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.
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.