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Great Torrington – Cavalier Town (written by Moira Brewer, local author)

Great Torrington is a friendly, welcoming town set in the heart of unspoilt, rolling countryside.  It enjoys a superb hilltop position overlooking the River Torridge which must have been valued for its strategic importance when the castle stood there during the Middle Ages and is now appreciated for its magnificent views.  The town is surrounded on three sides by 365 acres of common land given to the people of Torrington in the late 12th century and since 1889 administered by a Committee of Conservators.  There is a variety of terrain on the commons and 20 miles of footpaths which are enjoyed by both townspeople and visitors and, to the north, a nine hole golf course.

The  Battle of Torrington  in 1646 was an important event during the English Civil War.The defeat of the Royalist occupiers of the town by General Sir Thomas Fairfax and his Parliamentary army spelled the end of Royalist hopes in the West Country. The parish church was partially blown up during the battle when gunpowder stored in the tower was accidentally ignited.  This event is commemorated each year by a procession and fireworks organised by the Torrington Cavaliers.

Fairs have been held in Great Torrington since the 13th century.  On the first Thursday in May is the ever-popular May Fair which sees the crowning of the May Queen plus maypole and floral dancing in the town square.  On the following Saturday is the Carnival procession through the town.  At other times of the year there is entertainment by the town’s Silver Band and, as Christmas approaches, a candlelit ‘Big Sing‘.

Every five years or so the Torrington Cavaliers build an impressive structure on the commons (e.g. half-size replica of Nelson’s Victory, a castle, ‘Trumpton’) which is set alight with accompanying music and fireworks.  Crowds of people come to watch and thousands of pounds are raised for charity.

The Torridge valley is in the heart of Tarka Country.  This wonderful landscape has remained practically unchanged since Henry Williamson found inspiration here to write his classic novel, ‘Tarka the Otter’, in the 1920s.  The Tarka Trail which follows the route of the old railway line, parts of which were once the Torrington Canal, is a popular walking and cycling track.  Down at the old railway station – now the Puffing Billy restaurant – stands a small collection of old rolling stock of interest to enthusiasts.

Great Torrington is known as the home of Dartington Crystal which opened in 1967 and continues to be Torrington’s largest employer.  The remains of other important past industries (glove factory, dairy) can still be seen.

The Rolle family were lords of the manor for some 350 years from Henry VIII’s time until the early 20th century and made many benefactions to the town.

The town square and the roads leading into it are a conservation area.  There are many buildings, some with interesting associations, that are worthy of notice e.g. Black Horse, Globe, Plough arts centre, town hall, pannier market, 28 South Street, Palmer House (where the artist Joshua Reynolds used to stay).  At 14 South Street and the adjoining Market House is the free Torrington museum.  

Dramatic history, buildings of interest, friendly locals and beautiful setting all make a visit to Great Torrington worthwhile.