Totnes (/ˈtɒtnɪs/ or /tɒtˈnɛs/) 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-west 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. By the twelfth century it was already an
important market town, and its former wealth and importance may be
seen from the number of merchants' houses built in the sixteenth and
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 UK Census
2011 UK Census was 8,076.
1.1 Ancient and medieval history
1.2 Modern history
8 Notable people
9 In popular culture
10 See also
12 External links
Ancient and medieval history
According to the
Historia Regum Britanniae
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
Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.
The Brutus Stone in Fore Street
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
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.
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
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
English Civil War and Oliver
Cromwell visited for discussions with the general and parliamentary
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron
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.
Totnes become the first
Transition town of the transition
Rob Hopkins developed this idea
with his students and later with Naresh Giangrande developed the
transition model in his home town of Totnes, which has since featured
in many articles and films showing this concept.
Totnes' borough charter was granted by King John, probably around
1206; at any rate, the 800th anniversary of the charter was celebrated
Totnes lost its borough status in local government
reorganisation in 1974.
Totnes was served by
Totnes electoral borough
from 1295 until the reform act of 1867, but was restored by the 1884
Franchise Act. The constituency of
Totnes was abolished a second time
in 1983, and formed part of the
South Hams constituency until 1997,
when it was restored as the
Totnes county constituency: as such it
returns one MP to Parliament. In August 2009,
Totnes became the first
constituency to select the Conservative PPC through an open primary
that was organised by the local Conservative Association. Current MP,
Dr Sarah Wollaston, won the
Totnes primary in August 2009, and went on
to be elected to Parliament at the 2010 general election. In 2009,
Totnes Rural was the only county division in
Devon to elect a Green
Totnes has a mayor who is elected by the sixteen town councillors each
year. Follaton House, on the outskirts of the town, is the
headquarters of the
South Hams District Council. The town is
twinned with the French town of Vire, after which
Vire Island on
River Dart near the "Plains" is named. There is also a local
longstanding joke that
Totnes is twinned with the fantasy land of
River Dart at Totnes
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
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
Totnes has attracted a sizeable "alternative" community, and the town
is known as a place where one can live a "New Age" lifestyle.
There are a number of facilities for artists, painters and musicians,
and there is a twice-weekly market offering antiques, musical
instruments, second-hand books, handmade clothing from across the
world, and local organically produced products. In 2007, Time magazine
Totnes the capital of new age chic. In 2005, Highlife, the
British Airways magazine, declared it one of the world's Top 10 Funky
In March 2007
Totnes was the first town in Britain to introduce its
own local alternative currency, the
Totnes pound, to support the local
economy of the town. Fourteen months later, 70 businesses within
the town were trading in the "
Totnes Pound," accepting them as payment
and offering them to shoppers as change from their purchases. The
initiative is part of the
Transition Towns concept, which was
pioneered by Rob Hopkins, who had recently moved to Totnes.
Emphasising the town's continuing history of boatbuilding, between
1998 and 2001
Pete Goss built his revolutionary but ill-fated 120-foot
Team Philips catamaran there.
Loss of revenue from
Dartington College of Arts
Dartington College of Arts which moved to
Falmouth in 2010 was partially offset by increased tourism due to
interest in Totnes's status as a Transition Town.
St Mary's Church
Totnes is said to have more listed buildings per head than any other
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.
Elizabethan House Museum is in one
of the many authentic
Elizabethan merchant's houses in the town, built
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
Totnes railway station is situated on the
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
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.
King Edward VI Community College
King Edward VI Community College more popularly known as KEVICC, is
the local secondary school which shares its name with the former
grammar school set up by King Edward VI over 450 years ago. At the
western edge of the town is the
Dartington Hall Estate, which includes
Schumacher College and, until July 2010, included Dartington
College of Arts.
A plaque commemorating Seán O'Casey's residence in Totnes.
