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Heritage

What is that Derelict Factory down in the river valley below Torrington?

The dilapidated industrial building standing forlornly by the River Torridge is the remains of a milk factory that had been there since 1874.  It closed in 1993, mainly as a result of milk quotas which had been introduced a decade earlier, and 134 people lost their jobs.  For many years it was one of the town’s main employers.

The pioneering Torridge Vale dairy was founded by Robert Sandford, a local greengrocer and entrepreneur, on the site of the old Rolle Canal stores near Taddiport Bridge.  The coming of the railway to Torrington in 1872 had seen the end of the canal as a means of transporting goods.

The steam-driven cream separator, invented in around 1880, was replacing the work of individual dairy maids and men in the production of butter, extracting cream from considerable quantities of milk daily (200 gallons of milk were being dealt with in an hour).  The separated cream was either potted into little Barum Ware jars and sold as rich Devonshire cream or converted into butter.  Milk from Torrington could reach London by train on the same day.

Over the years the business prospered, buildings and machinery were enlarged and by 1931 milk was being collected from about 50 farms, peaking at 1,850 gallons per day.

In 1932 the dairy became associated with Cow & Gate Ltd and the trading name changed to Torridge Vale Dairies (Devon) Ltd.  Stimulated by conditions during the Second World War and encouraged by government policy to enlarge the output of home-grown food, and also to build up an export trade, the factory developed far beyond what its founder could have expected.

The main products processed at Torridge Vale Dairies were butter, cream, spray and roller dried milk, and the cooling and dispatch of milk for the liquid market, as and when required.  Milk production, with a ready and guaranteed market, was increasing and the dairy was growing at considerable speed; by 1939 the peak intake had increased to 10,500 gallons per day.  However, workers’ wages hadn’t increased accordingly and they went on strike carrying placards declaring, ‘Support the men who MAKE cream but can never afford to BUY it’.  By 1952 intake had risen to 60,000 gallons per day.

By the late 1940s a new larger factory building was completed, equipped with modern dairy machinery with far more powerful engines and five new large boilers to produce the steam required.  It had one of the largest milk drying process machines in the world, new methods of purification of river water, and the first reinforced concrete chimney in the country which rose to a height of 175 feet (nearly 54 metres).

In 1959 the United Dairies merged with Cow & Gate to form Unigate Ltd and, by 1969, the trading name was Unigate Foods Ltd.

In August 1979 the  Milk Marketing Board purchased a large share of Unigate’s interests, including the Torrington factory, and the dairy became Dairy Crest Foods, Torrington.  The last milk churns were used at this time and all deliveries in future were to be by bulk-tanker.  A major rebuilding programme was undertaken, which included a new separating and butter-making area and cold storage, and £5.3 million was invested to enable the whole process to be achieved on a continuous enclosed production line, all controlled by computer.  It was one of the most modern milk processing plants in the country producing butter, milk-based desserts and skimmed milk powder.  In the 1980s the factory employed 230 production staff and 100 drivers.

The demise of the Torrington milk factory started in April 1984 when the Common Market decided to bring in milk quotas.  From then on, unlimited milk production could not continue and a brake was going to be put on to reduce the butter and powder mountains.  Quotas meant that milk production was going to be capped to a lower level than 1984 production and farmers were not going to be able to expand their businesses.  Milk prices are never very good for farmers and many of them gave up milk production so the amount of milk produced in the British Isles started to reduce.  Consequently, in the next ten years there was a situation where too many milk factories were chasing a reducing supply of raw material.  Milk factories were becoming less efficient and so several rounds of closures occurred within all dairy companies.  Torrington hung on longer than most because of its size and the large milk field around it.

