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The History of Ivybridge

Ivybridge Viaduct


from an early settlement to current town

The name ‘Ivy Bridge’ was originally reference to the crossing on the River Erme as opposed to any settlement. Quite how long the bridge had existed is not precisely known. Some believe it had been constructed by the monks of Plympton Priory (founded in 1121) to provide safe passage to their lands at Wrangaton, Dean Prior and Buckfastleigh.


From this period onwards the area belonged to the Lord of the Manor. The families of Bonville, Crocker and Rogers are all recorded. The latter family held the manor for two hundred years, spanning six generations until the male line ended in 1895 and the estate was dispersed and sold off.


By the sixteenth century the small community of manor tenants began to resemble a village. Most were farming the land whilst in time they were joined by craftsmen as corn and tucking mills began to appear beside the fast-flowing waters of the River Erme.


A road running through Ivybridge had existed since Tudor times, being the post road from London to Plymouth. The first recorded inn at Ivybridge was the ‘Three Tuns’ which dates to the middle of the seventeenth century. It was in the centre of the village on this main thoroughfare and ideally placed to provide for the needs of the stagecoach traveller. By the 1780s this inn, now named The Royal Oak, rapidly lost trade to the modern, newly established London Inn located by the old Ivy Bridge.


In the early 1800s, Ivybridge began to expand with houses constructed along Erme Road, Highland Street, Green Street (which no longer exists) and Fore Street with the latter having most of the shops.


In 1819 the turnpike road between Exeter and Plymouth was redesigned so that stagecoaches could avoid the awkward double turn at the bridge. To take this road across the river a new bridge was completed in 1833, financed by the Plymouth Eastern Turnpike Trustees. This bridge connected Fore Street with Exeter Street avoiding the old Ivy Bridge and with it the London Inn. The Rogers Arms, later the Ivybridge Hotel, gained the dominant position and became the major coaching inn and post house.


Until 1789 Ivybridge had no place of worship. The nearest parish churches of Cornwood, Harford, Ugborough and Ermington would have all entailed a considerable walk. The chapel of ease completed in this year was later enlarged in 1835 to meet the needs of the growing population and was henceforth known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Ivybridge was then made an Ecclesiastical District.


The church however found it difficult to retain a chaplain and at times was without one entirely, Local people began drifting away to the Wesleyan movement. A Methodist Chapel was built in 1812 and later enlarged in 1860 before an entirely new and very much larger church was built in 1874.


A few years earlier, in 1869, the construction of the Congregational Church was completed on land donated by the owner of Stowford Paper Mill, John Allen. This today is known as Ivybridge Baptist Church.


In 1848 the South Devon Railway opened a railway station in Ivybridge. As travellers abandoned the stagecoach, the Ivybridge Hotel suffered greatly and was closed soon afterwards. With the success of the railway came development on land below the station known as Beacons. Later, with the conversion of the railway line from broad to standard gauge together with the double tracking, the original Brunel viaduct was replaced by a new one in 1893.


In the first half of the nineteenth century local government in Ivybridge had been of a parochial basis under the ancient four parishes of Harford, Cornwood, Ugborough and Ermington. However, in 1872 Ivybridge appointed its Local Board of Health. The Public Health Act of that year mapped out the country into Sanitary Districts permitting the election of Boards of Health, bringing the supply of water, sewerage, drainage, street cleansing, paving and environmental health regulation under a single local body. One of the first tasks undertaken was the construction of a reservoir located in Longtimber Woods to supply the village with clean drinking water.


Whilst the reservoir provided clean water to the district its location at 220 feet above Ordnance datum did not provide good water pressure and this was to pose a problem for the fire brigade in dealing with fires within the district. This situation did not improve until the new water supply came on stream during June 1916, with the construction of the reservoir at Butter Brook on Harford Moor.


River Erme crossings & Bridge ceremony

Apart from the old bridge from which the town derives its name, there were several other bridges built over the River Erme during the development of Ivybridge but not all remain today.

