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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas


Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 16, 2020

[72-365] 16th. October 2020- This is another small stroll around Totnes in Devon. I have a new word for things seen in Totnes, Totnacious, that may be Old English, possibly, The main photo for this post is at the extremes of Totnaciousness on the scale of Totnaciousness, because it is not everyday you see an itinerant wand salesman.

So not only have I made up a new word, I have done the decent humble thing and not chosen my own new word as my Word of the day. So my Word of the day is itinerant. This is a great word as it doesn't give any immediate clues as to it's meaning if you haven't come across it before, not like binomial which you can at least have a stab at.

Itinerant- travelling from place to place. In Latin, iter means "way" or "journey." That root was the parent of the Late Latin verb itinerari, meaning "to journey." It was that verb which ultimately gave rise to today's English word for traveling types: "itinerant." So Carl Linnaeus mentioned in my fern post yesterday, Blechnum spicant, with his Latin expertise would have had a good stab at it.

Having said all of that I am probably being a bit presumptuous about this gentleman being itinerant. He may have a beautiful riverside apartment at the bottom of the hill and wear a suit to the office the rest of the week, but his travelling box and portable wares, and dare I say in as non-judgemental a manner as possible his clothes, certainly give an air of itinerance. And there is nothing more portable, it has to be said, than a wand, or even a whole box of wands. In fact, although I found myself bemused by his stock and the likelihood of there being a market for wands, I am now strangely thinking I actually might buy one if I see him again. I certainly would like to do a more formal portrait of him with wand in hand. There may be a Wands, Part Two.

Just in case anyone out there has not heard of Harry Potter, a wand is a stick with magical powers. Magical powers used to be something rare and special but like smoked salmon they are now on every street corner, so to speak. I haven't actually seen smoked salmon on a street corner but you know what I mean. If there was smoked salmon on a street corner it would probably be a dangerous slip hazard.

Salcombe is another local town and it is seriously upmarket, if anywhere had streets paved with smoked salmon it would be Salcombe, but having been there a few times I can attest to the fact that to the best of my knowledge even Salcombe does not have smoked salmon on street corners, so really it was a terrible analogy all told, or was it a metaphor or a simile, probably a simile, like smoked salmon, a smoked salmon simile? This is why you tune in isn't it.

Back to wands. As my neighbour said to my other half this morning when she was being told about our visit to Totnes, "sorry, did you say wands?"

A wand is a thin, light-weight rod that is held with one hand, and is traditionally made of wood, but may also be made of other materials, such as metal or plastic. A wand that is used for magical purposes is often called a magic wand, rather than simply a wand. Wands are distinct from sceptres, which have a greater thickness, are held differently, and have a relatively large top ornament on them.

In modern times, wands are usually associated with stage magic or supernatural magic, but there have been other uses, all stemming from the original meaning as a synonym of rod and virge. A stick that is used for reaching, pointing, drawing in the dirt, and directing other people, is one of the earliest and simplest of tools. (Wikipedia)

It comes as news to me that there are non-magic wands which I had always called sticks, these are items I put in my wood burner every morning on top of newspaper, topped with a large piece of dead tree that I've always called a log, am I to assume now there are magic logs too? As for a stick being a tool, I thought we'd moved on a bit in the world of tools, frankly. I have a box of kindling next to my wood burner and have never thought of it as a box of tools, even though I could conceivably pick a piece up and point with it, for example when in an argument for extra emphasis.

Moving on.

A very Totnacious door which apparently is Totnes Cinema. It doesn't promise a lot in the way of Social Distancing or even much in the way of having more than one seat inside. However, I love the Art Decoesque sign above the door which says cinema, as well as actually saying cinema. I mean the styling says cinema as do the letters on the sign which read cinema, the star is a little bonus and conjures up glamour and sparkle both of which seem to be missing in this instance.

Built around 1880, 27a High Street used to be the town's Temperance Hall and first became a cinema in 1946 when it was used by a travelling cinema for Thursday night screenings.

It's hard to believe looking at that tiny door but it sat 146 people, either somewhere a long way further back or somewhere a long way further upstairs.

This ancient building in Totnes High Street, below, dated 1585 has a brass plaque on the front. It reads " Here lived Ann Ball who on 19th July 1586 was married to Sir Thomas Bodley founder of The Bodleian Library in Oxford". Society being the way it was back then Sir Thomas had a world class library named after him and Ann got a plaque in Totnes for marrying him. What sort of man was he if she got a plaque just for marrying him?

Ann was a widow with children when she married him. Nicholas Ball—whose house this was—was buried in March 1586, administration of his estate being granted to his widow on 28 Apr. He left some £1,600 at eight per cent interest, in the hands of Nicholas Gooderidge, another Totnes merchant, in trust for his children. Ball’s widow continued to trade, and soon afterwards married Thomas Bodley, the diplomat and scholar, who took pains over the education of Ball’s children.

This was a huge sum of money. If you read my post on Stratford you will know that Shakespeares wife was left the value of 3 cows by her father who was a yeoman. Ann was left the value of 860 cows ( that's a lot of cow pats to clean up) or the wages of 32,000 days (of a skilled tradesman at a time when tradesmen probably worked 32,000 hours a week). She was a real catch. You could say she probably had enough cash to start a library. Nicholas Ball was a Totnes pilchard merchant who bought himself an estate nearby. So it looks like pilchards were serious money back then. Now we feed them to the cat.

From pilchards to books. "Today, the Bodleian Libraries hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera. Libraries in the Bodleian Libraries group include the principal University library - the Bodleian Library - which has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years; as well as 27 other libraries across Oxford including major research libraries and faculty, department and institute libraries. Every second someone interacts with our electronic collections. Every 14 seconds someone visits one of our libraries. Every 21 seconds someone borrows one of our books."

They've lent out 360 books since you started reading this.

More Totnaciousness below.

A very Totnacious feature of Totness is it's multitude of weird and wonderful shops that crowd out the national and international businesses making it difficult for them to get a toe hold.

So it seems very occasionally, ordinary people do have the power to change things, as the town of Totnes in Devon has proved. After months of campaigning to keep coffee conglomerate Costa out of the town, residents won the David-and-Goliath type battle: Costa chiefs announced they would withdraw plans to open a branch in the town following 5,700-signed petition (from a local population of 8,500). Totnes town campaigned against becoming another cloned-high street, preferring instead to maintain the area’s independence from high street chains and keep local money circulating within the local community. They fought against the council’s agreement and miraculously Costa reconsidered its application and pulled out. (

Below a shop Donald Trump would cheer about.

Tucked away Totnaciousness. "An Englishman's home is his castle", taken literally by the builder of this beautiful little gem.

While at the bottom of the hill the tide ebbs and flows yet again, just like it has always done, even as Nicholas Ball's Pilchard boats came up on the rising tide of the Dart river, over 400 years ago.

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John Durham
John Durham
Jan 27, 2022

I can see why you come back to Totnes time and again - heading to Part 2.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jan 27, 2022
Replying to

There is always something new to catch the eye.

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