Napoleon and Beatles - all part of rich history

Torbay Weekly

We continue our Newton Abbot Town Trail outside the Asda Superstore, where you can see the Union Bridge, which was opened in 1822 to span the River Lemon to form a link between the towns of Newton Abbot and Newton Bushell.

To your left, as you exit the Asda car park, you arrive at what is probably the oldest - and certainly most famous building in the town. St Leonard’s Tower dates from the 13th century and played a part in the nation’s history when William Prince of Orange’s declaration of intent to claim the throne was read from the market cross in front of the long-demolished chapel.

The location of that historic happening is marked on the site of the cross and there are several useful information boards here charting the history of the tower and that of the town itself.

The section of Austins with the stone pillars and canopy in front of you in Courtenay Street was formerly The Globe Hotel and its most famous guests included Archduke Nicholas of Russia in 1828 and the Duke of Wellington in May 1846, for whom the church bells were rung in his honour.

Follow Union Street through to East Street and you will arrive opposite the site of the town workhouse, which can be dated back to 1745, and which was set up to help the poor from Newton Abbot’s 39 parishes.  The hospital was added in 1896 and was run by volunteers until the introduction of the NHS in 1948.

Opposite these buildings is one of the town’s most famous pubs, Ye Olde Cider Bar, built in 1838 on the site of a farmhouse.

A little further along East Street you will see what remains of The Rope Walk, which once extended 140 yards into Hopkins Lane. It was built in 1828 by Samuel Yeo whose son Ephraim invented a machine to improve the efficiency of rope production - essential to the fishing industry and of great importance to the town. Production continued until 1959.
The 1765 boundary stone for the Dartmouth to Torquay Turnpike Trust is embedded in the wall here.

Turning left into Devon Square you will see the town’s most elegant houses and the centre of the redevelopment programme by the Courtenay Estates between 1840 and 1860.

England’s first female barrister, Dr Ivy Williams, lived at number 21 and in the centre of the square is the Church of St Paul, built to serve the railwaymen of the town. No 9 was the town hall until the council’s move to Newton’s Place last year.

Carry on to Courtenay Park where Princess Elizabeth reviewed troops in 1952, prior to her Coronation, and where the bandstand, opened in 1907, forms the focal point of this well-maintained public space.

You are now facing what was once the beating heart of Newton Abbot. In its heyday from the 1930s through the 1950s, the Great Western Railway employed more than 1,000 men and was by far the town’s major employer.

Many famous figures have stopped at Newton Abbot station, including the exiled Napoleon III and, almost a century later, The Beatles!

Now it's time to walk back through the town where, opposite the modern-day landmark that is Asda, you can’t miss Newton’s Place - the town’s new museum,  council headquarters and community space.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and opened in 2020, no trip to Newton Abbot is complete without a leisurely visit to this amazing project. Admission is free and details of the many activities on offer can be found at museum-newtonabbot.org.uk

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