In 1993, a Bridge Ceremony became a participative event alongside Beating the Bounds which had been resurrected a year earlier, to promote an interest in local history and is now re-enacted each year.


Inns & Public Houses

From the mid-17th century the principle mode of transport for the long-distance traveller was the stage coach and a comprehensive network of coaching inns was established offering lodging and refreshments.

The passing of the Beerhouse Act in 1830 resulted in a further expansion of public houses, taverns and alehouses. By the middle of the nineteenth century Ivybridge had a total of five establishments.


Post Office & Telephone Exchange

A Post Office located in Fore Street operated for decades during the twentieth century. The Telephone Exchange for Ivybridge occupied the floor above the Post Office until a new exchange within a purpose built building was established to cater for the increasing demands of the telephone services in the 1960s.




First Railway Station

The first train station in Ivybridge which opened in 1844 remained in service until 1959 when passenger services at Ivybridge ceased, along with a number of other local stations on the main line.


Ivybridge Viaduct

The Ivybridge Viaduct is one of five viaducts situated between Totnes and Plymouth, all of which were originally designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. When the rail line was doubled tracked and converted to standard gauge the original viaduct was replaced by a new viaduct which was brought into operation in 1894.


Local Government

With the establishment of a Local Board of Health in 1872 Ivybridge had its first local administration. This later became an Urban District Council under the Local Government Act 1894.

To mark the area of jurisdiction of the Local Board, ten boundary stones inscribed with the letters ‘ILB’, denoting Ivybridge Local Board, were instated towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The ancient tradition of “Beating the Bounds”, an old custom of walking around the parish boundary was resurrected in Ivybridge in 1992.

Fire Engine circ

Ivybridge Fire Brigade

Ivybridge had its first fire engine in 1847 with a modest fire station and stabling located in Fore Street. It had several major fires to tackle. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century this station was deemed inadequate and was relocated on Western Road.


It is believed that a corn mill existed at Stowford in the parish of Harford as early as the 13th century although records beyond this date seem then to disappear. Later, in the 16th century, within the manor of Ivybridge, it is recorded that Humfrey Bonville, lord of the manor, leased properties to William Cannycote and Henry Withycombe for the purpose of grinding corn. These appear to be the earliest known reference to the Ivybridge corn mills.


At Stowford (a local name for a ford crossing), records of a mill reappear during the 18th century with a grist mill being recorded in 1713. A flour mill was later recorded under the occupation of William Saunders amongst others, before the property was eventually required for the extension of the neighbouring paper mill.


Paper manufacturing came to Ivybridge in 1787 when William Dunsterville, a Plymouth businessman, purchased the lease for the Barton of Stowford. His prime interest was to establish a paper mill adjacent to the existing corn mill and leat. He already had experience in paper making from his previous venture at Millbay Mill.


A second paper mill (Ivybridge Paper Mills) was established in 1814 by William Pym located a little further downstream. It was later taken over by Benjamin Holman with the mill manufacturing predominantly brown wrapping papers. This used water diverted from the River Erme via a sluice gate near to the New Bridge into a leat which ran down Fore Street.


Sharing the channelled water at this time was a tannery under the ownership of John Sanders. This continued in operation under several owners until the early twentieth century. The most notable owner was Samuel Head, a respected member of the local community. He had lived in Ivybridge for over 50 years and served on the Local Board.


Holman’s paper mill eventually fell on hard times with difficult trading conditions exacerbated by cheap imported paper. It was sold by public auction and purchased by Henry John Fice Lee in 1903. This gentleman had previously leased the Union Mills and went on to convert the paper mill into a corn and provender mill. The new façade of Lee’s Mill in the centre of Fore Street became an iconic feature of Ivybridge.


Stowford Paper Mill, by contrast, prospered under the ownership of John Allen and his two sons who operated the mill for over sixty years. It is debateable that without their investment, enterprise and vision, that the paper mill would have survived the second half of the nineteenth century.


