When people come to the West country and find themselves in Devon, they get to appreciate the many beaches where they can surf or take long walks. But what a lot of visitors don’t realise is that there are many people and places that are famous in Devon. For many, the first that springs to mind is, simply, cream teas.
There are lots of places and a list of people who have made Devon famous. We’ll have a look at some of them here.
- Devon cream teas
This is an afternoon event that involves a pot of tea taken with scones and some famous clotted cream, from Devon, topped off with jam, usually strawberry but other jams will suffice.
This activity traditionally takes place in tea rooms which can be found, in their hundreds, all over Devon. As with any famous tradition, the origins of the Devon cream tea are disputed. It may be helpful to know that there is evidence of the eating of bread together with cream and jam, dating back to the 11th century, at Tavistock Abbey in Devon.
The Devon cream tea has variations that have generated discussions and arguments about how it should be eaten. The usual method is to cut the scone into two halves then cover each half with Devon clotted cream. The strawberry jam is then placed on top of the cream.
An intervention from neighbouring Cornwall, has it that the scone is cut in half, the Jam is then spread directly onto the scone with Devon clotted cream placed on top.
Many in Devon take the view that Cornwall should be left to do their own thing when it comes to how a Devon cream tea should be laid out. The cream on top approach is often used elsewhere in the country, with reports and sightings of it happening in London.
This is all very well but if you see or experience a cream tea in London with the cream on top of the Jam, just remember that London isn’t Devon.
To get the full experience of what Devon is all about, you really do need to take a cream tea whenever you visit.
- Dartmoor, a place of myths and legends in Devon
Dartmoor is famous for or some of the strangest stories. It is, of course, haunted, with stories of pixies, hounds and a headless horseman. There is the ghost of the black dog, often referred to as the ‘hell hound’, because of his association with the devil.
Those who have seen it insist that it’s a larger-than-normal dog and has pronounced glowing eyes. When you next come to Devon, try to coincide your visit with the summer months when there may be a thunderstorm because this is when you are, apparently, likely to have your best chance to see this famous hound.
- The first working steam engine is in Devon
In Devon we have the oldest working steam engine anywhere in the world. Designed by the famous engineer Thomas Newcomen, who was born in Dartmouth in Devon in 1664, his steam engine arose out of a need to pump water out of the local coal mines.
The newcomen steam engine became famous all over the world. Over 2,000 of his steam engines were put to use. The Newcomen steam engine that you can see at Dartmouth is a rebuilt unit which was installed to commemorate Newcomen’s 300th birthday.
- The only town in Britain that has a name inspired by a novel is in Devon
On the North coast of Devon, near Bideford, you will find Westward Ho!
This is not a typical name that you would expect to see for a town. The origin of the name comes from the famous novel by Charles Kingsley “Westward Ho! ” which was written in 1855. The story in the novel was based on events in and around the nearby town of Bideford.
The book “Westward Ho!” became a best seller and the opportunity was quickly taken to prosper from the famous name of the book, to raise the profile of the area and attract tourists. The name “Westward Ho!” is understood to be the only type of place name in the British Isles that has the characteristic exclamation mark.
- One of the oldest gin distilleries is in Devon
Another claim to fame in Devon, is that we have the oldest distillery in the world that produces gin. What makes this so famous is that the distillery is still producing gin in the original location which was established in 1793.
Previously to that, the site of the distillery was purported to be a Dominic Order Monastery which was built in the early 1400s. The distillery is locally known as ‘The Black Friars’ distillery.
It is also believed that a group of the Pilgrim Fathers resided at the site when the Mayflower ship was undergoing repairs in the harbour, before setting off on the journey to North America. This would explain the logo of a ship being on the company label.
Looking at what is famous in Devon?
- The Jack Russell terrier originated in Devon
Dartmouth in Devon is famous for the Jack Russell terrier. The dog was first bred by a cleric, John Russell who was born in 1795. The breed is also known as the Parson Russell. The initial intention was for the breed to be used for hunting.
Over the following 200 years the small dog has become a very popular pet. Anyone considering keeping a Jack Russell terrier, needs to be aware that this is a very lively breed of small, lively and determined dog with habits that, without proper training, can be quite destructive.
- The oldest bakery in the world is in Devon
Plymouth, in Devon, is also famous for having the oldest bakery in the world. Known as Jacka, it’s believed that it’s origins began in the 17th century. One purpose for the bakery was to provide biscuits to customers who were associated with the docking ships.
It’s also understood that the pilgrim fathers took a selection of biscuits with them from this bakery, for the journey to America on the Mayflower ship during 1620. I wonder if they took enough biscuits for the whole journey.
You can visit the Jacka bakery in Plymouth. You’ll find it on the Barbican. It is a family run enterprise, famously award-winning and a supporter of the real bread campaign.
Famous figures of note, who are associated with Devon
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake was born in Tavistock in West Devon in 1540. He was one of the most famous and courageous explorers of his time. He is best known for conducting the second circumnavigation of the world, which he achieved in one expedition.
In 1581, Elizabeth l knighted him. Sir Francis Drake was the oldest of 12 sons in a farming family. This was a Protestant family living in Devon in the mid 1500s when there was religious persecution. There was a period known as the prayer book rebellion in which the Drake family found it necessary to flee from Devon. They relocated to Kent, moving from the South West to the South East.
In 1890 Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in Devon. She was one of the most famous crime-writing novelists in English literature. A short story writer and playwright, she became particularly famous for creating the fictional characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
She was author of ‘The Mousetrap’ which stands as the world’s longest-running play which has been showing in the West End of London since 1952. Recognised for her Talent, in 1971 she was awarded the OBE and became a dame for her services to the literary arts.
