If you’re a history buff, you’ll love spending time in East Devon – aside from the Jurassic Coast itself which dates back millions of years, there are also Iron Age forts, Roman roads and a host of other interesting figures and stories.

There has been a settlement at Ottery St Mary for centuries, though not always with the name we know now. Initially in the Domesday Book, it appears as Otri and Oteri, with the Saint Mary bit not appearing until 1242, and even then it was in the original French. Over the years, there have been several discoveries, including the uncovering of a medieval longhouse, records proving that Oliver Cromwell came to stay and of course, the memories of poet and writer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was born in Ottery in 1772 and was raised by his father, the local vicar.

In Ottery St Mary, there are several places where you can see evidence of the town’s heritage, so we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite historical sites across the town to help you plan the perfect day out.

Spot one – St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church is a Grade 1 listed building that is often referred to as a miniature Exeter Cathedral – not hard to see why, the church is based on its larger cousin in Exeter. In 1335, the Bishop of Exeter had most of the church remodelled to look like the cathedral, as well as establishing a collegiate foundation in the town. The church is actually much older than that though, it was consecrated in 1260 and originally belonged to Rouen Cathedral.

It isn’t just the building that provides a glimpse at Ottery’s past, the church’s bell tower houses the Ottery St Mary astronomical clock, which is one of the oldest surviving mechanical clocks in the country and features the Earth at the centre of the solar system!

Spot two – Escot Park and Gardens

Today this site is more commonly known for being the home of Wildwood Devon, however, Escot Park, on the outskirts of Ottery St Mary has existed since at least the 1600s. The site has over 200 acres of parkland, as well as a historic garden and a maze, made up of around 4000 trees! It’s a great place for nature lovers too, as you’ll often find birds of prey circling overhead, even without stopping off at Wildwood Devon.

According to local history, the site was originally commissioned by Sir Walter Yonge Baronet. It then came into the ownership of the Kennaways, who were associates og the East India Company, their renovations were sadly lost when the house was destroyed in a fire in 1808, but it was rebuilt in 1838 by Henry Roberts, which is the home you see at Escot Park today.

Spot three – The Otari Bell

Earlier we mentioned that Ottery appeared in the Domesday Book under the name Oteri – that’s not what inspired the name of this bell which can be viewed near Sainsbury’s in the town. The bell was actually inspired by a village in Japan called Otara, which was the host of the 1988 Olympic Games. The region that had the most games was Otari and the Olympic Committee and representatives of the town made their way to Ottery St Mary, watching that year’s Tar Barrels and striking up a friendship. This eventually culminated in the two towns deciding to engage in formal twinning agreement by swapping traditional bells. So, the people of Ottery St Mary shipped a church bell over to Japan and in return, received a bell featuring words and symbols denoting the connection between the two communities.

 Originally the Otari Bell was displayed in Silver Street, but today can be found near Sainsbury, alongside plaques which explains the story and is regularly visited from people around the UK, as well as those visiting from Japan.

Spot 4 and onwards!

A great way to learn more about Ottery’s heritage is to look out for the blue plaques that are dotted around the town. You can find them at various spots, including:

  • Raleigh House
    The birthplace of Dr Edward Davy and the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s former home.
  • The Old Convent
  • St Mary’s Cinema
    Closed since 1959, it was the first and so far only cinema in Ottery St Mary.
  • The United Reform Church
  • The Old Town House
    Originally built in 1859, the building here has been used as council chambers, a police station and a magistrate’s court before being the home of the town library.
  • The Old School House
    The birth place of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, both the home and the next door grammar school were demolished in the 1800s.
  • Normandy House
    Originally known as Stafford House, it is the site of the former home of Henry, Lord Stafford. The current building is a Grade II listed property.
  • The Priory

Find out more about Ottery St Mary and plan your trip here.

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