During the twentieth century it continued to thrive under the ownership of the well established paper making company, Wiggins Teape. This company purchased the mill in 1930 and gradually improved production capacity and manufacturing techniques. A substantial investment programme occurred during the 1980s modernising much of the equipment. The mill finally closed on 21 November 2013. It has been estimated that the mill produced close to a million tonnes of paper and employed thousands of people. Many generations of Ivybridge families found employment at the mill and individuals serving 30 years and beyond common place, something reflected in our own scrapbook page. Due to the efforts of the employees and focus on producing speciality papers it survived long after many similar mills had closed.


In the early part of the twentieth century substantial deposits of kaolin (china clay) were discovered on southern Dartmoor, the result of the decomposition of the granite that created the very landscape. The Redlake China Clay pits would continue in operation until the 1930s when the economic depression would result in its closure.


Corn Mills

The Ivybridge Mills operated for over 200 years under a number of different millers. By the early nineteenth century however, the corn mill was leased to the Devonport Union Mill Society. This cooperative society was able to provide flour more cheaply than a local miller and each shareholder was permitted to take a weekly allowance of flour or bread. The site was renamed “Union Mills” in recognition of its cooperative status.


Paper Manufacturing

Paper making in Ivybridge began in 1787. Paper at this time was made from rags which required a mechanical process to break down the fabrics into the discrete fibres necessary to form paper. Water from the River Erme would be used to turn water wheels to generate the necessary power for these processes.


Stowford Paper Mill

Stowford Mill manufactured paper in Ivybridge for a total of 226 years. During this time it endured many hardships including a devastating fire to the upper floors of the main building in 1914 curtailing production until remedial repairs were completed. It also suffered significantly during the Depression of the 1930s, the mill lying idle without any orders for weeks on end and then again during the economic stagnation of the 1970s.

Despite all of this, it is best remembered for its achievements. At one time it manufactured all of Britain’s postage stamp paper and its claim to fame is that every household in the country possesses paper made at Stowford Mill, so extensive was the range of government document paper it produced. One of its specialities was the ability to manufacture paper incorporating elaborate watermarks.



In the early nineteenth century villages typically had their own tannery, using raw hides from local slaughterhouses and butchers. These hides were tanned using principally oak bark. There was an abundance of oak trees to be found locally on the Blachford estate and Ivybridge woods.


Redlake China Clay Pits

The discovery of kaolin around Redlake Brook was expected to yield around 45,000 tons of first-grade clays and 10,000 tons of second-grade clays per annum.

In order to access the kaolin, a single-track 3 foot gauge railway (the Puffing Billy Track) running eight miles from the china clay pits to the drying sheds at Cantrell was constructed and opened in 1911 by the China Clay Corporation.


The first village school opened on 30 December 1856 on land donated by Lady Georgina Rogers, the wife of the eight baronet, Sir Frederick Rogers who lived at Blachford Estate in Cornwood. Until that date education was provided by a number of private schools.


The Elementary Education Act 1870 was the very first piece of legislation to deal specifically with the provision of education in Britain, establishing a system of ‘school boards’ to build and manage schools in areas where they were needed. These Boards were to provide elementary education for children aged between 5 and 13. In Ivybridge a School Board existed from 1893 and in 1895 they officially took control of the school from the Ermington Board. By 1898 the average attendance at the was recorded at 172 boys and girls and 126 infants.


In 1887 the trustees of Dame Hannah Rogers decided to build a school in Ivybridge for orphan girls, training them for domestic service. The elegant building, now Tremarran Court, provided education and accommodation for the girls. Apart from the three Rs and religious instruction, they were taught the skills of needlework and intricate embroidery.


By the mid-50s growing numbers at the solitary all-age village school resulted in the creation of a new secondary school. Construction work began in 1957 and the new school was officially opened in 1958.


Primary Education

The first school in Ivybridge was located on Station Road. As the population of Ivybridge increased so did the number of primary schools. In 1973, the new Manor County Junior School opened. The old Ivybridge School became known as Station Road Infants School. Today it is called The Erme Primary School. A third primary school was opened in 1978, Stowford Primary School and a fourth, Woodlands Park Primary School, in 1991.


