnpiked in the eighteenth century the village enjoyed a measure of importance as a staging post.
Growth was stimulated still further by the arrival of the South Devon Railway on 15 June 1848, while from 19 December 1893 South Brent station also served as the junction with the branch line to Kingsbridge.
By 1850, according to White’s Devonshire Directory the population of the parish numbered 1,237. South Brent itself “was formerly a market town, and has still two annual fairs, on the last Tuesdays in April and September, the former called the lamb, and the latter the goose fair, but both are extensive marts for sheep, cattle, and horses, held "under the glove," a glove being suspended on a pole during the fairs.”
At the start of the twentieth century the market ceased to function, the station closed in 1964, and the construction of the new A38 in the 1970’s by-passed the settlement completely, noticeably reducing South Brent’s importance as an industrial and commercial centre.
St Petroc’s Church boasts a massive Norman tower, apparently the central tower of a cruciform Norman building. The west portion of the church was possibly demolished early in the fourteenth century when the existing nave was rebuilt with two transepts which were enlarged in to aisles early in the fifteenth century. The fine Norman font, of red sandstone, is late twelfth century in date and is similar in style to others in Blackawton and Buckfastleigh churches.
Although widened since they were originally built, two packhorse bridges still cross the River Avon about half a mile north and south of the village centre, the first on the route that follows the valley of the Avon northwards into the moor, the other on the old route between Exeter and Plymouth that skirts the southern part of the moor and passes through the village from the direction of Harbourneford.