The remains of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle, known as Castle Dyke, are on Highweek Hill. A village grew up around the castle, first called Teignwick, and later Highweek – the village on the high ground. Another settlement developed on the low ground around the River Lemon and would become part of Wolborough Manor.
There has been a thriving market in Newton Abbot for over 750 years.
The New Town of the Abbots (of Torre Abbey) was given the right sometime between 1247 and 1251 to hold a weekly market on Wednesdays. By 1300 the two settlements were renamed as Newton Abbot (taking the low ground) and Newton Bushel (taking the high ground). On the strength of the market, it quickly became a successful thriving town and a good source of income for the Abbots.
Over the river, on the Highweek side another weekly market was created. This one ran on Tuesdays and because the Bushel family were the landowners this community became known as Newton Bushel. Over the next 200 years Newton Bushel ran more annual fairs, a number of mills were set up and the leather and wool trades started. Newton Bushel was also a convenient place for travellers to stay. Torre Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and ownership of Wolborough was granted to John Gaverock who built himself a new house at Forde.
The twin markets of Newton Abbot and Newton Bushel continued until they were merged in 1633 as a Wednesday weekly market under the ownership of Bradley Manor. By 1751 there was also a smaller Saturday market and three annual fairs — a cattle fair on 24 June, a cheese and onion fair in September and a cloth fair on 6 November. The markets continued to expand, and in 1826 a new marketplace was built. Over the next 50 years, the buildings became dilapidated and were replaced in 1871 by a substantial new market. The buildings included a Pannier Market, a corn exchange and a public hall — the Alexandra (now a cinema). The River Lemon was covered over. Further enlargement took place in 1938, as a new cattle market and corn exchange were built.
Wool and leather
In medieval times Devon was an important sheep-rearing county. Many towns had their own wool and cloth industries and Newton Abbot had woollen mills, fullers, dyers, spinners, weavers and tailors. In particular, fellmongering (where wool is removed from the sheepskin) was well established in the town. In 1724 Daniel Defoe wrote that Newton Abbot had a thriving serge industry that sent goods to Holland via Exeter. The annual cloth fair was the town's busiest fair. Over the 19th century, Vicary's mills became an important employer in the town and by the 1920s was employing over 400 men. However, by 1972 business had declined and the works closed down.
Associated with the woollen industry was the leather business. Hides left after the fellmongering process were made into leather. Tanners, boot and shoemakers, glovers and saddlers were all in business in Newton Abbot. As with the wool industry, business flourished over 600 years until after the Second World War.
The Newfoundland trade
In 1583 Humphrey Gilbert, a local adventurer landed at St. John's in Newfoundland and claimed the area as an English colony. The fisheries quickly developed. Between 1600 and 1850 there was a steady trade between Newton Abbot and the cod fisheries off Newfoundland. Every year men from the town would gather at the Dartmouth Inn or Newfoundland Inn in East Street in the hope of being hired for a season's work. In the autumn the dried cod was stored in depots and sometimes used as payment. There was a considerable economic spin-off from this trade. Fish hooks, knives, waterproof boots and rope were all made in the town. The Rope Walk in East Street just a few yards from the Cider Bar still exists, together with the names Newfoundland Way and St John's Street.
Ball clay and the Stover Canal
Just 2 miles (3.2 km) north-west of Newton Abbot lie the large ball clay workings of the Bovey Basin. The main workings are on the eastern outcrop of the deposits at Kingsteignton, which can lay claim to being the centre of Britain's ball-clay industry. The Bovey Basin took millions of years to fill from rivers that flowed out of Dartmoor. The sediments included clay derived from the decomposed granite. The natural deposition has resulted in clay that is purer and more refined than many others. Clay is used in a wide range of products such as bricks, tyres, porcelain, glossy magazines, medicines and toothpaste.
