Tiverton – escaping the luddites



A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woollen mills, which they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16)

derogatory A person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

‘a small-minded Luddite resisting progress’



From Street we drove on to another town that historically had the wool trade at its heart, Tiverton (previously Twford) in Devon which stands at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Lowman. The town grew rapidly in the 16th and 17th centuries and many wealthy wool merchants added to the town’s heritage including John Greenway who added a chapels and almshouses in Gold Street and Peter Blundell who bequeathed funds and land to form Blundell’s School.


During the industrial revolution, the town declined somewhat. The saviour of Tiverton turned out to be industrialist John Heathcoat who bought an empty woollen mill on the banks of the River Ex. John Heathcoat (1783-1861 was apprenticed to a frame maker and became a talented designer.  He invented a machine capable of reproducing the best pillow made lace. When the luddites destroyed 55 machines and shot a factory guard in his factories in Loughborough, Heathcoat decided he had had enough and he moved his entire lacemaking operations to Tiverton. As a wealthy and successful businessman, he no doubt took a carriage to move himself and his chattels from Loughborough to Tiverton. However around 500 of his workers walked the 200 mile journey on foot, probably along Fosse Way, the old Roman road to join his new operations in Devon. Recently a group of walkers recreated that long walk to a new life. Heathcoat let the 500 workers teach the locals the trade, until there were 1500 workers by 1822. By the time he died in 1861, a fifth of the town’s population worked at the factory. Today Heathcoat Fabrics specialise in the production of specialist clothing – or as they put it, “engineered textile solutions” and their customers include the aeronautical industry and the military.

I’m sure the innovative Mr Heathcoat would approve.


So what of the luddites, the meaning of the term has altered somewhat over the years – an interesting article about luddites modern or otherwise here

So when we arrived in Tiverton, we were not yet permitted in the museum due to “Health and Safety” – so we instead made our way to find the canal. This turned out to be at the top of a steep hill (Canal Hill, this must be the right way!). The oldest canal (with locks) in the country is the Exeter Canal built in 1566. To avoid the perilous waters between the Bristol and English channels, a grand plan was dreamed up to connect the two waters by Inland waterways. The Grand Western Canal would join up the Exeter canal with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. The 11 mile section from Tiverton  to Lowdwells was completed in 1810. Due to John Renni’s surveying skills the water level on this section is completely uninterrupted with no locks or lifts. After many delays the Great Western Canal was extended a further 13.5 miles from Lowdwells to Taunton. Sadly the growth of the railways meant the end of the canal boom, and the completion of the scheme was halted. By 1876 the Tiverton Railway branch line had become part of the great Western Railway, which ran until the Beeching cuts in 1967.

Today the canal has one of the last horse drawn barges in the UK. The beautiful 75 seater canal boat, the Tivertonian now carries tourists up and down the peaceful canal.


Back at the Museum we were finally allowed in, and all very interesting it was too. And the largest object at the museum – the former Great Western Railway Locomotive 1442 aka the Tivvy Bumper which retired from service in 1965! G enjoyed putting on his engine driver hat and having a fiddle with the controls!

Next stop for a lunch break was nearby National Trust property Knightshayes Court. This 19th century manor house was built for Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat. Heathcoat Amory commissioned the house from the fashionable and brilliant William Burges, and from the impressive rooms you can view the town of Tiverton where it all started!










Tiverton – escaping the luddites