Notable people from
World War II
World War II artist, was born in the town in 1915
Charles Babbage had a strong family connection with the town and
returned to attend the King Edward VI Grammar School for a period
before going up to Cambridge.
Desmond Bagley lived in
Totnes from 1966 to 1976.
William Brockedon, Artist and inventor, 1787–1854. Son of Philip
James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak, spent his final years in
nearby Burrator, and Brooke's biographer claims "there is little doubt
... he was carnally involved with the rough trade of Totnes."
Richard Burthogge, physician, magistrate and philosopher
Actor and dancer
Emrhys Cooper grew up in Totnes.
Sophie Dix, actress - born in Totnes.
Sir William Elford, 1st Baronet, Recorder of the borough and artist
Historian James Anthony Froude, author of ''History of
the fall of cardinal Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, was
born in Totnes.
Richard Hurrell Froude was a theologian; he belonged to a
group of Anglicans who initiated the
Oxford Movement in 1833.
Television screenwriter and author David Gilman lives in Totnes.
Humorous poet Matt Harvey is a resident.
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement.
Ben Howard was brought up and lives in Totnes.
Singer-songwriter and filmmaker
Cosmo Jarvis was raised in Totnes.
Comic-book artists Jock and
Dom Reardon live and work in Totnes.
Benjamin Kennicott was also born in Totnes.
Keith Law , Songwriter for
Velvett Fogg lives in Totnes
Linguist Edward Lye, who wrote the first dictionary of Anglo-Saxon,
was born in Totnes.
Rik Mayall previously lived in Totnes.
Admiral Sir Frederick Michell KCB (1788–1873) died in Totnes.
Mike Edwards, former cellist with the
Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra from
1972-1975, lived in
Totnes in the later years of his life until his
death in 2010.
Joseph Mount, a musician who records under the name Metronomy, lived
Totnes for a while.
Seán O'Casey lived in the town from 1938 to 1954.
John Prince was vicar of
Totnes in the late 17th century, was author
of The Worthies of Devon, a major biographical work. He was also
involved in a scandal, the court records of which were made into a
book and stage play in the early 2000s.
William Reeve, composer, musician and actor, was organist of the
church from 1781-1783 before moving to London to compose for Sadler's
Wells and the Lyceum Theatre
Sam Richards, musician and music teacher lives in Totnes
Matt Roper, a character stand-up comic.
Oliver St John
Oliver St John represented the town in both the Short and the Long
parliaments. One of the outstanding political leaders of the
Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War. His reputation was made
when he acted as lead counsel for
John Hampden in the Ship Money case.
William Stumbels, a clockmaker lived and worked in
Totnes in the 18th
century. (His workshop was possibly at No. 4 Castle Street, within the
town walls.) Two of his clocks, a longcase (grandfather) and a turret
clock, are displayed in
Christopher Titmuss, an Insight Meditation meditation instructor and
an author of books on Dharma
Novelist Mary Wesley, author of The Camomile Lawn, spent her final
years in Totnes.
William John Wills
William John Wills of
Burke and Wills expedition
Burke and Wills expedition fame was
born in Totnes. A memorial to Wills was erected using money from
public subscriptions in 1864. It can still be seen on the Plains.
There were originally two gas lamps attached to the monument, but both
have since been removed.
Film-score composer and mystery writer Bruce Montgomery (penname
Edmund Crispin) lived in
Totnes in the 1950s-60's.
In popular culture
Bevis, the homicidal barber who sings
The Lumberjack Song
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.
Totnes Costume Museum
^ Edwards, Adam (10 November 2007). "Property in Totnes: Wizards of
the wacky West". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
Totnes Town ward 2011". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
Totnes Bridgetown ward 2011". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
^ Brown, Theo (1955). "The Trojans in Devon". Report &
Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 87: 63.
^ "Brutus Stone to Front of Nos 51/53, Totnes". British Listed
Buildings. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
^ a b c Brown, Theo (1955). "The Trojans in Devon". Report &
Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 87: 68–69.
