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HER Number:MDV21815
Name:Medieval Borough of Totnes


Medieval borough of Totnes surrounded by the Bastewalls earthwork and mentioned from the early 11th century. It had expanded beyond its defences by the mid 11th century.


Grid Reference:SX 801 604
Map Sheet:SX86SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTotnes
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishTOTNES

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX86SW/77/1

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • BURGH (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Full description

Rea, C. F., 1924, The Bastewalls of Totnes, 201-13 (Article in Serial). SDV174635.

The Bastewalls at Totnes. An early medieval earthwork, retained by masonry wall, that has been confused in the past with the town wall. Although the two do correspond, documentary and topographical evidence suggests there was no necessary connection between the two and that in places they clearly diverged. A unique word, 'Bastewall' probably derives from the old french, 'bastir' meaning to build, and Latin word 'vallus'. The word recurs frequently in house deeds and rentals from early times until 1853, during which time its meaning changes from 'earthwork' or 'wall' to 'way' or 'road'. The Bastewall was probably built to raise the level of the ground on the north, east and south sides of the town to make road access to the rear of the burghal properties more convenient. This was made necessary by the cramped site of the old town and by the steep fall from the High Street to the quays below. The unusual conformation of the present-day South Street is undoubtedly due to the prior existence of the Bastewall. At one point south of South Street and opposite the east end of High Street are the remains of a wall 1.2 metres thick, now razed to the ground, out of line with the town wall proper.

Gover, J. E. B. + Mawer, A. + Stenton, F. M., 1931, The Place-Names of Devon: Part One, 334 (Monograph). SDV1312.

Totnes was first mentioned as 'Totanaes' between AD 979-1016. It was 'Toteneis' in 1086, 'Tottenes' in 1233 and 'Totnisse' in 1501.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 504-6 (Monograph). SDV17562.

The small area of Totnes covering about 10 acres was first surrounded by an earthen rampart which was replaced by a stone wall in the 12th century. The Normans built the castle at the highest point and the town soon extended to the east with the first bridge over the River Dart being built before 1216. Totnes, founded as a Royal Burh, still belonged to the king in 1066; but William granted it to Judhael who probably constructed the castle. As early as 1130 Guy de Nonant obtained the grant of a fair for the town on August 15th. The cloth trade was the most important medieval industry in Totnes and the prosperity lasted until the outbreak of the Civil War. Figure 18.

Beresford, M. W. + Finberg, H. P. R., 1973, English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist, 99 (Monograph). SDV6626.

Haslam, J., 1984, The Towns of Devon, 259-62 (Article in Monograph). SDV348830.

Totnes was founded in the 10th century. It occupies a defensible site overlooking a river crossing.

Goodyear, R. I., 1990, Deserted Farm Site (Migrated Record). SDV338765.

Circa 1018 the Borough Court of Totnes was mentioned and by 1086 there were ninety-five burgesses inside the Borough and fifteen outside. The Charter of King John created Totnes a free Borough in 1206. It was taxed as a Borough in 1306. Totnes is mentioned in the Domesday book as 'Totenais'. It appears in various documents and is spelt in different ways. The first element of the name is probably an Old English personal name 'Totta', the second element being from the Old English 'naess' possibly meaning 'prominent point of land' (on which the castle stands).

Green, T., 2008, North Gate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes: Results of an Archaeological Desk-Based Study, 5 (Report - Assessment). SDV342884.

Totnes was recorded in Domesday as one of four Devon boroughs along with Exeter, Barnstaple and Lydford. By the mid 11th century the settlement had expanded beyond the defences towards the river.

Steinmetzer, M., 2013, Gas Main Replacement, High Street and Ramparts Walk, Totnes, Devon: Archaeological Watching Brief (Report - Watching Brief). SDV356320.

Totnes was founded in the 10th century. It occupies a defensive site overlooking a river crossing. The line of the defences can be traced in the street plan which reflects the Saxon layout.
The first defences comprised an earthen bank, which was probably timber-revetted at the front and with a walkway along the top. A stone retaining wall was added probably in the 11th century.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV1312Monograph: Gover, J. E. B. + Mawer, A. + Stenton, F. M.. 1931. The Place-Names of Devon: Part One. The Place-Names of Devon: Part One. VIII. A5 Hardback. 334.
SDV174635Article in Serial: Rea, C. F.. 1924. The Bastewalls of Totnes. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 56. A5 Hardback. 201-13.
SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 504-6.
SDV338765Migrated Record: Goodyear, R. I.. 1990. Deserted Farm Site. Devon County Sites and Monuments Register.
SDV342884Report - Assessment: Green, T.. 2008. North Gate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes: Results of an Archaeological Desk-Based Study. Southwest Archaeology Report. 060915. A4 Stapled + Digital. 5.
SDV348830Article in Monograph: Haslam, J.. 1984. The Towns of Devon. Anglo-Saxon Towns in Southern England. Photocopy. 259-62.
SDV356320Report - Watching Brief: Steinmetzer, M.. 2013. Gas Main Replacement, High Street and Ramparts Walk, Totnes, Devon: Archaeological Watching Brief. Cotswold Archaeology Report. 13221. A4 Comb Bound + Digital.
SDV6626Monograph: Beresford, M. W. + Finberg, H. P. R.. 1973. English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist. English Medieval Boroughs. A Handlist. A5 Hardback. 99.

Associated Monuments

MDV60108Parent of: Medieval Defensive Ditch and Rampart on south side of North Street, Totnes (Monument)
MDV16249Related to: Lechewellhay Garden, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9095Related to: North Gate, High Street, Totnes (Building)
MDV21816Related to: Northford Medieval Manor, Dartington (Monument)
MDV15239Related to: Saxon Burh, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9097Related to: Site of South of Shamble's Gate, South Street, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9063Related to: Totnes Castle (Building)
MDV9101Related to: Town Wall at the North Gate, Castle Street, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9103Related to: Town Wall, Guildhall Yard, Totnes (Monument)
MDV9102Related to: Town Wall, South Street, Totnes (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4545 - Assessment of Northgate Lodge, Castle Street, Totnes
  • EDV6637 - Coin hoard discovered during building works, 23-25 High Street, Totnes
  • EDV6654 - Excavation, Evans and Cutler Garage Site, North Street, Totnes Cutler garage site, North Street, Totnes Cutler garage site, North Street, Totnes
  • EDV7457 - 8 and 8a, High Street, Totnes, Devon: Historic Building Recording. (Ref: K899)

Date Last Edited:Jul 20 2022 1:27PM