1850 Gazetteer of Totnes England

TOTNES, an ancient borough and market town, which retains some portions of its once formidable castle, and gives name to an archdeaconry and deanery, to a large union, and to county court and polling districts; is picturesquely seated on the western bank of the navigable river Dart, opposite the suburb of Bridgetown, 10 miles N.W. by W. of Dartmouth, 22 miles S. by W. of Exeter, 22 miles E. by N. of Plymouth, 9 miles W.S.W. of Torquay, and 194 miles W.S.W. of London. It has a station on the South Devon Railway. The Dart is navigable to it for vessels of 150 tons burthen, and a steam packet plies daily between it and Dartmouth. Its parish contains 967A. 1R. 24P. of land, mostly in meadows and pastures; and had 2503 souls in 1801; 2725 in 1811; 3128 in 1821; and 3442 in 1831; but they had increased to 3849 in 1841, including 253 in the union workhouse. BRIDGETOWN, on the opposite of the river, in Berry Pomeroy parish, and in Haytor Hundred, is a handsome eastern suburb of the town, and forms part of the borough of Totnes, swelling its total population to about 4600 souls. The borough comprises the whole parish of Totnes and the manor of Bridgetown, the latter of which was added to it by the Parliamentary and Municipal Reform Acts of 1832 and 1835. A handsome stone bridge crosses the river and a small island, between the two places, and was built by subscription, at the cost of £12,000, in 1828, in lieu of the ancient narrow bridge. Steps descend from it to the island, which has been laid out in walks, and planted with trees and shrubs, by the Duke of Somerset, for the use of the public. The situation of Totnes is remarkably fine. The main street is about three-quarters of a mile long, and after climbing the steep acclivity rising from the margin of the river, it stretches itself along the brow of the hill, which commands a fine view of the valley and the winding stream, but is sheltered on every side by higher grounds. The piazzas in front of some of the houses in the upper town, and the higher stories projecting over the lower ones, are manifest proofs of its antiquity, “a claim which is strengthened by the keep of its Castle, a very large circular building, turreted, and rising from an imense artificial mound.” The erection of this castle is ascribed to Judhael or Joel de Totneis, to whom the manor was given by William the Conqueror. The ruins are now finely mantled with ivy, and the grounds around them are tastefully laid out and planted, and have been thrown open by the Duke of Somerset as a promenade for the inhabitants. There are some neat and substantial mansions in the town and suburbs, and a considerable number of respectable houses have been erected during the last twenty years, on and near the Plymouth road. During the same period, many of the old houses have been rebuilt or modernized. The beauty of the surrounding neighbourhood, and the fine scenery of the Dart and its creeks below the town, will always ensure for Totnes and its vicinity a genteel resident population, and a constant influx of strangers to visit these attractions. The sporting and angling of the neighbourhood are of the best description, and there is a salmon weir on the river a little above the town, but salmon and other fish abound in all parts of the river, especially in its route to Dartmouth, where it widens into a broad estuary, with several creeks. Since 1833, the Commissioners of the River Dart have expended large sums of money in improving the navigation, so as to enable vessels of 150 tons to come up to the quays and wharfs near the bridge, where coal, culm, timber, &c., are imported, and corn, cider, and other agricultural produce exported. Totnes is in the Port of Dartmouth, and had formerly a share of the woollen manufacture. Being in the heart of the fruitful district called the South Hams, or garden of Devonshire, which abounds in rich pastures, meadows, corn fields, and orchards, its weekly market, held every Saturday, is abundantly supplied with provisions. Here are also great cattle markets, on the first Tuesday of every month; and two annual fairs, on May 12th and October 28th, when those dates fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and when not on the Tuesday after. Races are held annually in the latter part of August or the beginning of September, and are usually well attended and liberally supported. The Seven Stars and the Seymour Hotel, are large and well conducted establishments, and there are in the town many respectable public-houses and well stocked shops. The present comodious Market Place was erected in 1848, at the cost of £2800, and has a handsome front. Water is supplied from springs in the higher parts of the town, and a stream is continually flowing down either side of the main street. Gas Works were established at the Grove, by six families for their own use, but were purchased by a company of shareholders in 1835, and extended to most parts of the town; but a new gas company has recently been formed, with a capital of £1200, raised in £5 shares, and they have just erected a Gas-House near the old one.
In ancient records Totnes is called Totton, Totonie, Totneis, &c. The Roman road, called Iknald or Fosseway, which traversed through this county into Somerset, and from thence to other parts of the kingdom, began here. The town was anciently encompassed by a wall with four gates, of which there are still some slight remains. In Domesday Book it is described as having 95 burgesses, besides 15 without the walls, and is said to be subject to the same services as Exeter, and never to be taxed but with that city. The honour or barony of Totnes, which had been part of Edward the Confessor’s demense, was given by Wm. the Conqueror to Judhael or Joel, who assumed the name of De Totneis, and is said to have erected the castle, as already noticed; but being banished by Wm. Rufus, this barony was given to Roger de Novant. It was afterwards held by the Cantilupe and Zouch families. On the attainder of Lord Zouch, Henry VII. gave it to Sir Richard Edgecumbe, whose grandson sold it to Lord Edward Seymour, an ancestor of the Duke of Somerset, its present owner. The castle, long the seat of the barony, was in ruins when Leland visited it in the reign of Henry VIII., except the great tower, or keep, of which the outer walls are still standing. Joel de Totneis founded a PRIORY here in the Conqueror’s reign, as a cell to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, at Angiers. It was not dissolved till the reign of Henry VIII., when it contained six monks. It stood near the church, and its site is now occupied by the Guildhall and other buildings. Tanner says there were two convents of friars at or near Totnes, but Leland mentions only one, founded by Walter de la Bon, or Boate, at a place called Warland, near a chapel dedicated to the Holy Ghost and St. Katherine. Some small remains of this convent are to be seen in a cottage, and its site belongs to W. D. Adams, Esq., of Bowden House, a large and handsome mansion in the adjoining parish of Ashprington, formerly a seat of the Trist and Giles families. The estate of Little Totnes has been long held by the Wise family. Follaton House, an elegant modern mansion, about a mile W. of the town, is the seat of G. S. Cary, Esq.; and Broomborough, the seat of J. F .P. Phillips, Esq., is an elegant mansion, recently erected, in the Elizabethan style. Many other proprietors have estates in the parish. The manor of the borough of Totnes was conveyed in the 2nd of Elizabeth, by Piers Edgecumbe, or Edgecombe to the Corporation, subject to a reserved rent of £21 per annum, payable to the owner of the Castle. Geoffrey of Monomouth says that the Trojan Brute landed here, and called the place called Tout al’esse, (all at ease,) now corrupted to Totnes; but Leland says that the ancient names was Dodonesse, or rocky town, Bede says Ambrosius and Uter-Pendragon came to Totnes, after defeating Vortigern in Wales.