Sir Walter Raleigh
Devon could almost have a name for breeding famous explorers. Here’s another one in the shape of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was born in Devon. When he reached his late teens he got involved in religious civil wars while spending time in France. During his 20s he got involved with the rebellion in Ireland where he later became a landlord of some property and became elevated to the position of Mayor in East Munster.
He was favoured by Queen Elizabeth the first and was awarded a knighthood in 1585. Things turned a bit sour when the Queen discovered that he had secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting without the Queen’s permission. Both Sir Walter Raleigh and his wife were sent to the Tower of London for doing this. They were eventually released after which they retired and took up permanent residence at his estate in Dorset.
Sir Walter Raleigh held a range of varying accolades. An English landed gentleman, he became an accomplished writer, poet, soldier and politician. He also became a courtier, a spy and, probably most famous of all, an explorer.
During his many ventures abroad he failed to achieve much of what he set out to do but he succeeded to introduce tobacco and potatoes to England, something else for which he remains forever famous.
Charles Kingsley was another famous and talented individual from Devon. He was born in Holne, a Village on the south eastern hills of Dartmoor in Devon. He is famous for writing the novel “Westward Ho!”, which was set in Bideford in North Devon, a story that revolves around the triumphs of England over Spain during the Elizabethan period.
It was the popularity of the famous “Westward Ho!” story that led to the nearby Westward Ho! getting its name.
Although born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on the South coast of England, for a while, Charles Dickens lived at Alphington in Exeter with his parents.
It is here, it’s understood, he began to pen “Nicholas Nickleby”. It would appear that Devon played an important part in the development of this most famous of writers. Many of the people whom he met in the county of Devon, provided inspiration for him to produce some of the famous characters that were to feature in his novels.
Robert Falcon Scott of Antarctic
Yet another famous Explorer to come from Devon, is Captain Robert Scott. Born in Plymouth in 1868, the focus of his exploration ventures centred on the Antarctic. He was the leader of two expeditions. The first expedition made him famous for locating and highlighting the plateau that contained the position of the South Pole.
Tragically, the second expedition led to Scott losing his life, having successfully led a team of 5 to the geographical South Pole only to discover that the Norwegians, led by Roald Amundsen, had reached the position 5 weeks earlier.
Now we look at some of the more recent famous figures, starting with Peter Cook who was born in Torquay on the 17th of November 1937. He was a comedian whose Focus was on British satire, for which he became famous in the 60s. He had a successful TV career and featured in a number of films.
He became heavily involved in, what was known as, the satire boom of the 1960s. It was at this time he became a financial backer for the satirical magazine Private Eye, which was often seen as radical in the way in which it challenged the establishment. Peter Cook supported Private Eye through some very difficult periods in the magazine’s history.
Now for a famous sports personality, Sue Barker was born in Paignton on the South Devon coast. At her local convent school, she was selected at the age of 10, along with one other girl, to be offered professional tennis coaching. The coach was one Arthur Roberts, who coached Angela Mortimer who went on to become the winner of three Grand Slam titles.
Sue became a famous tennis player and continued her fame as a TV sports presenter with the BBC.
Looking at who is famous in Devon?
Originally from Ilford in Essex, Noel Edmonds lived for a long while in Devon. Noel became famous for many light-entertainment TV shows, beginning in the late 1960s.
As an accomplished helicopter pilot, he would regularly fly to his home in Devon. During his time as a Devon resident, he became a campaigner against wind turbines. He also did what he could to help farmers who were affected by the foot and mouth disease of 2001.
Famous for her starring part in Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders can now call herself a resident in Devon. She now lives in the ancient market town of Chagford near Dartmoor with her husband Adrian Edmondson, himself, being famous for his roles in ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Bottom’.
Now for a famous artist. There must be quite a few that are famous in Devon but there is one that stands out as the world’s wealthiest living artist, Damien Hirst. He has a house at Combe Martin on the North Devon coast. He clearly likes the district because he opened a gallery together with a restaurant in nearby Ilfracombe.
He liked the district so much that he acquired permission to bestow upon the locals a 20metre tall sculpture which is, itself, famous in Ilfracombe. You can’t miss it, it stands firmly on the pier at the entrance to the Harbour. The imposing piece has received varied reviews and some may be interested to know that it’s been loaned to the town on a 20 year lease which began in 2012.
It’s stretching it a bit to say that JK Rowling came from Devon but the famous literary champion spent time as a student at the University of Exeter. While there, she spent time exploring the ancient back streets and alleyways of Exeter. She took a lot of her inspiration from what she saw at Exeter and included it in her famous Harry Potter books.
Another famous comedian who was born in Devon, is Miranda Hart. She started her journey into comedy by writing material that was used in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She also made appearances in the British sitcoms ‘Hyperdrive’ and ‘Not going out’.
Her fame reached a new level when she wrote and appeared in her semi autobiographical sitcom ‘Miranda’.
Another famous sportsman from Devon is Tom Daley. An Olympian high-diver, he was born in Plymouth. He won medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He’s also won other Awards including the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2010.
He started diving when he was seven years of age at the Plymouth diving Club. It was clear that he had a talent for diving and started to win international competitions from the age of 9. At 14 he represented Great Britain at the Summer Olympics of 2008 as the British team’s youngest competitor.
Another famous celebrity who transplanted herself from London to Devon, in search of the quiet country life, is Kirstie Allsopp. The presenter of property-shows that appear on Channel 4 which include ‘Location, Location, Location’ and others, has set up home with her family in the village of Broadhembury.
Image source: Header | Dartmoor | Newcomen | Westward Ho! | Gin | Jack Russell | Baking bread | Sir Francis drake | Agatha Christie | Sir Walter Raleigh | Charles Kingsley | Charles Dickens | Robert Falcon Scott