Kingsteignton clay was being used to make pipes around 1680. By 1700, it was being shipped from Teignmouth, and its utilisation by the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood bred success. The clay was extracted by simply digging out the lumps on courses — rather like peat cutting. The bulky clay was transported by packhorse to Hackney Quay at Kingsteignton, then loaded onto barges for shipment down the Teign Estuary, where it was transferred to small ships bound for Liverpool and other ports.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the ball-clay industry was steadily expanding. A local landowner, James Templer, built the Stover Canal in 1792 to help ship clay along the canal and the Teign Estuary from the Bovey Basin to the port of Teignmouth. Coal, manure and agricultural produce was also shipped along the canal. James Templer's father, also called James Templer, purchased the 80,000-acre (320 km2) Stover Estate near Newton Abbot in 1765. Granite from Hay Tor was used to build Stover House which was completed by 1792. George Templer, son of James Templer (the second) and brother of Rev. John Templer, rector of Teigngrace, built the Haytor Granite Tramway, which had rails cut from granite, connecting the granite quarries of Haytor to the canal. This was completed by 1820 and enabled large quantities of granite to be transported for major works like the new London Bridge which opened in 1825. However, George Templer overspent his resources and was forced to sell Stover House, Stover Canal, the Haytor Granite Tramway and most of the rest of the family's considerable estates to Edward St Maur, 11th Duke of Somerset, in 1829. The canal was extended to cope with this, and the industry fared well until 1858 when they were out-competed by the more economic Cornish coastal quarries. The Stover canal reverted to shipping ball clay, but had ceased to do so by 1939.
The ball clay industry is now highly mechanised and successful. Most of the clay is now transported by road and transferred to ships at the nearby port of Teignmouth.
The Stover Canal Society was formed after a public meeting in February 1999, with the aim of preserving and restoring the canal. Railtrack, which owned most of the canal, transferred ownership in 2005 for the sum of £1 to Teignbridge District Council for leisure use by the community. Work then continued to restore it as an amenity.
The South Devon railway reached Newton Abbot in 1846, and changed it from simply a market town with associated trades (leather and wool) into an industrial base. The South Devon Railway Company opened the station on 30 December 1846. A branch to Torquay was added on 18 December 1848, and one to Moretonhampstead on 26 June 1866, although the latter has since closed to passengers. Isambard Kingdom Brunel used the Teignmouth/Newton Abbot section to experiment with his atmospheric railway. The experiment failed, but the remains of Brunel's pumping house survive at Starcross and the old Dairy Crest milk processing factory in Totnes.
In 1876 the Great Western Railway bought up the railways and developed the repair and maintenance sheds into a substantial works that employed over 600 people to start with and by 1930 over 1,000 men. Extensive sidings were also built making a large marshalling yard. The present station was rebuilt to its current form in 1927 to designs by Chief GWR Architect P. E. Culverhouse. The large clock was a gift from the people of the town.
During the late 1980s, the number of passengers platforms was reduced from around nine down to five, only three of which still see use by commuter trains. The remaining platforms were much shortened on the southern side and the number of lines reduced to make way for a new station car park. The South Devon Railway Engineering works was decommissioned and replaced by Brunel Industrial Estate. Of the two buildings that survived into the 21st century, only one remains intact, as the old sheds burned down on 21 October 2018.
Interior of the Newton Abbot station
Many other industries were set up beside the railway station, including a timber yard, iron and brass foundries, and an engineering works. Newton Abbot power station was built adjacent to the line on the Moretonhampstead branch. The town's population increased from 1,623 in 1801 to 12,518 by 1901. Terraced streets were built to house the workers and attractive villas sprang up around the town for the wealthier.
Two Royal Navy personnel from Newton Abbot were among the first British casualties in World War I, being killed after their ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Over the course of the two world wars, more than 250 Newtonian men gave their lives for the British Empire. They are remembered on the town's war memorial. a further eleven Commonwealth soldiers are also buried in the town. The town was bombed from the air twice during World War II, killing a total of 21 people. There was a severe flood on 27 December 1979, the latest in a long series, when the River Lemon burst its banks after prolonged rain.
Tucked into a corner of the racecourse, Newton Abbot's stock-car track flourished for nearly 30 years and attracted fans and drivers from all over the South of England. A short 300-metre oval track, it featured races for the cars of the BriSCA organization, as well as saloons and "bangers".
