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Parish History

Parish History


The village takes its name from the large Iron Age fort on Denbury Down, a home of the Dumnonii, the ancient Celtic inhabitants of Devon.

The manor of Denbury existed in Saxon times and it was given to Tavistock Abbey in the reign of Edward the Confessor by Aeldred, later Archbishop of York, who crowned Harold, the last of the Saxon kings and William of Normandy. The Parish church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 12th Century.

In the 13th Century Denbury was granted a licence to hold a 3 day fair once a year on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Interrupted by cattle disease in the 19th Century it continues today as the May Fair.

Flying became popular in the 1930’s when an airfield was established on the Great Field to the east of the village and Denbury was linked by a regular service to Croydon, then the main UK international airport, to bring tourists to Torbay. Just before the Second World War the airfield was used by US forces before the Invasion of Europe in 1944. The British Army retained the site until 1969 and the Junior Leaders based there initiated what has developed into the Ten Tors annual hike. Subsequently, Channing’s Wood Prison was constructed on the site.

Denbury has always been substantially based on agriculture and whilst this remains a major theme today now many residents commute from the village to local more urban centres of employment. Much of the historic village remains largely intact with 16th and 17th Century cob and formerly thatched cottages, now included within a Conservation Area. The village retains its Saxon layout with the church at its centre, together with a village school, public house, and post office. Always closely associated with Torbryan there are rumours of a secret underground passageway from Denbury Manor to Torbryan Church.


All that remains of ancient Torbryan is the Church, Church House Inn, three farmsteads, thirteen cottages, Tor Newton Farm, and the Old Rectory House. In the Domesday Book the place name Torre Braine occurs in 1238. The de Brian family were Lords of the manor for 250 years.

The Church is situated at the head of the village; it is thought that the original church of Sir Guy de Brian burnt down in about 1360. The present lime washed church was constructed in 1400 and is in the perpendicular style. The church also houses a colony of lesser horseshoe bats.

There is a medieval rood screen constructed in about 1430, on the lower panels there is a unique series of coloured painting depicting 36 saints. This is a rare survivor of the reformation and survived because the panels were whitewashed. These screens recently made national headlines when they were stolen but later recovered. The Church House Inn was originally owned by the church. Church ales were sold and hospitality provided for visiting parishioners. There is medieval timber screen and an old beam dated 1485.

The Torbryan caves are world famous and were largely excavated by Edward Widger who lived in the village. The caves are located on the side of the wide valley leading westward towards the Rectory. The bones of many extinct animals were found in the caves including; mammoth, lion, cave hyena, reindeer, cave beer, hippopotamus. These remains are displayed at the Natural History Museum in London.

A notable inhabitant of Torbryan was Sir William Petre who died in 1605. He was a Tudor Secretary of State and agent of Thomas Cromwell who served from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I and was born at Tor Newton. There is a monument to him on the north wall of the chancel. The Peters were succeeded in about 1700 by the Wolstans, two of whom became Rectors. The village of Torbryan is picturesquely situated where a series of streamlets meet. These flow along wide green valley’s from north, east and west and the reunite to from the Am that flows into the River Dart. A running stream welling from the limestone rocks runs through the village and adds to its charm.