tavistock subscription librAry

Tavistock Subscription Library founded 1799

  • Over 90 members
  • Open to members for an annual subscription fee of £12 single and £18 family subscription


The Tavistock Subscription Library was founded in 1799 and settled permanently in the 1830s into rooms alongside and above the massive Court Gate, entry point into the court of Tavistock Abbey. In 1810, the Duke of Bedford became the President of the Library, a family connection which continued until the 1950s. When the Duke sold his Tavistock properties before the Great War, Court Gate was included in the sale. Money was raised to buy it for the town and the Library became the tenants of the Town Council. In the 1960s, the Library, threatened with closure, sold off many of its books, but the remaining collection was saved and housed in a small Reading Room alongside Court Gate. Here the Library remains.


By 1964 the reduced membership could no longer afford the various costs, including the modest rent charged after the initial fifteen years. Disbandment was averted by a radical reorganisation. All but the ground floor games room was relinquished to a new landlord, the Town Council. Most of the stock of books was sold and thenceforward the holding was restricted to works by local authors or those pertaining to the town and Dartmoor. Under this regime an impressive collection has accumulated, ranging from the poetry of the 17th century William Browne to the contemporary fifteen volumes of Gerry Woodcock’s Tavistock’s Yesterdays and including annual reports of the Devonshire Association from 1863.


Initially the Library was located in the upper floors of a bookshop, which it soon outgrew. A purpose-built library in the classical style was opened in 1822, nicknamed the Propylaeum. The Duke of Bedford, who owned most of Tavistock and the surrounding area, his family having been given the lands by Henry VIII at the Dissolution, decided to demolish and rebuild the centre of Tavistock, and the Propylaeum, being in the way, was demolished. However, the Duke, in compensation, refurbished Court Gate, one of the old Abbey gates, as a purpose-built library and librarian’s cottage. The Library remains in one room of this building, however the old library and cottage now house Tavistock Museum. Court Gate dates from the twelfth century. The arch and its adjacent walls and buildings were restored in the 1820s by John Foulston, working for the Duke of Bedford, who offered the Subscription Library a permanent home there at a nominal rent.

Contact information

Simon Dell MBE, Honorary Secretary
Court Gate, Guildhall Square, Tavistock, Devonshire PL19 0AE
tel: 07845 176870

Visitors and Researchers are welcome by arrangement. The library holds occasional open days, and the public are invited to Friday morning coffee mornings where they can learn more.




Registered Charity Number 1118323