Tuesday, 12 November 2019 21:05

Engaging Rural Micros

Devon County Council has asked us to share this poster regarding a recently launched research trial working with rural micro businesses in Devon and Somerset:-

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Tuesday, 12 November 2019 13:02

Crime Report - w/c 24/10/19

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Tuesday, 12 November 2019 11:17

Crime Report - w/c 31/10/19

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Monday, 11 November 2019 15:03

South West Water options

Following a visit from a representative of SWW the following information might be helpful:-

a.Priority Services Registration: This is for people with medical conditions or physical limitations. Once registered the individual will be notified of any interruptions in water supply and will have water delivered to them if there is no supply. The individual will receive a telephone call to advise them of any disruption.  An application for this can be obtained from SWW or from their Website.

b.Debt Helpline: If customers are struggling to pay their water bill South West Water has a debt helpline on 0800 083 0283 and they will talk through different options available. The individual can also contact the Water Care Team via the email watercare@southwestwater.co.uk, or Emma Phillips directly via ephillips@southwestwater.co.uk, and we can arrange a home visit to talk them through the different debt relief options available as well as helping to get them on the most appropriate tariff.

c.The Watercare Tariff: This is for metered customers who are on very low income. To qualify, an individual within the household must receive a qualifying benefit, such as income support or housing benefit.  The tariffs offer a discount of between 15-50% off a water bill. An income assessment is carried out to determine eligibility. An application can be obtained from SWW, or a home visit can be arranged with the Water Care Team/ or Emma Phillips.

d.Switch to a meter: Water meters can save people a considerable amount of money. SWW has advisors who help people establish if a meter could save them money and help with initial applications.  It is free to switch and if, after 24 months a customer considers it isn’t right for them, they can go back to unmeasured charges. In the Great Torrington area only, we are currently offering customers to go onto a ‘Dual Billing Trial’ whereby they can opt to get a water meter installed without changing to metered charges. SWW will then send letters to the customer every quarter to notify them how much water the household has used and the customer will be able to see which charge will be cheaper for them, i.e. the metered charge or their current unmeasured charge. To get involved with this trial, customers can call our Dual Billing team on 01392 442882. 

e.The WaterSure Tariff: This may help a customer reduce their bill if they have a water meter, receive certain benefits and if someone in the home has a medical condition that means extra water is used, or if they have 3 or more children living with them. It works by capping a bill the average annual domestic water and sewerage charges, currently £488.45.


Monday, 28 October 2019 17:33

Vacancy for Admin Assistant

Great Torrington Town Council has a vacancy for a part-time Administration Assistant.  The role is for 6 hours per week either one day per week, or spread over two, to be agreed with the successful applicant.  Working days would need to be Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

The role includes various administrative aspects of the council’s business, including interacting with the public and outside agencies. 

Applicants will need to be computer literate, organised, experienced in a wide range of administrative tasks and experienced in using social media. Salary scale £18,795-£19,945 pro rata.

A job description/person specification and application form can be found below alternatively contact the Town Clerk by email at admin@great-torringtontowncouncil.gov.uk or by phone 01805 626135. Applicants may also collect details from the council offices at Castle Hill Great Torrington on the mornings of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (9.00am – 1.00pm).

Closing date for receipt of applications is midday on Thursday 28th November 2019.



Thursday, 24 October 2019 12:46

Warren Lane

In an old aerial photograph of Torrington, probably taken in the 1930s, there are very few houses in Warren Lane: Culver House, Uplands and Rock Mount (overlooking Mill Street common), Enfield, The Warren (now called Warren House), Hillcrest, Torridge House and Penhallam.  Warren Lane seems to have had a variety of names over the years including Fares Lane, Rack Park Lane and Dedalls Lane.  The houses in this street have lovely views over the Torridge valley.

