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Great Torrington

Coordinates: 50°57′11″N 4°08′28″W / 50.953°N 4.141°W / 50.953; -4.141
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Great Torrington
Great Torrington Town Hall in the centre of the town
Great Torrington is located in Devon
Great Torrington
Great Torrington
Location within Devon
Population5,953 (2021 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceSS4919
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtEX38
Dialling code01805
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°57′11″N 4°08′28″W / 50.953°N 4.141°W / 50.953; -4.141

Great Torrington (often abbreviated to Torrington, though the villages of Little Torrington and Black Torrington are situated in the same region) is a market town in Devon, England. Parts of it are sited on high ground with steep drops down to the River Torridge below, with the lower-lying parts of the town prone to occasional flooding. Torrington is in the centre of Tarka Country, a landscape captured by Henry Williamson in his novel Tarka the Otter in 1927. Great Torrington has one of the most active volunteering communities in the United Kingdom.[2]

In July 2019, Great Torrington was reported to be the healthiest place to live in Britain. Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that the area had low levels of pollution, good access to green space and health services, along with few retail outlets.[3]


"Castle Hill, Torrington, England", ca. 1890 – 1900.
Alderman Nathaniel Chapple, Mayor of Torrington (1871, 1879 & 1889) by Henry Jamyn Brooks

There were Iron Age and medieval castles and forts in Torrington, located on the Castle Hill.[4]

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 Torrington jail was not big enough for more than one man so the Royalists kept all the Parliamentarian prisoners in the church. Then 70 barrels of gunpowder exploded and killed everyone held captive and many of their captors.[5] Great Torrington Town Hall, a neoclassical style building, was completed in 1861.[6]


Torrington station on 15 June 1969 looking towards Bideford.

The branch line from Barnstaple 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 station was always named 'Torrington', not 'Great Torrington'.

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 still in 2015 a pub named The Puffing Billy.[7] 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.

The narrow gauge wooden viaduct over the Torridge in 1905
A map of Great Torrington from 1937

Descent of the manor


The manor of Great Torrington was granted by Queen Mary to James Basset (1526–1558),[8] MP, a younger son of Sir John Bassett (1462 – 31 Jan 1529) of Umberleigh. James's son Philip Bassett sold it to Sir John Fortescue (c. 1531–1607) of Ponsbourne,[8] near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, the eldest son of Sir Adrian Fortescue (1476–1539), descended from Richard Fortescue, younger brother of Henry Fortescue (fl. 1426), Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland and of Sir John Fortescue (ca. 1394–1480), Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.[9] Denys Rolle (1614–1638) of nearby Stevenstone in the parish of St Giles in the Wood, acquired the lordship of the manor of Great Torrington from his descendant Sir William Fortescue.[8] Denys Rolle (1614–1638) founded the Bluecoat School in Torrington[10] The fountain and clock in the square were given in 1870 by Mark Rolle (1835–1907)[8] A number of family portraits were given to the town by the heirs of Mark Rolle, some of which remain on display in the Great Torrington Town Hall, some of the more valuable ones having been sold, including a portrait of John Rolle Walter (c.1714–1779) by Pompeo Batoni.[11]

Torrington Common


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 (148 ha) and has over 20 miles (32 kilometres) of public rights of way. The landscape features a variety of habitats, flora and fauna.

History of the common


An "area of waste called the Common" was donated to the town in 1194 by the feudal baron of Great Torrington. In 1889, the rights to this land were transferred by an act of parliament to an elected "Committee of Conservators". The bill was subject of a local poll, as the document now at Devon Record Office evidences:[12]

Poll of inhabitants on "A Bill for Vesting the Management of Great Torrington Common, Castle Hill Common and other lands in the Borough of Great Torrington in the County of Devon in a Body of Conservators and to settle questions between the Commoners of Great Torrington and the Owners of the Rolle Estate and for other purposes".

The Rolle Estate was the largest landowner in Devon,[13] having been built up by the Rolle family of Stevenstone. 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.[14] There has been building development on the commons which some locals oppose.

Features of the common

  • 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.

Visitor attractions

Cornmarket Street, Great Torrington.

Attractions in Great Torrington include:

  • Dartington Crystal, Factory, Visitors Centre, Glass Shop and Restaurant of Dartington Crystal – the biggest employer in the town and the only major working glass factory in the UK[15]
The Plough Arts Centre is Great Torrington's theatre, cinema and art gallery.



