[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
"TOTNES, a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the hundred of Coleridge, county Devon, 22 miles S.W. of Exeter, and 10 N.W. of Dartmouth, of which it is a subport. It is a station on the South Devon railway. The town, which is old, is situated on the slope of a hill on the left bank of the river Dart, about 10 miles from the sea, and opposite the suburb of Bridgetown, in the parish of Berry Pomeroy, which is connected with the town by a bridge erected in 1828, at a cost of £12,000.
It is supposed by some to be the Ad Durium Amnem of the Roman writers on the Fosse Way to the W., and in ancient records is often written Totton, or Totonie. In the Saxon times it 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 N. and E., are still standing, and the one in the middle of the main street has been recently purchased by Lord Seymour for £1,000, and presented to the town for the use of the literary institute and library. After the Conquest the barony of Totnes was given by William I. to Judhael de Totneis, who founded here a Cluniac priory, as a cell to the Abbey of SS. Sergius and Bachus, at Angiers, and built the castle, once a formidable fortress, the only remains of which are the ivy-mantled ruins of the keep, a large circular pile, occupying an artificial mound of great elevation, and commanding a view of the town and surrounding country. The grounds around the ruins are laid out, and, through the liberality of the late Duke of Somerset, are open to the public as a promenade. Upon the banishment of Joel de Totneis the barony was given to Roger de Novant, and subsequently came to the De Braoses, Cantilupe, Zouch, Valletort, and Edgcumbe families, who sold it to Lord Edward Seymour, an ancestor of the present owner, but the manorial rights were purchased by the corporation.
The borough has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I. It has, however, been disfranchised for bribery by clause 8 of the present Reform Bill (1867), together with Lancaster, Reigate, and Great Yarmouth. Under the Municipal Act it is governed by a mayor, who is returning officer, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. The municipal revenue is about £800. A commission of the peace, comprising seven borough magistrates, has been granted, but the borough has now neither recorder nor quarter sessions. Petty sessions for the Stanborough division of the county are held here fortnightly, and a county court monthly.
The town consists chiefly of one main street, about three quarters of a mile in length, which commences at the bridge, and ascending the steep acclivity of the hill, stretches along the summit, commanding a prospect of the scenery of the Dart. Many of the houses are old, but are well built, and in the upper part of the town the upper stories project, being supported on columns. It has recently been improved and modernised, and many houses erected in the neighbourhood of the Plymouth road. The streets are paved and lighted with gas, and the houses supplied with water from springs, besides which a stream flows down either side of the main street. The principal buildings are the guildhall, an ancient structure near the church; a market house, erected in 184¾; the exchange, or Church walk; borough gaol; assembly rooms, where balls, concerts, and theatrical representations take place; a mechanics' institute, with library of upwards of 1,000 vols.; the South Devon library, established in 1810; two branch banks, and Union poorhouse.
The woollen manufacture, formerly carried on, has entirely declined, but a considerable business is done in the general trade, and in agricultural produce. The imports are coal, culm, and timber; and the exports corn, cider, fruit, and salmon, which last are taken in a weir a little above the town. The navigation of the Dart has recently been improved, vessels of 150 tons approaching near the bridge. The surrounding country is fertile, comprising part of the South Hams, or garden of Devonshire, and has numerous seats, the principal of which are Follaton House and Broomborough. The population in 1851 was 4,419, and the number of inhabited houses within the borough 728, but in 1861, while the houses had increased to 793, the population had fallen off to 4,001, showing a considerable change in the character of the resident population, many of whom were formerly seafaring men and fishermen. Just below the bridge, in the middle of the stream, is a small island recently laid out as a garden with walks, at the expense of the late Duke of Somerset. The rectorial tithes and glebe formerly belonged to Totness Priory, but are now the property of the Duke of Somerset.
The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Exeter, value about £180, and in the patronage of the lord chancellor. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is supposed to be of the date 1432. Bishop Lacey's effigy is introduced in the centre niche in the tower, with the legend, "I made this Tour." In the interior is a carved screen and an altar-piece of Grecian design. In the suburb of Bridgetown is the free church, built in 1835 by the late Duke of Somerset at a cost of £7,000, but never consecrated, and at present used as a Nonconformist place of worship; there are also chapels for Independents and Wesleyans, and a Roman Catholic chapel attached to Follaton House. The grammar school, founded in 1554, has an income from endowment of £60; there are also Taylor's bluecoat school, endowed with £45 per annum, besides National, British, and infant schools.
Saturday is market day. Fairs are held on the first Tuesday in every month for cattle, and on the 12th May and 28th October. Races take place annually in August or September."