^ a b c Stansbury, Don (1998). "907–1523: The king's town". In
Bridge, Maureen. The Heart of Totnes. Tavistock: AQ & DJ
Publications. pp. 123–131. ISBN 0-904066-36-3.
^ a b Hoskins, W. G. (1954). A New Survey of England: Devon. London:
Collins. pp. 504–508.
^ Ekwall, Eilert (1960). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English
Place-names (4th ed.). Oxford: OUP. p. 478.
^ Kowaleski, Maryanne (1992). "The port towns of fourteenth-century
Devon". In Duffy, Michael; et al. The New Maritime History of Devon;
Volume 1: From early times to the late eighteenth century. London:
Conway Maritime Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-85177-611-6.
Totnes Guildhall, Whatsonwhen.
Totnes Guildhall, Visit Britain, UK.
^ "The Transition movement: Today Totnes... tomorrow the world". The
Independent. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
Devon County Council elections 2009".
Devon County Council. 5 June
2009. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
^ "Welcome to
Totnes Town Council".
Totnes Town Council. Retrieved 2
^ "Follaton House, its History and Architecture".
South Hams District
Council. 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2008.
^ "National Commission for Decentralised cooperation". Délégation
pour l’Action Extérieure des Collectivités Territoriales
(Ministère des Affaires étrangères) (in French). Retrieved 26
^ "Twin town's return to Narnia". This is Devon. 15 March 2012.
Retrieved 29 May 2013.
^ a b c Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1989). The Buildings of
England — Devon. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 866–875.
^ Russell, Percy (1984). The Good Town of
Totnes (Second impression
with Introduction ed.). Exeter: The Devonshire Association.
^ Russell 1984, p.xv.
^ Taylor, Alan; Treglown, Peter (May 1999). South
Devon Railway - A
Visitors Guide. South
Devon Railway Trust. pp. 23–28.
^ Siegle, Lucy (8 May 2005). "Shiny hippy people". The Guardian.
Retrieved 2 July 2008.
^ Totnes, Devon: the home of boho chic (retrieved 4 December 2008)
^ Siegle, Lucy (8 May 2005). "Shiny hippy people". Guardian. Retrieved
9 July 2016.
^ a b Sharp, Rob (1 May 2008). "They don't just shop local in
they have their very own currency". The Independent. Retrieved 2 July
^ "Take note -
Totnes will be quids in!" in
Totnes Times 7 March 2007,
Team Philips wreckage found on island". BBC
Devon News. 23 January
2002. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
^ Town's Transition boosting economy (retrieved 30 November 2010)
^ Else, D. Britain. Lonely Planet, 2003. (ISBN 978-1740593380) p.
^ Iconic arch rebuilt after devastating 1990 fire
Totnes Town Trail". South
Devon Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Retrieved 2 July 2008.
Elizabethan House Museum".
Devon Museums Group. Retrieved 2
^ "Local Food and Relocalisation: a
Totnes case study: a section from
my forthcoming thesis..." Transition Culture. Retrieved 9 July
^ Barley, N. (2003) White Rajah, Abacas: London, p. 208.
Totnes actor has his sights set on becoming the next Bond (retrieved
18 January 2015)
^ Knowhere: Totnes, Devon, Local Heroes, Famous Residents
^ Bellchambers, J. K. (1962) Devonshire Clockmakers. Torquay: The
^ Wikiquote:Monty Python's Flying Circus
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Totnes.
Totnes at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Battle to save celebrated cradle of cutting edge art (The Guardian)
Ceremonial county of Devon
Boroughs or districts
Ottery St Mary
See also: List of civil parishes in Devon
Devon County Council
Towns by population
Grade I listed buildings
Grade II* listed buildings
South West Coast Path
North Devon's Biosphere Reserve
Non-metropolitan district of South Hams
List of civil parishes in Devon#South Hams
Buckland Tout Saints
Frogmore and Sherford
Halwell and Moreleigh
Newton and Noss
Bold text denotes a parish council referred to as a "town council"