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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Totnes Butterwalking About

These are the remaining photos from my recent Totnes visit, with several taken around the old butterwalk which I haven't really looked at closely before. For example, I hadn't really noticed how many different periods of building were involved and the main butterwalk has been added to over the years to make quite a long arcade. The pillars supporting it vary to quite a degree as you can see here.

But first I am starting this piece in the Rotherfold, which is a rare open space in this very built up medieval town. It seems to me that the Town Council could do a bit of a better job with this space as it is literally a waste of space, it's not a particularly nice place to sit and isn't very well landscaped. A real lost opportunity.

We have already seen the market square previously, where meat is sold, and we saw some very nice Dexter beef. The Rotherfold, however, is where that beef would have been sold on the hoof. Live cattle were sold here at what was the edge of the town centre, keeping the noise, mess and smell away from most of the dwellings.

Meat and livestock have been sold in Totnes since the 12th century and cloth since the 16th. The word Rother is Old English for cattle, so the square's use is reflected in its name as well as in the name of the pub on the left, The Bull Inn. Rother folds were the pens for the animals.

The market moved slightly to the east at the point it outgrew the square, and cattle and sheep were sold in the town as recently as the 1960's.

The Bull Inn has recently undergone a complete makeover and now markets itself as wholly organic.

"The Bull Inn is an organic, ethical pub and hotel. We run our business by our No Bull Rules & the Conscious Compromise. This is when we consider all the facts we have to hand and make the best choices we can in terms of the ecological & social impact. It’s about trying your hardest to do the right thing by being an engaged citizen and making conscious decisions."

Personally, that all puts me off going, but you may think differently. I prefer eating my food without a manifesto or a lecture. For breakfast, a Full Bull or Full English will set you back £17.50. A Roast Squash main for dinner, £16.50. Social Impacts are expensive.

This is one of the rare vantage points, from where you can see the castle.

The Bay Horse Inn is Grade 2 listed.

Earlier C19 inn. Main 3 storey front with 2 windows and 2 storeys, 2 window extension at south end over entrance to inn yard. Welsh slate roof with rendered stack. Slate hung upper floors; rendered ground floor. Plain eaves band. Architraved sash and casement windows with glazing bars. Panelled door to public house. Plain double boarded doors to inn yard.

We are a visitor friendly locals’ pub - traditional without being old-fashioned. People gather here for exceptional real ale, great cider, lively chat and so much more, including live music, book clubs, poetry groups, our community fundraiser quiz nights and even a bit of crafting (check out Purl and a Pint).

The spectre of an elderly man dressed in a red coat is supposed to pop in through the front door of The Bay Horse Inn on odd occasions and wander off towards the rear of the former coaching inn, which dates back to 1485. “He apparently haunts the bar,” says a staffer. “He has got a red coat and we wondered if he could be a soldier but he sounds a bit elderly for that. We thought also he might have been a coachman from the coaching days. “He walks in through the front door and then wanders off towards the rear of the pub where the old coach house is. “He seems to be pretty friendly. He is certainly not a nasty ghost,” she added.

Walking along the High Street, I spotted this in a music shop window. It is not unlike one I bought in 1979. I had to go without food and heat to pay for it. You also had to buy a seperate amp and speakers to get any sound out of it. To play a favourite track back then, and records are where the name track comes from, because the songs showed as tracks, not unlike railway tracks on the surface, you had to find the correct album, remove the inner sleeve, remove the record from the inner sleeve, check it for dust and place it on the turntable, find where the track was on the disc by counting the tracks and carefully drop the playing head stylus in the correct spot. If you were lucky you caught the silence between tracks before you heard the song you wanted.

This was not conducive to spending an hour or two listening to all of your favourite tracks as there was a huge investment in labour to do it. That is why people listened to albums from start to finish. The idea of an album with songs that feature as a beginning middle and end, is pretty much dead in the instant digital age.

This was just a chance shot of a mural caught in the sun's reflection on the otherwise shady side of the street.

This small side road is interesting. These devices are Anchor Plates and in this instance are just simple cross shapes. They can come in different designs, another common one being an S shape. In old properties where there is a danger of sagging or movement, they are used, literally to keep it standing, by linking two opposite walls together to prevent them moving apart. An iron rod runs all of the way through the building to another wall where there is another plate and the bolts are then tightened. In addition the iron rod can be heated to make it expand along its length before tightening the bolts, this will then pull the walls together as the bar cools and shrinks.

This really stands out in Totnes, a medieval town where old doors outnumber the new. This has to be the extreme of new doors.

