From White's Devonshire Directory of 1850

TORRINGTON, (GREAT) is an ancient borough, and clean and well-built market town pleasantly seated on a bold eminence, on the north-east side of the picturesque valley of the Torridge river and canal, 34 miles N.W. by W. of Exeter; 6 miles S.S.E. of Bideford; 10 miles S.S.W. of Barnstaple; and 196 miles W. by S. of London. It is the head of a large union, and its parish contains 3419 souls, and about 3640 acres of land, including Moortown, Norwood, Staple Vale, Beam, many scattered farm-houses, and some extensive commons, the enclosure of which is opposed by the inhabitants. The Trustees of the late Lord Rolle are lords of the manor and barony, and owners of most of the soil; and the rest belongs to J.H. Furse, Esq., Archdeacon Stevens, Mrs. Stevens, and a few smaller owners. The barony of Torrington belonged anciently to a family of its own name, and after being for some time divided among their co-heiresses, it passed to the Crown, of which it was subsequently held by the Hollands. Queen Mary granted it to Jas. Bassett, Esq., whose son sold it to Sir John Fortescue, from whose family it passed to the Rolles. The celebrated Gen. Monk, Duke of Albemarle, was created Earl of Torrington in 1660, but the title became extinct on his death in 1668. In the following year, Arthur Herbert was created Earl of Torrington, but dying without issue in 1716, the title again became extinct. In 1716, Thomas Newport was created Baron Torrington, but the title died with him in 1719. Sir George Byng was created Viscount Torrington in 1721, and the title has since been enjoyed by six of his descendants, and is now held by the Right Hon. George Byng, Viscount Torrington, and Baron Byng. who resides at Yorkes Place, Kent. Torrington Castle, which appears to have been erected in 1340, by Richard de Merton, who married an heiress of the Torrington family, stood on the south side of the town, near the edge of it high and steep precipice, overlooking the river Torridge. Its site is now a bowling-green, and near it is a column, commemorative of the bottle of Waterloo. There are now but few vestiges of the castle, and its chapel, which had been converted into a schoolhouse, was taken down in 1780. Beam House, which was formerly a seat of the Rolles, is now occupied by A.R. Hole, Esq. Torrington was formerly a parliamentary borough, but the burgesses were exonerated from the burden of sending members to parliament, at their own request, in 1368. They stated in their petition that they had never been subject to this burden till the 21st of the then king's reign, when the sheriff, to their great injury, summoned them to send two members to parliament. Their prayer was answered but it is recoded that the borough sent members to parliament sixteen times before the 21st of Edward III., although they had not been summoned from the 15th till the 21st of that reign. Torrington was incorporated by Queen Mary, and a charter of the 15th of James I. It received another charter in the 2nd of James II. The CORPORATION formerly consisted of a mayor, 8 aldermen, 16 capital burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, with a recorder, town-clerk, and other officers. At the period of the municipal enquiry in 1833, the court of record had been disused for 50 years, and the view of frankpledge was also in disuse. The gaol was then an insignificant building, containing five cells, with unglazed windows. Under the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, the borough is included among those not to have commission of the peace, and is governed by a Town-Council, consisting of a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. The mayor and ex-mayor are justices of the peace, and the borough comprises the whole parish. The income of the Corporation in 1840 was £271, of which £100 was derived from the borough rates. It is a polling place for the Northern Division of Devon; and petty sessions are held here every third Monday, by the magistrates of Great Torrington Division, to whom Mr. W.G. Glubb is clerk. Torrington County Court District comprises all Torrington Union, and the court sits here on the Friday after the first Monday in every month, at the Guildhall. Mr. W.A. Deane is the clerk, and Mr. Frederick Holwill is the high bailiff. In 1484 a sessions was held here, at which Bishop Courtenay and others were indicted for treason against Richard III. In 1590 the Michaelmas quarter sessions for Devon were held here on account of the plague being at Exeter. Torrington was visited by the plague in 1591, and in the 17th century it was the scene of some of the important actions of the civil war. In 1643, Colonel Digby took up his quarters here for the king, and was reinforced by some of the Cornish royalists. After several skirmishes, he took the forts of Appledore, Bideford, and Barnstaple. About the middle of February, 1610, Lord Hopton had scarcely stationed his army here and fortified the town, when he was attacked by Sir Thomas Fairfax, and totally defeated, after a severe action, in which both himself and Lord Capel were wounded. The famous Hugh Peters, who was then chaplain to Fairfax's army, preached in the market place after this victory, and made many converts to the parliamentary cause. On the 19th of February the General left Torrington, the quarters being inconvenient on account of the church having been blown up. There was formerly a considerable manufacture of woollens carried on at Torrington, and here are still many glove makers. In 1823-'4 a small Canal was cut by the late Lord Rolle, from this town to the navigable part of the river Torridge, below Wear Gifford. It is about five miles long, and in one place crosses the valley by a lofty stone viaduct of five arches, which harmonizes with the surrounding romantic scenery. The town has been much improved during the last 20 years, and is lighted with gas, from works erected in 1836, at the cost of £2000, raised in £10 shares. In 1841-'2 a commodious New Market House was erected by a company of proprietors at the cost of £2990, on which three per cent. interest is paid. The tolls, dues and stallages produce about £180 per annum, out of which £30 is paid yearly to the borough fund, as compensation for the old market. Over the butchers' shops, &c., is a large hall, let for exhibitions, lectures, &c. The market is held by prescription every Saturday, and is well supplied with provisions, corn, &c. Here are cattle fairs on May 4th, July 5th, and October 10th, and a great cattle market on the third Saturday in March. Balls, concerts, &c. are occasionally held at the Guildhall and the Market Hall, and here is a newspaper club, consisting of many of the respectable tradesmen of the town. The Town Council, Borough Officers, &c. are as follow: - Mayor, Charles W. Johnson, Esq. Ex-Mayor, George Braginton, Esq.
Aldermen, George Braginton, Richard Braginton, C.W. Johnson, R. B. Rouse.
Councillors, James Rude, Thos. Reed, J.F. Williams, W.C. Hunt, George Doe, Robert Martin, Lewis Tapley, George Toms, John Sloley, Wm. Evan Price, Thos. H. Lake, and Wm. Anthony Deane.
Town Clerk, W.G. Glubb. Inspector of Weights and Measures, T.H. Lake.
Serjeants at Mace, Charles Chambers and Thomas Williams.
Beadle, James Lugg. Crier, T. Williams.
Charity Trustees, Peter Glubb, C.W. Johnson, Bryan Reed, W.E. Price, Wm. Collan, E.H. Caddy, R.B. Rouse, W.H. Rouse, H.A. Vallack, Geo. Braginton, Thos. Snell, John Adams, Thomas Cowdry, and James Rude.

