Category: Blog

From Troy to Totnes – The Tale of the Brutus Stone

"Here I stand and here I rest, and this good town shall be called Totnes". These are the words with which Totnes is said to have been founded by Brutus the Trojan while standing on Fore Street's easily missed granite attraction – The Brutus Stone.

Brutus in Britain

According to the legend of the Brutus Stone the origins of Totnes stretch all the way back to ancient Troy. After accidentally killing his father Brutus set off to Greece with his army of followers, where he defeated the king Pendrasu. The king gave Brutus his daughter to marry, and 324 well-stocked ships, at least one of which ended up on the River Dart. Following the advice of the oracle Diana, who suggested the Trojans should travel to an island in the Western Seas that was possessed by Giants, Brutus set sail for Great Britain – at the time called Albion. It was on the Brutus stone that he made his proclamation after landing on Britain's shores, undeterred by the giants and attracted to Totnes by its location and fish-filled rivers. Not only was Totnes named by Brutus, but it's said he named Britain after himself.

Ice Age to New Age

The Brutus legend is recorded in several ancient books, though there's little evidence to suggest any of it is true. The stone itself probably settled in its location during the great Ice Age, and may have been called several things which sounded similar to 'Brutus'. More recently, when Fore Street was widened in 1810, the stone was reduced in height from 18 inches above ground to the level of the pavement. Whether or not Brutus stood on the stone it's a town custom that royal proclamations should be read there by the mayor. No matter how true they are, the legends surrounding Brutus and the stone persist and are enjoyed to this day. Visitors to Totnes can see the stone in the pavement on their right-hand side when walking up Fore Street next to number 51.

The atmospheric town taken by the sea

Only 18 miles from Totnes the village of Hallsands near Kingsbridge in south Devon is the village that fell into the sea. To say the village is still there would be bending the truth slightly, however the remains (which are now closed) can still be seen from the safety of a viewing platform over the cliffs. No-one knows exactly when Hallsands was established although some say it was probably in about 1600 and growing in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1891 it had 37 houses, the London Inn and a population of 159 with a very close community. Most residents owned their own homes and depended on fishing, mainly crab, for a living. It was a hazardous business with irregular earnings and frequent losses at sea. Everyone, including women and children, helped haul in the boats and nets. Everything was fine until the 1890s when the Admiralty decided that the naval dockyard at Keyham near Plymouth should be expanded which required hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete. In January 1896 the construction company Sir John Jackson Ltd was granted permission to dredge shingle from the coast between Hallsands and neighbouring Beesands. Many fishermen at the time, who knew the area offshore intimately, opposed the plans saying the dredging would alter the seabed as well as the beach and what was taken would certainly not be replaced. Despite the resident’s protestations dredging began in the spring of 1897 and during the next four years some 660,000 tonnes of material were removed. Activity was eventually paused when opposition from several fishing villages grew as they saw their shingle beaches being relentlessly carried away.  
It took 18 years from the start of the dredging to the final destruction of Hallsands village. It had been assumed that the removal of any shingle would be replaced naturally but we now know that the same shingle which protects the nearby villages of Beesands and Torcross was deposited thousands of years ago during the ice ages, and is not being replaced.
  An inquiry was established in response to protests from villagers who feared the dredging might threaten their beach and village, but dredging continued after it was decided that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat. However by 1900 the level of the beach had started to fall and in the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament, Frank Mildmay complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road. The Liberal MP for the area was extremely supportive of the residents of Hallsands and on more than one occasion offered his own money to help out the residents. In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped and on 8th January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked. On 26th January 1917 a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands' defences and the village fell into the sea! Miraculously no one was hurt but many families had to relocate to neighbouring villages having lost everything. Only one house was left standing after the destruction. The owner Elizabeth Prettyjohn stubbornly refused to leave and lived there with her chickens until her death in 1964. She acted as a guide to the visitors who came over the years curious to see the remains of the village. Today her house is used as a summer holiday home. Another famous Hallsands resident was Ella Trout together with her sisters Patience, Clara and Edith. When their fisherman father, William, became sick, Patience and then Ella gave up school and operated his boat which was the only source of income for the family. William died in 1910 when Ella was 15 years old. On 8th September 1917, after the Hallsands disaster, Ella was crab fishing with her 10 year old cousin William when they saw the SS Newholm struck by a naval mine one mile south of Start Point. With William Stone, another fisherman in the vicinity, they rowed to the scene and helped rescue nine men. In recognition of her bravery she received the Order of the British Empire. The sisters, with compensation for the destruction of their cottage at Hallsands plus some earnings, built Trout's Hotel on the cliff above the deserted village. The Trouts ran the hotel successfully until 1959. More recent owners moved down from London and attracted some of their well-known friends to stay including Danny La Rue and Larry Grayson, and for years their signed photographs hung on the walls of the dining room. The hotel has since been turned into apartments now called Prospect House. In more recent years the story of Hallsands has been turned into an opera called ‘Whirlwind’ commissioned by acclaimed company Streetwise Opera and written by Will Todd, one of the country’s leading young opera composers, and Ben Duwell, and has also featured in a book by Steve Melia called “Hallsands; A Village Betrayed”. You can walk to Hallsands from the villages of Beesands or Torcross following the South West Coast Path. Beesands, albeit a small village, has a café and toilets and free car parking. Torcross is bigger with a few cafes and a pub and more (charged) parking. Please note that you can no longer drive from Blackpool Sands to Slapton Sands and then on to Torcross because of the recent storms and road damage which in itself is somewhat ironic. Hallsands and Beesands are both walkable with a moderate degree of accessibility from Torcross, which has ample (paid) parking. Beesands however has free parking. If driving from Totnes head for Dartmouth, then Slapton and finally Torcross. If you want to travel by bus you can take the 164 to Kingsbridge or the X64 to Dartmouth and then catch the number 3 to Torcross. All routes joining the coastal villages are part of the South West Coast Path and therefore accessible at all times.

