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.
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.
Charity invests £1.6million in a new retreat venue at Sharpham
The Sharpham Trust is investing £1.6 million to convert a stable yard behind Sharpham House to a new centre for mindfulness courses and retreats.
The charity, which works to connect people to nature and themselves, has begun the creation of The Coach House - which will feature a new meditation space and 18 en-suite rooms.
The current, disused stableyard is a Grade II-listed building, dating back to 1760 when Sharpham House was built for the naval sea captain Philemon Pownoll.
Now work has begun to develop the single-storey quadrangle directly behind Sharpham House into a new retreat centre where participants can stay, amid historic grounds thought to have been landscaped by Capability Brown.
The Trust runs an annual programme of courses and retreats featuring mindfulness meditation and nature connection on the wider Sharpham Estate and on the adjacent River Dart.
“Prior to the pandemic we were finding that our programme was fully booked with long waiting lists,” said Trust Director Julian Carnell.
“As a charity we want to help as many people as possible and so creating more accommodation became a priority. The stable yard had become rundown and so there was a fantastic opportunity to give the building a new lease of life and restore it as part of the Sharpham Estate’s important heritage,” he said.
Retreats in The Coach House
The Coach House will join the Trust’s other retreat venues Sharpham House, The Barn Retreat and Woodland Campsite and it will offer a weekly programme for those in need of developing and deepening their mindfulness practice, compassion and their connection to nature.
Participants staying there will be able to spend a week living in community surrounded by the amazing natural environment of the Sharpham Estate.
They will spend time volunteering in the 18th century Walled Garden – helping to grow food for the retreats at Sharpham – and conserving the heritage and wildlife of the wider estate.
Helping 1,000 more people a year
Chairman of Sharpham’s Trustees Daniel Stokes said: “Our mission is to connect people to nature and foster mindfulness and wellbeing. There is now a plethora of research showing the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature.
“This project will enable us to help another 1,000 people a year, giving them a chance to spend time slowing down and reflecting in a beautiful natural setting,” he said.
Using local construction companies
The Trust is using South Devon firm Carpenter Oak to build the frame for an eye-catching glass structure linked to The Coach House which will be the new centre’s meditation and dining space.
Classic Builders, a local South West-based construction company, has been awarded the contract to convert the Coach House and hopes to complete the works by January 2022.
“We are delighted to be working with The Sharpham Trust on this significant local project. The Coach House is an important listed building, not only in a sensitive location but also next to Sharpham House. We’re looking forward to drawing on our years of experience delivering comparable works in similar settings to make this project a success,” said Adam Brimacombe, Director at Classic Builders.
The Trust has been busy over the last ten years developing its charitable programmes and refurbishing the heritage of its listed landscape and properties. Every year, some 2,000 people attend retreats, courses and events on the Sharpham Estate.
Our fish fingers are made using line caught pollack from Devon and are battered in panko breadcrumbs, dill and spices. Our katsu fillets are inspired by Aarik’s (owner and chef) time working in South-East Asia and are made with plaice landed in Brixham.
The takeaway is available every day from noon Tuesday to Saturday. We are located on Ticklemore Street in Totnes.
The Rotherfold Artisan Market was created by The Kitchen Table, a small outside catering business based in Totnes and Me & East, a small shop selling crafts made by British artisans. We wanted to bring artisanal handmade gifts, home wares, food and drink to central Totnes, based in an under-used but lovely square at the top of town.
The crafts for sale will be made by hand-picked local makers and small businesses, there will be ready-to-eat food and drink as well as live music on our buskers stage.
Thrilling images of animals and birds have been caught on camera on the Sharpham Estate, near Totnes, South Devon.
Foxes, a tawny owl and a hedgehog are amongst the creatures caught unawares by hidden cameras on the Estate, around the site of the Sharpham Trust’s rewilding project which began earlier this year.
The Trust was awarded £177,400 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to make more space for wildlife and take action for nature in a three-year project called Sharpham Wild for People. The grant will help in turning the Sharpham Estate organic, re-wilding parts of its historic landscape and helping more people engage with the nature there – from members of the public to students of conservation learning to use camera traps.
“These first pictures of hedgehogs are amazing because as far as we know this is the first record of them being this far into the estate for over 20 years.” said Simon Roper, from Ambios Ltd, the nature conservation & education organisation which deployed the cameras via its trainees.
“Although our rewilding project has only just begun it is so encouraging to get this image of an animal likely to benefit from our future work in restoring nature. Sharing these pictures is a step towards connecting people with nature,” he added.
The day- and night-time images show a variety of feathered and furred animals, from a Tawny Owl in a tree to a Blackcap by a pool.
There’s a fox, believed to be a nursing mum, a song thrush bathed in the sun’s rays, a crow close-up and a variety of songbirds beside a pond.
One of the happiest sights is a hedgehog, caught in a night-sight shot, snuffling in undergrowth.
“Hedgehogs have been in decline for many years,” said Jack Skuse, Director of Ambios Ltd, the nature conservation training organisation helping Sharpham Trust to deliver The National Lottery Heritage Fund project. “It was exciting to catch one on camera. This is the mating season, so perhaps this one was looking for a mate.”
The images were collected by students on an Ambios course in camera trapping. The hedgehog pictures were gathered by student whose place is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Organic conversion for Sharpham farmland
An important aspect of the project Sharpham Wild for People is the exploration of organic farming techniques such as less-intensive grazing, in order to support biodiversity.
Ambios Ltd already operates Lower Sharpham Farm, an organic farm on the Sharpham Estate, and has just signed a tenancy to take over a further 50 acres of Sharpham parkland, which will be restored to parkland and wood pasture (a habitat with trees that would have characterised Sharpham parkland at the time of its design, in 1762). An additional 137 acres of land has been leased to farmer David Camp for organic conversion.
“A key mission for Sharpham is to care for wildlife and enable people to connect with our natural world,” said Trust Director Julian Carnell.
“Because of this project, almost all the estate land will be managed organically which has proven benefits for wildlife,” he said.
The effects of Covid-19
The project was to include school visits, public events, volunteering & training opportunities this summer and autumn, in order to enable a wider range of people to engage with and understand the land’s natural heritage.
The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that these have been postponed. However, the Trust hopes to start some of these in September, and is pressing ahead with other project goals such as introducing livestock, fencing and surveying wildlife.