The Warren may well have been built over 250 years ago and the magnificent holm oak by the front gate is believed to be much older than that.  The castellated walls in front of the property are similar to those at Castle Hill erected by the Rolles in the 1840s.  It is thought that the house was called The Warren because the owners kept rabbits which were a welcome addition to the diet of impoverished townsfolk.  Existing documentation dates back to the 1860s when the house was part of the Town Lands of Great Torrington.  In 1872 it was proposed by the Town Council that The Warren should be used as a smallpox hospital but the Trustees rejected this proposal.  Captain Walter Bayntun Starky purchased The Warren in 1923 for the sum of £1,450.  He had worked as a civilian engineer for the government in India and been given an honorary title.  He was three times Mayor of Torrington in 1930, '31 and '33.  His wife retained some of her colonial ways and a local man remembers calling at the house and, when he rang at the front door, Mrs Starky told him, from an upstairs window, to go to the tradesmen's entrance at the back.  This he duly did only to be told, 'Not today, thank you!'

Mr George Doe, local historian, Town Clerk and twice Mayor, lived next door at Enfield.  The drain from his house and his cesspit were, rather inconveniently, in the garden of The Warren.

Torridge House, a 'late Victorian gentleman's residence', was built in around 1870 and the house was originally square with the front door facing east.  An extension was added in 1907 by Mr Boatfield, a bank manager in the town.  The garden stretched down the hill to Mill Street, where there was access, and west to the commons where a house, Hillside, was built on the old tennis court.  The building was turned into two flats after the war and many original features were damaged.  In 1968 the whole house was bought by Theo Page, an eccentric graphic artist, who used the attic as his studio and set about returning the flats to one residence.  He became ill in 1972 and the rather haphazard work on the house stopped so that when the present owners bought it in 1976 the interior was virtually derelict.  Since that time they have slowly put the house back together.  It has an extensive cellar, which used to be the kitchen at ground level on the south side, wine and coal cellars and various larders.  There is a deep well with a very worn pump that moved water up three flights through a large lead pipe to a big tank in the attic.

Penhallam, at the end of Warren Lane, where it meets Mill Street, is a large three storey building with a square turret, divided up since the 1940s into interlocking apartments.  It has fine high-ceilinged rooms and lovely westward views.  The property was formerly known as Rack Park House and was renamed by George Stawell, a solicitor, who came from Cornwall in late Victorian times.











Thursday, 24 October 2019 12:45

Sport in Torrington in the past

An early form of football, called 'outhurling', used to be played centuries ago on the commons. Two sets of stakes, some half a mile apart, were the designated goal posts and two teams of 25 to 30 men used to play with a pig's bladder covered with pieces of leather.

Torrington FC was established in 1908.  Their home ground is the Vicarage Field and, at present, they play in the top division of the North Devon League.

In the 1920s each street had its own football team and practised on its own bit of commons: Mill Street on Mill Street common, Calf Street on Quiet Possession, Town Boys at Barley Grove, and New Street on the Old Bowling Green, which was also the location for the annual inter-street finals.  In 1931 the 'Street Shield' was won by Mill Street.

In a letter to the Commons Conservators in 1895 a proposal was made to form a Torrington Golf Club.  This proposal was accepted and a nine hole golf course was established on the Old Bowling Green where play continued until the First World War.  After the war, a new course was made and opened at Darracott.  The club moved to its present site at Furzebeam in 1932.

The bowling club is said to have been founded in1645 and is the third oldest in England.  It stands on the site of the old castle overlooking the Torridge valley.

As well as football, golf and, presumably at one time, bowls, the Old Bowling Green has been used for shinty and women's hockey and as a venue for special events such as the Coronation Sports of 1902.

Rugby was played in the past (I've seen a photo of the 1898/99 team) but the present club started in 1985.  Before the clubhouse was built in 1996, home games involved changing at the comprehensive school, a walk up to the pitch at Donnacroft on Hatchmoor Road, and then, after the match, down to the Newmarket Inn in town for a few beers.

The 'round the tree race' at May Fair is a long-held tradition.  In the past, when there were fewer trees and bushes on the commons because of grazing, the runners used to plunge straight down over Castle Hill and wade through the river.

