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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Totnes Signs

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas MAY. 09, 2021

The first in a series of posts about Totnes. I had intended to go to Totnes Market to take photos, but because things are now busy again I found myself having to park at the bottom of the town instead of at the top, next to the market. I will also be doing Totnes People Totnes Close Ups and Totnes Town.

So I decided to take the opportunity to walk around the lower town and work my way up the hill looking for things I hadn't noticed before. This entailed exploring the many small streets and alleyways where I found a surprisingly large number of memorials amongst other things which led me to put them altogether into a single post about signs. Other photos of these memorials themselves, in more detail will feature in subsequent posts.

The art of painted pub signs is disappearing so there are not so many nice examples around especially as pubs themselves are in decline. They originally date from a time when I expect most people were illiterate so that the sign illustrated the name. They also date from a time when allegiances to certain political factions were important for survival, hence a lot of pubs would demonstrate their loyalties in displaying the monarchs name or features of coats of arms symbolic of certain political allegiances.

The ubiquitous Red Lions, Black Lions and White Horses and White Harts abounding in our towns and cities attest to earlier creatures that decorated Coats of Arms. This may explain why even non-political pub names like this one below still feature the word "Arms" even though it is now advertising it's wares to ordinary working men, in this case Watermen from the river a few yards away. Other pub names feature other trades like The Carpenter's Arms, or The Plaisterer's Arms, but these are likely not ancient pubs but more likely post Industrial Revolution or Victorian.

A Free House is a pub not controlled by a brewery and therefore not restricted to selling particular brands of beer or spirits. A Public House is literally a house licensed to sell ale or spirits as opposed to a private house or dwelling. Most public houses originated from private houses where alcohol was available to buy.

Today, pubs have no strict definition, but CAMRA (Campaign for real ale) states a pub has four characteristics:

  1. is open to the public without membership or residency

  2. serves draught beer or cider without requiring food be consumed

  3. has at least one indoor area not laid out for meals

  4. allows drinks to be bought at a bar (i.e., not only table service)

Inns are generally establishments or buildings where travellers can seek lodging, and usually, food and drink. Inns are typically located in the country or along a highway; before the advent of motorized transportation they also provided accommodation for horses.

This memorial below is a fountain and raises some questions. It commemorates Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897, but was erected in 1904 three years after she had died. Why so late? In my trek around town looking at memorials I also found another with the name Edward Windeatt on it. Here he is mentioned as the Town Clerk. You will see the other one later in this post.

Below is featured a memorial which I have walked past on several occasions and never read. It is self explanatory. It is also unusual in having a later plaque added on it's reverse 146 years later.

I was familiar with the names Burke and Wills but could not in all honesty have told you much more than the fact that they were explorers. It is men like these who feared nothing, that made the world the small place it is today.

The Burke and Wills expedition was organised by the Royal Society of Victoria in Australia in 1860–61. It consisted of 19 men led by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills, with the objective of crossing Australia from Melbourne in the south, to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a distance of around 3,250 kilometres (approximately 2,000 miles). At that time most of the inland of Australia had not been explored by non-Indigenous people and was largely unknown to the European settlers.

What is particularly mind blowing about this expedition is the fact that Wills travelled to Australia, which was itself a dangerous and deadly adventure before defying death to travel the length of an unmapped Australia and as if that was not enough, this expedition also involved making the return journey and it was on this return journey that both men and most of the party died. Only one man made it back to Melbourne alive, the Irish soldier John King.

The expedition set off from Royal Park, Melbourne at about 4 pm on 20 August 1860 watched by around 15,000 spectators. The 19 men of the expedition included six Irishmen, five Englishmen, three Afghan and one Indian camel drivers, three Germans and an American. They took 23 horses, 6 wagons and 26 camels.

The expedition took a large amount of equipment, including enough food to last two years, a cedar-topped oak camp table with two chairs, rockets, flags and a Chinese gong; the equipment all together weighed as much as 20 tonnes.

The Royal Seven Stars proclaims it's allegiance in it's title. This is the unimpressive side view.

Blending its impressive heritage with a dash of contemporary styling, The Royal Seven Stars has been a landmark of the Devon town of Totnes since the late 1600's.

The author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, would almost certainly still recognise parts of the building were he alive today, and it is still very much the "great inn next to the bridge" he noted during his travels through the west country in the 1720's. He would, however, find the exterior slightly altered given that its facade was largely remodelled during the middle of the 19th century. Grade II* listed, the Royal Seven Stars has plenty of period features that will interest the history enthusiast.

An old converted riverside warehouse below.

Another pub sign and another Free House.

