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Totnes Town Wall

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Totnes.
In the historic county of Devonshire.
Modern Authority of Devon.
1974 county of Devon.
Medieval County of Devon.

OS Map Grid Reference: SX801605
Latitude 50.43253° Longitude -3.69025°

Totnes Town Wall has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The Anglo-Saxon borough defences probably enclosed the top of the hill, commanding the navigable reaches of the Dart, on the line later followed by the medieval wall, whose circuit is still marked by South Street, Guildhall Yard and North Street. The motte and bailey castle built at the Conquest by Judhael de Totnes was inserted at the highest point of the hill, in the north-west corner of the Saxon burgh. The counterscarp of the defences of the inner bailey may preserve the line of the borough curtilage. The 1st murage grant was received in 1264; a 2nd which was surrendered because nothing was being done, in 1355. The walls mainly date to the late C14 with extensive repairs in 1639. Remains of the defences survive at the North Gate, Castle Street; No 2, High Street; and the Baste Walls, South Street. The West Gate was demolished circa 1810. The East Gate Probably altered and refronted circa 1835 in Gothic style when the former round-arched entrance and footway (the "needles eye") was replaced by a wide, flat-arched gate-way. (Listed Building Report)

The limits of the Saxon burh are probably represented by the lines of the medieval walls. This small area, about 10 acres in all, was surrounded at first by an earthen rampart, which was replaced by stone walls in the 12th century. (A Totnes priory deed (n.d. but before 1205 makes it clear there were walls at that date (Watkin, History of Totnes Priory and Medieval Town, 97) The ridge on which the burh was founded rises sharply to 100 ft. above the river at its highest ,point, where the Norman castle was built. By the end of the 12th century it is likely that the built-up area had extended down the hill from the E. gate to the river's edge, where the first bridge is said to have been built by the time of John (before 1216). (Hoskins 1954)

Apart from two small fragments the town wall has been completely destroyed. In Saxon times Totnes formed part of the Royal demesne and is described in Domesday book as having 95 burgesses within and 15 without the walls. The town was entered by four gateways two of which the north and east are still standing. SX79996043-SX79956047 town wall (MDV 8169) reputed to have run alongside this alley's south side. SX80276048-SX80286046 (MDV 9103) a small portion of town wall ragstone built survives here 16.0m long, 2.0m high. SX80286042- SX80276020? (MDV 9102) approximately 86.0m of town wall survives here as the east wall of buildings. Ragstone and about 3.5m high (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card 1951).
Totnes town wall forms an irregular ellipse in plan. Only a short length of wall remains near the East Gate, which is much altered from its original design, and also the North Gate of Norman origin, just below the castle. It is still possible to walk along much of the perimeter of the wall (Copeland).
Report compiled to bring attention to the remains of the town defences which are potentially threatened by development. It is suggested that a policy of protection be formulated to enforce the retention of standing walls. An overview of the early history of the town is given with particular reference to the defences. The Saxon township would have been enclosed by ditches and embankments, probably with a timber paling. Construction of the Norman motte would have absorbed the earlier west gate and the new gateway probably incorporated the 'Brodestone'. Documents relating to the defences of the town are minimal. In 1265, Henry III gave a grant of murage for five years. In 1313, a town court heard that the walls were in bad repair and it is suggested that some effort was subsequently made to improve the defences. When Leland visited the town in circa 1538, he noted that 'this town hath been walled but the walls be clene down. A man may see where the foundation was of them' (Bellchambers). (Devon and Dartmoor HER)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:52

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