Honiton is a market town and civil parish in East Devon, situated close to the River Otter, 17 miles (27 km) north east of Exeter in the county of Devon. Honiton has a population estimated at 11,822 (based on mid-year estimates for the two Honiton Wards in 2009).
The town grew along the line of the Fosse Way, the ancient Roman road linking Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum) on which it was an important stopping point. The location is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Honetone, meaning Huna’s tun or farmstead.
Honiton later grew to become an important market town, known for lace making that was introduced by Flemish immigrants in the Elizabethan era. In the 17th century thousands of people produced lace by hand in their homes, and in the 19th century Queen Victoria had her wedding dress made of Honiton lace, though the dress itself was made in the fishing village of Beer. The town also became known for its pottery.
In 1747 and 1765 the town were badly damaged by fires. Georgian houses were then built to replace some of those that had been destroyed.
The buildings of High Street are almost all Georgian, dating from after the two fires of 1747 and 1765. Of particular interest are Marwood House, 1619, and the Manor House, which was originally a coaching inn (the added porch is 19th-century). Honiton Garage dates from about 1700 and the Market Hall (which originally had arcades on the ground floor and an assembly room above) has a modest early-19th-century stone front.
St Michael's Parish Church, which was rebuilt in 1911 after a fire, is situated on a small hill above the town. The old church was large and perfectly rectangular: it was built in the Perpendicular style, with two aisles, two transepts (which did not project), and the chancel and two chancel chapels equal to it in length. The west tower and the outer walls are all that remains of the old building. The cost of the original building was paid by Bishop Courtenay of Exeter, lord of the manor of Honiton (west part) and by John and Joan Takell (east part).
The mid-19th-century St Paul’s Church was designed by Charles Fowler and is situated in the centre of the town. Its erection in 1835 required an act of Parliament and the demolition of half of the adjacent Allhallows Chapel. It was built in 1837–38 in a style incorporating elements of Romanesque architecture. There are pinnacles on the tower and the arcades inside have tall columns; above the nave is a clerestory which resembles those in early Christian basilicas.
Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities claims to hold one of the most comprehensive collections of Honiton lace in the world. It is located in a building, claimed to be the oldest still extant in Honiton, which formerly belonged to Allhallows School from the 16th Century until the 1930s.
The Hot Pennies ceremony takes place annually on the first Tuesday after 19 July in the High Street of the town, and dates back to the reign of King Stephen. The ceremony has its roots in the practice of landed gentry taking pleasure in throwing hot pennies from windows to local peasants, a seemingly philanthropic gesture resulting in burns. The custom also had the purpose of encouraging people to travel to the town from the surrounding area to attend a subsequent fair.
At noon, the Town Crier, accompanied by the Mayor and other local dignitaries, raises a garlanded pole with gloved hand at the top, and proclaims that “no man may be arrested so long as this glove is up”. Warm pennies are then thrown from a number of balconies in the High Street to crowds of local people. The pole is then kept on display for the following “fair week”. The children of Honiton Community College are allowed off campus for the duration of the Hot Pennies Ceremony itself.
Honiton is host to the annual Honiton Agricultural Show, an event traditionally held on the first Thursday of August in fields near the town, dating back to 1890. Honiton has two primary schools, Honiton Primary School and Littletown Primary School, as well as a secondary school, Honiton Community College, which includes a sixth form.
Honiton is at the junction of the A35, the A30 and the A373 roads. The A30 now bypasses the town to the north. Until the bypass’s construction in 1966, the town was blighted by traffic congestion. The town is 10.5 miles (17 km) from Junction 28 of the M5. Honiton railway station is on the West of England Main Line that runs from London Waterloo to Exeter. Honiton is around 13 miles (21 km) from Exeter Airport. Honiton is twinned with Mézidon-Canon in France, and Gronau (Leine) in Germany.