Holsworthy; Ruby Country market town

holsworthyThe traditional market town of Holsworthy offers something for everyone throughout the whole year.

Holsworthy is a wonderful town with a market charter dating back to the 12th century. In Saxon times it was known as a Port Town. The word Port was a Saxon term for a secure place to trade; a market.

Now, Holsworthy boasts one of the newest, busiest and largest weekly livestock markets in the country and lies in the heart of Ruby Country. Holsworthy hosts a weekly market every Wednesday, many special events, a sports hall, swimming baths, library with internet connection and Stanhope Park, all within a short walk of the town centre.

History of Holsworthy

Holsworthy is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being in the estates and earldom of Harold, son and heir to Godwin in the year 1053. Within the towns church there are the remains of a small Norman Oratory dating back to c.1130.

The date of the original Market and Fair Charter is somewhere between 1155 and 1185. Since there was no very little national government at the time, civil and criminal matters were dealt with locally.

The spokesman for the villagers was known as the Portreeve and the ruling council as the Court Leet. These positions were established in 1154 and this gorup was repsonsible for controlling things like weights and measures, the quality of bread and ale and hedge maintenance. The Court Leet held their tribunals beneath the Great Tree. The last Great Tree, an elm died at the end of the 19th century and its site is marked by a metal disc set in the road on Stanhope Square. In 1992 an oak tree was planted in the square, to help rekindle interest in old traditions. The Portreeve and Court Leet, although having no power, still meet every year on the eve of St. peter’s Fair at the beginning of July.

A second charter was granted by James I to Sir Nicholas Prideaux in 1614, which is proclaimed by the Town Crier during the Pretty Maid Ceremony on the Wednesday of St. Peter’s Fair.

St. Peters Fair

In c 1160 a fair was granted to the then Lord of the Manor, Fulk de Paganet by Royal Charter. The fair was originally held at the same time as the feast of St Peter (29th June) and has now been part of Holsworthy’s history for over 800 years.  Originally the fair was three days of trading and bargaining but has changed over time to what it is in modern times. 100 years ago it was very different.

The first two days of the Fair were primarily for the livestock market, both cattle and horses. Up to the late 1930’s, North Road would have been packed with all the horses tied to the Church railings.  Travellers would trot their horses up and down the road, impressing those there to buy. Dealers came from far and wide. The remains of the rings used to tether the animals can still be seen in parts of the Church wall today.

The highlight of the fair was the traditional amusements and fairground rides.  Held in a field called ‘Fair Park’ along North Road, these attractions moved from there to take pride of place in the Square

The railway

The coming of the railway in 1879 produced 2 viaducts which are still present in the town. Derriton Viaduct is part of the Ruby Way and Devon County Council is currently applying for planning permission to undertake restoration work on Colesmill Viaduct in order to make it useable by cyclists and walkers using the Ruby Way between Holsworthy and Hatherleigh.

Although the railway has now gone it led to further prosperity for the town and its market and surroundings, until which time were predominantly agricultural.

Holsworthy today

holsworthy marketHolsworthy is home to one of the largest weekly cattle and pannier markets in the south west. The local auctioneers claim it is one of the largest in the country.

Streets come alive as visitors enjoy mingling with local people, farmers and their families, who come to town to buy and sell, meet friends and to swap gossip as they have done for generations.


new marketThe new £7m livestock market can be found on Market Way, between Holsworthy Industrial Estate and the A388 road to Bideford  Here you can watch livestock and poultry auctions and also sales of general items. You might like to take part and find out how much fun bidding at an auction can be.

In and around Holsworthy there are many wonderful churches and a museum housing a unique collection of interesting artefacts, in part of a 17th century manor house.

The bulk of the local shops in Holsworthy are located in and around the Town Square, offering a wide range of goods, catering for most needs. Holsworthy also has a number of traditional pubs and inns and many establishments feature genuine local produce-enough to tickle the tastebuds of even the most discerning diner.

Festivals and Events

At the beginning of July the Portreeve and Court Leet still meet on the eve of St. Peters Fair. The town band and the Town Crier lead an increasingly merry group of tasters around the town, awarding ivy branches to each hostelry providing ale  that meets with their approval.

Next morning the Town Crier opens the Fair by reading out the James I Market Charter-tradition demands that he stands on the site of “me old tree”. Festivities then commence and over a thousand years of trading continues.

A charter that is loudly proclaimed every year during the Fair by the Town Crier is the Pretty Maids Cremony. This ceremony includes the town’s best kept secret, because no-one, except the girl,her family and a small group of trustees nows her identity. On the stroke of mid-day, the chosen maid appears with the Rector at the door of the church to be presented to the townsfolk.

Another major event of the year is the Agricultural Show held in August. A must for visitors and locals alike the show began in 1886 and its first years were during the agricultural depression when there was a mass emigration to the colonies. Since then it has continued to reflect the changing fortunes of farming and the local community.

The Vintage Vehicle Rally held in June and the Holsworthy Carnival held in November are also great spectacles for visitors.

devons-ride-theRuby Country Partnership is pleased to be supporting these businesses and would like to support more. If you are interested in working with Ruby Country Partnership to develop and promote your business please contact us at Holsworthy Information Centre on 01409 254185 or email us at info@visitdevonsrubycountry.co.uk


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