Secondary Education

Ivybridge Secondary Modern School opened on Friday 11th July 1958. By 1971 it had become Ivybridge Comprehensive School. Today the school is known as Ivybridge Community College.


The role of individual men and women have always been of great significance in the development of any town or village. Ivybridge is no exception.


William Sherwell has the description of Ivybridge’s first Methodist and was the driving force in establishing the first Methodist chapel in 1813 whilst Rev. George W. Anstiss who became vicar of St. Johns Church in 1873, strenuously persevered with the procurement of a replacement when the original church became dilapidated and unfit for purpose.


John Allen, the owner of Stowford Paper Mill, together with his sons contributed greatly to the prosperity of Ivybridge. The mill provided employment for up to 500 people at its peak and the family built several cottages in Fore Street for workers accommodation. Devout Methodists, they also financed the new Methodist Church in its entirety.


Organisations must not be forgotten particularly during the war years. The Ivybridge Civil Defence personnel undertook many tasks to ensure the safety of others. Ivybridge had its own Home Guard platoon whilst the women, many members of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, undertook a variety of jobs providing food, shelter and general information to those in need. The younger women of course helped to keep the nation fed with their sterling work as ‘Land Girls’.


Members of the Women’s Institute participated in a notable event in the creation of the 24 panel, New World Tapestry during the 1980s. The panel allocated to Ivybridge depicted the 1586 colonisation of Roanoke Island, situated on the Atlantic coastline of what is now North Carolina. It was created in a rented room at the Methodist Church.


John Congdon, the pro-European Chairman of Ivybridge Parish Council was a leading figure in the establishment of the Ivybridge and District Twinning Association to assist with the development of links and exchanges between Ivybridge and the French town of St. Pierre-sur-Dives. Then in 1973 he made Ivybridge a place distinctly in the minority when responding to the government’s invitation to hold the ‘Fanfare for Europe’ celebratory event to mark the UK’s entry into Europe. In 1977, he became the first mayor of Ivybridge.


People of Prominence in Ivybridge

A selection of the people who, over the years, have made a contribution to the rich history of Ivybridge, including names we see on road signs and buildings around the town.

William Cotton moved to Ivybridge in 1839, taking up residence at Highlands House. Today he would be termed as a philanthropist, recognising the plight of the poor and donating money to the benefit of the community. He helped to finance a new parsonage and the first village school.

Charles Hankin was a local historian responsible for a wealth of research on the history of Ivybridge having spent hours studying the Blachford papers at the Plymouth Records Office. Charles Hankin Close, on the eastern side of the town, remembers the valuable contribution he made.


Ivybridge, located in the rolling countryside of the South Hams, enabled many families to make a living from the land. Livestock farming for both meat and milk production have historically been the mainstay of activity. Herds of light red South Devon cattle, which until the twentieth century were virtually unknown outside of the area, a common sight. During the 1920s and 30s the Ivybridge and District Poultry, Pigeon and Fur Society flourished, and their annual shows were well supported with an abundance of exotic breeds.


Ivybridge Young Farmers Club was founded in 1938 providing practical instruction and social engagement for the younger generations, whilst Ivybridge Agricultural Show and Gymkhana hosted at Filham Park, was always an event people from all walks of life looked forward to in the summer diary.


Earlier, in 1911, Stowford Lodge with its five-acre garden was briefly taken over by the Devonshire School of Gardening. Misses May Crooke and Mabel Carlyon trained young ladies who wished to study horticulture and it was the only such establishment in the South West.


Ivybridge for decades had a thriving Gardening Association and growing vegetables and flowers has always been a popular pastime for many inhabitants.


Rural Life in Ivybridge

Farming has always been an important industry in the rural South Hams. With extracts from ‘A History of Filham Ugborough’ by Alec Rogers, a local farmer, and using some of his personal diary entries, this page reviews rural life in Ivybridge from the 1930s onwards.