The management at Torrington, seeing the future of the industry under quotas, tried desperately to bring new ‘added value’ products to the site.  A UHT cream dessert was tried first and then Clover.  The latter was very successful but, eventually, because the site was so far away from the main markets and because Dairy Crest needed to make savings to protect its future, with the demise of the Milk Marketing Board, Clover production was transferred to a site in the Midlands.  The production of clotted cream had, unfortunately, been disallowed for a period as part of the sale agreement between Unigate and Dairy Crest.

The factory closed for production on 30th March 1993.  ‘The milk will be transported to creameries outside the area, but it doesn’t seem quite natural to have no dairy in the middle of all those dairy farms,’ said an article in The Guardian.  Unemployment in the town rose sharply and families who had several members working at the dairy faced hard times.

In 1998 a co-operative of 50 local farmers, under the name of Torridge Vale Ltd, took over part of the building.  They wanted to set up a small operation to manufacture all their own milk to retain more profit for themselves.  A very good brand was created called ‘Definitely Devon’.  They wanted to produce more added value products, like clotted cream and soft cheese, but it proved much more difficult than anticipated.   

What had once been a thriving hub of activity and a major employer in the town has been for many years now a blot on the beautiful North Devon landscape.  The building has been vandalised, is riddled with asbestos and rats and, tragically, has been the site of two suicides.  Over the years various plans have been drawn up for the dairy site (some at great expense) but, as yet, none of these plans has come to fruition.

 

 

 

How old is the Parish Church?

There has been a parish church in Torrington for at least 750 years. The oldest parts of the present building date from the 13th and 14th centuries.

In 1510 Henry VIII granted the rectory and advowson of Great Torrington to Cardinal Wolsey who appropriated them to his foundation of Christ Church, Oxford and since 1549 the perpetual curates (more recently called vicars) have been appointed by the Dean and Chapter of that College.

The older rectory had been at Priestacott (off the road to Huntshaw Mill) but when Margaret of Richmond became Lady of the Manor ‘she pitied the long path that the rector had from the church’ and in 1491 presented to the rector, Thomas Burswell, and his successors her manor house and land. The present vicarage which stands on this site dates from 1841.

During the Civil War at the Battle of Torrington in February 1646 there was an explosion in the church which killed some 200 people and destroyed part of the building as well as many of its records of other events. Restoration work was carried out in 1651. The lower part of the old south tower survived the explosion while the upper part and the spire disappeared. The church had previously had a leaded broach spire similar to the 14th century spires of Barnstaple and Braunton. A second spire was erected which remained at least until 1786 but at some time before 1830 was blown down by a gale and the remaining part of the spire was converted into the curious cupola shown in the old engraving of 1830 with a bell hung on the outside. During the 1830s a new spire was built at the western end of the church by local builder, Walter Brown Cock. The old south tower was converted into a transept and after 1864 it accommodated the schoolchildren and seating was put in for that purpose. In 1938 the seating was removed and the transept was furnished as a side chapel and memorial to the late vicar, the Rev. Frank Emlyn-Jones, who served as parish priest from 1894-1934. It is named the Chapel of St James after the demolished chapel of Torrington Castle.

The inside of the church feels large (107 ft / 33 metres long) and bare. The fine roof is of the waggon-shaped pattern typical of this part of England. The pulpit with its carved cherubs and gilded lions’ heads is typical 17th century work. During the restoration of 1860-64 (when the old galleries and box pews were removed) the pulpit was moved and the sounding-board discarded. Someone later rescued the sounding-board from a builder’s yard and gave it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It remained there until 1960 when the Mayor of Torrington, Colonel J. E. Palmer, arranged for its return to the church.

The Willis organ is one of the finest organs in the West Country. It was built by Henry ‘Father’ Willis (1821-1901) for Sherwell Congregational Chapel in Plymouth in 1864. In 1989 Sherwell planned to get rid of the organ during alterations to the church and it was dismantled and rebuilt at Torrington church where it is much treasured.

The present vicar is Peter Bevan.

Where does the River Torridge rise?

