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Venue Type & Location


Site Name: Guildhall
Location: Totnes
County: Devon
Location Type: Town - in town at determined location

Performance Spaces


Totnes is a historic town on the River Dart, retaining many of its Tudor features. Although not on the main renaissance route from Exeter to Plymouth, Totnes is well-situated, not far from Ashburton, on the main road to Dartmouth.

The guildhall stands on ground formerly owned by the Benedictine priory, founded in the 11th c. and dissolved in 1536. St Mary's parish church lies to the W, its churchyard directly across the narrow lane from the guildhall. The approach along the S is by a narrow lane running alongside the churchyard wall or, from the W end, via a similar narrow lane leading from the High Street and market area past the entrance to the parish church. The medieval guildhall that was superseded was at the site of #8 High Street.

A low rectangular building of rubble patched with red sandstone, the original facade of the guildhall is now largely hidden. Some of the walls and foundations of the Benedictine refectory are incorporated. Other buildings are attached to the W (guildhall cottage, former priory bakery and alehouse) and E (former 16th c. schoolhouse, now council offices on the ground floor, private residence above).

Performance History

A probable performance venue. As the seat of civic government and centre for festive occasions, Totnes Guildhall was the likely venue for most performances by touring entertainers before the mayor and city officials before 1642. Civic payments to touring entertainers survive between 1560 and 1625.

Current Status

The Upper Council Chamber is still in use for monthly town council meetings. Open to the public at specified times.

History of the Venue

1536 Benedictine Priory of St Mary suppressed.

1553 Priory refectory purchased from the Crown and adapted for municipal use.

1624 Lower chamber converted to serve as a magistrates' court. The staircase on the N side leading to the gallery installed in place of the original passage and staircase leading to the upper floor at the SW end. Kitchen converted for use as a jail.

1646 Used to billet Cromwell's troops.

19th c. Panelled wooden seating for the court added.

1887 No longer used as a jail.

1897 Refronted by an open loggia with octagonal granite piers running the length of the building.

1974 Ceased use as a magistrates' court.

Record Source

REED Devon 280--2

Bibliographic Sources

  • Cherry, Bridget, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Devon. The Buildings of England. London: Penguin Books, 1989.
  • Hoskins, W.G. Devon. A New Survey of England. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973.
  • Tittler, Robert. Architecture and Power: The Town Hall and the English Urban Community c. 1500–1640. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991.