Great Torrington

Street Map

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Great Torrington (often abbreviated to Torrington, though the villages of Little Torrington and Black Torrington are situated in the same region) is a small market town in the north of Devon, England. Parts of it are sited on high ground with steep drops down to the River Torridge below. The centre of the town therefore commands spectacular views, though lower-lying parts are prone to occasional flooding. Torrington is in the very heart of Tarka Country, a landscape captured by Henry Williamson in his novel Tarka the Otter in 1927. Great Torrington has the most active volunteering community in the United Kingdom.

There were Iron Age and medieval castles and forts in Torrington, located on the Castle Hill. Great Torrington had strategic significance in the English Civil War. In the Battle of Torrington (1646), the Parliamentarians, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, swept into the town and defeated Lord Hopton’s forces. This marked the end of Royalist resistance in the West Country. Today the town is recognised as an important heritage centre for the history of the 17th century, and its people can often be seen dressed in costume for historical re-enactments, festivals and celebrations. An interactive Civil War Experience, “Torrington 1646”, marks the town’s historically important role.

The branch line to Bideford was extended to Great Torrington in July 1872, by the London and South Western Railway, which built a railway station and locomotive depot in the town. The locomotive depot was closed in 1959 and the line was closed to passenger traffic as part of the Beeching Axe. It was closed to goods traffic in 1984. At the site of the old station there is currently a pub named The Puffing Billy, a cycle hire shop and an old carriage, an old wagon, a brake van, and a small diesel engine. A few small sections of track remain, but most has been removed and replaced with a combined foot and cycle path as part of the Tarka Trail. The Tarka Trail continues to Bideford, Barnstaple and on to Braunton in one direction and to Meeth in the other making 32 miles (51 km) of traffic free trail.

Tesco were seeking to open a 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) store in the town; however, this was opposed by many locals and the planning application was rejected.

Mayfair is an annual folk festival believed to date back to 1554 in which the children of Torrington dance around a maypole set up in the town square. The event takes place on the first Thursday in May. The junior school kids elect a May Queen and she is crowned in the town square after a procession with attendants. There is then Maypole dancing after which the kids go off to the fair and the adults wander around the public houses.

Torrington Common is an area of common land which surrounds the town on all but the eastern side. The common is administered by a body called “The Commons Conservators”. The Common covers 365 acres (1.5 km2) and has over 20 miles (30 km) of public rights of way. The landscape features a variety of habitats and a rich collection of flora and fauna.

An “area of waste called the Common” was donated to the town in 1194 by Baron FitzRobert of Torrington. In 1889 the rights to this land were transferred by an act of parliament to an elected Committee of Conservators.

Since 2 October 1889 the Conservators have met regularly to fulfil their remit to manage the land. Early activity was mainly concerned with control over the grazing and quarrying of the common, but since 1980 grazing has stopped and instead various techniques have taken its place to prevent the common from reverting to scrub and woodland.There has also been development on the commons which many locals oppose and believe is not legitimate.

  • Taddiport Bridge and Rothern Bridge: Prior to the opening of the Town Mills Bridge, these were the only local crossings of the River Torridge.
  • Rolle Road: This is the site of the Rolle Canal which opened in 1827 to help transport clay, lime and other commodities between the boats on the tidal river at Landcross and the lime kilns, clay pits and farms around Torrington. It ran through common land, but was closed in 1871. Later, it was filled in to create a toll road across the Common.
  • Waterloo Monument: A stone obelisk erected in 1818 by “the ladies of Great Torrington” to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo.

Some residents feel that the existence of the common has protected Great Torrington from over development. Others believe that it has damaged the town by stunting growth.

The Plough arts centre is Great Torrington’s theatre, cinema and art gallery.

Other attractions in Great Torrington include:

  • Dartington Crystal, A unique Factory, Visitors Centre, Glass Shop and Restaurant of world famous Dartington Crystal – the biggest employer in the town and now the only working glass factory left in the UK.
  • Rosemoor Garden, a collection of internationally recognised gardens, woodlands and parkland owned by the Royal Horticultural Society.
  • A Victorian pannier market with a glass roof, restored in the early 2000s.
  • St Michael’s, an Anglican church whose grounds include a mound said to contain the remains of 60 Civil War Royalist prisoners.
  • The Plough arts centre, a small theatre, cinema and gallery.
  • Torrington 1646 Visitor Centre celebrates the town’s role in the Civil War through exhibitions and talks by guides dressed in period costume and using the language of the age.
  • Great Torrington has a good selection of pubs selling good food and a selection of real ales. These include The Torridge Inn, The Black Horse, Torrington Arms, Cavalier, Globe and Royal Exchange.

Torrington has a small local brewery called Clearwater Brewery with its popular “Cavalier” and “1646” brands.

Torrington has long been a factory town. In the nineteenth century it was a centre of the glove making industry. The major employer today is Dartington Crystal, but the shops in the town centre also provide a source of employment. Most of the shops are locally owned; however, there are branches of The Co-operative Food, Barclays Bank, Lloyds TSB, NatWest and Lloyds Pharmacy. Large factories have deserted the town in recent years including the meat factory after a fire, and the milk factory which also caught fire has moved its production elsewhere. Various converted and purpose built care homes in the town also provide a significant source of employment.

Great Torrington is twinned with the French port town of Roscoff, situated in northern Brittany. Roscoff is served by the Brittany Ferries service from Plymouth and is a popular destination for school trips from the area.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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