Totnes Guildhall is what remains of the kitchens and refectory of a Benedictine Priory, which was originally built in 1088. In 1206, King John granted Totnes a charter, stating it will become a free town, able to make it's own laws. In the 13th century the town merchants gained permission to set up their own guild, which was originally in High Street.
The Priory was dissolved by Henry V111 in 1536 and all the buildings were demolished except the Guildhall.
In 1553, Edward V1 issued a charter saying that the building was to be used as a Guildhall as Totnes was to become the second wealthiest town in Devon due to the export of wool and tin.
In 1611 the merchants built their own hall and the Guildhall was converted into a Magistrates Court. It stayed as a court until 1974.
There is a table in the Guildhall where Oliver Cromwell and Lord Fairfax sat to discuss future plans during the Civil War. The Guildhall was also used as a billet for soldiers at this time.
Today the Guildhall is the home of Totnes Town Council and used regularly for meetings and civic occasions such as the Mayor Choosing.
The ground floor houses what was the Priory kitchen, but was turned into the town jail in 1624, a mans prison cell and a womans cell can be seen. The womans cell eventually became the town mortuary. The main part of the ground floor is used as the council chamber.
The first floor is the public gallery and also the area where the Mayoral Gowns, which are used in Civic ceremonies are displayed and numerous other exhibits.
THE EAST GATE ARCH
The world famous East Gate Arch, straddles the main street at the junction of South Street. As you pass under the arch going up the hill, you leave Fore Street and enter High Street. Originally the entrance to the old Elizabethan walled town, the arch was constructed mainly of wood.
The walls are topped with battlements and the roof has a copola complete with bell and weather vane on the ridge. The arch contains the clock mechanism and chimes every quarter hour. There is also a lovely wood panelled room with a bay window underneath.
The arch and surrounding buildings were severely damaged in a devastating fire in Sept 1990. After painstaking reconstruction, it was rebuilt as close to the original arch as possible using much of the salvaged materials.
Another unusual feature, which you will see actually under the arch, is the entrance and steps leading to Ramparts Walk which takes you to the Guildhall.
For much more information, photographs and videos of the East Gate Arch Fire.
Please click below