Totnes is said to have been governed by a mayor since the reign of King John, who granted the burgess a charter in 1205. These privileges were confirmed and extended by Henry VII., and other monarchs. Under the charter granted by Queen Elizabeth, in 1596, the CORPORATION consisted of a mayor, a recorder, 14 burgher-masters, councillors, and an indefinite number of burgesses, including a select body, called “the twenty-men.” The mayor, recorder, and ex-mayor, were justices of the peace for the borough and parish. The borough limits formerly comprised only the tower, but they have been extended by the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1835, so as to comprise the whole of the parish of Totnes and the manor of Bridgetown. Under the Municipal Act of 1835, the Town Council now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. A commission of peace, including seven borough magistrates, has been granted, but the borough has now neither recorder or quarter sessions. The revenue of the Corporation in 1841, amounted to £605, arising from rents, tolls, &c. They are trustrees of various charities, and in 1823, the Attorney-General instituted proceedings against the old Corporation, for the misappropriation of charitable funds. This long-pending Chancery suit is expected to be shortly brought to a termination in favour of the charities. The borough has returned two members to parliament since the 30th of Edward I. Before the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, the right of election was in the Corporation and freemen, and the greatest number of electors polled for 30 years previous to 1831, was 75. The number of voters registered in 1837, was 297, of whom 34 voted as freemen. The present number is about 360, and their representatives are Lord Seymour and Charles Barry Baldwin, Esq., who have sat for this borough in four parliaments. The present CORPORATION, BOROUGH MAGISTRATES, and OFFICERS are – Wm. Bowden, Esq., mayor; George Farwell, Esq., ex-mayor; John Derry, Jasper Parrott, Geo. S. Cary, C. Webber, Rd. Soper, Edw. Luscombe, and S. E. G. Cary, Esqrs., magistrates; W. F. Windeatt, Edw. Luscombe, John Derry, and Thomas Angel, aldermen; G. S. Cary, J. R. Fogwill, Jas.Gill, Michael Bishop, John B. Paige, Wm. Bentall, Wm.Gilbert, James A. Spargo, George Farwell, Wm.Gill, Wm.Bowden, and Charles Edwards, councillors; George Presswell, town clerk and clerk to justices; J. Bishop and J. Cloake, serjeants at mace; and T. H. Taylor, inspector of weights and measures. The Guildhall is a small and ancient building near the church, and in it are held once a fortnight petty sessions for Stanborough and Coleridge Division, for which Mr. T. Bryett is magistrates’ clerk. The County Court for Totnes District, embracing all Totnes Union, is held here monthly, and Mr.Charles Edwards is the clerk; and Mr.Thos. Welch, high bailiff. In 1626, Lord Carew, of Clopton, was created Earl of Totnes, but the title became extinct on his death, without male issue, in 1629. Charles, the natural son of Charles II., was created Lord Dartmouth, Viscount Totnes, and Earl of Plymouth, in 1675, but on his death without issue, in 1680, all his titles became extinct, and that of Totnes has never been revived.