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805), also known simply as Admiral Nelson, was an English flag officer in the Royal Navy. His inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics brought about a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded in combat, losing sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 35, and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 38. He was fatally shot in 1805 shortly before his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar which is often regarded as Britain's greatest naval victory.

His body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral. Nelson's death at Trafalgar secured his position as one of Britain's most heroic figures. His signal just prior to the commencement of the battle, "England expects that every man will do his duty", is regularly quoted, paraphrased and referenced. Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column in London were built in his honour.

I only posted this sign below because I thought it unusual. The H for hydrant is often seen inset into walls but I have never seen one before that actually says Fire. The number 7 indicates that the cover for this hydrant is 7 feet into the street. All UK hydrants are underground.

I cannot find out anything about this plaque below. It is hidden away in a small alley off Fore Street.

Here is Edward Windeatt at work again. This time erecting a memorial to his Grandfather. His grandfather founded the first Sunday school in Totnes at this church, at a time when it was likely to be the only school of any sort for the town's children.

Here is a recent architects plaque memorialising a building restoration. Little Priory.

Grade II listed house, late C17 or early C18, altered early C19, incorporating as its southern block a C16 or early C17 detached kitchen associated with No 65 Fore Street. Stone rubble and timber frame, the south front (towards Fore Street) rendered, the east tower and north (garden) front rendered and tile-hung, the west front with exposed stonework. Welsh slate roofs: to the west, gabled; to the east.

The Mod barber below. Mods are a youth subculture originating in the late 1950's, and revived at several periods after that. Mods were a reaction to Rockers and there were several famous battles in the 1960's on English sea fronts during the summer between Mods and Rockers. Mods are distinguished by their neat clean cut appearance (hence regular visits to the barbers) smart suits and their love of Lambretta scooters with as much added chrome as possible.

Mod is a subculture that began in London and spread throughout Great Britain and elsewhere, eventually influencing fashions and trends in other countries, and continues today on a smaller scale. Focused on music and fashion, the subculture has its roots in a small group of stylish London-based young men in the late 1950s who were termed modernists because they listened to modern jazz. Elements of the mod subculture include fashion (often tailor-made suits); music (including soul, rhythm and blues, ska, jazz, and later splintering off into freakbeat); and motor scooters (usually Lambretta or Vespa). In the mid-1960s, the subculture listened to power pop rock groups with mod following, such as The Who and The Small Faces, after the peak Mod era. The original mod scene was associated with amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs.

The roundel, especially that used by the Royal Air Force, has been associated with pop art of the 1960s, appearing in paintings by Jasper Johns. It became part of the pop consciousness when British rock group The Who wore RAF roundels (and Union Flags) as part of their stage apparel at the start of their career. Subsequently it came to symbolise Mods and the Mod revival.

On The Plains facing the bridge were the Lower Almshouses founded by John Norris in 1589. In the report of the charity commissioners of 1822 they were described as being in a ruinous condition about 1830 they were taken down and rebuilt in the grove. On this building there are two inscriptions: one, on stone on the Victoria Street side of the widows' almshouses is: "remember the poor: god will remember you. 1590". The other is on brass:- "almshouse of John Norris". The inscriptions were transferred to the new building.

Attached to the side of a house is this plaque below. The fourth verse of a poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney. Dorothy Frances Blomfield (1858–1932) was an English hymn-writer and poet, she married the actor Gerald Gurney in 1897.

If you walk up the hill on Fore Street through the ancient town gate, you will find built into the gatehouse on the right some steps up to Guildhall Yard. Half way up these steps you get this view underneath the clock tower, which you will see in the later posts.

Tamwed was launched soon after the tsunami hit India at the end of 2004. The founders had social and professional links with NGOs in South India and initially supported community organisations that were engaged in restoring livelihoods in coastal areas. By 2006 Tamwed had become a registered charity with the objective of helping to overcome poverty in areas of greatest need.

It is difficult to keep Socially Distanced in a place like Totnes where the street itself is narrow and the pavements or sidewalks even narrower. Where the pavements are at their narrowest, sometimes only two or three feet wide, cast iron bollards act as defence against traffic. Totnes being the sort of place it is, almost all of these bollards now wear woolly hats of various designs and colours. There will be more shown in later posts. At peak shopping times during Covid the street has been completely closed to traffic at specified hours.

Let me know your thoughts on this post as I have not done one like it before. Having done it, it strikes me that you can get quite a picture of a place from only seeing it's assorted signs.

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Unknown member
Oct 23, 2022

You must know that I love Totnes or maybe it's your "vision" of Totnes that I love, either way it's a grand place for clickers 😉

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 23, 2022
Replying to

It's never boring.

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