top of page
  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Totnes Interesting TidBits

After my recent Totnes Market post, here are the photos from the rest of that photo walk around the town. There are always things you haven't noticed before, like architectural details or historical sites that you haven't stumbled upon before. Before the trip this time I explored Google maps and street view for any tidbits I had previously missed and what a surprise awaited me.

Tidbit - a choice morsel of food, a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). Mid 17th century (as tyd bit, tid-bit ): from dialect tid ‘tender’ (of unknown origin) + bit1.

Some of these shots, like the one above are just pleasing little compositions that caught my eye, others are interesting features of the town which I will try and tell you something about.

The main street in Totnes is a steep up hill job which means when you turn around and look back you are level with the roof tops. A local architectural feature around here which is very typical is slate tiles on walls. This was both an expensive status symbol as well as an effective form of weatherproofing lime plastered walls.

This was a window shot from the street below giving a lens distortion which is fairly normal. I liked the subject for it's monochrome abstract layers of frames, Venetian blinds, matching lamp shades and reflections from across the street.

In these digital times though, it is not too difficult to tweak and twerk an image using software which removes the distortion and makes it appear like I am up there level with the window. This is exactly the same photo but produces a more graphic image

I titled this The Busker, for obvious reasons and he has a guitar.

These two details which were not clear from ground level feature a flower motif and what looks like a pine branch and pine cone pattern. I think there were others which I didn't take so I will look out for those next time to see what the full set consists of. They may represent the seasons.

Half way up the hill is the East Gate of what was the original medieval walled town. There are various properties built into remaining wall sections. There is a certain blue and yellow flag that seems to appear at unexpected moments these days not always the correct way around.

Under the arch with the clock are some steps which lead up to the old ramparts. If you follow the ramparts you come to the churchyard and the Old Guildhall. This doorway is as short as it appears.

In 1088 there was a Priory building here. Life in the church was a privileged lifestyle for centuries until Henry VIII came along and had a row with the Pope. The Pope lost the argument and all his properties in England were either destroyed or seized. Abbeys, cathedrals, monasteries and Priories were all stripped of their valuables and in many cases razed to the ground. Some buildings survived as ruins and some were repurposed. For example many religious establishments that ran schools were spared.

The original Priory building on this site was destroyed and in 1553 the Guildhall was built.

....over the years it has been used as the town gaol, boy’s school, magistrates court, and is still used today as the Council Chambers for Totnes Town Council.

On display inside, are boards displaying the names of the Mayors of Totnes dating back to 1359 which is 200 years before this building was erected.

The Council Chamber is where Oliver Cromwell sat, to plan the closing stages of England's bloodiest war, The Civil War, in 1646.

Opposite the Guildhall is the Church. St Mary’s is a Grade I-listed building of considerable historical interest. Completed in 1450, it is at least the second church on this site, its predecessor being dedicated in 1259. There have probably been churches on the same site for more than a thousand years.

The sword and stone cross in the foreground form the Totnes War Memorial erected after the First World War. It names those who died in that war.

Here is the tomb of John Vavissor born in 1601. Elizabeth I was still on the throne then, only just, she died in 1603. In this year Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, staged an ill timed rebellion against Elizabeth which resulted in his head being swiftly removed, the last such removal on Tower Green at The Tower of London. Admittedly it's not the best claim to fame, especially as Elizabeth was about to make her last speech to parliament and was dead 16 months later.

Later in the year The East India Company set out on their first expedition. This was the start of The British Empire. The expedition was seeking spices and headed for the Molucca's in the Pacific. The islands were known as the Spice Islands because of the nutmeg, mace and cloves that were exclusively found there.

It is also the year of the Act for the Relief of the Poor. This, for the first time sought to address poverty and it's different causes. Although it appears harsh to us today, it should be remembered that this predates any thoughts of basic human rights. As a consequence it divided the poor into four categories, recognised at the time. All maintenance of the poor was the responsibility of local bodies at that time, not a task of central government. The law laid out the responsibilities of those local bodies.

1. The impotent poor (people who can't work) were to be cared for in almshouses or a poorhouse. The law offered relief to people who were unable to work: mainly those who were "lame, impotent, old, blind".

2. The able-bodied poor were to be set to work in a house of industry, what were later called workhouses. Materials were to be provided for the poor to be set to work.

3. The idle poor and vagrants were to be sent to a house of correction or even prison.

4. Pauper children would become apprentices.

The tomb pictured gives all who pass a solemn warning.

You that are living and pass by

Remember that you all must die

Forsake your sins whilst tis today

Relent, repent without delay

Implore God's grace, trust in Christ's merit

If heavenly joy you will inherit

Following the direction of the now missing ramparts brings you to the castle and the other remaining arch, the North Arch, although this arch is now marooned from the wall and not accessible, even if you can still drive under it.

This view of the keep at the castle is possibly the only one from the town itself as the medieval streets and building plots block most views. Here there is a gap in the row of buildings. I have made a more detailed post on Totnes Castle here which shows the views of the town from up there.

This was probably one of my favourites of the day. It had the feel of a Rauschenberg painting about it. There is just so much going on and it is so full of graphic shapes and patterns. It was facing me as I exited the market back on to the main street and I just snapped one shot, not realising if it would work or not.

