Tavistock stands on the River Tavy outside the western borders of Dartmoor and east of the Tamar Valley. Its abbey once dominated the centre of the town, running south-west to north-east along the north bank of the Tavy down- and upstream of Abbey Bridge. After the Dissolution in the 1530s it fell into ruin and only fragments remain today. There was more to see in Turner’s time, but following some restoration work by the Duke of Bedford in the 1820s to the pinnacled buildings beside the town hall off Abbey Place, most of the area beyond, north-west of the bridge, was cleared after 1859 to make way for an extensive market.1
Here, with the sketchbook inverted relative to the foliation, Turner looks north across the Tavy to Abbey Bridge and the walls of the abbey. The medieval bridge has since been rebuilt in rusticated classical style with a balustrade, and the gabled building on the left with an arch and an oriel window does not survive. However, the subject is confirmed by Samuel Prout’s 1811 etching of Tavistock (Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter), showing a similar view with the weir on the Tavy in the foreground.
See Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Devon, The Buildings of England, revised ed., New Haven and London 2002, p.780.