A Topographical Dictionary of England
Samuel Lewis (1831)
Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)
TORRINGTON (GREAT), a market-town and parish, having separate jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Fremington, county of DEVON, 34 miles (N. W.) from Exeter, and 198 (W. by S.) from London, containing 2538 inhabitants. The name of this place, in old records, is written Cheping-Toriton, the Saxon prefix demonstrating its antiquity as a market-town. At a very early period, Torrington conferred the title of baron on its possessors, who had the power of life and death over their dependents; in 1340, Richard de Merton erected a castle here, the chapel of which existed till the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1484, Bishop Courtenay was tried at the sessions, on a charge of treason against Richard III.; and, in 1590, the county sessions having been held here, in consequence of the appearance of the plague at Exeter, that fatal malady was extended to this town. During the civil commotions in the reign of Charles I., the parliamentary forces supplied from Barnstaple, Bideford, and other places, were put to flight here, in 1643, by Col. Digby. Here also, about three years afterwards, the royalists were defeated by Fairfax in a severe contest, and, after the victory, a thanksgiving sermon was preached in the market-place by Hugh Peters, whose eloquence was considered to have been very effective in promoting the parliamentary interests. The general's intention of prolonging his stay, however, was frustrated by a most appalling event, the explosion of eighty barrels of gunpowder in the church, during its occupation by two hundred prisoners, all of whom, with the soldiers on guard, perished, and the edifice itself was destroyed. The situation of the town is singularly bold and picturesque; it occupies the summit and declivities of a lofty cliff, facing the south, and washed at its base by the river Torridge, over which is a bridge, connecting this parish with that of Little Torrington; the banks of the river are enriched with fine landscape scenery, and in its course above the town, the stream winds beneath some of the richest hanging woods in the kingdom. The bowling-green, which occupies the highest portion of the cliff, is the site of the ancient castle, and commands a prospect extremely beautiful. The town consists of a market-place, surrounded by good houses, and two long streets, variously disposed on the ridge and declivity, with gardens descending towards the river. The inhabitants have a right of pasturage on an extensive and rich common. The woollen trade, formerly considerable, is now confined to the manufacture of a few serges, blankets, and some coarse cloth: the principal articles of trade are kid, chamois, beaver, and other gloves, of which great quantities are sent to London. Here are two tanyards, and on the river is a large corn-mill. Lime, coal, and timber are supplied by a canal extending hence to the sea docks near Bideford, and running nearly parallel with the river, which there becomes navigable for sloops: about two miles northwest from the town the canal crosses the river, by means of a noble aqueduct, and nearer the sea lock it is interrupted by an inclined plane. The aqueduct, of which the first stone was laid August 11th, 1824, and the canal, were undertaken at the sole expense of Lord Rolle, through his own lands, which is said to have exceeded £40,000. Some veins of lead-ore are found in the neighbourhood. The market is held on Saturday; on the third Saturday in March is a very large cattle market, and a smaller one in November: fairs are on May 4th, July 5th, and October 10th. The charter of incorporation, granted by Mary, was confirmed in the 15th of James I.: the municipal body consists of a mayor, recorder, seven aldermen, and sixteen burgesses, with a town clerk, and two serjeants at mace; the mayor is nominated in August, and sworn in in October, and, with his immediate predecessor, who is termed a justice, exercises magisterial authority. The corporation, hold quarter sessions, and a court of record every three weeks the county magistrates meet weekly on Saturday. The town hall is a neat modem edifice of brick and stone, with an arched basement: there is a small prison. This town sent members to parliament in the reign of Edward III., but the inhabitants were relieved from the exercise of the franchise, on petition, in that of Henry VI. The living is a vicarage, with the impropriation of Stow St. Giles annexed, in the archdeaconry of Bafnstaple, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £20, endowed with £600 private benefaction, and £900 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Dean and Canons of Christ Church, Oxford. The church, which is dedicated to St. Michael, is an ancient structure, rebuilt about five years after its destruction by gunpowder, in 1645: it has a north transept, and on the south side is a low tower. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. In addition to the grammar school, the Blue school, in Wellstreet, was established in 1709, by Denys Rolle, Esq., who gave a messuage and lands, with the sum of £200, for the gratuitous education of forty boys: the annual income is £63. 10.: twenty-two boys are educated and clothed, and two apprenticed annually, with a premium of £1 each. A National school, in New-street, is supported by voluntary contributions. An almshouse for eight poor persons was founded and endowed, in 1604, by John Huddle; there is also an unendowed almshouse. On the restoration of Charles II., General Monk was made Earl of Torrington. The town at present confers the title of viscount on the family of Byng.