The PARISH CHURCH (St. Michael,) which was mostly rebuilt in 1651, after being nearly destroyed during the civil wars, is a large and handsome structure, with a lofty tower, containing six bells, and crowned by an octagonal spire, the latter of which was erected in 1830, when the curious old spire was taken down. The interior is neatly fitted up, and has a good organ and a well executed altar-piece, the latter of which was given by Lady Rolle. The Dean and Canons of Christ Church, Oxford, are appropriators of tithes, and patrons of the perpetual curacy, which was valued in 1831 at £462, and is now in the incumbency of the Rev. Samuel Buckland, M.A., who has a good residence, built in 1841. The Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans, and Bible Christians have chapels here, and attached to them and the church are Sunday Schools, and associations for the propagation of religious knowledge.

The Blue Coat School, in Well street, with a house for the master, was given by Denys Rolle, Esq., who endowed it in 1709 with £220, to which £730 was added by the donations of the Rolle family. As interest of this £950, the Trustees of the late Lord Rolle pay £47. 10s. 0d. per annum, out of which the master has £16 for teaching 22 poor boys, who are provided with blue clothing once a year. The National School was built about 15 years ago, by the late Lord Rolle, and is attended by about 150 children. The TOWN LANDS, &c., have been vested from an early period for the repairs of the church, and other public uses, and in 1815 they were conveyed by Lord Rolle to the mayor and 22 other trustees. They now comprise a great number of houses, cottages, gardens, fields, &c., let to 136 tenants at small rents, amounting to only about £82 a year, on leases for three lives, subject to fines on the renewal of the leases. The feoffees also receive about £30 a year from the tolls of the markets and fairs. A large portion of the income is expended in the service of the church, and in paying salaries to the organist, clerk, sexton, town clerk, and serjeants-at-mace. The MAGDALEN LANDS, granted to the Corporation, for the relief of the poor of the borough, by Tristram Arscott, in 1665, had previously formed part of the endowment of the lepers' hospital at Taddiport, They comprise 13A. and three houses, let for only £30, subject to fines payable on the renewal of the leases. The ALMSHOUSES, on the north side of the churchyard, were founded at an early period, and vested with the feoffees of the Town Lands, for the residence of 10 poor people. John Huddle erected or rebuilt one, of the houses, and their endowment was augmented by him and other benefactors, and now consists of about 118A. of land and 7 houses, &c., let for only about £'80 a year, but subject to fines on the renewal of the leases. The poor parishioners have upwards of £30 a year from 13 benefactions, mostly bequeathed in the 17th century. Staple Vale Woollen Manufactory was built about 50 years ago, on 50 acres of common land, which was let under the sanction of an act of parliament in 1777, at 50s. per annum, on lease for lives, subject to a fine of 21s. on every renewal. The rent and fines are applied in apprenticing poor children. The poor have still common right on about 300 acres of open land called Hatchmoor, Wester, and South Commons.

Brian Randell, 31 Jan 1999