 Tennis club records go back to the 1950s but an elderly woman who lived in Torrington in the 1930s says she belonged to the junior section of the tennis club and was coached by Bruce Blatchford, who had a saddler's and sports shop in Potacre Street.  They played on two grass courts down by the gas works, where the three hard courts are now.  Facilities at the tennis club were always poor – an old shed with no toilets.  Promises of improvements by the local council in 2011 came to nothing and tennis is no longer played in Torrington.   

There used to be a bathing spot in the river below Castle Hill and, in the late 1920s, a concrete platform and changing shed were built.  The shed was divided into two, for women and men, and boys used to punch holes through the dividing wall to look at the girls!  The present swimming pool was built in 1972 on the site of the old market.



Thursday, 24 October 2019 12:43

The History of the Plough

The Plough Arts Centre, situated in Fore Street in the centre of Torrington, is a great cultural asset to the town and to North Devon.  It hosts live events, films, workshops and art exhibitions and there is a café in the foyer.  The Plough is home to the Torrington Players, the Plough Youth Theatre, Ploughcappella singers, the First Thursday Writers' Group, and there is an annual poetry competition.  The centre also has an extensive outreach programme that puts on events at twelve other venues across North Devon.  The official staff, led by Richard Wolfenden-Brown, who has been Director since 2002, are helped in the running of the arts centre by a team of volunteers.  Plough supporters help to keep the venue afloat by their financial contributions and receive price concessions in return.

It is thought that the original building where the Plough now stands was the town house of a wealthy merchant or, possibly, a building with some municipal purpose as a fine, large, iron fireback dated 1616 – now in the museum – bears the Royal Coat of Arms and the site has always belonged to the town.

In around 1750 the building became the Plough Inn run by William Waldon, 'a Maltster', and his wife Judith who are both buried in the churchyard.  There is mention of the inn over the years in the Council Minutes, such as in 1855 when the Mayor, Silas Snell, invited the Town Council to a grand dinner at the Globe while  the Beadles and Constables dined at the Plough.  It seems the neighbouring establishments catered for a different clientele.  The Minutes of 1875 note 'complaints having been made of the bad state of the closets and dung pit behind the Plough premises' and the 'nuisance therefrom'.

The Plough remained as a public house until 1910 by which time the building was evidently in a shocking state of repair.  The final indignity was a letter from Mr Parnell of the Globe, dated July 1911, requesting to keep a cow in the premises for a week!  (Permission was granted!)

In 1912 the Plough Inn, its many stables and outhouses, was demolished and a drill hall was built on the site for the use of the Devonshire Regiment of the Royal North Devon Yeomanry and the Territorial Army.  It was completed in 1914.  By August, war had been declared and townspeople gathered to give the 'D' squadron of the R.N.D. Hussars (some 150 strong), based at the drill hall, a fitting send off.

The drill hall was uncompromisingly military and Spartan.  It had a lobby, a 30 yard shooting range down the right hand side, storage for a large 25 pound field gun, and lots of space besides.  It was used for training men and women who drilled with the army there.  However, a music and dancing licence had been granted in July 1914 and, when not performing its military function, the drill hall was a venue for a variety of social activities such as badminton, concerts, jumble sales, coffee mornings, children's fancy dress parties, and dances, especially during the Second World War when the Americans were based nearby.

The Territorial Army gave up the lease of the drill hall in 1968 but it continued to be used for Cavalier Bonfire dances, Christmas parties, hunt balls, and the May Ball where some well-known musicians of the time appeared, such as Nat Temple and his band from London and The Fourmost from Liverpool.  The hall was painted dark green and was rather drab so the Cavaliers brightened the place up with a series of murals reflecting the theme of an event.  One year they painted shields with rather tongue-in-cheek coats of arms depicting local dignitaries and tradespeople (some of whom were none too amused!).  Monthly auctions were held there as well as other events, including a wrestling match modelled on the somewhat stage-managed wrestling shown on Saturday afternoons on ITV at the time.

