Thursday, April 15, 2010
Honiton is a bustling and friendly market town, renowned for many things including beautiful lace, lovely pottery, and one of the finest choices of antiques you could find.
It is a prime shopping centre for the area, also offering ever-popular street markets and farmers markets.
Surrounded by beautiful countryside, Honiton is only a short drive from the coastal resorts, and is the ideal base from which to explore.
Honiton has a charming character, featuring many interesting buildings from the 18th century after disastrous fires destroyed much of its earlier past. There are former coaching inns along the main street, and courtyards and alleyways featuring a whole variety of small shops, a delight to browse around.
Situated on the main road and rail links between London and Exeter, it is often called the gateway to Devon and Cornwall.
Parking is no problem there are excellent long- and short-stay car parks within easy walking distance of the town centre, plus many roadside spaces along the main street.
Shopping and dining
Shopping in Honiton is a great pleasure, with many places to relax and browse at your leisure, or just sit and watch the world go by. The High Street offers a choice of friendly, privately-owned shops or major stores, with lots of side streets offering that special bargain. There are many arcades and alleyways, such as Lace Walk, offering everything from shops and crafts to places to eat and drink.
In fact, you can buy everything from food and fashion to antiques, gifts, and all the basic essentials.
There is a superb range of eating places, offering everything from a tea or coffee, or a relaxing beer or glass of wine, to breakfasts, light snacks and excellent meals. The towns many cafs, pubs, restaurants and hotels offer something to suit any palate, both formal and informal, and it is always worth taking a drive or taxi ride to visit one of the delightful country pubs and restaurants in the surrounding villages.
Honitons street markets attract people from a wide area. Held every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the year in the High Street, there is a wonderful friendly, bustling atmosphere, and you can buy everything from antiques and bric-a-brac to clothing, fresh produce, plants and flowers, and crafts.
In addition, on the third Thursday of each month, a farmers market is held in St Pauls church yard in High Street or the Lace Walk car park, with around 30 stalls offering local products including quality meats, dairy products, bread, eggs, fruit, herbs, plants, flowers and local crafts. The town also has a cattle market each Tuesday.
Lace, pottery and antiques
Honiton lace is, of course, one of the towns main claims to fame, and is internationally famous. It is documented that in 1698 there were 4,695 lace makers in the area.
Machine-made net, introduced by Heathcotts of Tiverton in the 19th century, provided a cheaper alternative to the labour intensive bobbin lace, and hand-made lace became a much less viable industry, although many commissions were still undertaken in the area.
Today you can still find many fine examples of the famous Honiton lace in the Honiton Lace Shop which specialises in antique lace and wedding veils at their first floor showroom above Merletto in the High Street. Also, there is an outstanding collection depicting 400 years of lace making which can be enjoyed at the Allhallows Museum. For more interesting information visit www.honitonlace.com.
Honitons famous pottery has a history dating back to the 17th century, and you can learn much more by visiting the Honiton Pottery Shop & Craft Centre in the High Street. A display of fine Honiton pottery can also be seen at Allhallows Museum.
And if you are a lover of antiques you are spoilt for choice Honiton has a world-wide reputation and is known as one of the major antiques centres in the south west. There is a huge number of antique shops and centres situated in or near the High Street itself, plus several auction houses there are more than 30 dealers to choose from and collectors and individuals visit from all over the world.
Honiton has a busy programme of social events, and details can be found in the Midweek Herald or from the Tourist Information Centre.
July sees the annual ancient ritual of the Hot Pennies Ceremony, followed by the annual fun fair on All Hallowes playing field, over the following three days.
It will be officially opened by the Town Crier, who traditionally carries a huge golden glove on the end of a garlanded pole, amidst the shouting of words that have been unaltered since early times.
Heated pennies are then cast among the spectators and collected, mainly by eager children. On the following day there is a fairground at the nearby industrial estate, great fun for all the family.
On the first Thursday of August, almost every year since 1890, Honiton has staged one of the largest one-day agricultural shows in the south west. This years event is scheduled to be on August 4, and takes place at Honiton showground at Weston, off the A 30 east of Honiton.
The event is a superb day out for all the family, with a friendly, jovial and bustling atmosphere just strolling around and listening to the local farming jargon is an experience not to be missed.
