Totnes facts for kids
The Eastgate over the High Street in 1983
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Totnes (// or //) is a market town and civil parish at the head of the estuary of the River Dart in Devon, England within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is about 22 miles (35 km) south southwest of the city of Exeter and is the administrative centre of the South Hams District Council.
Totnes has a long recorded history, dating back to AD 907 when its first castle was built; it was already an important market town by the 12th century. Indications of its former wealth and importance are given by the number of merchants' houses built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Today, the town is a thriving centre for music, art, theatre and natural health. It has a sizeable alternative and "New Age" community, and is known as a place where one can live a bohemian lifestyle. Two electoral wards mention Totnes (Bridgetown and Town). Their combined populations at the 2011 census was 8,076.
Ancient and medieval history
According to the Historia Regum Britanniae written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in around 1136, "the coast of Totnes" was where Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first came ashore on the island. Set into the pavement of Fore Street is the 'Brutus Stone', a small granite boulder onto which, according to local legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship. As he did so, he was supposed to have declaimed:
Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.
The stone is far above the highest tides and the tradition is not likely to be of great antiquity, being first mentioned in John Prince's Worthies of Devon in 1697. It is possible that the stone was originally the one from which the town crier, or bruiter called his bruit or news; or it may be le Brodestone, a boundary stone mentioned in several 15th century disputes: its last-known position in 1471 was below the East Gate.
Also according to the Historia, Ambrosius Aurelius and his brother Uther Pendragon landed at Totnes to win back the throne of Britain from the usurper Vortigern.
Despite this legendary history, the first authenticated history of Totnes is in AD 907, when it was fortified by King Edward the Elder as part of the defensive ring of burhs built around Devon, replacing one built a few years earlier at nearby Halwell. The site was chosen because it was on an ancient trackway which forded the river at low tide. Between the reigns of Edgar and William II (959–1100) Totnes intermittently minted coins. Some time between the Norman Conquest and the compilation of the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror granted the burh to Juhel of Totnes, who was probably responsible for the first construction of the castle. Juhel did not retain his lordship for long, however, as he was deprived of his lands in 1088 or 1089, for rebelling against William II.
The name Totnes (first recorded in AD 979) comes from the Old English personal name Totta and ness or headland. Before reclamation and development, the low-lying areas around this hill were largely marsh or tidal wetland, giving the hill much more the appearance of a "ness" than today.
By the 12th century, Totnes was already an important market town, due to its position on one of the main roads of the South West, in conjunction with its easy access to its hinterland and the easy navigation of the River Dart.
By 1523, according to a tax assessment, Totnes was the second richest town in Devon, and the sixteenth richest in England, ahead of Worcester, Gloucester and Lincoln. In 1553, King Edward VI granted Totnes a charter allowing a former Benedictine priory building that had been founded in 1088 to be used as Totnes Guildhall and a school. In 1624, the Guildhall was converted to be a magistrate's court. Soldiers were billeted here during the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell visited for discussions with the general and parliamentary commander-in-chief Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron in 1646. Until 1887, the Guildhall was also used as the town prison with the addition of prison cells. It remained a magistrate's court until 1974.
The town is built on a hill rising from the west bank of the River Dart, which separates Totnes from the suburb of Bridgetown. It is at the lowest bridging point of the river which here is tidal and forms a winding estuary down to the sea at Dartmouth. The river continues to be tidal for about 1 mile (1.6 km) above the town, until it meets Totnes Weir, built in the 17th century.
Today there are two road bridges, a railway bridge and a footbridge over the river in the town. Totnes Bridge is the nearest bridge to the sea and is a road bridge built in 1826–28 by Charles Fowler. At low tide the foundations of the previous stone bridge are visible just upstream—it was probably built in the early 13th century and widened in 1692. Before the first stone bridge was built there was almost certainly a wooden bridge here, and a tidal ford for heavy vehicles was just downstream. In 1982 a new concrete bridge was built about 1,000 feet (300 m) upstream as part of the Totnes inner relief road. Its name, Brutus Bridge, was chosen by the local residents. A further 0.5 miles (0.80 km) upstream, the railway bridge carries the National Rail Exeter to Plymouth line over the river. Immediately upstream of the railway bridge is a footbridge, built in 1993 to provide access to the Totnes (Riverside) terminus of the South Devon Railway.
Totnes is said to have more listed buildings per head than any other town.
The Norman motte-and-bailey Totnes Castle, now owned by English Heritage, was built during the reign of William I, probably by Juhel of Totnes. The late medieval church of St Mary with its 120 feet (37 m) high west tower, visible from afar, is built of rich red Devonian sandstone. A prominent feature of the town is the Eastgate—an arch spanning the middle of the main street. This Elizabethan entrance to the walled town was destroyed in a fire in September 1990, but was rebuilt.
The ancient Leechwell, so named because of the supposed medicinal properties of its water, and apparently where lepers once came to wash, still provides fresh water. The Butterwalk is a Tudor covered walkway that was built to protect the dairy products once sold here from the sun and rain. Totnes Elizabethan House Museum is in one of the many authentic Elizabethan merchant's houses in the town, built around 1575.
The A38 passes about 7 miles (11 km) to the west of Totnes, connected to the town by the A384 from Buckfastleigh and the A385 which continues to Paignton. The town also lies on the A381 between Newton Abbot and Salcombe. Totnes railway station is situated on the Exeter to Plymouth line, and has trains direct to London Paddington, Penzance and Plymouth, and as far north as Aberdeen. Nearby, Totnes (Riverside) railway station is at the southern end of the South Devon Railway Trust which runs tourist steam locomotives along the line that follows the River Dart up to Buckfastleigh. Since the River Dart is navigable to seagoing boats as far as Totnes, the estuary was used for the import and export of goods from the town until 1995, and there are still regular pleasure boat trips down the estuary to Dartmouth.
In popular culture
Bevis, the homicidal barber who sings The Lumberjack Song in a Monty Python sketch, had spent five ghastly years at the Hairdressers' Training Centre at Totnes.
The 2008 album CSI:Ambleside by the band Half Man Half Biscuit includes a song called Totnes Bickering Fair.
Images for kids
Totnes Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.