The Church (St.Mary,) is a handsome structure, in the early perpendicular style, with a lofty tower at the west end, containing eight bells. Its date was unknown until about 1800, when the south-east pinnacle, being struck down by lightning, fell through the roof of a small room over the porch, in which were found two chests full of ancient records, from which it appeared the church was rebuilt in 1259, and again in 1432. In the latter year Bishop Lacy granted 40 day’s indulgence to all who contributed to the rebuilding. An elegant stone screen of ornamental tracery divides the nave and chancel; but the altar-piece, instead of corresponding with the rest of the building, is of Grecian design, with a classical semi-dome, supported by Corinthian pillars. The stone pulpit is elaborately ornamented; but, about 1786, the beautiful symmetry of the interior was destroyed by various alterations in the windows and other parts of the fabric. The vicarage, valued in K.B. at £12. 8s. 9d., and in 1831 at £200, is in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor and incumbency of the Rev. J. W. Burrough, who has a good residence. The rectorial glebe (74A. 2R. 21P.,) and tithe, formerly belonging to Totnes Priory, are now the property of the Duke of Somerset; but only 693 acres are tithable, and now pay a yearly tithe rent of £280. There was anciently in or near the town a chapel of St. Peter, and at the west end of the old bridge was a chantry chapel, dedicated to St.Edmund and St.Edward the Confessor, founded by Wm. de Cantilupe, and endowed with lands valued at £7. 13s. 11d. per annum in 1547. At Follaton House is a small Roman Catholic Chapel, and in the town is an Independent Chapel, and a small Wesleyan Chapel. The former was built in 1840, at the cost of £1700, and is a handsome structure, in the early English style. It stands on the site of one of the two Presbyterian meeting houses, which existed here as early as 1715, when the celebrated John Flavel was minister of one of them. The Free Church, at Bridgetown, built by the Duke of Somerset, and endowed with £200 per annum, is already noticed at Berry Pomeroy Parish together with Berry Pomeroy Church and Castle. Among the eminent men born at Totnes were, the Rev. Edward Ley, the learned author of the Saxon Dictionary; the celebrated Hebraist, Dr. Kennicott, whose father was clerk of the church; and Dr. Philip Furneaux, an eminent dissenting divine, who published Letters on Religious Liberty, addressed to Judge Blackstone, and an Essay on Toleration. The South Devon Library, in Fore street, was established in 1810, and the Mechanic’s Institution in 1844. The latter has a library of more than 1000 volumes. The Duke of Somerset is patron of this useful institution, and supports a News Room, at the Mayoralty House, to which he gives cards of free admission. In Fore street are Assembly and Public Rooms, where balls, concerts, &c., take place. There are hot, cold, and shower Baths in the Plains.