Sharpham’s new event co-ordinator

More South Hams schoolchildren and families will get to experience the special environment of The Sharpham Estate, now that there is a new Education and Events Coordinator at The Sharpham Trust.
Nature events with Lisa Carnell at The Sharpham Trust
Lisa Carnell will be encouraging Totnes and Torbay primary schools to visit the Estate and learn about its rich wildlife and habitats. And as a biologist, botanist and trained teacher, she'll be sharing her own extensive science and environmental knowledge by leading some of the activities on the visits. Prior to this role, she was Education Ranger at the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust for 17 years, coordinating schools' visits. "I love plants, wildflowers and trees and I did my degree in biology, so this role is perfect for me to be able to be spreading awareness of the natural world amongst young people," said Lisa. "I really like birds as well so it's great to be able to pass on some of my love of the local wildlife." Her post has been funded for a year by the Ernest Cook Trust, a charity promoting learning from the land. In that year, Lisa will be putting on 10 nature days for local schools.

The Dart and Totnes – Bridges and Bridgetown

Flowing from two sources on Dartmoor, down to the sea at Dartmouth, Totnes is an important stop along the River Dart situated between the moors and the river's mouth. The town offers an excellent jumping off point for exploration of the river whether by foot, boat or canoe, and is the point where it becomes tidal. Even for those who just want to admire the river without getting their feet wet there are many ways to enjoy the Dart, and many things Totnes has to thank the river for – and the two bridges crossing it. Bridges and Bridgetown Totnes Bridge has the honour of being the last bridge to cross the Dart before it reaches open sea, as plans to build a railway bridge across the river mouth from Kingswear to Dartmouth in the late 1900s never came to fruition. There have been multiple bridges across the river in Totnes beginning with a river ford and evolving to the familiar stone bridge today. It was once a toll bridge that separated Bridgetown from Totnes until it was opened up on October 31st 1881 for everyone to cross. A second bridge was built in 1982 and although less picturesque than the older bridge was necessary for the increasing amounts of traffic passing through Totnes and across the Dart. It is named the Brutus Bridge after the legendary founder of the town. Whichever side of the bridge you're on there are many places to enjoy the river from. Vire Island is worth a visit for anyone looking for a nice spot to enjoy a picnic. Although not a proper island the 400m peninsula is named after the French town Totnes is twinned with (not Narnia) and is the perfect spot for contemplating the river from in the summer. And there are plenty of restaurants  and cafes to eat or enjoy a drink in, high tide or low, rain or shine.