The name Torridge comes from the old word ‘toric’ meaning ‘noisy’ and ‘violent, rough stream’ as opposed to its companion river, the Taw, which means ‘smooth, placid’.  The sources of the two rivers are about 26 miles apart and they follow very different routes before meeting in a broad estuary.

The River Torridge rises on the border of north Devon and north Cornwall, just east of the A39, only some 15 miles from where it meets the sea.  Its source is made up of three headwaters that combine to form the river plus a rather more impressive tributary that rises on Deptford Moor and joins the Torridge above Horton Bridge.

Brimford Bridge is the first of the Torridge’s many bridges and the river is rather hidden as it meanders through the countryside until it reaches Woodford Bridge.  Below the village of Meeth the Torridge is joined by the River Okement bringing waters from Dartmoor.

The river approaches Torrington from the direction of Beaford and flows under New Bridge near Orford Mill at the junction on the A386 where the B3124 turns off towards Exeter.  This bridge is a majestic structure built very high above the water because of the provision of a dry arch to take the canal (in use 1827-1871) which was on a higher level than the river.  The river then flows along the base of Castle Hill on which stands, high above, the town that has taken its name – Torrington – with flat water meadows on the opposite bank.  There used to be a bathing spot here with a concrete platform and a changing shed built in the 1920s.  The next bridge to cross the river is the one at Taddiport probably built in the 13th century and originally known as Town Bridge.  The river then flows under the old railway bridge (now part of the Tarka Trail) before passing under Rolle Bridge opened in 1928 which carries the main road from Torrington to Bideford.  Just beyond this bridge is the old Rothern Bridge which, with the one at Taddiport, was one of the town’s original bridges and dates from at least the 14th century.

The river continues on to Weare Giffard, looping through woodland and meadows and crossed three times by the Tarka Trail.  Weare Giffard marks the tidal limit of the River Torridge and, being low-lying, the village has suffered flooding on many occasions.

Bideford Long Bridge dates from the latter part of the 15th century and has been widened at various times and in a variety of ways to cope with the demands of modern traffic.  Before the building of the present stone bridge, there were at least three different wooden structures which were in use from the late 13th century.  Further downstream is the new Bideford bridge, a soaring curve high up above the river which was opened in 1987.  The Taw and the Torridge meet just beyond Appledore and Instow and flow together out through Bideford Bay to the Atlantic.

 

Dartington Crystal celebrates fifty years (June 2017)

The company was founded by the Dartington Hall Trust, a charity which aimed to assist the economic regeneration of rural areas through business, education, the arts and country crafts.  The trust was originally set up in the 1920s by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst at Dartington Hall, South Devon.  

In the early 1960s the trust had become concerned that North Devon was becoming depopulated as a lack of job opportunities forced people to move elsewhere to find work.  The glass-making factory was intended to be a solution to this problem, conceived as a centre of employment giving local people a reason to stay in the area.

To achieve this vision the trust recruited Eskil Vilhelmsson, a Swedish glass manufacturer, to be the company’s Managing Director.  A team of Scandinavian glass blowers came with him to Torrington and the factory opened in June 1967 under the name of Dartington Glass.  To start with, there were just 35 employees.  Homes were built for the Swedish glass blowers near the factory (Eskil Place) as well as at the eastern end of town (Dartington Fields).  The Swedes were gradually accepted into the community and the first marriage between one of them and a local girl took place in 1972.  14 more were to follow over the next 10 years.  Dartington would not have survived without the talent and commitment of the original Swedish glass blowers.

The factory developed under the guidance of Eskil Vilhelmsson and the Design Director, Frank Thrower, who created some of the most important glassware designs of the 20th century, such as Sharon, Exmoor and Dimple.  He also devised a clever advertising plan that helped establish Dartington Glass on the industry scene and caught the attention of their first customers: the renowned John Lewis Partnership and an interesting new shop called Habitat.  The company thrived from here growing into a worldwide brand recognised for its quality and design-led manufacturing.

