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HER Number:MDV18438
Name:Town Mills, Totnes


Town Mills, Totnes, formerly had two sets of machinery each driven by a separate waterwheel on the east and west gables of the building. The mill, which was largely gutted of machinery, has now been restored with a new hurst frame on the east side and the installation of salvaged gearing. The turbine has been replaced by a waterwheel, although the former is still on site. The building is now a tourist information centre.


Grid Reference:SX 805 604
Map Sheet:SX86SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTotnes
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishTOTNES

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX86SW/100

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • INFORMATION CENTRE (Unknown date)
  • TIDE MILL (Unknown date)

Full description

Russell, P. M. G., Totnes, 22, 58-60, 72-74, 98 (Monograph). SDV169989.

Vancouver, C., 1808, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon, 391 (Monograph). SDV294343.

The mill is used [1808] for washing and fulling the pieces composing the principal manufacture of Totnes. The corn-mill is a valuable aquisition to the town.

Amery, J. S., 1880, The Accounts of the Receiver of the Corporation of Totnes, in the Year 1554-5, 327 (Article in Serial). SDV349327.

The corporation had granted to Bernard Smyth, mayor in 1549 and 1565, a lease of the town mills and mill pools. He afterwards claimed the mill pool and marsh, being the portion now adjoining the Priory grounds, as his own property, alleging it was part of the dissolved priory that he had bought.

Minchinton, W. + Perkins, J., 1971, Tidemills of Devon and Cornwall, 33-34 (Monograph). SDV114474.

Minchinton, W. + Perkins, J., 1971 - 1973, Tidemills in Devon and Cornwall: Part 2, 6 (Article in Serial). SDV114469.

Ex. Arch. No. 6. Water course: River Dart.
Totnes Town Mills. The first reference to a miller is in a 13th century document. This was a tidal mill in an unusual sense. A partial barrage diverted the ebb-tide flow from marshland further up the estuary. Reclamation of this marshland in 16th century reduced the flow, and in 1581 a leat was begun to be built which by 1585 was feeding three new grist mills, a shelling mill and four fulling mills. It was probably the largest mill complex in south Devon. Part of the site has been lost but the leats and two buildings survive. The old town cornmill still has its wheelpit and was used until 1945.

Department of Environment, 1978, Totnes, 19 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV327343.

Present building incorporates remains of one storey 17th century or earlier tide mill, heightened to two and a half storeys and refenestrated in early 19th century. Original mill of squared limestone rubble, additions of random rubble. Windows and doors described in list.

Unknown, 1984, Slide in SMR., Unknown (Photograph). SDV169986.

Slide in SMR.

Bellchambers, J., 1992, Totnes Town Mills/Safeway Supermarket Site (Correspondence). SDV350882.

Sketch maps of the area of Totnes indicate the probable development of Town Mills. They are based upon interpretation of Russell’s book of ‘The Good Town of Totnes’, Tithe and other maps (the earliest being of 1793) and observations.

Westcott, K. A., 1994, Archaeological Survey of Harris Bacon Factory Buildings, Town Mills, Totnes, Section 2 (Report - Survey). SDV169988.

A mill was probably first established on the Town Mills site in the medieval period. However, the earliest unequivocal reference to a mill occurs in 1528 when the mayor and citizens in Totnes granted to John Brok a three-life lease on two mills, one described as the ‘ses’ (sea) mill without the East Gate, almost certainly stood on or near Town Mills. In the 16th century the mills seems to have been powered by water fed via a leat leading from pools in Priory Marsh into which a partial barrage diverted the tidal ebb-flow of the river Dart.

Mid-16th century leases of the borough mills refer to three ‘grain mills’ probably distributed between the Castle Mill and Town Mills.

In 1588 the borough mills were leased by Geoffrey Babb, a wealthy Totnes merchant, who is said to have found them in a ruinous state of decay and pulled them down. Four new grist mills, probably housed in a single mill, were constructed on the site formerly occupied by two grist mills, which may be identified as the site where now stands the disused 19th century corn mill, long known as Town Mills. On an adjacent site, in all probability that now occupied by the ‘Granary’ building, Babb constructed four fulling mills (no doubt within a single mill-building and one malt mill.

Geoffrey Babb is credited with constructing Totnes weir in the 1580s and cutting a new leat southwards from it across Priory Marsh to connect with the original channel to the mill.

The first relatively full description of the Town Mills is contained in a lease of property granted in 1704 to Alan Stephens the younger of Totnes, joiner by the Mayor and Burgesses of Totnes.

Harrison Sutton, 1995, Report on Town Mill, Totnes (Monograph). SDV169981.

