Totnes is an historic market town that boasts a fascinating history; it is one of 5 Devonshire towns to be mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Here we discover 5 of the best historical places to visit in Totnes.
1. East Gate and Totnes Town Centre
A walk up the steep hill through Totnes town centre will take you through Totnes East Gate. Formed with the rest of the town’s defences, the walls can be dated back to the 14th century. In 1810 Lord Seymour purchased the Gate House and used it as a mechanics’ institute and reading room. This was altered in 1835 into a Gothic style. The East Gate was destroyed by a large fire in 1990 and was painstakingly rebuilt to replicate the original building.
Other buildings of interest in the town centre include St Mary’s Church. Construction can be dated back all the way to 1259 and has been rebuilt many times throughout the years. The large red sandstone tower has a height of 120 foot, yet is hidden away until you are up close and by the entrance.
The Butterwalk is a covered Tudor walkway, which was used to protect dairy products from the elements. The shops are set back away from the pavement, and the buildings overhang on columns.
If you visit Totnes on a Tuesday morning, the Civic Hall Square holds an Elizabethan market (May-September), when traders dress in Elizabethan period costumes.
2. Totnes Guildhall
Totnes Guildhall was built in 1553 on medieval ruins that can be dated back to 1088, although in the early 1500s England monasteries were destroyed under the rule of Henry VIII and a lot of the building was damaged.
By 1624 the Guildhall was turned into a Magistrates’ court and during the English Civil War there were soldiers held there. In the council chamber is the table where Oliver Cromwell sat with Thomas Fairfax who was the general and commander in chief for parliament in 1646. Until 1887, it served as a jail and held prisoners.
The Guildhall has now been home to Totnes Town Council for over 450 years. It is open to the public during summer months (please check website for opening hours).
3. Totnes Castle
Totnes Castle is one of the best preserved Norman motte and bailey castles in the whole of England; the remaining stone can date back all the way to the 14th century. The first castle to be built on this land was built by Juhel of Totnes, who was one of William the Conqueror’s lieutenants. In order for him to keep his control over the area he fortified it and founded the Totnes Priory.
By 1326, the castle had fallen into disrepair, while under the control of the de la Zouch family; during this time there was a royal order for the fortifications to be repaired and this was done using Devonian limestone and red sandstone. The castle then fell into ruin after the War of the Roses; it was occupied during the English Civil War but notably saw no action. English Heritage now owns the site.
The high position means the castle overlooks the approach from 3 valleys, and is a short walking distance away from the town centre. The top of the castle is situated on a mound, which gives amazing views over the rooftops in Totnes and of the River Dart. There are plenty of grounds around the castle where you can sit and have a picnic and is perfect for visiting families. There is also a moat you can walk around which is covered in wild flowers and plants, and there are also trees that have carved graffiti from held prisoners in the Second World War.
4. Totnes Museum
This free-to-enter museum is located on Fore Street, close to the East Arch, and is inside of an old Elizabethan merchant’s home. It is one of the many authentic Elizabethan homes in the town and was built close to 1575. Totnes museum has a lot of artifacts showcasing 5000 years of local history, having 13 rooms rising across 3 floors. This is a great attraction for families with a medieval kitchen, resident ghost, spiral staircase made from a ship’s mast and a room dedicated to Totnes’ illustrious son, Charles Babbage, who invented the first mechanical computer.
5. Berry Pomeroy Castle
A 5 minute drive away from Totnes you will find Berry Pomeroy Castle. Said to be one of the most haunted castles in the whole of Britain, two female ghosts “haunt” the castle. The White Lady mourns the death of her son who she murdered. It is legend that she lures people to her tower and then they fall to their death. The other ghost is called the Blue Lady. She haunts the dungeons after being imprisoned by her sister Eleanor who was jealous of her beauty.
The Pomeroy family owned the land from the 11th century and built the castle in the late 15th century. They ran into financial difficulties in 1547 and sold it to Edward Seymour the 1st Duke of Somerset. In the late 17th century it was abandoned and it was not until the 19th century it became celebrated as an example of the picturesque aesthetic. Towards the late 20th century, the castle underwent large archaeological excavations to clarify its history.
To this day, Berry Pomeroy Castle is a grade 1 listed building and is still owned by the Duke of Somerset, but is managed by English Heritage. It is hidden away in a wooded valley, perfect for walkers that want to go and explore the woodland or for people that would like to relax in the café.