A past to be proud of

At one time, Barnstaple was the only port in the South West of England. This shaped much of the town’s history...

It’s thought that Barnstaple is the oldest borough in England, dating back to the 900s. But it was the Medieval period that most defined Barnstaple’s history. Barnstaple’s location and manmade quays helped the town to become a thriving trading centre and a base for enterprising merchants to do business with Europe, Ireland and the New World.

Tobacco, wine and spices were imported and wool and pottery were exported. Barnstaple pottery has been found in archaeological excavations as far away as Maryland, USA. But the era of prosperity was interrupted in 1642 by the Civil War, during which Barnstaple changed hands four times. Bullet holes from the resulting skirmishes can still be found in some of Barnstaple’s historic buildings.

Barnstaple and the defeat of the Spanish Armada

In 1588 Barnstaple helped to defeat the Spanish Armada. Five ships, manned by Barnstaple men, set sail from the town to join Sir Francis Drake’s fleet in Plymouth before going into battle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Step through the past

Barnstaple’s past continues to define its present. The best way to see that is to join one of the guided heritage trails through the town. They’re fascinating. Barnstaple Heritage Centre, a beautiful quayside Grade 1 Listed Building, is worth visiting too. It’s home to an exhibition that throws the spotlight on Barnstaple, from the Medieval times to the present day. The Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon is equally intriguing and Barnstaple Library has a great local history section.

What will you discover?

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