Devonshire School of Gardening

The Devonshire School of Gardening provided practical training in herbaceous and rock gardens as well as fruit and vegetable growing in the open and under glass, adopting the bell jar system of gardening (cloches), an idea brought over from France.

The school was located within a walled garden in the grounds of Stowford Paper Mill. After the school’s departure it was used by the mill to grow fruit and vegetables.


The rigorous mapping of the United Kingdom began in the early nineteenth century based on the triangulation principle. This was a technique developed by a local man William Mudge. Later benchmarks were employed to establish levelling lines across the country. Benchmarks typically were incised horizontal lines with a broad arrow, Such a mark can be found at the Methodist Church, the simple cut mark is clear to see.


Land Surveying

The first Ordnance Survey map of Devon was produced in 1809.


Campaigns for women’s rights including the right to vote gained significant momentum at the turn of the twentieth century when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Campaigners were known as suffragists and they believed that debate, petitions and peaceful protest were the keys to success. The suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst however, campaigned in a decidedly more militant approach.


The Great Pilgrimage of 1913 culminated with 50,000 women attending a rally in Hyde Park in July. The march’s journey through Devon saw the women gathering at Plympton to stir up support and they then moved onto Ivybridge where they had a picnic in Victoria Park.



Ivybridge had its own activist in Mary Patricia Willcocks who was born at Cleeve, near Ivybridge


On 4 August 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. During the next four years of hostilities a significant number of young men from Ivybridge, like everywhere in Britain, enlisted to serve their King and Country. A Roll of Honour at St. Johns Church lists the names of all those who served. Many local men were decorated for acts of gallantry.  The list was gathered by Frederick Rutherford the local chemist together with the vicar.


When World War 1 began in 1914 it was estimated that over 3 million horses were at work in Britain but the war was to become heavily dependent on horses to move the army and its supplies across Europe. Under the Impressment Act, the Army Remount Department was able to acquire horses and mules during the war. Owners had to surrender their horses if they were unable to prove that they were required for essential work.


From December 1917, Stowford Lodge, kindly lent by the owners of Stowford Paper Mill became a second line V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Hospital, providing 50 beds. Patients were generally less seriously wounded than at general hospitals and offered a comfortable haven for recuperation. The hospital was equipped and liberally supported by the residents of Ivybridge and the surrounding area. It remained in operation until January 1919.


World War One ended at 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, with Germany signing an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railway carriage outside Compiégne in France.


On the morning of the 11 November 1918, the ringing of the large bell in the village notified to the residents of Ivybridge that the Armistice with Germany had been signed. The war was over and peace once again prevailed.



Only two decades later, on 3 September 1939, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, announced that Britain had once again declared war with Germany. Ivybridge provided relatively safe accommodation for various government departments during the war years.


The town’s air raid precautions were made up of air raid wardens, a report post, two ambulance units, a first aid post, a rescue squad and a decontamination squad in the event of a gas attack.


The air raids on the city of Plymouth during The Blitz brought fear and disruption to the daily life of thousands of its inhabitants. Ivybridge, like many of the surrounding places, were inundated with people coming on foot, bicycle and motorised transport seeking safe refuge at night. Many families opened up their homes to relatives and friends. The Methodist church hall served tea and refreshments and on occasions over one thousand people arrived in Ivybridge with 300 sleeping in its cinema.


In May, 1943, the American GIs of the 116th Infantry Regiment arrived in Ivybridge as part of Operation Bolero, a long-range plan for transferring and then accommodating almost 2 million American servicemen in Britain in the run-up to an invasion of Europe.


During the war millions of ration books were printed and people had to use them to buy food, clothing and motor fuel.


At the time of Churchill’s broadcast on the 8th May 1945 declaring that the was was over, it was documented that the streets of Ivybridge were deserted, everyone was in doors. However, from 6.30 onward, it was the complete reverse, crowds had flocked to the churches for special services and then later celebrations both at home and in the streets.