By 1970 the Dartington workforce numbered 84 with manufacturing and distribution centred on two large sites in Torrington and the company had made its first steps into the lucrative tourist market.  5,000 visitors passed through the factory in the first week it opened to the public.  During the 1970s 2-3,000 pieces of glass were made every day with 75% of Dartington’s production sold domestically.  The glass was also exported to some 30 nations – primarily Australia, Canada and the United States – including Sweden.  Demand outstripped production and the factory had to be expanded and the workforce grew to 330 for a time.  By the 1980s the modern image of Dartington had attracted the attention of Wedgwood who took up a large stake in the business, allowing for further expansion.

Business continued to boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s until it was affected by the recession and in 1992 the factory had to put its 250 staff on short-time, working two weeks out of three.  There was a management buy-out in 1994 and the Dartington Hall Trust sold its remaining stake in the business.  By the end of the 1990s manufacturing had declined from 20 glass kilns to three, with much of its stock imported under the Dartington name.  In 2004 it was taken over by US giftware giant, Enesco, following the company briefly going into administration.  By now known as ‘Dartington Crystal’, it underwent another management buy-out in April 2006 safeguarding many skilled jobs in the area.

Dartington products have been exhibited around the world and over the years the company has received numerous design and industry awards.  It now creates a variety of unique commissions for high profile clients.

Dartington Crystal has played an important role in regenerating the regional economy of North Devon.  It has had a chequered history going from success through the doldrums to today’s position as a leading tourism draw as the only remaining crystal factory in the UK welcoming 300,000 visitors every year to its popular visitor centre, factory tour and large shopping area.  It supports 140 jobs and remains a major employer in Torrington.

 

 

    

When was there a railway service to Torrington?

A passenger rail service to Torrington was in operation for nearly a hundred years.  Built as an extension from Bideford, the line was opened in July 1872 and passenger trains ran until 1965 when the service was axed by Beeching.

Torrington station was rather inconveniently situated about a mile out of town at the bottom of a steep hill on the road to Bideford.  However, a ‘station bus’ operated from New Street for all the workers and schoolchildren who travelled by train.  The initial passenger service on the North Devon line in August 1872 comprised six trains each way as far as Torrington: three from London, Waterloo, one from Yeovil and two from Exeter, with another between Barnstaple and Bideford.  The 2.10pm express from Waterloo took 6 hours 51 minutes for the journey of 225 miles to Torrington.  There were extra services to and from Barnstaple on a Friday which was market day.

A light 3ft gauge private railway was built in the early 1880s to transport bricks and clay from the Marland clay works to the Torrington goods yard.  The only passengers who used this line were clay workers.  This railway was in use for 44 years until the opening of the North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway in 1925, which was built on much of the same trackbed, but the narrow gauge system was retained within the clay works for another 45 years until it finally closed in 1970.

In 1925 standard gauge rails finally pushed south from Torrington and connected up at Halwill Junction to the rest of the network.  A new steel viaduct over the River Torridge was built alongside the old wooden viaduct of the Torrington and Marland Railway which was subsequently demolished.  The train went through Petrockstowe, Meeth, Hatherleigh, Hole and on to Halwill Junction where it met up with the Bude, Okehampton and Padstow lines.  This line wasn’t the success that had been hoped for and was more a tourist route than a local service.

A substantial flow of traffic from Torrington station was milk for the London market from the dairy further along the valley.

By the early 1960s the number of passengers on the trains through Torrington was declining.  People were travelling in their own cars or by bus, particularly between Barnstaple and Bideford where there was a frequent service to both town centres.  Freight traffic was also declining and goods and cattle were being transported by road.  Inevitably, there were cuts to services.

