The History of Totnes
The ancient market town of Totnes is positioned on top of a hill on the banks of the River Dart, in the county of Devon. It reaches back into history as far as the Anglo Saxons who first settled here, it became necessary for them to fortify the town against the Vikings who invaded our shores. When William the Conqueror from Normandy, arrived on the south coast of England and fought a bloody battle against King Harold resulting in victory he became king. He marched across the land with his army conquering and sacking the towns and villages as he went, bringing their knowledge and building expertise with them, keen to make their mark they changed the face of England forever and Totnes was not ignored. They built an impressive castle positioned above the town commanding the Dart River, to signify strength and power to the resident Saxons. They also continued with the Mint and the production of coin that the Saxons had started.
King John granted a charter to the town ensuring its independence as a Free Town in 1206, the 13th Century also saw further building work carried out on the castle, a stone Keep was added to the top of the Motte, together with stone walls that were built around the Bailey, they also built a Priory within the town on the site where the Guildhall now stands.
The town grew, prospering with the increasing wealth from wool and the mining of tin, with its growth came the building of St Mary's church which was constructed in 1450 built on the site of an earlier church. Peace reigned until the Dissolution of the Monasteries when King Henry VIII fell out with Rome, declaring himself the Head of the Church of England, and, although the church survives with its 120' tower gracing the skyline, the Priory which was attached to the church did not. The Tudor and Elizabethan era produced an impressive fortification to the town, Eastgate still dominates the High Street today, and is one of two that survives, together with the Butterwalk whose colonnaded structure was built to protect the Market Traders plying their wares.
By the dawning of the 16th Century the town saw the export of goods swell the towns purse, resulting in Totnes becoming the second richest town in Devon, Merchants houses built in abundance many can still be seen today dating back to the 16th, and 17th, Centuries. The 16th Century also saw the issuing of a further charter, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries Edward VI granted a charter sanctioning the use of the former Priory Building to be used by traders who had set up a Guild; they successfully built up good trade links with both France, and Spain. The Guildhall would feature again with the skirmishes and battles fought across the land during the Civil War , when King Charles I and Parliament disagreed over hefty tax rises and the "Divine Right of Kings" which Charles firmly believed in. Although no battles were fought within the town, the Parliamentarian Army arrived in 1646 together with Fairfax, and Oliver Cromwell who arrived shortly after and met with Fairfax at the Guildhall where they discussed their future plans and tactics.
The 19th Century brought an increase in trade, and people, where the town saw a rise in the coaching trade where several coaches journeyed to the town on their way to Plymouth and Exeter , the popularity of coach travel finally diminished after the railway arrived in 1847. With the arrival of the First World War Totnes welcomed many wounded soldiers who were sent here to convalesce, and war featured once again in the town during the bombing raids nearby which occurred in WWII ,