Town mill is a rubble stone building of three floors under a slated roof. Formerly two sets of corn milling machinery, each driven by waterwheels located on east and west gables. Installation of water turbine (still in situ) and flood prevention works, have altered form of wheelpit on east side, but leat remains. Those on west side have been obliterated by realignment of road. Mill has been gutted of machinery, except sack hoist in roof space. Report includes structural record and report on working parts for mill.

Bodman, M., 1998, Water-Powered Sites in Devon, 8, 33, 34 (Report - non-specific). SDV305931.

Watts, S., 2002, Renovation of the Mill (Personal Comment). SDV169982.

Renovation of the mill began 1994. The turbine was removed (although it is still on site) and a waterwheel installed. Inside, the east hurst frame was reconstructed and main gearing reinstated. The waterwheel and gearing were salvaged from Ugbrooke Park (PRN 49949) but were originally from Bellamarsh and Keyberry Mills (PRN 13797 and PRN 19782) both now demolished. The Mill opened to the public in May 1997 and now incorporates the Tourist Information office.

Bodman, M., 2003, Watermills and Other Water-Powered Sites in Devon, 82-83 (Report - Interim). SDV325576.

Documentary references from circa 1200 to 1855. The waterwheel is by Wilcocks and Son, Buckfastleigh. Draft.

Exeter Archaeology, 2005, An Archaeological Survey of Weirs in the River Dart Catchment. Draft Report, Appendix 1: Ex. Arch. No. 6 (Report - Survey). SDV356906.

The first located reference to the weir (and leats and mills) is in 1560.1 Disputes and town corporation documents relating to the mill (and associated leat and weir) are numerous from this date down to the early 19th century.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

Google, 2013, Google Streetview (Website). SDV350787.

The building is currently used as Totnes Tourist Information Centre.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV114469Article in Serial: Minchinton, W. + Perkins, J.. 1971 - 1973. Tidemills in Devon and Cornwall: Part 2. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 32. Unknown. 6.
SDV114474Monograph: Minchinton, W. + Perkins, J.. 1971. Tidemills of Devon and Cornwall. Tidemills of Devon and Cornwall. Unknown. 33-34.
SDV169981Monograph: Harrison Sutton. 1995. Report on Town Mill, Totnes. Report on Town Mill, Totnes.
SDV169982Personal Comment: Watts, S.. 2002. Renovation of the Mill.
SDV169986Photograph: Unknown. 1984. Slide in SMR.. Unknown.
SDV169988Report - Survey: Westcott, K. A.. 1994. Archaeological Survey of Harris Bacon Factory Buildings, Town Mills, Totnes. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 94.00. A4 Stapled + Digital. Section 2.
SDV169989Monograph: Russell, P. M. G.. Totnes. Totnes. 22, 58-60, 72-74, 98.
SDV294343Monograph: Vancouver, C.. 1808. General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon. General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon. Hardback Volume. 391.
SDV305931Report - non-specific: Bodman, M.. 1998. Water-Powered Sites in Devon. A4 Spiral Bound. 8, 33, 34.
SDV325576Report - Interim: Bodman, M.. 2003. Watermills and Other Water-Powered Sites in Devon. A4 Spiral Bound. 82-83.
SDV327343List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1978. Totnes. From Celtic Settlement to XX Century Hospital: The Story of Poltimore House. 19.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #82241 ]
SDV349327Article in Serial: Amery, J. S.. 1880. The Accounts of the Receiver of the Corporation of Totnes, in the Year 1554-5. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 12. Unknown. 327.
SDV350787Website: Google. 2013. Google Streetview. http://maps.google.co.uk. Website.
SDV350882Correspondence: Bellchambers, J.. 1992. Totnes Town Mills/Safeway Supermarket Site. Letter and Map. A4 Unbound.
SDV356906Report - Survey: Exeter Archaeology. 2005. An Archaeological Survey of Weirs in the River Dart Catchment. Draft Report. Exeter Archaeology Report. Digital. Appendix 1: Ex. Arch. No. 6.

Associated Monuments

MDV45220Related to: Canal Basin, Mill and Wharfs, Totnes (Monument)
MDV19782Related to: Keyberry Mill, Newton Abbot (Monument)
MDV13797Related to: MILL in the Parish of Kingsteignton (Monument)
MDV49949Related to: SAW MILL in the Parish of Chudleigh (Monument)
MDV9033Related to: Swallowfield Weir, Totnes (Monument)
MDV56664Related to: The Granary, Coronation Road, Totnes (Building)
MDV19591Related to: Totnes Town Mills Leat (Monument)
MDV62971Related to: Town Mills Leat Outflow, Totnes (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV6538 - Archaeological Survey of Weirs in the River Dart Catchment

Date Last Edited:Oct 9 2014 10:32AM