In 1963 the government brought in Dr Richard Beeching to make major improvements to the rail industry and he recommended the development of freight and fast passenger services on main lines, concentrating on the profitable bulk flows of traffic, and the elimination of large numbers of stations and branch lines.  In North Devon passenger services were withdrawn on three of the four routes to Barnstaple, with only the Barnstaple to Exeter line being retained.  The Barnstaple to Meeth section was retained for clay and milk traffic.  After the 1965 summer season the passenger service between Torrington and Barnstaple was withdrawn.  Freight continued to be transported: milk until 1978,  fertilizer until 1980 and clay until 1982 after which it was transported by road.

There were talks in the late 1970s and early 1980s about the possibility of reopening railway lines to Bideford and Torrington but the numerous proposals came to nothing because of lack of funding.  The ‘Last Train to Torrington’ run by British Rail itself was on Saturday 6th November 1982 and ran from Bristol, Bridgwater, Exeter to Barnstaple.  Leaving Barnstaple for Torrington the train consisted of two diesel engines (one leading, one trailing) and 15 coaches carrying 843 passengers.  This was the longest and best-patronised passenger train ever to run into Torrington station.

 

 

What Industries were there in Torrington in the past?

Torrington as a borough dates from the late 12th century and in its early days the town flourished on its markets and fairs.  Agriculture was Torrington’s primary industry when the main essential was the cultivation of land and the production of food.

The 14th century saw the beginning of the great woollen industry in England and by the 15th century ‘Devonshire kerseys’ had become famous.  Local place names reflect the manufacture of woollen cloth: Tucking Mill meadow, Staple Vale, Rack Park (fields where cloth was stretched out on racks to dry).

Glove making developed during the thriving wool industry in the 17th century and replaced it as Torrington’s major employer in the 19th century.  By the 1830s some 3,000 women were employed in the making of kid, chamois, beaver and other sorts of gloves for the London and foreign markets.  ‘White’s Gazetteer’ of 1850  lists the names of 13 glove makers in the town.  As the smaller establishments disappeared, machines began to be introduced into the larger ones, at first worked by hand on the premises and then by hot air, steam and gas engines.  In the 1880s one factory alone had more than 600 employees, both in the factory and as outworkers.  By the 1940s there were three glove factories in the town, the last of which closed in 2010.  The large imposing Grade II listed building in Whites Lane, the former Vaughan Tapscott glove factory built in 1884 in the style of a grand chapel, was closed in 2002.  Since then it has stood forlorn and increasingly derelict.

Many of the old local crafts and trades that were carried on in Torrington have long since disappeared.  (See list in ‘Torrington Uncovered’ p.66).  

In the second half of the 20th century the main factories in Torrington employing a large proportion of the town’s population were the Dairy Crest creamery, the North Devon Meat factory and Dartington Glass.  The presence of three fairly large, labour-intensive employers was a strength from the 1960s to the 1980s but by the early 1990s had become a weakness – too many eggs in too few baskets – and all three were badly affected by the recession.

There had been a dairy at Taddiport since 1874 but in 1993 the milk factory moved its production elsewhere which meant the loss of 134 jobs.  Other businesses occupied parts of the building for a while but it has stood empty and vandalised for many years and plans to demolish it and build on the site have come to nothing. 

In its heyday, North Devon Meat which opened in 1967 was the largest meat factory in Europe and employed 400-500 people.  In the early 1990s 100 workers were made redundant and then part of the building burnt down in 2001 when 250 people lost their jobs.  The company was taken over by St Merryn Foods based at Bodmin in Cornwall.

In 1992, during the recession, Dartington Glass had to put its staff on short-time but, after numerous management buy-outs and reductions of the workforce over the years, Dartington Crystal, as it is now known, continues to be a major employer in Torrington.

 

When was the Battle of Torrington?

The Battle of Torrington took place in 1646 during the English Civil War.  It is sometimes called ‘the forgotten battle’ as it is seldom referred to in accounts of that period but it was, in fact, the decisive battle of the final campaign of the West, which ruined the cause of King Charles I.