John Lane from Beaford was one of a small band of movers and shakers who helped establish the Plough Arts Centre.  He set up Beaford Arts in August 1966 and later heard that a group of people in Torrington had a vision of creating a community theatre.  The late Clifford Quick, former Mayor and Town Councillor, was one of the leading spirits among this group who wanted to convert the drill hall into a theatre.  John Lane linked up with the working group, which eventually became Torridge Arts Recreation Association, and they bought the lease of the building from the Town Council in 1974.

Work on the building took about six months and the centre was opened on 11th April 1975 by Col. J. E. Palmer who was thanked by the Mayor, R. H. Cotton.  This was followed by a concert featuring the famous actress Edith Evans, who performed a number of poems and amusing pieces, and promising young musicians from the North Devon Music Centre who played Mozart's 'Quartet in G. Major'.  There followed a month long festival of amateur and professional events culminating in May Fair.  People turned up in droves to see George Melly and the Footwarmers, and the first film night was so successful that a queue of 200 had formed by opening time and two consecutive showings were put on of 'King Kong'.  One of the highlights of the 1970s was when the Royal Shakespeare Company came in 1978 and played to packed houses for three nights.

Not everyone in Torrington was supportive of the idea of an arts centre at first and there was some resentment when the drill hall was taken over by 'luvvies'.  There were people in the close-knit community, with its entrenched traditions and insular attitudes, who felt the whole project was alien and unnecessary and would cost money which would be better used for other more essential causes.  However, as time passes and outlooks are broadened by easier travel, the media and the internet, suspicions have lessened and local people have realised that the Plough provides a variety of events, to appeal to a wide range of tastes, and is a hub of local activity for people from all over North Devon.



Thursday, 24 October 2019 12:40

The Women's Land Army in Torrington

The Women's Land Army was formed in 1917 during the First World War.  In June 1939, with the threat of war looming again, the organisation was re-formed so that by September 1939, when the call came, 1,000 volunteers could immediately be sent into employment, many of them already trained.

Thelma was sent to Torrington in February 1944 to join the Land Army.  She was twenty years old and came from London where she had seen the first doodlebugs (flying bombs).  She arrived by train and, as she emerged from the station with her luggage, it was raining and she looked up the long blank hill in dismay.  'Where on earth have I come to?' she wondered.  As she walked into the town she didn't see a young man standing outside Pope's garage (where Lidl is now) but he noticed her and thought to himself, 'She's the one for me.'  As it turned out, he and Thelma got to know each other and, eventually, they married and had two children.

Thelma stayed with nine other girls in a hostel in New Street opposite the Royal Exchange pub, while some of the girls were billeted in private houses.  They came from various parts of the country and were of different ages and backgrounds.  Ann Spenceley was the oldest at thirty-two and was in charge of the canteen.  Ann de Haviland was a member of the well-known aircraft family and was one of the drivers.

The girls did 'gang work' in a group of eighteen and cleared moors and planted them with potatoes or wheat.  They did four months forestry work at Okehampton, lopping off branches, and lived in freezing cold Nissen huts at Moretonhampstead.  At other times they would do re-stooking work, picking up sheaves and leaning them against each other in stooks of eight to finish drying off.  Walking all day on the stubble was hard work but the feeling of camaraderie between the girls kept them going.  They went down to Sidmouth and Countesswear to dismantle barbed wire coils and wind the barbed wire around 'grannies' (granary sticks).   

They worked with gangs of boys and conscientious objectors who were billeted down near South Drive.  They also worked with Italian POWs from the hutments by the senior school, who were 'lovely' and courteous, and with German POWs who were billeted out of town and driven to work by lorry.  They were good workers but, unlike the Italians, weren't allowed to talk to anyone.