The Corporation of Totnes are trustees of various charities for the poor, and in 1719, sold about 50 small lots of property to pay off their debts. Some of this property belonged to, or was charged with annual payments for charitable uses, but the whole was sold as freehold, unincumbered estates, and for the idemnification of the purchasers, and as security for the payment of the various charities in their hands, the Corporation vested with trustees their mills, fishery, manorial rights, wharfs, tool, &c. The mills and fishery are let by the Corporation for about £190 per annum.

Totnes Almshouses

A house occupied rent-free by several poor families, placed there by the Mayor, was given by the Corporation in lieu of an ancient almshouse, founded by Wm. Douse, in the 20th of Elizabeth. The only endowment for the inmates is 17s. per annum. In 1589, John Norris left £250 for the erection and endowment of an almshouse for two people. The Corporation expended £100 in building the almshouse, and granted an annuity of £10 a year for the inmates, in consideration of the remaining £150. This almshouse is near the Quay, and adjoining it are eight other ancient rooms for as many poor people, placed there by the Mayor. Magdalen Hospital, which stood near the town, was a house of lepers, but all that now remains of it are some traces of its chapel. The Magdalen Lands, given for its endowment at an early period, were sold by the Corporation, in 1719, subject to 19 small reserved rents, amounting to only £14. 2s. 3d. per annum. For a long period these rents have been applied towards the repairs of the church, together with £10. 14s. 1d., arising from several small rents payable out of lands, left by John Shapleigh, and other donors. An almshouse for six poor men, was founded by James Rodd, in 1654, and endowed with some adjoining buildings, but these premises were converted into the parish Workhouse, many years ago.

Totnes Charities

In satisfaction of what remains of £230, given by various donors, to be lent to decayed merchants, &c., and of £246, given for apprenticing poor children; the Corporation distribute £16 per annum, in quarterly payments, to 13 poor widows. They also pay, or ought to pay, the interest of the following sums left for the relief of the poor of the borough, viz., £100 left by Elizabeth Wise and George Prestwood; £140 left by Nicholas Brocking, in 1666; £100 left by Philip Ley, in 1663; £20 left by John Wauchope, in 1704; £50 left by Christopher Blackall, in 1626; £20. 6s. 8d. left by Richard Macy in 1633; and of £130 left by John Beare, in 1693, for a weekly distribution of 2s. worth of bread. As already noticed, these and other charitable funds are still the subject of a Chancery suit.

An orchard, left for the poor by Nicholas Field, in 1678, and now worth £3 a year, was let by the Corporation, in 1719, for 2000 years at 4s. per annum, in consideration of a fine of £45. The Corporation distribute £3 yearly in satisfaction of this charity. Richard Lee, in 1619, left £100 to be invested in the purchase of land, for the better support of the vicar, or resident preacher of Totnes. The land purchased with this legacy was sold by the Corporation, in 1719, but they do not pay anything to the vicar in consideration thereof, though they pay him 40s. as interest of £40, left by the Rev. Samuel Hall. Nothing is paid by them in consideration of £50 left by Christopher Wise, and a house at the quay, left by Christopher Maynard, for the vicar or lecturer. Towards the support of a lecturer, £3. 6s. 8d. per annum was left by Richard Norris and Richard Macy, in two rent charges, which have not been paid for many years.