At that time Torrington was in Royalist hands under Ralph, Lord Hopton, Commander in Chief of what remained of the King’s Army in the West.  Word of what was happening in North Devon reached the Parliamentarian General, Sir Thomas Fairfax, at Exeter who learnt that some of the King’s horse from Oxford had penetrated westward and Royalist horse in North Devon was attempting to push eastward to join them in order to relieve Exeter and attempt to recapture the West.  With North Devon securely in Royalist hands, they could hope to bring in additional aid from Wales or Ireland.  Fairfax, therefore, decided to abandon the siege of Exeter and to advance in person with a force of some 10,000 horse and foot hoping this time to destroy completely the Royalist armies.

Fairfax and his army marched towards Torrington and, fighting off a series of skirmishes by the Royalists to try and impede their advance,  took over Stevenstone House in the late afternoon of 15th February.  The Royalist soldiers were ordered back nearer to the town.

Fairfax intended to do no more that night than hold the positions already gained so stationed his men in readiness for an assault in the morning.  At around midnight a noise rather like a tattoo was heard in the town and it was supposed that the enemy were retreating.  As a kind of experiment, a small party of dragoons was ordered to approach slowly the first barricade and fire over it.  There was an immediate response from the Royalist soldiers on the other side and thus it was that battle commenced.  Regiments of foot and horse were ordered to the front and managed to break through the barricades into the town.  There was fierce fighting in the narrow streets and townspeople watched, terrified, from upper windows.  The Royalists fought bravely but were no match for the energy and discipline of the Parliamentarians.  Hopton’s horse was shot and he himself was wounded and, eventually, he and his men were forced to retreat.

The Parliamentarians drove their prisoners into the church not knowing the Royalists were using it as a powder magazine, having stored about 80 barrels of gunpowder in there.  Somehow, these barrels were ignited and blew up with a mighty explosion which killed 200 prisoners, guards and citizens and destroyed part of the church and many houses.  Fairfax had a lucky escape when he narrowly missed being struck by falling pieces of lead.

The streets of Torrington were littered with dying men from both sides and abandoned weapons.  When the powder store went up there had been a deafening roar which caused the ground to tremble and echoed around the hills and valleys before subsiding in a long-drawn-out rumble.  With the noise of the explosion ringing in their ears, the retreating Royalists fled down Mill Street and over the bridge at Taddiport as they made for the Cornish border.  The defeat at Torrington had spelled the end of Royalist hopes in the West Country.

 

Two local landmarks

On Castle Hill common, about half-way down between the top of the hill and the river, there stands a monument with an inscription plate said to be made from a cannon brought back from the Battle of Waterloo.  This obelisk, with a built-in stone seat on each of its four sides which enables walkers to rest and enjoy the view, was financed by the ladies of Great Torrington and reads:

ERECTED JUNE 1818
TO COMMEMORATE
THE BATTLE OF
WATERLOO
JUNE 1815
PEACE TO THE
SOULS OF THE
HEROES!!!

In this cynical age we wonder about the significance of the three exclamation marks but, probably, they simply denote admiration for men’s courage in battle.

The place known as Windy Cross is not a crossroads but a four-armed cross which sits on top of a stone structure that used to be a pump house and, before that, an ancient well.

It is situated at the top of Mill Street where it joins South Street and Halsdon Terrace, on the corner between the Methodist chapel and a bungalow called Windy Ridge.  It has an old road sign pointing to Bideford attached to it as well as a sign marking a water hydrant.

The name Windy Cross is appropriate as, according to George Doe in ‘Old Torrington Landmarks’, it marks the highest point in the town.  The 19th century pump house which, presumably, was built over the original well was mostly of local stone but in the south porch the entrance step was a large slab of Purbeck marble.

The shaft and circular base of the cross are believed to be ancient but have been re-cut.  The large stone disc which supported the shaft would have formed a suitable coping stone over an old well.

