Totnes Guildhall Torquay
Ramparts Walk
Devon TQ9 5HQ
 
 
Hidden away behind St Mary’s Church in the centre of Totnes is the historic Guildhall.  Not only is it very old and full of history but is still in use today as a Council Chamber.
 
Original Medieval Priory Walls & Table at which Oliver Cromwell sat
Among many interesting things, visitors will see the original medieval priory walls, the cells from the building’s time as the Town Gaol (1624-1887) and the table at which Oliver Cromwell sat while occupying Totnes in 1646.
 
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In 1206 King John granted Totnes a Charter making it a free town – able to draw up its own laws and permitting its merchants to set up its own Guild.  By the end of the 13th century the 120 members had their own Guild Hall at No. 8 High Street.
 
The Benedictine Priory of St Mary, established in 1088, was dissolved by King Henry VIII but not completely destroyed.  In 1553 his son, King Edward VI authorized the re-use of the priory building as a Guildhall.
 
The priory Refectory became the Tudor Merchants’ Guildhall and the original 11th century walls and foundations can be seen in the Ground Floor chamber which later became the Magistrates Court in 1624.  On the east wall can be seen a board listing all the Mayors since 1359 and the royal coat of arms of Edward VI.
 
While in the passageway, look carefully at the walls and you will see the remains of the medieval stair treads in the wall. A separate building for Merchant Guild meetings was built in front of the church in 1611 and the Guildhall started life as the Courthouse and Gaol.
 
Town Gaol Cells
At the rear of the ground floor are the Town Gaol cells, originally the Priory kitchen (11th century).  Visitors will see the windowless men’s cell, the women’s cell, latrines and gaol administration centre.
 
The ground floor Chamber is used every May for the Choosing of the Mayor Ceremony – held since 1553. The robes worn during this ceremony are on display upstairs in the Mayor’s Parlour.
 
Totnes’ independent status meant that it did not suffer badly during the Civil War.  It did not try to hold out against the Royalists nor did it prevent the Parliamentarians from entering in 1646.  Soldiers were billeted in the Guildhall and surrounding buildings and Oliver Cromwell and Lord Fairfax are said to have planned their next moves sitting around the large oak table in the upstairs Council chamber.
 
Upstairs on the First Floor is the Court’s public gallery and the current Council Chamber.  The gallery and staircase to it were built in 1624.  In this area are two interesting and different exhibitions, one of them of particular interest to Australians.  William John Wills, member of the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition to cross Australian (1860-61) came from Totnes.  The other exhibit is on Cromwell and the Civil War.
 
Outside the Guildhall near the main entrance can be seen arrow sharpening marks on some of the red sandstone blocks; archery practise used to take place in the church yard.  West of the Guildhall is ‘Guildhall Cottage’ which was originally the Priory bakery and alehouse.
 
Plan Your Visit
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Opening Times & Admission Costs
Refer to Guildhall website (below) for current opening hours
There is a small admission fee.
 
Contact & Further Information
Website  Totnes Guildhall    External Link
 
Getting There
The Guildhall is on Ramparts Walk, behind St Mary’s Church.  The church is on High Street, just past the East Gate Arch.
 
Google Maps - Totnes Guildhall