1. Castle Hill
Great Torrington has a long and varied history. As ‘Toritone’ it is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday survey of Devon, while Neolithic artefacts and Iron Age settlements show that people have lived in the area for thousands of years. In the 11th century Toriton, as it was then called, was the seat of one of eight powerful Devon Baronies; the Barons descendants of William the Conqueror. By the 13th century the settlement had been designated a borough and the town evolved to become the busy centre of a thriving agricultural economy with people travelling from miles around to trade at the large weekly markets.
The Normans built a castle and fortifications to take advantage of the defensible position overlooking the valley but by the 12th century the town and castle were damaged in the brutal civil war, known as ‘The Anarchy’. In the 15th century the town again played a role in the dynastic struggle for the throne, known as the ‘Wars of the Roses’. Torrington was also the only town in this region to support King Charles I in the English Civil War. In February 1646 Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Parliamentary Army defeated General Lord Hopton and his Royalist Army at the Battle of Torrington, which was fought street to street and ended with the church being blown up. This battle marked the end of Royalist resistance in the Westcountry, providing a significant step towards our current Parliamentary democracy.
Through the Middle Ages the wool industry thrived but by the 18th century had been overtaken by glove making as the town’s main industry. The next two hundred years saw the growth of infrastructure, with a canal to transport heavy goods, a railway, quarries, the largest dairy processing factory in Europe, an abattoir, as well as expansions in dairy and arable farming and commercial forestry.
Great Torrington retains a large number of Listed buildings, historic factories and industrial landscape features. The town has also been home to, or associated with some very famous people, including; Lady Margaret Beautfort, mother of Henry VI, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chancellor to Henry VIII, Thomas Fowler, inventor of a computing machine, Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy and William Keble Martin, preacher, illustrator and botanist, as well as, of course, Tarka the Otter.
In the 12th century the town was gifted 365 acres of common land enclosing the settlement, by one of the Barons and it remains as amenity land for the community today, run by a dedicated group of conservators.
The History of Great Torrington in North Devon
Alexander, J.J & Hooper, W.R.
Published by Sutton; Advance Studio; 1948.