George Doe, local historian who was mayor of Torrington in 1923 and 1924, regretted how this ancient landmark had been ‘desecrated and mutilated out of almost all knowledge’ and there was no longer any use made of the pump or the old well.  However, it was restored in the 1930s when the original circular base and shaft of the cross, which were found where they had been discarded in a field, were re-cut and surmounted with four arms and the upper portion of a new cross.

I don’t know when the old pump house was finally blocked up but a local man can remember climbing inside to shelter from the rain many years ago.

This old local landmark was given a Grade II listing in 1973 and reminds us of former times before we all had the luxury of running water in our homes.  

 

 

 

Did Torrington ever have a Livestock Market?

In documents dated 1249 the town was known as ‘Villata de Chepyng Toriton’ (market town of Torrington) so there was already an officially recognised market at that time.  The weekly Saturday market became widely regarded as one of the best in Devon.

An unattributed piece about Torrington in Tudor times describes the bustling market being full of vitality with ‘… good-humoured, noisy country folk selling their eggs and cheeses, apples and vegetables.  Travelling tinkers and button-sellers, piemen, cider-sellers, showmen, bakers, cobblers, wool merchants, farmers hiring help, tricksters, thieves, fishmongers, scribes, barbers, tooth-pullers, apothecaries, carpenters – all these and more, drawing trade and wealth into the town.’

Before 1842 the pannier and cattle markets were held in the streets.  New Street was converted into a cattle market and the iron rings to which animals were tied can still be seen fixed in the wall of the churchyard and some of the older houses.  There also used to be strong wooden posts with cross-bars in front of many of the houses to keep the animals which were penned on the pavement from breaking the windows.  George M. Doe, writing in the late 1920s, describes the scene: ‘Pandemonium reigned in the street – sometimes a bullock or cow ran amok through the crowd of dealers and others, scattering them in all directions.’

In the 19th century there was a Torrington Agricultural Association which organised shows known as the ‘Torrington Agricultural Exhibition’.  In 1895 this was merged with the Devon County Show which used to be held in different venues around the county.  In Torrington the show was held at Town Park (now built on) from 22nd – 24th May and the town council was paid two guineas for the use of the fields.  The early years saw classes for cattle, horses, sheep (including shearing), pigs and a poultry show.

By the end of the 19th century both market traders and livestock dealers had proper permanent premises.  In 1842 the pannier market was built at the southern end of the square and in 1890 part of the glebe land behind the vicarage and alongside School Lane was sold to the corporation for £120 and a cattle market was built at a cost of £1,000.  This market was opened in 1892 for the regular monthly sale of livestock by Henry Slee, then mayor of the borough.   

John Down remembers, when he was a boy, bringing his father’s sheep into the market from Chapple Farm out on the South Molton road between High Bullen and Atherington.  On the day before market, it would take John and a farm worker around two and a half hours to walk about a hundred sheep to a field at Hatchmoor where they would leave them for the night.  Then the following day they would bring the flock the rest of the way into Torrington along Calf Street to the market.

The swimming pool was built on the site in the early 1970s.

Mill Street?

Mill Street is a very old street of mainly terraced houses which drops down the hill from the town to the river.  It starts from the corner of South Street and Halsdon Terrace and winds down to the site of the old ruined dairy at Taddiport.  The Methodist Chapel is at the top and the Torridge Inn is at the bottom.

The road is narrower and steeper at the top where it is one-way only from where Warren Lane joins Mill Street.  However, people have been seen driving down: during the snow in 2010; when road works closed New Street in 2011 and a complicated diversion was set up; and at other times, if the fancy takes them!

Mill Street was the escape route taken by Royalist soldiers fleeing to the west after their defeat at the Battle of Torrington in 1646.  Originally, all the houses were thatched, some of them up until the 1960s, but the only thatched buildings remaining are Rose Cottage and the Torridge Inn down at the bottom of the street.