World Breastfeeding Week begins

Mums on a Mission… Totnes on its way to becoming UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town as World Breastfeeding Week begins As World Breastfeeding Week begins on Wednesday 1st August, two mumpreneurs from Devon are delighted to announce that they are on their way to making Totnes the UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town. On a mission to improve breastfeeding rates in the UK, which has according to UNICEF some of the lowest in the world, working mums Lisa Lessware and Philippa Doyle launched their ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme in March. Widely known for its unique vibe and independent spirit, nearly every cafe and eatery on Totnes high street is now displaying the latest breastfeeding friendly badge. Over 40 cafes, eateries and businesses have signed up to the ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme in Totnes alone, all highlighting their support of breastfeeding mums. Both the NHS and UNICEF list embarrassment at feeding in public as a major barrier to breastfeeding and Lisa and Philippa wanted to do more to minimise this, helping mums be safe in the knowledge that they can do so with confidence.   blog   Lisa and Philippa are welcoming nominations for new establishments to display the badge. Gathering with local mums in Totnes to celebrate putting Totnes on the map as the UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town, they said – “We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of the scheme, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response and passion to show support to breastfeeding mums. The ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme is so important not just for mums, but to let all customers and diners that walk through the door to know that it is a breastfeeding friendly space. The more women who feel able to breastfeed confidently in public, the more normal it will become.”   blog 2     Lisa and Philippa celebrate putting Totnes on the map as one of the most breastfeeding friendly towns in the UK with local mums, ahead of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) The family friendly destination store, Dobbies Garden Centres, became the first official national retailer to sign up to the Bshirt ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme during National Breastfeeding Week in June, with the badge becoming a permanent fixture in all 34 centres throughout the UK. The scheme has been commended by leading breastfeeding specialist, trained nurse and midwife, Clare Byam-Cook. Author of the top breastfeeding guide 'What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding and What If You Can't?', Clare is a regular main speaker at The Baby Show and an expert on many sites including Annabel Karmel. Commenting on the launch of the latest scheme, Clare said: “It is well-documented that many mothers feel apprehensive about breastfeeding in public. I am delighted to support this initiative, which I hope will encourage more mothers to feel confident that, whenever they see this badge they can be assured that breastfeeding is encouraged and they will receive a warm welcome. I hope this idea takes off and that many businesses will display this badge.” blog 3 The ’Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ badge on display at Delphini's Gelato in Totnes Signups in Totnes range from cafes, restaurants, business and shops, including - Rumour, The Curator Cafe, Waterside Bistro, Hairy Barista, Maisie’s Cafe, Hill House, Mange Tout, Saveurs, South Hams Citizens Advice Bureau, The Old Bakery, Pie Street, Room 101, Seeds Bakery, The Cornish Pasty Co, Delphini's, Zero Waste, Woods Bistro, Rare Breeds Farm and Willow to name just a few. In and around the South Hams, the response has been equally positive with the likes of Riverford Field Kitchen and The Venus Company displaying the badge. blog 4   With the world spotlight on breastfeeding, the news follows the US announcement that it is now legal to breastfeed in public everywhere in the United States, following the passing of laws to legalise public breastfeeding in Idaho and Utah. Lisa and Philippa are looking forward to welcoming even more businesses to the scheme in the South Hams and beyond to help women in the UK breastfeed with confidence. To read more about the Bshirt’s ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme, register interest or nominate a venue to display the badge, visit breastfeedwithconfidence.org.uk. blog 5    

Totnes Museum re-opens this spring

The Totnes Elizabethan House & Museum is due to re-open for the season on Monday 8th April with some interesting exhibitions appealing to all ages scheduled for the year. From opening day until 25th June, the Totnes Women’s Voices exhibition will celebrate 100 years since at least some women won the hard fought for the right to vote in a general election. This exhibition features the audio/ visual presentation “Totnes Women’s Voices 1918-2018”. In it, you will hear local women and girls from age 3 to 92 give their views on politics and voting, how life has changed and what they feel still needs to change. You will also learn about local women activists from Totnes and Devon who were involved in the suffrage movement and there will be an opportunity to share your views. From 3rd July - 1st October the exhibition will switch from political to technological when the public is invited to meet “Eric”, a mini replica of the first ever British Robot constructed in 1928 by Captain WH Richards from Totnes. This replica has been specially built for Totnes Museum. In 1928 at the Royal Horticultural Hall London, to great astonishment instead of the anticipated Duke of York, the original Eric rose to its feet and gave a four-minute address to open an exhibition. In the 1930s Captain Richards built another robot, this one called George. They toured the world where George gave speeches in several languages. Totnes Museum is very pleased to have won a Place of Science award from the Royal Society to put on this exhibition about WH Richards and his pioneering work. Alongside the exhibition, Plymouth University Robotics department will be offering workshops for our schools and the museum will be hosting a discussion on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Local Heroes of Totnes