In 1690, THOS. MARTIN left a house and garden, and a two-acre field, at Barnstaple, to the Mayor and overseers of Totnes, in trust, to apply the yearly proceeds in weekly distributions of bread among the poor. This property is now let for £23 a year, and there is belonging to the charity the sum of £302, derived from fines paid on the granting of former leases. The poor have 2s. worth of bread weekly from Sir Jno. Acland’s Charity. (See Exeter) They have an annuity of £13. 6s. 8d., out of houses in Whitechapel, London, left by Henry Ball, in 1608; also 18s. a year out of a house in Totnes, left by Henry Shillibeer; and a yearly rent charge of £10, left by Richard Langdon, in 1707, out of Knighton estate, at Ilsington. One half of the latter is for poor sick people, and the other half for poor housekeepers. Christopher Lee left an annuity of 40s., out of Lake Garden, for the relief of poor prisoners in Totnes Prison, which was built by subscription in 1624. Mr. G. Dawson is treasurer of the fund for the relief of the widows and orphans of poor clergymen in the Archdeaconry of Totnes.

Totnes Schools

The GRAMMAR SCHOOL :- occupies a room in a building belonging to the Corporation, and is endowed with a farm of 61A. 3R. 14P., at Harberton, given by Elize Hele, in 1632, together with other property for schools at Exeter, &c. This farm is now let for £60 a year, for which the master is required to teach only two free scholars, appointed by the mayor; but he is ordered not to charge more than six guineas each per annum to the day scholars for classical education. He is appointed by the mayor and alderman.

The CHARITY SCHOOL, in Bay Horse street, is chiefly supported by voluntary contributions. In 1734, Charles Taylor bequeathed to it a yearly rent-charge of 40s. out of a house, which now belongs wholly to the charity, and has for a long period been occupied rent free by the schoolmaster and mistress. The charity is also possessed of 12A. of land at Harper’s Hill, given by John Philips, in 1714, together with the annuity of 20s. out of a house near the church. The school now affords instruction to about 45 boys and 20 girls, about half of whom are also provided with blue clothing. Here is also a NATIONAL, established in 1813, and a BRITISH SCHOOL, founded in 1846. The former has about 200 and the latter 150 scholars; and there is in the town an Infant School, and in Bridgetown a British School for girls.

The minister of the Independent Chapel has the dividend of £50 four per cent. stock, purchased with £30 left by Elizabeth Row. To the Presbyterian minister of the Lower Meeting House, Barbara Jetsome left a yearly rent-charge of £4 out of lands at Ashburton; and for the poor of the Presbyterian congregation she left an annuity of £2. 12s., charged on some lands. Since 1799, the Lower Meeting House has been occupied by Wesleyans, and the annuity of £4 has been allowed to accumulate, and the accumulations have been invested in stock for the benefit of such Presbyterian minister as may hereafter be appointed to the said meeting-house. The annuity of £2. 12s.is disposed of in weekly distributions of bread to the poor people of Totnes, of the Presbyterian or Independent denomination.

Totnes Union

TOTNES UNION comprises the parishes of Ashprington, Berry-Pomeroy, Brixham, Buckfastleigh, Churston-Ferrers, Cornworthy, Dartington, St.Petrox, St.Saviour, and Townstal, in Dartmouth Borough; Dean-Prior, Diptford, Dittisham, Halwell, Harberton, Holne, Kingswear, Little Hempston, Marldon, Morley, North Huish, Paignton, Rattery, South-Brent, Staverton, Stoke Gabriel, Totnes, and Ugborough, which embrace an area of 143 square miles, and has 34,126 inhabitants in 1841, living in 6901 houses; besides which there were 440 empty houses, and 39 building, when the census was taken. Their total average expenditure on the poor during the three years preceding the formation of the Union, was £13,879. The expenditure of the Union in 1839 was £11,893; and in 1840, £13,183. The Workhouse is a large stone building, erected in 1838-9, at the cost of about £6000, and has room for 380 paupers. W.F.Windeatt, Esq., is the union clerk and superintendent registrar; Rev.F.H.Hele, chaplain; Mr.Richard and Mrs.Martyn, master and matron of the Workhouse; and Thos. Irish and Saml. Randle are the relieving officers. The union is divided into 12 medical and 7 registration districts. Mr. Richard Harris is registrar of births and deaths for Totnes district.



MLA Source Citation:

White, William. History, gazetteer, and directory of Devonshire. William White Publisher, 1850. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/genealogy/1850-gazetteer-of-totnes-england.htm - Last updated on Mar 1st, 2013


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