Every day the girls had spam, jam or cheese in their sandwiches.  Rationing wasn't as hard in Torrington as in London and, although food was restricted, no-one went hungry.  Land girls were allowed 12 oz of cheese a week whereas it was 2 oz for other people.  Chickens were kept to supply eggs and milk was available from local farms, although no-one was allowed to make cream.

The only entertainment in town was the Saturday night dance at the drill hall (now the Plough) and the pubs.  The Setting Sun at 24 Cornmarket Street was a favourite.

Three thousand Americans came to Torrington, virtually doubling the population at the time, and they were good fun.  They had lots of food and supplies from their quartermaster's stores which seemed to stock just about everything.  They were billeted at Porch House and at number 88 New Street where a 'Red Indian' could be seen sitting in his window gazing out and smoking a pipe.  The land girls cried when the Americans departed and later wondered if they had been involved in the disastrous operation at Slapton Sands which happened soon after they left Torrington.

I asked Thelma how she felt, looking back, about her time as a land girl.  She said it had been 'bloomin' hard work' but they all liked the life, even though they were often muddy, soaked or sunburnt.  It had been the first time away from home for all of them which was wonderful!

The Women's Land Army was disbanded in 1950.



The Great Torrington Trust made use of eight toll-houses around the town but only three can still be identified.

The Rothern Bridge Toll-house, which stands in the fork where a steep minor road turns off to Frithelstock from the main A386 about a mile out of Torrington, is a very good example of a traditional angle-fronted toll-house.  There would have been space for a toll-board above the projecting ground floor window overlooking the road, or over the porch.  It was occupied in 1871 by 'toll collector' John Tucker and his wife.

Town Bridge Toll-house is a Grade II listed, square built, classically inspired toll-house next to Taddiport Bridge.  It was built by the Great Torrington Trust in around 1830 alongside the town's Canal Offices that, in 1874, became the Torridge Vale Butter Factory.  This company, by then known as Dairy Crest, closed down in 1993 and the house faces the dilapidated remains of the factory buildings.  Census returns of 1871 show 33 year old 'Farmer's labourer and toll-collector' Robert Mitchell living at the house with his wife and daughter.

An unusual two storey house which stands in Calf Street opposite East Street, where the roads from Barnstaple and South Molton enter the town, was probably the Calf Street East Toll-house.  It is in the right position for a toll-house and possesses a blanked out window suitable for a toll-board on its tall projecting front gable.  In 1841 the 'Toll-gate keeper' is recorded as 55 year old John Hill.  Still recorded as the 'Calf Street Toll Bar' in the Census of 1871, it was then occupied by 53 year old Rebecca Copp and her family.

Other toll-houses which no longer exist include Rosemoor Toll-house which stood near the junction of the present-day A386 with the A3124 and was used to catch travellers coming from the direction of Morchard Road and Exeter.  In 1871 it is recorded as the 'Row's Moor Toll-Gate' with 71 year old Chelsea Pensioner Joseph Hammon in residence.

A new bridge over the River Torridge was constructed in 1843, to carry the new main road into the town from Okehampton and Hatherleigh, and New Bridge Toll-house was built on the west side of the bridge.  In 1871 the 'turnpike gate toll-collector' is recorded as 44 year old Sarah Hammet in residence with her four children.

After New Road was built into the town, a turnpike gate was constructed at the west end of Calf Street, which probably also had a toll-house.  Another toll-bar operated at the western end of what is now Dick Hills Lane to catch travellers from the direction of South Molton who tried to evade tolls in Calf Street.  Although retaining the name of 'Castle Garden Lane Toll Bar' in 1871, the house was occupied at that time by 71 year old 'Master Shoemaker' Richard Hill and his family and may by then have stopped being used by the trust for collecting tolls on this road.

There was another toll-house built at the junction of the road into the town from Weare Giffard, where School Lane joins New Street.  The toll-house has long since been demolished, no doubt a victim of road widening, but was occupied in 1871 by 'Glover and Toll-collector' Fanny Piper and her two children.

In 1880 toll gates throughout North Devon were sold off as the old toll road system had come to an end.



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