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, Lidl, Spar 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.

In 2006, Tesco sought 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.[17]

Sports and culture


Local radio is provided by The Voice, a station based in nearby Barnstaple that broadcasts across North Devon on FM and DAB. Most of the content on the station is locally produced.[18]

The regional radio station Heart West can be received in the town on FM and DAB. The station is a part of the Heart network and broadcasts across the South West of England. Most of the shows broadcast are national shows from the Heart London studios, rather than region-specific ones.[19] Region-specific content includes the weekday Drivetime show produced in Bristol, and local advertising.

The local newspaper is the North Devon Journal also based in Barnstaple. The Western Morning News is a regional paper widely available. Most households receive a copy of the North Devon Gazette every week. The Crier is the community newsletter and diary delivered free to most households in the town and surrounding area for ten months of the year.

Torrington's football teams are Torrington F.C. and Torridgeside A.F.C. There are also rugby, netball, tennis and swimming teams. Torrington nine-hole Golf Course is 1.2 miles (2 km) northwest of the town centre. Great Torrington Bowling Club, established in 1645, is the third oldest bowling club in England.[20]

Great Torrington is twinned with the French port town of Roscoff,[21] 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.



Torrington is served by 43 local bus services mostly operated by Stagecoach South West. Some only operate one way and a number are weekly only service.

Belle Vue Airfield is a single runway airfield about 2.5 miles northeast of Great Torrington in North Devon, England. It is for private aviation only, operating restricted flying hours and is frequented by Microlight and hang-gliding clubs. The 580-metre (1,902-foot) runway is grass.[22]

Exeter Airport 35 miles (56 km) away operates scheduled flights from Shannon Airport, Eire and the Channel Islands.[23]

The nearest ferry port is Plymouth 40 miles (64 km) away, at which Brittany Ferries offer a regular service from Roscoff in Brittany. There is a summertime-only ferry service based at Bideford Harbour (7 miles away) to and from Lundy Island.

Torrington has no direct train services; Umberleigh (8 miles away) is served by the Tarka Line from Exeter St David's. Bus connections are available to and from Barnstaple station (11 miles away).

Notable people


See also



  1. ^ "Great Torrington (Devon, South West England, United Kingdom) - Population Statistics, Charts, Map, Location, Weather and Web Information".
  2. ^ Edwards, Goodwin and Woods (2003), Citizenship, community and participation in small towns: a case study of regeneration partnerships, in Imrie and Raco (eds), Urban Renaissance?: New Labour, community and urban policy, Policy Press, Bristol
  3. ^ Badshah, Nadeem (1 July 2019). "Soho is Britain's unhealthiest place to live, study finds". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Huntshaw Hill Fort is 'Safe', but Other Historic North Devon Sites Threatened". North Devon Gazette. 7 November 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Battle of Torrington". British Civil War Project. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  6. ^ Historic England. "Town Hall, High Street (1332997)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  7. ^ "Torrington to Meeth". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Alexander, p.64
  9. ^ Vivian, Heralds' Visitation of Devon, 1895, p.353
  10. ^ Alexander, J.J. & Hooper, W.R., History of Great Torrington, Sutton, 1948, p.64
  11. ^ "Exeter wins bid to save Rolle's portrait". Exeter Journal. 17 November 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  12. ^ "48/22/13/9 Contents: Great Torrington". Devon Record Office. 1889.
  13. ^ See Mark Rolle, life tenant of the Rolle Estate under the will of John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle
  14. ^ "Home". Clinton Devon Estates.
  15. ^ "Welome to Dartington Glass". Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  16. ^ "Torrington's Clearwater Brewery offers North Devon pubs the chance to have their own branded ale". Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  17. ^ "Tesco town store plans rejected". BBC News. 14 December 2006.
  18. ^ "The Voice Public File". The Voice. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  19. ^ Roy Martin (20 May 2019). "Heart drivetime show presenters announced by Global". Radio Today. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  20. ^ "Great Torrington Bowling Club". Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  21. ^ "British towns twinned with French towns". Archant Community Media Ltd. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  22. ^ "latitude.to"
  23. ^ "Gardens & Nature Events | North Devon". www.visitdevon.co.uk.