“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.

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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.

Dartington’s New Direction

Su Carroll looks at the changing focus on food at Dartington. In 1925, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought the run-down Dartington Estate near Totnes. They were visionaries who began what they called the “Dartington Experiment” – bringing together other like-minded, creative people for education and inspiration. In the early days, the couple spearheaded changes to the estate – Schumacher College, Dartington Hall School and Dartington Tweed Mill were established, followed by Dartington Glass and The Shops at Dartington. Times change, and in 2015 Dartington Hall Trust held Open Space meetings following the arrival of CEO Rhodri Samuel to discuss proposals for the gardens, development, land use, food, arts, social justice and community of enterprises. One of the areas earmarked for expansion is food, with chef Oliver Rowe being appointed as Dartington Hall Trust’s Director of Food and Drink. It’s a good fit for the Dartington ethos – Oliver is the man whose trials in setting up a London restaurant with locally- sourced food was recorded in the BBC documentary, Urban Chef. Oliver’s appointment to the team signals “more joined-up thinking” he says. “Dartington is an amazing place. It offers a broad spectrum of the elements you need as a person to approach life and any given situation. It’s a holistic approach and I love that; it’s why I’m here. We look at everything from every angle.” Dartington is home to The White Hart Bar and Restaurant – holder of a Sustainable Restaurant Association star, The Roundhouse Café which offers drinks and light snacks, and a new space – The Green Table which has an informal atmosphere with big tables, a deli-style counter, an open- plan kitchen and a large terrace with tables and chairs. Oliver’s job is to advise and guide using everything he’s learned about sourcing locally and responsibly. He’s been working with The Green Table head chef Tara Vaughan- Hughes to develop an interesting menu in a space which is “quite a departure” for Dartington. “Sometimes you create an audience when you give people something they’re not expecting. The Green Table was like this for Dartington – a completely fresh approach.” He will also help to strengthen the links between tenant farmers on the Dartington estate who farm the land in innovative ways that benefit the community. As his experiences on Urban Chef will testify, it isn’t as easy as it looks. “It can be difficult to work with really small producers,” he admits. “Some of the ingredients that we need are hard to find in the volume we want. Then it’s about menu planning and discussing with the producers what we’re cooking and making sure they know what we’re about. We’re about great ingredients, locally sourced, being considerate to the environment and working with people in the area. We have respect for the produce, the animals and staff. That’s our food concept.” Oliver started cooking as a teenager, working in the kitchen of an art school in Tuscany, run by his cousin, the sculptor and art historian Nigel Konstam. He learned from Italian women how to make simple pasta dishes that owed a lot to the landscape surrounding him. At the age of 22, he wandered into the kitchens of Moro in London looking for work and found himself honing his craft there. Stints at restaurants in London and France followed before he opened a café in London and then a restaurant, Konstam (after his grandmother) at the Prince Albert – the focus of the Urban Chef series. “My mum was a very, very good cook, and so was my grandmother, and I definitely have a connection to that period in time. One of the great things about the chefs at Dartington is they’re not throwing anything away; there’s an appreciation for the ingredients – the way they’re cooked and presented. It’s about keeping it simple,” Oliver adds. London-based Oliver’s commitment to Dartington is three days a week but he says it’s no hardship to come to “a stunning” part of the world. “It’s not a million miles from London and it has a good vibe. There’s a real sense of community.” So, is Dartington going to be a deep-fat fryer free zone? Oliver laughs “We do have deep-fat fryers! You can’t knock a good chip and we do great ones at The White Hart. After all, everyone loves fish and chips, but we make sure we get potatoes that are sustainably sourced.”

Totnes to Sharpham walk

By Coast & Country Cottages With the Totnes to Sharpham walk so picturesque, we just had to make a visual guide to show you the natural beauty of one of South Devons glorious walks. This moderately easy walk along along the Dart Valley trail takes you to Sharpham Vineyard, where you can sample locally-produced wine and cheese! The bustling ancient market town of Totnes is situated at head of the estuary of the River Dart, and is the starting point to The Dart Valley Trail. Read more.