A new community hospital to replace the one in East Street was built at the end of Jetty Marsh Road and opened on 12 January 2009.
The Flag of Newton Abbot was adopted in 2009 by the town council. It depicts a stylised image of St. Leonard's Tower defacing a modified flag of Devon. Henry Cole, of Newton Abbot Town Council, stated that the "green represents the moors, black for the granite and white for the clay" of the surrounding area. The cross of St Petroc is also used to represent a major crossroads in the town which converged on the clock tower. The arm of the cross represent the routes to Exeter and London, Bovey Tracey and the moors, Totnes and Plymouth, and Torquay and Brixham.
Newton Abbot has two seats on Devon County Council, for Newton Abbot North and Newton Abbot South. In the 2013 County Council elections, Newton Abbot North was won by Eve Barisic, a Conservative), having been held by a Liberal Democrat in 2009. Newton Abbot South was retained by the sitting Councillor Gordon Hook, a Liberal Democrat.
The town is represented by nine district councillors on Teignbridge District Council, and has a Town Council.
The local primary schools include St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary, Decoy Primary, which has been awarded the Becta ICT Mark, Eco and Healthy School awards, as well as Bearnes Primary, Canada Hill Primary, Wolborough C Of E Primary, Bishop Dunstan School, Bradley Barton Primary, and Haytor View Primary.
Alexandra Theatre (cinema)
The Alexandra was originally built in 1871 as a corn exchange at the end of the market building. Before it was finished it was decided instead to use it as a meeting hall for the community. It remained as such until in 1883, when a major upgrade of the building included the addition of a stage with dressing rooms below, further dressing rooms in extensions at the side of the main building, and an orchestra pit. Many other alterations followed until it was converted into a two-screen cinema in 1995.
The centre of the town features the ancient tower of St Leonard – all that remains of the medieval chapel of St Leonard, founded in 1220 and first referred to in 1350 in a document of the Bishop de Grandisson of Exeter. The main chapel was demolished in 1836 to ease traffic congestion. Adjacent to the tower is a plaque marking where the first declaration of the newly arrived William III, Prince of Orange was read in 1688:
The first declaration of William III, Prince of Orange, the glorious defender of the Protestant religion and the liberties of England, was read on this pedestal by the Rev. John Reynell, rector of this parish, 5th November, 1688.
Although William arrived in Brixham on 5 November, he did not reach Newton Abbot until 6 November, when he stayed overnight at Forde House, as he made his way to London to take the English throne.
The tower can regularly be seen flying the Union Flag or the Flag of Newton Abbot (The Flag of Devon defaced by the silhouette of the tower).
Forde House (now known as Old Forde House) lies in the south-east corner of the town in the parish of Wolborough. The present house was built in 1610 by Richard Reynell (who later became Sir Richard Reynell) and his wife Lucy. It was built with an E-shaped floor plan thought to be in honour of Queen Elizabeth I, who had recently died. The grounds were originally extensive, including all of what is called Decoy (as wildfowl were decoyed there to extend the house's larder),a deer park known locally as Buckland, which is now home to a housing estate, and the iBounce trampoline park.
In 1625 King Charles I stayed at the house overnight on his way to inspect the fleet at Plymouth. He returned a few days later for a further two nights. Forde House gave shelter to Oliver Cromwell and Colonel Fairfax while on their way to besiege Royalist Dartmouth in 1646. In 1648 the estate passed to the Courtenay family through the marriage of Margaret (only daughter of Jane Reynell and Sir William Waller) to Sir William Courtenay, lord of nearby Powderham Castle. William of Orange stayed at the house in 1688 on the way to his coronation in London, having landed in Brixham. The house remained the main residence of a succession of Courtenays until 1762, when it was let to a string of occupiers.
The Courtenay family sold the house in 1936 to Stephen Simpson, who sold it two years later to Mrs M Sellick. Teignbridge District Council bought the house in 1978 and remains the current owners. It has been refurbished for use as office and conference space, and for weddings and other social events.
