Ivybridge is found at the southern-most point of Dartmoor in the beautiful South Hams. The town sits on the catchment area of the River Erme, known for its salmon and brown trout, whose source is eight miles up in Dartmoor National Park at an elevation of 434 metres. It is this dramatic drop from the moor to the town that makes this the second fastest river in Britain, after the Spey in Scotland.
The remains of stone-age hut circles can be found on Harford Moor, above Ivybridge, but the ivy-covered bridge, after which the town was later named, was first recorded in 1250 although it is possible there was a river crossing prior to Domesday Book of 1086. With the existence of an early ‘King’s Highway’ from Exeter to Trematon Castle near Saltash, the 12th Century crossing may have been constructed by the monks of Plympton Priory (founded in 1121) to give them access to their lands at Wrangaton, Dean Prior and Buckfastleigh.
In 1280 a deed from John Peverel of Ermington Manor granted rights to the property along the river as far as the ‘Ponte Ederosa’ to his daughter Iseult and in 1332 there was further reference to one Alfred de Ponte Hedera as a taxpayer in Ermington and Harford. The Peverels had been landowners in the area since the reign of Henry 1 (1100-1135) and it is likely that they built the first substantial bridge around 1200.
At some period it was agreed that the river crossing should be the common boundary for the four parishes of Cornwood, Ugborough, Ermington and Harford (with Stowford). Convenient to all, it was only two or three miles from all the parish churches and it became a recognised focal point for the area.
The present packhorse bridge dates from 1400, becoming a county bridge in 1531 and the C-stones (County stones) which indicate the bridges importance as a river crossing, can be seen 300 feet to the south of the bridge on both sides. The Parish stones of Ugborough and Ermington can still be seen near the bridge. By now it was an important route between Exeter and Plymouth but not much was expected of this rough route, described in 1558 as ‘painful for man and horse’!
Records in 1588 state that Ivybridge consisted of corn mill (1523), an edge full mill, a manor house and two houses.
At this time the village of Stowford (a local name for a ford crossing) on the east bank of the crossing in Harford Parish, was more important than the surrounding manors and depended for its prosperity on the highway and the mills along the River Erme.
Stowford House was a royal demesne until 1566, holding the stannary courts for the Erme valley whilst the surrounding areas depended on tin and wool for their livelihoods. In 1550 there was a ‘tynne’ mill in Ivybridge (on land which later became part of Stowford Paper Mill) owned by John Bury, a leader of the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. He, and other principles of the movement, were hung, drawn and quartered in Tyburn in 1550 and his property and lands granted to William Gybbes. In 1555 Gybbes sold the fulling and tin mills he owned to an Exeter merchant.