In addition to inspiring a few modern musicians Totnes has had its fair share of historic success stories. Whether it's the early exploration of Australia, or a connection to the inventor of the computer, the town has been home to important pioneers in their field. Below are four famous local heroes who have either lived in or were born in Totnes. William John Wills Visitors to the town may notice the Monolith that stands at the bottom of Fore Street. This is a monument to the explorer William John Wills, born in Totnes, the son of a local doctor. In 1861 he was part of an expedition that became the first to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria and cross Australia from North to South. Mary Wesley Although she wasn't born in Totnes the famous novelist Mary Wesley did call it her home, and while living in Totnes wrote ten bestsellers. During her lifetime she sold over three million copies of her books in total. Charles Babbage Although it's debatable whether Babbage was born in Totnes the farther of modern computing is definitely linked to the town. Not only was his Grandfather Benjamin Babbage the mayor of Totnes in 1754 but Babbage attended the King Edward VI Grammar school as well. Dorothy Elmhirst Last but not least Dorothy Elmhirst will be remembered for co-founding the Dartington Hall project with her husband Leonard. After buying the hall in 1925 the Elmhirsts set about restoring the place and turned it into a project that promoted progressive education and rural reconstruction. As Totnes continues to be an inspiring place for artists, musicians, and innovators who knows what the future might hold for those born or living in the town today. Visitors can find out more about these local heroes by visiting Totnes museum, taking a stroll out to Dartington Hall or just walking around town.

Totnes Pride set to be bloomin’ marvellous!

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The historic market town of Totnes in Devon is set to host the sixth Totnes Pride on Saturday 1st September 2018.

Social enterprise Proud2Be is laying on a whole host of events, which will bring the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and/or asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) community together with their allies, to celebrate diversity in the town.

This year’s theme is ‘Marsha Was Her Name’. In a recent blog post, Proud2Be Co-founders Jae and Max Price revealed the meaning behind the theme:

‘Marsha P. Johnson is an important figure in LGBTQIA+ history. Too often the actions of Marsha and those like her are ignored, erased and hidden; not just from what we are taught at school but in how our history is spoken about, sometimes from even within our community. It’s for this reason that we are really excited to have the opportunity to honour Marsha and those like her at this year’s Totnes Pride.’

‘Marsha’s legacy reminds us of what Pride is truly about. It is a celebration of who we are. It is a reminder of where we have come from. It is a statement of where we are going. Marsha often wore flowers in her hair, so this year we invite everyone to hold, wear and/or decorate themselves in flowers!’

This year’s special guests are Human Rights Activist, Feminist and founder of African Rainbow Family Aderonke Apata and Film makers (My Genderation) and trans campaigners Fox and Owl.

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Fox and Owl

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Aderonke Apata

The day kicks off at 10.45am outside The Dartmouth Inn with a special performance from Spectrum Choir and opening speeches. The award-winning Samba ROC Band, will then lead a procession up Fore Street and High Street to Totnes Civic Hall at 11.30am. The road closure will be in place between 10.30am – 1pm at Ticklemore Street and from the bottom of Fore Street up to where the High Street meets Castle Street.

Community bus service Bob the Bus will be running a park and ride service from 10am at King Edward VI Community College (KEVICC) and will also be transporting wheelchair users and those with mobility issues up the procession at 11.15.

It is at the Civic Hall from midday, where visitors can enjoy workshops, talks and live music, community stalls, Dot’s Cafe, a youth space and a variety of family-friendly activities including art and craft, slime making, face painting and much more.

There will be a panel discussion from 3:00pm at Pie Street, where local and national activists will discuss the theme: ‘Can We Be Proud of Pride?’.

There will be registered British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters present to interpret the opening speeches and the panel discussion.

The fun continues into the evening at Totnes Pride After Party from 7.00pm at Totnes Civic Hall, which will be hosted by The Ambiguous A and feature live music from popular Disco Funk band Golddust and DJ sets from Mamma Boogie Oogie, Rhi Rhi Rhythm and Madame Souza.

Due to a successful bid to People’s Health Trust using money raised by HealthContact through The Health Lottery, entry to all daytime events are free. Tickets to the After Party are £10.00 (16 and over) and are available to purchase online and at Totnes Pride day event.

To mark the event Totnes Town Council will once again, raise the rainbow flag over Totnes Civic Hall. The flag raising ceremony will take place on Monday 27th August at 6.30pm, followed by a Totnes LGBTQIA+ History Tour led by local Writer, Historian and Publisher Bob Mann.

Inspired by their own experiences of bullying, discrimination and shame- identical twins Jae & Max Price set up Proud2Be in 2011 when they recorded the first Proud2Be video. Since then various public figures and members of the public have contributed to the campaign.

As well as campaigning and hosting Totnes Pride, Proud2Be facilitates various groups and events, including a social group, activity days, fundraiser discos and more. In 2014 Proud2Be launched its youth project which now includes a youth group and a counselling & mentoring service.

