Totnes in 1843
TOTNESS, or TOTNES, a parliamentary borough in the hundred of Coleridge in Devonshire, 23 miles south by west of Exeter, the county town ; 190 or 191 miles west-south-west of the General Post-Office, London, by Staines, Basingstoke, Andover, Amesbury, Wincaunton, Ilmonster, Honiton, Exeter, and Newton Bushell ; 200 miles, namely, 166 miles by the Great Western and Bristol and Exeter Railways to Taunton (including the distance from the Post-Office to the London terminus), and from thence 34 miles farther by road through Wellington, Collumpton, and Exeter.
Totness is a place of great antiquity, and is mentioned by Risdon (Survey of Devon) as the place where Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon landed on their arrival from the Continent to oppose Vortigern. Risdon gives Bede as his authority, but we have not been able to trace the passage in the Historia Ecclesiastica or other works of that writer. The name Totenes occurs in some manuscripts of Nennius, c. iii. Totness is described in the Exon Domesday as a borough containing ninety-five burgesses within, and fifteen without the borough ; it was held by Juhell de Totenais, or Toteneis, in both which ways the name is written. Juhell founded here a Cluniac priory, cell to the abbey of St. Sergius and St. Bachus at Angers : this priory was suppressed at the time of the general suppression of monasteries under Henry VIII, when its yearly revenues were estimated at £124, 10 shillings and 2½ pence gross. Juhell (or, as some call him, Judael) erected also a castle at Totness, and made it the head of his barony.
The area of the parish of Totness is 1,170 acres ; the number of houses in 1831 was 404, viz., 375 inhabited by 731 families, 18 uninhabited, and 11 building : the population was 3,442, a very small part agricultural. The town stands on the slope of a hill on the west side of the river Dart, over which there is a modern bridge of three arches : across the bridge, on the east side of the river is a small suburb, in the manor of Bridgetown, in the parish of Berry Pomeroy ; the manor of Bridgetown, which comprehends 241 acres, and had in 1831, 78 houses and a population of 714, has for parliamentary purposes, been added to the borough, giving it an area of 1,411 acres, 482 houses, and a population of 4,156. The town is partially lighted, and watched by a private subscription : the houses are commonly white with slated roofs : the principal street runs down the hill to the bridge, and is paved : several of the houses are ancient, with upper stories projecting over the footpath, and supported by pillars : in the middle of the main street is an ancient gateway, originally belonging to the town-wall ; and on an artificial mound of great elevation, commanding a fine view of the town and the surrounding country, is the circular keep of the ancient castle.
The church, which is on the north side of the town, behind the houses of the main street, is a handsome structure, with a well proportioned tower, with pinnacles, at the west end. It contains a handsomely-carved stone screen, painted and gilded, and a plain stone pulpit : the alter-piece is of classical design, not in keeping with the Gothic architecture of the church. The church is built of a red stone, having the appearance of brick. There are meeting-houses for Independents, Unitarians, and Wesleyan Methodists. There are a guild-hall and a small gaol, a small theatre, and an assembly-room.
There is no manufacture carried on at Totness, the serge manufacture, formerly carried on, having been given up ; but it is a place of some trade, especially in corn, coal, and culm, which are imported, and in cider, which is exported. The river Dart is navigable for vessels of 100 tons up to the town ; there is a salmon fishery in the river above the town. Many of the townsmen are seafaring men and fishermen. There is a weekly market on Saturday, a great cattle-market monthly, and two yearly fairs. Races are held yearly.
Totness received its first municipal charter from King John, but we have seen that it existed as a borough long before that time. The municipal borough comprehends the town, but not the whole parish. It has sent two members to parliament from the 23rd year of Edward I. The number of parliamentary electors in 1835-6 was 312, viz., 280 £10 householders and 32 freemen ; in 1839-40, 341, viz., 311 £10 householders and 30 freemen. By the Municipal Reform Act the borough has four aldermen and twelve councillors, but is not to have a commission of the peace, except upon petition and grant. A more extended boundary, for municipal purposes, has been recommended.
The living is a vicarage, in the rural deanery and archdeaconry of Totton, or Totnes, and in the diocese of Exeter, of the clear yearly value of £200, with a glebe-house. There were in the parish in 1833, three dame-schools, with 52 children of both sexes, and thirteen other day-schools ; of which the grammar-school had two scholars on the foundation ; the Blue-Coat School, supported partly by endowment, partly by yearly subscription, 70 children ; the national school, 136 children ; and eleven other schools, 339 children. There were also two Sunday-schools, with 262 children. Kennicott, the eminent Hebraist, and Lye, the Anglo-Saxon scholar, were natives of Totness.