The tiny Totnes Cinema has a tiny entrance and this is the underside of the Hollywood style canopy, minus a few light bulbs.

This is pure Totnes surrealism. Some spiral stairs at the side of the road, a Native American stencil and an added note with a sad face and no useful information. Not so much a cry for help as a weary statement of fact. Should this be titled, The Silent Busker?

This is a bakery selling bread made somewhere else which is really sad as it would be great if this original oven were restored and brought back into use. In any case the bread they sell is excellent.

The oven is made by WERNER, PFLEIDERER & PERKINS LTD. In 1893 The company Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd. was established in London. Perkins supplied the special steam pipes for oven production.

There is still some reluctance for people to return to normal life. As I write this a battle is raging in the US over mask wearing on public transport more than two years after we halted normality for three weeks to "flatten the curve". Political mask wearing is fast becoming a symbol of the New Authoritarianism. Here it is just a request. A request that in my opinion needs to be ignored.

Oh, and eight Rosewood dining chairs for £750.

Literally "The Top Pub in Totnes" and nobody can argue with that as Totnes runs out just here at the top of the hill. It is the Bay Horse, "The Little Pub with the Big Garden". Yet another flag.

The Bay Horse is in Cistern Street and on the small building I suspect to be the cistern is this sign. I don't know how old the sign is but if you look carefully you will find other faded names beneath that of WM Tollit. The cistern is at the top of town, you could say The Top Cistern in Totnes, because water runs down hill and the cistern would have served various Conduits or taps, placed around town before houses got their own direct supply.

The Borough Surveyor was WM Tollit. In researching the name I discovered this relating to one of those mentioned on the Totnes War Memorial mentioned earlier in this post.

William Ernest Tollit, son of William Mills Tollit and his wife Elizabeth of Bridgetown, Totnes, is mentioned in a local newspaper of 1914 as having joined the Public School Corps. The London Gazette records that he was gazetted as Lieutenant to the 3rd Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry on 17 May 1915. No other information on him has been found.

The Kingsbridge Inn, below, on the old Kingsbridge Road now sleepy as a result of the later bypass to Kingsbridge and Dartmouth, running at a higher level above it to the right.

The Kingsbridge Inn on Leechwell Street is a rare 17th century survivor, Grade 2 listed.

The figure of a tall, dark, quiet woman has often been seen standing at the bar of the Kingsbridge Inn and gliding through the kitchen as The Kingsbridge inn has a ghostly reputation.

Off Leechwell Street is this small alleyway leading downhill to a rarity even older. The Leechwell itself.

The Leechwell in Totnes is a scheduled Ancient Monument. This monument includes a medieval holy well known as the Leechwell, which lies on the south side of a narrow valley, just south of Totnes town centre. The monument survives as a rectangular sunken reservoir and It measures 3.8m wide, 4.28m long and is 0.55m deep on its east side. Massive stone walls on its west and north sides retain a garden and measure from 4m to 6m high, while an enclosing wall on the south side is 0.47m wide and 2.2m high.

The water flows from a narrow culvert leading back into the hillside to the west. This feeds a semi-circular corbelled chamber 2m wide and 1.45m deep, which is retained by a stone bench running along the west side of the reservoir. Three stone spouts convey water through the front of this bench into three granite troughs set in the floor of the reservoir, which is cobbled, with narrow gutters around its edges.

The Leechwell is recorded from at least the mid-15th century, when wardens of the well were appointed annually by the borough. It was thought to heal eye ailments, lameness and skin disease, and was associated with the medieval leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene 120m to the south east. The well was used as a public water supply until the 1930s. The well is a Listed Building, Grade II.

The Leechwell is used as a place of worship by the local New Age community, who often decorate it with ribbons and trinkets, but without causing damage to the stonework. Wikipedia

So ends this latest photo walk around Totnes. More Totnes posts are linked below. Hopefully more are to come, as I find more things of interest in the future.

Related Posts

See All

6 comentarios

John Durham
John Durham
30 abr 2022

Of all your Totnes posts, this is my favorite - so far. I really like all the architectural detail. My favorite is St. Mary's and the Totnes War Memorial - great perspective and clarity.

Me gusta
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
30 abr 2022
Contestando a

Thanks John. Inside the church next time I go, some interesting stuff in there.

Me gusta

David Nurse
David Nurse
27 abr 2022

Another interesting post Gethin. Especially The Leechwell. A must visit if, no, when I get to Totnes,

Me gusta
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
27 abr 2022
Contestando a

I was there again today and went in the church. Amazing carved screen 15th century, will be doing that next time. So many layers of history in such a small place.

Me gusta

Miembro desconocido
24 abr 2022

Is there a way I can put 3 hearts on this post? I so want to see Totnes but I would definitely have to go with you because no doubt I would miss all these fabulous eye candy you captured for this post. The one with all the graphic shapes and the one above it with the arch/bridge/endless view my favorites, not that the rest were not, but I did stand around and stared at each of those two looking for everything my eye could find to look at. I know I've said this before, but going to say it have the "EYE" ( no, not the evile eye) the eye for finding striking captures. Anyway, you win the…

Me gusta
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
25 abr 2022
Contestando a

Thanks Camellia, Totnes never disappoints. Incredible really, for such a small place.

Me gusta
bottom of page