Ivybridge Men of the Great War

Using details recorded in the parish magazines of the time, a chronological list of events along with the names of local men who enlisted, endured injury, received gallantry medals and who made the ultimate sacrifice is presented.


Horses at home and at war


Stowford Lodge V.A.D. Hospital


News of the Armistice in Ivybridge


Ivybridge during WWII and Civil Defence

Ivybridge provided relatively safe accommodation for various government departments during the war years. The town’s air raid precautions were made up of air raid wardens, a report post, two ambulance units, a first aid post, a rescue squad and a decontamination squad in the event of a gas attack.


The Home Guard & roles of Ivybridge Women

Ivybridge’s Home Guard was No.12 Platoon with a Drill Hall located in Victoria Park.
Many ladies in Ivybridge undertook a variety of jobs. Some could be performed in their own homes, whilst others required halls or the local school for the staging of emergency cooking demonstrations and similar skills


American Troops in Ivybridge


Rationing and the end of the war


“To pleasure-seekers, Ivybridge, is more celebrated for its woods and glades and rivers than the paper factories which have made its commercial prosperity. The village itself, seen from the station or the moor above it, makes a picture of bright rural peace. The woods on the west side of the Erme are always open to the public, and those on the east by permission of the owners. In spring and summer, trees, and birds, and flowers make the Erme valley a true place of recreation. An hotel and several cottages, which bear the mystic sign ”Tea made and water boiled” prevent the claims of the physical man from being neglected.”

Western Morning News 13 July 1893


Ivybridge by the mid nineteenth century was well established as a tourist destination and with the new craze of sending postcards, a booming industry was created.


After the Second World War, once life returned to a semblance of normality, employees of Stowford Paper Mill were in desperate need of a new recreation field. With two football teams and a flourishing cricket club, the mill’s owner succeeded in acquiring a suitable field next to its effluent water settling beds at Filham. The new sports ground was officially opened on 23 May 1953 on the occasion of the first home cricket match with Hele, the company’s sister paper mill in Exeter.


The ground later became home to the all-conquering Portals Athletic AFC who succeeded in winning all the major trophies in the Plymouth and District League in the 1964-65 season.


During the rapid development of Ivybridge in the 1980s, the field was sold and today forms part of The Paddocks housing estate.


In 1989 the Town Council purchased Filham Park, an area of 34 acres of country park for the benefit of the residents of Ivybridge. Subsequently, sports pitches for football and rugby have been installed and it is now the home of Ivybridge Cricket Club. A large lake was also created offering the opportunity to fish for a variety of species such as roach, carp, chub, bream and tench.


Longtimber Woods

Longtimber Woods today is an area of 53 acres consisting of mainly broadleaf trees and a variety of shrubs. It has been used by local people for walks, swimming and picnics.

Within the woods is an old swimming pool which was originally a reservoir supplying Ivybridge with clean water.


Postcards from Ivybridge

Apart from major postcard companies, local entrepreneurs produced their own postcards of Ivybridge and one gentleman, Charles Smallridge, took his own photographs producing a whole range of postcards depicting scenes of Ivybridge.


Stowford Mill Sports Club

Under the ownership of Portals between 1924 and 1930 an athletic club was formed and in later years the mill would purchase two sports fields for the employees to enjoy their leisure activities.


Portals Athletic Football Club

Portals Athletic AFC was formed in 1926 but the club’s real heyday was during the 1950s and 1960s.


After the second World War with the mood across Europe shifting towards reconciliation, European towns looked outward in search of new solidarities. By the late 1970s the twinning of British towns with European counterparts was associated with civic and economic links and cultural exchanges. It is estimated that there are around 2,000 British municipalities twinned with towns abroad, the majority in Western Europe such as France and Germany.


Twinning of Ivybridge

Ivybridge and District Twinning Committee was established in 1971 with the idea of forging close ties with a French town. In June 1972 an official Twinning Charter was signed with the French town of St. Pierre-sur-Dives undertaking exchanges promoting economic links, culture, tourism as well as social and sporting interaction.