Just south of the small village if Meavy are a small group of landscape features all with the name of Marchant’s. These are snuggled at the foot of Lynch Hill under the open ground of Lynch Common. There is Marchant’s Bridge, Marchant’s Cross and Marchant’s Ford all suggesting that they were associated with someone called Marchant. Indeed, according to the Place-Name Society this could well be the case as in 1281 there was a family living in nearby Tavistock by the name of Marchaund, Gover et. al., p.213. However, the cross, bridge and ford all are situated close to what in centuries gone by was an ancient monastic route running from Plympton Priory to Tavistock Abbey. Not only would the monks tread this track but so would local merchants going to and from Tavistock. In this light it has been suggested that the place-name refers to the Merchants as it was them who passed by. It has been said that Marchant’s Cross would have been the last Christian bastion before entering the wild and godless moors for those travelling in a westerly direction. So maybe some of the pilgrims would kneel at the cross and pray for the Lord’s protection on their perilous journey.
William Crossing relates an old tale which suggested that at some point in the dim and distant past the cross marked the grave of a suicide. He suggests that maybe the grave was located near the cross it would not have been under the cross as it was erected as a guide on the monastic track, p.51. The whole concept of burying suicides at roadsides was that they needed to be at a junction, preferably a crossroads. The idea being that should the ghost of the departed ever come back to haunt the mortal world they would be utterly confused as to which direction to take. In this case there is only a short track leading to Yeo Farm running off the main route which would negate that ancient belief. Whilst on the topic of the supernatural it has been said that on dark, moonless nights Francis Drake and his pack of ‘hell hounds’ hunts for lone travellers around Marchant’s Cross in order to steal their souls.
For travellers prior to the construction of the bridge would have used Marchant’s Ford as a place to cross the river Meavy. This point is roughly the halfway point of the river Meavy from its source outside Princetown before it unites with the river Plym near Shaugh Prior. In order to make the crossing easier a series of granite stepping stones were placed across the width if the river and are still visible today. I can recall many years ago driving through the ford but having visited the place a few days ago (September 2014) I saw two horses wading across with the water up to their knees and so decided not to repeat the exercise. On the south side of the ford can be seen an ancient and magnificent Oak tree that gives the impression it has seen many a traveller and packhorse cross the ford. In 2008 the original stepping stones were replaced with flatter stones to make crossing easier. Sadly somebody underestimated the river Meavy and the height its waters can reach and it has been known for them to become submerged.
If you look at the latest Ordnance Survey map you will see that the bridge is recoded as ‘Higher Meavy Bridge’. The very fact that it’s located south of Lower Meavy Bridge seems slightly odd but there you go. Locally the bridge is referred to as Marchant’s Bridge and although the exact date of its construction is unknown there records dating back to the 1600s or maybe even the 1500s. An early map of the sixteenth century alludes to a crossing although this has not been confirmed. What has been validated is a record of bridge repairs listed in the sessions book of 1665. The single spanned bridge originally had a width of 2.89 metres but was widened to 3.5 metres sometime prior to 1809, Henderson & Jervoise, pp. 18 -19. If you would like the formal description of the bridge as given by English Heritage then it is this: “Granite rubble with roughly dressed coping stones. Single span round-headed arch with projecting keystone on west (downstream) side. Cranked parapet and swept-out abutments.” On the 26th of January 1987 the bridge became a grade II listing structure. If you would like a less formal description then I would say that today the old bridge sits quietly under the leafy shade of lofty trees as the river Meavy babbles by. On sunny days the shadows dance merrily under its granite span, often with clouds of insects dancing overhead. For those not used to Dartmoor bridges this one often cause consternation as the road sharply sweeps into its slender width. In summer it can be quite entertaining to sit and watch unwary travellers suddenly encountering the bridge. The frantic blasts of car horns often fill the air as tourist cars slowly creep their way around and over the narrow road. The drivers visibly sighing with relief that their vehicle has crossed without an extra souvenir of their days on Dartmoor. It’s even better when two cars meet on the bridge and the drivers get an opportunity to display their reversing skills – or not. The small green next to the bridge is often a favourite picnic site which provides a convenient riverside playing spot for youngsters. In wintertime this small patch of green can become awash when the waters of the river Meavy come roaring under the bridge.
Crossing, W. 1987 The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor, Devon Books, Exeter.
Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F. M. 1992 The Place Names of Devon, English Place-Name Society, Nottingham.
Henderson, C. & Jervoise, E. 1938. Old Devon Bridges. Exeter: A. Wheaton & Co. Ltd.