A special event is to be held this year on Thursday August 18 to mark the victory of Nelson at Trafalgar, 200 years ago.
The occasion is to be commemorated by a ceremony in the forecourt of St Pauls church and a dispatch ride from Falmouth to London stopping off at Honiton, where the original rider changed horses. A Lorna Doone coach is to be paraded through the town and a reception attended by Sir John Cave will then take place in the towns museum.
A very popular annual event is the Honiton Hill Rally, held at nearby Stockland. It is always a super event for all the family, featuring ring events, crafts, childrens entertainment, steam engines and working horses.
For those fortunate enough to be on holiday in October, turn up and be dazzled by the brilliance of Honitons carnival night, with one of the most spectacular processions in the county.
Honiton is an ideal place to while away some interesting hours, with many buildings of interest, and information can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre.
Of special interest is the Allhallows Museum in the centre of the town, occupying the chancel of the 13th century Chapel of Allhallows, Grade II listed, and the oldest building in Honiton. Used over the years as a chapel for the people of the town, a schoolroom and dining hall, and later as the school chapel, the building has a unique atmosphere, capturing the towns past. There is a wide range of exhibits from as far back as prehistoric times, and the world's most comprehensive collection of Honiton lace. Also on display are examples of the finest Honiton pottery.
Sport and leisure
Honiton has developed an excellent range of sporting amenities to meet the needs of a growing town and its many visitors. There is a first-class golf club, and many country pursuits such as fishing, walking and cycling.
Honiton Sports Centre in School Lane offers a huge range of facilities whatever the weather, and caters for all ages. There is a superb indoor heated swimming pool which also offers a choice of water-based exercises, plus a sports hall and fitness centre with state-of-the-art equipment.
There are 24 parishes in the Honiton district, many of them no more than sleepy little hamlets snuggled in sheltered valleys, and others still growing and becoming increasingly self-sufficient. Wherever you roam you will be greeted with beautiful countryside, ancient churches, manor houses, and even bronze age barrows - indeed this seemingly quiet and peaceful lifestyle seems far removed from the 21st century but, rest assured, there is a whole range of community events and some lovely country pubs to enjoy.
The official Honiton guide gives a description of each village and, armed with that and a map, you can have a wonderful time exploring.
Among the local parishes is Broadhembury, a typical chocolate box village of cob and thatch with a lovely Tudor residence. Park in the square and explore, taking in the regal 15th century St Andrews Church, built largely of Beer stone, and with an unusual two-storey porch.
A stone bridge straddles the river, and a footpath leads to the site of the Hembury hill fort, first occupied by Neolithic people some 6,000 years ago.
Nearby Farway village is said to take its name from an ancient trackway known as the Faer-Weg, which ran along the side of the hills.
There are numerous villages to explore, so do ask at the TIC for full information and directions, and enjoy one of the most relaxing and rewarding times possible.
There is evidence of life in the Honiton area in the last interglacial period bones unearthed during the construction of the Honiton bypass were identified as hippopotamus, deer and ox, and many are on display at Allhallows Museum.
The Romans occupied the East Devon area, but there is no actual mention of Honiton itself until late Saxon times, when the name Honetone was recorded, probably named after the settlement Huna, situated up the hill from the present site of the town.
In 1200 the Lord of the Manor William de Redvers moved the settlement to its new site, creating the foundation of the thriving town we see today.
The town became a very early centre of the Devonshire cloth trade, and later became famous for its lace making and pottery.
The 18th century saw changes that are largely responsible for the present appearance of Honiton, with its attractive Georgian buildings including many former coaching inns.
Peter Betteridge (The Bed Expert) has opened a new shop in the town, based in what was the Old Pannier Market. Its a must visit to see the restoration work which has been carried out, with the stunning entrance with granite plinths with restored red bricks, and a stairway of brushed stainless steel and brass leading to what was the ballroom.
The building was built around 1850, and had a former life as an assembly room on the upper floor, where there is a beautiful ballroom with recesses and ornate coving. The pannier market downstairs was used for selling local produce and livestock. Later, it became a wallpaper shop and then Woolworths.
A series of disastrous fires caused much destruction of buildings in the town, and subsequent re-building, but most of the then-new buildings have survived, creating the elegant townscape we see today.