The Great Western Railway named a 7800 class steam locomotive after the manor, but the engine was never based in Newton Abbot (Shed Code: 83A) and was withdrawn from mainline service in the 1965. It was restored in the 1980s and passed through Newton Abbot on special runs called The Torbay Express and The Mayflower.
Passmore Edwards Public Library
The Passmore Edwards Public Library
John Passmore Edwards originally wanted a hospital built for the town in memory of his mother, who was born there, but as the town already had a hospital, he decided on a public library, which opened in 1904. The building, designed by the Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail,is among the most impressive in Newton Abbot. It originally housed also a Science, Art and Technical School, which the Council added. The elaborate Renaissance style includes yellow terracotta mouldings over windows and doorways. Passmore Edwards donated £2,500, and the County Council and public donations paid for the rest. Renovated in 2010–2012, it was renamed the Passmore Edwards Centre after its benefactor and to reflect its future as a multi-purpose facility. It works closely with Coombeshead Academy.
The several sets of almshouses in Newton Abbot include these:
Gilberd's in Exeter Road were endowed in 1538 by John Gilberd of Compton Castle to house lepers. The five houses reputedly had sloping floors to help in washing out the houses. Eight modern apartments with a common room and visitors bedroom now occupy the site, administered by the Feoffees of Highweek.
In 1576 Robert Hayman set up several houses for the poor in East Street. These were rebuilt in 1840.
Reynell's almshouses, built in 1640 beside Torquay Road, housed four clergy widows ("the relicts of preaching ministers, left poor, without a house of their own"). They were rebuilt in 1845.
Mackrell's almshouses in Wolborough Street were built in 1874 by J. W. Rowell. Mackrell was a native of Newton Abbot who made his fortune as a chemist in Barnstaple. Mackrell also funded a home in the Forde Park area for the "fallen women of Newton Abbot", housing single mothers fallen on hard times.
The original Newton Abbot poorhouse was in East Street. The cellar of the Devon Arms was used as the oakum picking room, where paupers were given the unpleasant job of untwisting old rope to provide oakum, used to seal the seams of wooden boats. Newton Bushel had its own poorhouse, not far from present day Newton Abbot Leisure Centre, previously known as Dyron's.
The 1834 Poor Law Act required changes and incorporation that led in 1839, to a new workhouse being built in East Street for paupers from surrounding areas. In time the workhouse became more of a hospital for the sick, infirm and aged poor.
Close to the railway station is the former Tucker's Maltings, long the only traditional malthouse in the UK open to the public. The malt house produced malt for over 30 breweries, and enough to brew 15,000,000 imperial pints (8,500 m3) of beer per annum. It closed in October 2018.
Ye Olde Cider Bar
Said to be one of only two remaining cider houses in the United Kingdom, Ye Olde Cider Bar in East Street sells only cider, perry, country wines and soft drinks. Its interior and simple wooden furniture remain relatively unchanged, but some old bar customs, such as limiting women and holidaymakers to half-pint measures and covering the floor with sawdust, have ceased.
Newton Abbot Town & GWR Museum
After a 2019 relocation, the museum is now in the Newton's Place community centre in Newfoundland Way. It displays the history of Newton Abbot and of the Great Western Railway.
Newton Abbot War Memorial
Newton Abbot War Memorial
In 1922 Newton Abbot Urban District Council instructed its Borough Surveyor, Coleridge Dingley White, to design a town memorial reflecting the town's importance and the contribution its young men to the war effort  The unveiling and dedication took place on Sunday 23 July 1922.
Two greyhound racing tracks existed; the Newton Abbot Greyhound Track lasted from 1974 to 2005 and a short-lived track was laid on the Recreation Ground, where Newton Abbot Spurs plays today. The racing was independent (unaffiliated to the sports governing body, the National Greyhound Racing Club) and so both were known as flapping tracks, a name given to independent tracks. Distances there were 250, 450 and 460 yards and racing lasted about five years.
Sir Samuel White Baker, explorer, big-game hunter, writer and abolitionist, bought the Sandford Orleigh estate in 1874 and died there in 1893. Baker's Park in the south-west of the town is named after him.