Buckfastleigh is a small market town close to the Dart, probably originating in the 13th Century.
Buckfast means the place where the deer hid and leigh means clearing. Holy Trinity church stands above and away from the town, on a high limestone rock which commands a view of the abbey, the Dart valley, and the beautiful woods.
The original settlement of Buckfast, about 1 mile north, beside the river, is where an abbey was endowed in 1030 by King Canute.
During the Dissolution the abbey buildings were stripped and reduced to ruin. In 1806 a local woollen manufacturer levelled the standing walls and built a woollen mill here. As Canute discovered, time and tide wait for no man.
A community of Benedictines acquired the site in 1882 and the work of rebuilding the abbey was carried out by the monks for twenty-five years, hopefully not whilst sampling their tonic wine.
Buckfastleigh never developed much as a town, chiefly because of the proximity of woollen and stannary town of Ashburton.There is the ancient Saxon hill fort of Hembury nearby, where the tables were turned on Viking invaders by the women they sought to pillage, but otherwise the town contains little or nothing of architectural note.
W.G. Hoskins on Buckfastleigh
The Stories of Buckfastleigh
“The Danish Camp at Hembury”?
Listen to "The Danish Camp at Hembury" by Jim Causley
Helena Worral, Spring 1841
The Vicarage, Care of Reverend Lowndes, Buckfastleigh, Devon, 10th May 1841
Are you quite well? So strange to realise I have spent nearly a decade now away from London under the roof of Rev. Lowndes. I fear my dresses and hats would quite horrify the modish young ladies with whom I once kept company. Dear mother and father would not recognise me, God rest their souls. But the clear air of Buckfastleigh has done much to alleviate my consumptive chest. T’was a shrewd decision of your, solicitous uncle, to send me to these green hills…..read more
Listen to "Buckfast Abbey" by Jim Causley
Willard Watts, Spring 1841
Briar Cottage, Chapel Street, Buckfastleigh, May 21st 1890
Dear Aunt Adelaide,
Thank you for the socks you knitted me for my birthday.
They get less itchy with every wash, and divert me from my too-tight school trousers when I’m going over the fence stiles. I tell Mother I’m bigger than John and Bill and Freddie who wore them before me, but she says, why would she go blind stitching a new pair when I’ll be in the mill come September….read more
“The Deancombe Weaver”?
Listen to "The Deancombe Weaver" by Jim Causley
Joanne Ferneyhough, Winter 1979
132 Road Street, Galax (Gaylax), Virginia, 8th January 1979
Dear Reverend Timms
Greetings from Virginia! Me and my fellow members of the Cabell Foundation are just hyped to the gills to come over and meet y’all next month. If only we could get all 250 of our members on that airbus. We are so psyched to finally walk the lanes OF our forefathers…..read more
Listen to "Master Weaver" by Jim Causley
Willard Watts, Winter 1891
Briar Cottage, Chapel Street, Buckfastleigh, January 21st 1891
Dear Cousin Gertie,
Thank Aunt Adelaide for the socks she knitted me for Christmas. Not too itchy and just the ticket for frosty starts at Berry’s Mill.
Warp, weft, cam, tappet, dobby, single, ply, corded…Sometimes it has felt like John, Bill and Freddie are speaking a foreign tongue over tea. Now I know what all these things mean: hard work…..read more
“Lads in their hundreds”?
Listen to "Lads in their hundreds" by Jim Causley
Willard Watts, Summer 1915
B.E.F, La Boisselle, France, 20th August 1915
I hope this letter finds my darlin wife in fine fettle. I enjoyed your news about the German monks interred at the Abbey. So the Home Office says they can stay put, whether Buckfastleigh District Council wants them there or not. Oh well. Be they Bosch spies or no, they’ll get that new Abbey built a bit faster. If only they’d had a few of them Germanic monks kicking about when the South Devon railways needed finishing…..read more
Listen to "Buckfastleigh Church" by Jim Causley
Little Willard, Autumn 1932
Gite du Coeur, La Boisselle, France, 3rd October 1932
Thank you for your birthday card. Thank Millie and Frank for their greetings too. Can’t believe I’m a year off forty. A couple more years and I’ll be older than dear old dad was. I still haven’t found his grave, though I keep looking. Bloody cruel, if you ask me, that he dodged those snipers right through to 1918, only for flu to get him the last month of the war. I couldn’t wait to get away from this place back then. Who’d a dreamt I’d settle and become an ersatz Frenchie?…..
“The Valient Soldier”?
Listen to "The Valient Soldier" by Jim Causley
Mary Watts, Summer 1937
Briar Cottage, Chapel Street, Buckfastleigh, July 14th 1937
I don’t doubt you are an eminent academic, and even though you live in London, I shan’t hold that against you, but I have a few frank sentiments to impart in this missive.
My name is Mary Watts nee Attewell. Now if you ever worked at Berry’s mill, where I was once in charge of testing for wear and tear, that name would inspire fear to your very core, ‘cause no weaver got away with shoddy workmanship on my watch, and shoddy workmanship is what I accuse you of now!…..read more
Listen to "Buckfastleigh Ringers" by Jim Causley
TO:Willard Junior, Summer 1976
4 Glover Park, Plymouth Road, Buckfastleigh, August 20th 1976
Dear Willard Junior,
Your younger, though not so young sister here. I hope you are keeping well over there in La Boisselle, and Delphine is bearing up with her arthritis…..read more