Proud2Be delivers workshops to school students and awareness training to organisations around the UK.

About this year’s event, Proud2Be co-founder Max said:

“The Pride Action Group have been working tirelessly for the past year to ensure that Totnes Pride continues to be an event that we can all be proud of. For us, Pride is both a celebration and a protest and we invite everyone to come and join us for the sixth Pride in the town.”

Proud2Be are looking for volunteers to help out on the day. If you would like to get involved, please email Jules & Dot at volunteer@proud2be.co.uk.

Proud2Be are also encouraging local businesses and residents to show their support by displaying rainbow flags during the week of Pride. These are available to buy for £7 from Proud2Be.

To find out more about Totnes Pride or to buy an After-Party ticket, please visit totnespride.co.uk or email info@proud2be.co.uk.

Slowing down fast fashion for a worthy cause…

. . . .Over £500 raised at local charity event for Breast Cancer Now


South Hams ladies helped raise £543 for Breast Cancer Now in the space of three hours, at the first-ever Sustainable Shopping event of its kind, hosted in Totnes on Thursday 28th March.

Popping up between 6pm -  9pm at Coffee Couture in the town centre, the event took place as part of fundraising efforts by a local young woman. Laura Quick, from Totnes, will be attempting her first marathon in London this April on behalf of Breast Cancer Now.

Guests were able to delve into a selection of one-off finds, participate in a lucky dip with a medley of beauty gifts and have the chance to win a variety of raffle prizes – with live music provided by local musician and Laura’s brother, Harry Quick.

All proceeds from the event, both from sales of donated clothes and the raffle prize draw, will go directly to the charity ahead of the 26.2-mile challenge, which will take place one month after the charity fundraiser on the 28th April 2019.

The local bar and coffee shop was transformed for one night only in a vintage-esque clothes emporium, with all hands-on deck to help from friends and family. A flurry of clothes were donated for the event, after local women gave wardrobes an early spring clean.

Laura said: “We want to say a huge thank you to everyone that came to the event and to everyone that took the time to go through wardrobes and make it possible in the first place. We are so grateful to local businesses for all the donations to the raffle, as the amazing line up of prizes definitely helped spur on purchases!

“Training for the marathon has been much harder than I thought, but I feel very lucky to be able to run and in turn, do something towards helping raise some money for such a brilliant charity. The work that the Breast Cancer Now team do is so important, not just for women diagnosed, but for the families that are affected and to help fund vital research to prevent it. The charity believes that if we all act now, by 2050, no one will die from breast cancer - so every pound raised is truly appreciated to help us all play a part in that. Couldn't have done it without the massive help of my family, friends and most importantly, my wonderful mum!”

Organisers where overwhelmed with the support from local businesses who kindly donated prizes to the raffle, including – Eco Laundry, Dartmouth Ice Cream, Moved to Move, Dart Marina Hotel & Spa, Bayards Cove Inn, Lovely as It Seams, local artist Becky Bettesworth, Austin’s Department Store, Boots in Newton Abbot, Vincent Trading, Hill House Nurseries, Woolston Accounts, Gem Rose Hair, The Design Sheppard, Liten Hem, Food for Thought and London based designers Fee Greening and Luke Edward Hall.


The River Dart and Totnes – Trade and the Town

As well as being a key feature of the town's picturesque landscape the River Dart has been an important part of trade in Totnes for hundreds of years. Today Totnes is a tourist hotspot but up until the late 20th century it was an important trading post on a busy river. Wool and Wealth Totnes owes much of its Elizabethan charm to the River Dart, the trade it enabled making many merchants rich and allowing them to build luxurious houses that still stand to this day. In the 16th century Wool and tin were the main exports, and helped Totnes to become the second wealthiest community in the country. As Totnes failed to respond to new trends in cloth manufacturing, and tin production in Ashburton declined, the boom failed to last and trade on the river diminished. However, as of 1636 it was still rated the country's fifth wealthiest community. As debris from the last of the tin mines made it difficult to navigate the river, traders started to go to Dartmouth instead. Plains Sailing It may not have recaptured the town's Elizabethan heyday but the area of Totnes now known as The Plains was once a thriving district of factories exporting the goods they produced via The Dart. Notable businesses included cider makers Bentall, Lloyd and Co, and Symons and Co. Today upmarket residences can now be found where the factories once stood. Although the coming of the railway reduced the demand for traders on the river the Dart remains an important part of the town's economy as a tourist attraction. Anyone visiting Totnes can make the most of the beautiful river, whether it's by hiring a canoe, walking along its banks, or taking a cruise down to Dartmouth.