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Totnes, Devon, UK

English Town

Last modified: 2021-06-26 by rob raeside
Keywords: totnes | devon |
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[Flag of Totnes, England] image by Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021
Based on this photo located by Dave Fowler on 22 June 2021

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Introduction: The Town of Totnes

Totnes is a market town and civil parish located at the head of the estuary of the River Dart in Devon. It is the administrative centre of the South Hams District Council.
What is interesting about Totnes is that although it has a long recorded history dating back to 907 when Totnes Castle was built, it also has a long mythical history in England. According to myth it was on the coast of Totnes where Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first came ashore according to the Historia Regum Britanniae (written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136). There is even a small granite boulder in the town called the "Brutus Stone" marking the spot where, again according to myth, he proclaimed "Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.". It was also in Totnes, that Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther Pendragon landed to win back the throne of Britain from the usurper Vortigern, according to Geoffrey's history. A busy place back then, it seems.
All this said, the first "authenticated" history was in AD 907 when Totnes was fortified by King Edward the Elder as part of his defensive ring of burhs (fortified communities) built around Devon. The name Totnes comes from the Old English Totta meaning "a ness or headland." Totnes was indeed a well-known ancient ford on the estuary of the Dart River - at least when the tide was low. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror granted the burh to Juhel of Totnes, who then most likely started construction of what would become Totnes Castle. Unfortunately for Juhel, he soon lost his lands in 1088 when he unwisely rebelled against William II. By the 12th century, however, Totnes was well-established as an important market town on the main trade routes of the area.
King John granted a charter to Totnes as a Free Town in 1206. The town prospered economically thanks to its wool industry and nearby mining of tin. In 1450, the impressive Catholic Church of Saint Mary's with its 120' tower was built on the site of an earlier church. With the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII and the formation of the Church of England, Saint Mary's survived, but the attached priory was seized.
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. By the 16th Century Totnes become the second richest town in Devon, and the rich merchants built their Tudor houses, many that still survive today.
During the Civil War no battles were fought within the town, but the Parliamentarian Army arrived in 1646 under the leadership of Fairfax, and later he and Oliver Cromwell met at the Totnes Guildhall where they discussed their future plans and tactics.
The Industrial Revolution and the 19th Century brought an increase in trade, people, and tourism to Totnes. It became a popular tourist destination. Several coaching companies established routes to the town from Plymouth and Exeter, later replaced by the railway in 1847 and modern highways today.
During the First World War many wounded soldiers were sent to Totnes to convalesce, and during World War II the town sheltered those wounded during the bombing raids from nearby cities and towns. Today, Totnes is said to be a thriving centre for music, art, theatre and entertainment. It claims a sizeable alternative and "New Age" community, and is popular as a place where one can live a "Bohemian" lifestyle.
Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

About the Flag of Totnes

From In Your Area, an article by Guy Henderson, located by Dave Fowler on 22 June 2021:

"The town council decided in May to have the flag made, showing the familiar town crest of the castle, keys and river which can be traced back to the 15th century, on the green, black and white cross of the Devon flag, which was adopted in 2003. It will fly regularly from the Civic Hall flagpole, with the Union flag being flown on designated days.
Mayor Cllr Ben Piper said: I've always thought that our ancient borough should have its own colours, and as we are located in Devon we have gone for a modern design incorporating the recently-adopted Devon colours, in combination with our ancient town crest. I think it looks great flying over the Civic Hall and adds to the historic feeling of the town for locals and tourists alike."

Source: In Your Area - "New flag flies over Totnes Civic Hall".
Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

Totnes Arms

[Arms of Totnes, England] image by Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

"The arms were historically recorded during the Visitation of 1572 for the Borough of Totnes. Transferred to the town council on April 16, 1975.
The device is a water gatehouse and seems to indicate the pride of the burgesses in the ancient importance of the Borough as a royal fortress.
The Castle was founded by one Juhell, a Breton, shortly after the Norman Conquest."

Official Blazon

  • Crest: Sable upon Water in base Azure and between two Keys wards upward and outward a triple towered Castle the Portcullis raised and upon each outer tower a Banner all Argent.
Source: Heraldry of the World: Totnes.
Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

Totnes Castle

[English Heritage] image by Eugene Ipavec, 24 June 2007

Totnes Castle commands the heights overlooking the town of Totnes. This photo of Totnes Castle shows the flag of the English Heritage Charity flying over what is now one of the best preserved examples of a Norman motte and bailey castle in England. It is owned by English Heritage, which helps explain the flag. The castle is thought to have been built by Juhel of Totnes, who was one of William the Conqueror's lieutenants, in 1068.
Sources: English Heritage: Totnes Castle and The Crazy Tourist.
Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

Totnes Rugby Football Club

[Arms of Totnes, England] image by Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021

The only information available about the Totnes RFC is that it became affiliated to the Rugby Football Union in 1889. They claim to be the oldest sporting club in Totnes. Other than that they offer little more information or history of their club on their website. It's not even clear where they play or against whom.
Pete Loeser, 24 June 2021