Those houses on the south side of the street have very steep gardens plunging down to the commons by the river, while those on the other side of the street have gardens sloping up to the Mill Street common to the north.  Some of the old houses have been divided into two, while others are two houses joined into one, and gardens are often irregular in shape with complicated rights of access.  There is a ‘drangway’ between numbers 84 and 86 leading up to Mill Street common and a steep pathway down towards the river between numbers 101 and 103.

Some of the houses, mainly on the north side of the street, have a well indoors or in the garden and there used to be wooden doors in the wall under the pavement which led to water supplies of some sort.

There has been a change in usage in many of the buildings over the years.  Barns and sheds have been incorporated into houses, and shops and businesses have disappeared.  Number 130 used to be a fish and chip shop and at number 29, on the corner of Sandfords Gardens, was a shop selling groceries, bread and general supplies.  There were four other pubs besides the Torridge Inn in the 19th century: the Canal Inn at number 120 (which burnt down in 1859), the Greyhound, the Nelson and the Plymouth (behind Mill House).

The high pavement (which was known as ‘the course’) on the north side of the street had railings added some 25 years or so ago and ramps built down to the roadway.  People who lived in Mill Street as children in the 1950s remember playing out in the street (when they weren’t scrumping apples from Sandfords’ orchards nearby) but there is too much traffic and too many parked cars for that to be possible these days.

Many of the houses in Mill Street have interesting histories.  The present owners of number 129 have traced documentation dating back to 1640.  Over the centuries their house has been occupied by people involved in a variety of trades – woollen draper, cordwainer, ropemaker, tallow chandler, weaver, fuller, dyer and carpenter – which were carried on in outhouses behind the house.

The solid stone house, number 127, is still known as ‘the police house’ although it wasn’t built for that purpose.  It was used as a police house by Devon County Council between 1919 and 1961 when it was sold back into private ownership.

The row of connected houses, numbers 61-67 on the south side of the street, were known as ‘Hoopers Cottages’.  At one time they all caught fire when burning on the commons (‘swayling’) got out of control and the thatched roofs went up in flames.  The houses were left derelict for some time until they were restored in the late 1930s.

Number 49 used to be a religious meeting house, possibly for Quakers or Non-Conformists; the early Methodists had a ‘preaching-room’ in a cottage in Mill Street.  Although this isn’t apparent from the front, and the inside of the house has been altered considerably, the back of the house has a roof and upper window shaped in a pointed arch which gives a clue to its former usage.

Number 39, a tall house with a room in the roof, is believed to have been built onto two small cottages which now form the rear part of the house.  This property is thought to have belonged to the head gardener at Caynton House, just up the road, as it has a wide hallway supposed to have been to accommodate his wheelbarrow.  Coincidentally, the present owner is a gardener and plant expert.

Mill House, number 19, is a substantial stone-fronted property with outbuildings in the rear courtyard.  In 1842 there were two cottages on this site with the Plymouth Inn behind them.  In 1901 the house was lived in by Thomas Andrews, a local photographer whose postcards are collected to this day.

Number 1 Mill Street was built in 1808.  In the 1840s it was known as ‘The Retreat’ and then in 1903 as ‘Revette’.  After 1904, over the next 50 years or so, the house was owned by several descendants of Thomas Fowler (the inventor after whom the IT centre at Castle Hill was named) who all shared his name.

On the other side of the street is the Old Coach House, a tall, three storey building.  It was converted in the 1930s out of the stables and coach house belonging to Penhallam next door.

Probably the finest house in Mill Street is Caynton House, a Grade II listed property built in 1725 set back off the road and looking over the Torridge valley.  It is thought there was once a pottery on this site as sherds and the remains of a kiln were found when the three houses in Caynton Court were built in the grounds.  The Yonge family, who came from Caynton in Shropshire, hence the name of the house, lived there for many years.