Devonshire – Clotted Cream, Cider, and Shipbuilding.

A Dartmoor pony on the moor

Another English county in which Tickles and Tickells were found is Devon, formerly called Devonshire. It is mostly rural, with hills, coastal cliffs, and sandy beaches. About 25% of the county is heath or moorland, providing rough grazing. There are two large areas of open moorland that are now National Parks – Dartmoor and Exmoor (which is partly in Devon and partly in Somerset).

The traditional industries were farming, fishing, and mining. Agriculture was important, with cattle and sheep being raised throughout the country. Dairy cows produced the milk used to make Devonshire clotted cream, for which the county is still famous today. Devon had acres of ancient apple orchards, and was well known for brewing strong cider, known locally as ‘scrumpy’. The majority of Tickle and Tickell families I’ve come across worked in farming, either as farmers themselves, or as agricultural labourers or farm servants.

As in Cornwall, the county to the south, various minerals were mined in the county – tin, lead, silver, iron ore, copper, and manganese. Miners sometimes moved between the two counties. In addition to minerals, kaolin (china clay) was exported from Dartmoor. Tiverton was known for textile production, Dartington for glass, Honiton for lace, and Axminster for woollens.

Devon has a strong maritime heritage. Many of Britain’s most notable mariners, such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Richard Grenville were all born in Devon. The county’s ports thrived on the export of tin and cloth, and fishing was important, especially at Brixham and Plymouth, which is known as ‘ocean city’.

Ever since the days of Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada, Plymouth has played a key role in Britain’s naval defences. Around 1700, a small settlement called Plymouth Dock was established to house workers employed on the new naval base that was being built on the River Tamar, to the west of the town. By 1801 it was already far larger than the town of Plymouth itself and by 1811 the population of Plymouth Dock was over 30,000. The residents began to resent the fact that its name made it sound like an adjunct of Plymouth. In 1823, a petition was made to King George IV requesting that the town should be renamed Devonport. The king agreed.

Plymouth Dock 1819

The dockyard dominated industry in the area but Plymouth was also an important commercial port. During the second half of the 19th century liners travelling to North America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand began calling in at Plymouth and the town became a departure point for emigrants. In the early 20th century, Devonport rose to become the greatest naval port in the world. Between 1883 and the start of the First World War in 1914, 17 battleships, five Dreadnoughts, two battlecruisers and 14 cruisers were built there.

Although there was plenty of work in Plymouth and Devonport, there was a shortage of housing and overcrowding was a major problem. In 1850 the average number of people living in each house in Britain was 5, but in Plymouth, it was double that, with an average of 10 people in each house. As a result, there were serious epidemics – cholera killed 1,031 people in 1832 and 1,894 in 1849. There was also a smallpox epidemic in 1872 which killed 448 people.

Life in Plymouth gradually improved during the second half of the 19th century but, like Cornwall to the west, Devon has been economically disadvantaged over the past century compared to other parts of Southern England, owing to the decline of its traditional core industries. Many individuals and families left the county in search of a better life elsewhere. My next post will be devoted to one such family.

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