Ashburton's unique history is believed to have begun in Saxon times and is reflected in the Ashburton town crest and the continuing traditions of the offices of Portreeve and Bailiff and the associated courts Leet & Baron.
The town crest shows St Andrew's Church and the St Andrew's Cross, together with a teasel, the sun and the moon representing the wool, copper and tin industries.
Ashburton's past prosperity came from the tin mining of Dartmoor and the woollen industry with the river Ashburn providing ample power for the many mills that once lined its banks. Ashburton is one of only four stannary towns in Devon and tin was mined in the area as far back as Roman times. The importance of tin mining is reflected in the tinner’s law and the stannary parliament.
Tinners were subject to Stannary Law and were exempt from any other jurisdiction until 1896. Stannary Law was administered by a Stannary Parliament which met at Crockern Tor until 1786, though some traditions were carried on into the 1980’s
The present day church of St Andrew bears little resemblance to that depicted on the crest which was in fact a smaller Norman church which stood on the site around the 12th century. Recent excavations show a relatively complex structure suggesting that it was an important parish church at the time.
The nearby Exeter Inn was built in 1130 to house workers building the church. Local legend has it that Sir Francis Drake was a regular patron at the inn as was Sir Walter Raleigh who was arrested at the Exeter Inn before being imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1603.
Ashburton is the only town in the country where the office of Portreeve is still held by act of parliament. The Portreeve was a high ranking official appointed by the Leet Court which was responsible for law and order and also ensuring good practice in trade through offices such as Ale Tasters and Bread Weighers. Ashburton has Leet and Baron juries which together with the Portreeve and his appointed Bailiff keep tradition alive through events such as the Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing Ceremony which takes place on the third Saturday in July each year. Ashburton has had a Portreeve for 1199 years predating Parliament by around 400 years!
Teasels were used to ‘tease’ woollen cloth to improve its texture, 1500-2000 teasels might be used on each piece of cloth.
What are the symbols on the Ashburton Town Crest?
The Church of St Andrew appears in the centre with the St Andrew's Cross to the right.
On the left is shown a teasel used for carding wool - an important part of the town’s wealth.
The sun and the moon are shown representing the copper and tin mining industries.