Further down Collins Road it gets increasingly narrow, or should that be decreasingly narrow?

It is also wider at the bottom than the top so if you are in a delivery truck bear that in mind.

Back in the market square now, opposite the Butterwalk.

The next three photos are 35 and 37, Butterwalk, Grade 2 listed

Early C16 merchants house, "Une maison a deux corps de batiments" type retaining small court and original separate kitchen block behind. Now in 2 occupations. 2 storeys. 2 windows. Hipped Welsh slate roof. Timber-framed, tile-hung front to 1st and 2nd floors. Ground floor loggia over pavement carried by 2 original octagonal columns of Devonian limestone rubble with high square plinths and moulded caps;

"Deux corps de batiments" is an architectural term for a property comprising of two original buildings that have been converted into one.

Modern red sandstone pier at west end.

This is the only section of the arcade with a double height space above lined with wooden panelling in Linen Fold pattern.

Further along the arcade is this door into a private residence. It's impossible to know how old this is, but I would hazard 300 - 400 years old at least.

At the end of the Butterwalk there is a small doorway for the cinema entrance but this only leads to a narrow corridor. So narrow, that two people cannot pass each other. At the end of this long corridor you will find this glamorous entrance to the cinema.

In most towns the size of Totnes you might expect maybe 10 listed buildings, but to give you an idea of how special and rare Totnes is, have a look at this English Heritage map of listed properties along the main street.

Above the Butterwalk are some old timber framed residences in various states of repair. This photo below is interesting as it shows that one property has been extended out to cover the side windows of an older property. That older property is 47 Butterwalk, Grade 2 listed.

C16 or C17 merchant's house of "deux corps de batiments" type with rear kitchen block and gallery. Former small court built over. Refronted and heightened mid-later C19. 3 storeys. 1 window. Welsh slate roof with ornamental cresting. Slate-hung, timber-framed front. Masonry party walls. Boxed-out, bracketed eaves-cornice. Flush-framed sash windows; 1st floor with paired windows. Ground floor loggia over pavement carried on Tuscan columns bearing entablature.

Bogan House is Grade 1 listed by English Heritage.

C14 or early C15, 2 storey merchant's house of "deux corps de batiments" type. This is the best preserved late medieval house in Totnes. The front (shop) bay was rebuilt and heightened in the later C16, probably by the Bogan family, and the rear premises were remodelled at the same time. Architraved 1st floor sash windows with side lights. Ground floor loggia over pavement carried on Tuscan columns bearing entablature.

Grade 1 listings are rare, so if you would like to read the description of the interiors, you can view the full listing here.

39 and 41, Butterwalk Grade 2*

2 separate houses with long history of single ownership. No 38, circa 1624, built by John Wise, merchant. No 41 may have been rebuilt in mid C18. No 39 is "deux corps de batiments" type and retains the (built over) small court and separate kitchen block. 3 storeys. Both houses refronted earlier-mid C19 to form a pair with 3 windows to 1st floor. Slate-hung, timber-framed front to 1st and 2nd floors.

This was nice to see, a new store under the Butterwalk that is having an encaustic tile floor fitted to the entrance. This style of tiling a threshold of a building is Victorian, and I have never seen it done before. It has inspired me to do a special post of photos of shop doorways while they still survive. Many have the original name of the business immortalised in terrazzo. I already have a small collection and when I return to Totnes I hope to get a photo of this one finished.

Coming back up Collins Road, I was puzzling over this large block of granite when the owner came out. I was thinking it might be the site of town executions, or some sort of holy altar remains but no.

Whenever I watch archaeology programmes I always marvel at how quickly, whatever object is found is almost always proposed as some sort of Holy offering, as if there were no other aspect of life a thousand years ago. So here I was following that habit.

Having the owner there was useful though, so I asked him if he knew anything about it. He did. He knew all about it. He had it placed there, so he should know. You will notice that the door is very wide, what you may not know is that parking in the High Street and adjoining streets is impossible. When the door was first installed, miscreant drivers had taken to parking on this tiny wedge of concrete. With a car parked there, you cannot open the door, with a carefully placed granite execution block you can open the door. Simple, although not as exciting.

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3 comentários

Membro desconhecido
22 de jan. de 2023

I honestly believe Totnes is calling to move there ;)


John Durham
John Durham
18 de dez. de 2022

An incredibly clever door, and even more ingenious solution to the parking dilemma. Plus, it can serve as an execution block, as needs be! Amazing the adaptability of people when confronted with such strictures and limitations.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
18 de dez. de 2022
Respondendo a

🤣🤣🤣 Thanks John. Every home should have one.

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