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.

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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.

Totnes is also a Fairtrade Town

Situated at the head of the Dart Estuary and surrounded by beautiful countryside, renowned for its history, retail, eateries and alternative lifestyle, Totnes has become a destination town, for many reasons, for visitors and locals alike. But, did you know that Totnes is also a Fairtrade Town and has been so since 2011? The town is home to a range of small independent retailers selling ethical products, whole foods and, most importantly, fair trade goods. Totnes even has two award winning shops for fair trade. One for Fairtrade food and one for fair trade gifts and homewares. Each year businesses and organisations are invited to enter the Business Awards by Fairtrade South West. These awards are open to everyone from national chains to sole traders, universities to hotels, food retailers and cafés. More information on this can be found at www.bristolfairtrade.org.uk/south-west-fairtrade-business-award. At this point you may have noticed that the phrases Fair-trade  and fair trade have been used. To clarify, Fairtrade is a global movement with a strong and active presence in the UK, represented by the Fairtrade Foundation, and works with producers of foods, tea, coffee and cotton. Fair trade is when craft and artisan producers of gift and homewares in developing countries are paid a fair price for their work by people and businesses in developed countries. These businesses are certificated as a fair trade supplier by the British Association of Fair Trade Suppliers (BAFTS) and/or the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO). Key Principles of Fair Trade: • Trading practices are fair and not one-sided. • Prices paid are fair and sufficient for producers and workers to earn more than enough to meet their day-to-day needs. • Payments are often made in advance to ensure the supplier can fulfil orders. • The payment of premiums for producers and workers to use for infrastructure projects. • Producers and workers have a voice, whether organised into groups or involved in workplaces where there is freedom of association. • Safe working conditions, non-discrimination and welfare of children. The start of Totnes’ journey to become a recognised Fairtrade Town began September 2006 when a small steering group was established and they began with asking Totnes Town Council to use Fairtrade tea and coffee and to ascertain which shops sold Fairtrade products. In less than a month it was established that 5 independent businesses and two high street brands in Totnes were selling Fairtrade products. This number was to grow. Currently, there are 32 independent retailers in Totnes selling fair trade foods and homewares. Between 2007 and 2010 the Totnes Fairtrade Group began to investigate how the town was to become a recognised Fairtrade town- and consider how to meet the 5 goals as set by The Fairtrade Foundation:- 1.Local council to pass a resolution supporting Fairtrade and agrees to serve Fairtrade products. 2.A range of Fairtrade products are readily available in the area's retail outlets and served in local cafes, restaurants and pubs. 3.Local workplaces and community organisations support Fairtrade and use Fairtrade products wherever possible. 4.Media coverage and events raise awareness and understanding of Fairtrade across the community. 5.A local Fairtrade steering group is convened to ensure the Fairtrade Town campaign continues to develop and gain new support. By July 2010, following a lot of hard work by the volunteer group, an application was made to the Fairtrade Foundation. And in April 2011 Totnes was granted Fairtrade Status. Every two years since the group have to reapply, showing planned actions, that objectives set 2 years previous had been achieved and then set a programme for the coming 2 years. In February 2007 the Totnes Fairtrade group promoted their first Fairtrade Fortnight, which is organised nationally by the Fairtrade Foundation and locally by volunteer groups. They approached schools, offering to take assemblies and explain what Fairtrade is. The local churches and church groups were approached and asked if they would consider using Fairtrade tea and coffee for their meetings, they were very supportive of the idea and soon all were using Fairtrade teas and coffees for their meetings and social functions. This celebration of Fairtrade runs from the final Monday in February for two weeks; and every year since 2007 the group go out to the schools and the businesses in Totnes, to increase awareness of Fairtrade products, whether that that be food, clothes, homewares or gifts. Over the years a number of growers from developing nations have been invited to Totnes to give talks on how Fairtrade has affected them. These visits are arranged by Devon Fairtrade and each local group. The Totnes Fairtrade group raise funds during the year to contribute to the speakers travel and visa costs (along with other South West Fairtrade Groups who will also hold an event). This year Victor Biwot, Operations Manager from Sereet Tea Corporation in the Nandi Hills, Kenya. He will give a power point presentation to local primary and secondary school pupils at a conference being facilitated by King Edward VI Community College, Totnes, so they can see where he lives, the tea plantation and factory in which he works and how Fairtrade has benefited his life. During this year's Fairtrade Fortnight - 26th February to 11th March 2018 - many food and retail outlets across Totnes will have counter displays and leaflets explaining all about Fairtrade. This year's theme is "Come on in" and meet the farmers and workers who grow our food, whose lives have been improved thanks to Fairtrade. The Totnes Fairtrade Group have used many novel ways to raise the awareness of Fairtrade and to raise funds. From being dressed as bananas for the local carnival to selling fruit smoothies, using Fairtrade fruit donated by local businesses, during a recent market event. This type of fundraising, along with coffee mornings, is now to have signs erected on the approaches to Totnes declaring that Totnes is a Fairtrade Town. Fairtrade changes the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers in developing countries. It's when the price we pay for products gives enough to producers for them to afford life's essentials - like food, education and healthcare. So Totnes is a great place to live, visit, eat and shop. It is an ethical town, it is a Fairtrade Town – and proud of it.  

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.