Totnes Castle is a classic Norman motte and bailey castle, founded soon after the Conquest to overawe the Saxon town. Situated on a promontory, commanding the River Dart, Totnes Castle was built by the Normans at a point where three valleys meet. Earliest surviving parts of Totnes Castle date from the 11th century, in the form of earth works surrounding the site, with a later motte and bailey castle being constructed on the built-up earthworks. The stone work of Totnes Castle that has survived is likely to have been built over the framework of previous timber fortifications, as was common practice in this period. During the 13th century the large, circular shell keep was built on top of the motte, but was reconstructed at the beginning of the 14th century when other renovation work was carried out, including the rebuilding of the entrance arch and stairways within the thickness of the walls.
This circular stone keep stands to parapet height even today, and remains almost complete with the various shaped arrow slits visible around the top. Moreover, within the shell keep, stone foundations of a square tower have also survived. Externally, a ditch separates the keep from the inner bailey. Although at one time this completely encompassed the motte, parts have now been filled in. The curtain wall around the inner bailey has largely disappeared, along with the domestic buildings contained within it, save for a few of the original foundations. Further protection was afforded to Totnes Castle by a moat, although again this been filled in over the years. Beyond the moat, an outer bailey would have provided farmland for Totnes Castle rather than any additional protection. The Inner Bailey is accessible to wheelchair users. However the Motte and Keep cannot be accessed by wheelchairs due to the steep slope and stone steps. Assistance dogs are welcome.
The name Totnes derives from the Saxon word for a fort or a lookout on a ridge. The town was originally a fortified Saxon settlement, built to protect the upper reaches of the river from Viking raiding parties. It was one of the five Devon towns originally mentioned in the Domesday Book and was one of the wealthiest towns in medieval Devon. The town’s wealth and prosperity came from the export of both wool from Dartmoor and locally mined tin. This was due to the location as both the highest navigable port and the lowest bridging place on the River Dart. In 1206, Totnes was granted a charter by King John. Thus it became a free town, able to make its own laws. The merchants of the town also obtained permission to establish a guild. The original guildhall at Totnes was located in the High Street.
The Totnes Guildhall was originally part of the Benedictine Priory, and has since fulfilled a number of purposes. It is situated on Ramparts Walk and is a well-preserved 16th century building. The Hall, which was constructed in 1533, still serves as a council chamber. It has been a school, a courthouse and a Guildhall. The present building dates from 1553 and is still used by the town council for meetings and functions. See the original cells where, until 1887, prisoners awaited trial and punishment. Climb the 17th century stairs to the elegant Council Chamber, with its plaster frieze and the table where Oliver Cromwell sat in 1646, and admire the ceremonial robes, most of them still in use, in the Mayor’s Parlour. The Guildhall is only wheelchair accessible on the ground floor. They welcome assistance dogs.
Totnes Elizabethan House Museum is housed within an Elizabethan merchant's house that was built c.1575 for the Kelland family. The house has many original features and has been carefully restored. Totnes Museum has twelve galleries, a courtyard, and a herb garden. The collections date from 5000BC onwards, including coins minted in Totnes during Saxon times, and concern the cultural, economic, and social history of Totnes. Imagine yourself in the main living room for the merchant and his family this is the Fore Hall. It now houses a collection of outstanding Jacobean furniture, including a splendid tester bed and chests. By the fireplace is a baby and an explanation of swaddling – Elizabethan nappies! Take a look at the interesting collection of original bottles that would have contained Victorian pills and potions - with an interactive display of smells. The Gallery leads to the back stairs and one of the highlights of the Museum, the Elizabethan Kitchen. Get up close, handle some of the reproductions and smell the herbs and spices. See what the old dishes looked like. A rare treat!
At the top of the museum is a room dedicated to Charles Babbage, who was a most outstanding and prolific inventor and the most illustrious son of Totnes. His most important invention, designed in the 1820s and named the 'Difference Engine', was imagined as a massive machine, intended to calculate accurate figures. Unfortunately the Government of the day would not grant Babbage sufficient money to build it. Finally it was built by the Science Museum in London – in time for the bicentenary of his birth, in 1991. It worked precisely as he had predicted. In the 1830s he designed his 'Analytical Engine' which was the true precursor of the modern computer; it was multi-functional and designed to use punched cards, as were used on early electronic computers.
He also turned his talents to investigating the Post Office and made recommendations that resulted in the world's first postage stamps. It is thought that he developed the first ophthalmoscope allowing inspection inside the eye. He wrote a book to help consumers understand life assurance; he developed a system for the decipherment of codes and he produced the first coloured lighting installation for use on a theatre stage. Next came the prototype of the submarine, now used in naval warfare; a safety device, we call the cow-catcher – famous on American trains – was his idea; he pioneered work in Operational Research which has impact on factory processes today. Finally, his most important invention; second only to his Analytical Engine – he called it an Occulting Light – was a light that gave flashes of predetermined length and spacing between, allowing the sending of messages over great distances. From this the signalling system of the modern lighthouse was developed. They regret that there is only wheelchair access to the ground floor in the museum. Guide dogs are welcome and there are a number of objects to handle and a wealthe of sensory experiences.
Castle Location : Castle Street, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5NU
Guildhall Location : The Guildhall, Ramparts Walk, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5QH
Museum Location : Totnes Elizabethan House Museum, 70 Fore Street, Totnes TQ9 5RU
Transport : Totnes (National Rail) 5 - 10 minutes. Bus Routes : B1B, B2F, B2H and B2R stop close by.
Opening Times Castle: Daily 10:00 - 18:00.
Opening Times Guildhall: Monday to Friday 11:00 - 15:00.
Opening Times Museum: Daily 10:30 - 16:00.
Tickets Castle: Adults £4.00; Concessions £3.60; Children £2.40
Tickets Guildhall: Free
Tickets Museum: Adults £3.00; Children £1.50
Tel: 0370 333 1181
Museum Tel: 01803 863821