Our living heritage: Totnes – the ever changing town

Our Living Heritage: Totnes – the ever changing town


What wisdom once knew our ancestors? Now we can pick out their footprints but can we follow their tracks?”


On 20th November in the glitzy Seven Stars Hotel Ballroom, I (Hal Gillmore) gave a ten minute presentation as part of longer  presentation by Barrington Weekes of the Totnes Image Bank.  The overall theme was ‘the ever changing town’, told through a selection of the many images in the archives of the Totnes Image Bank.  The theme for my section was ‘our living heritage’ with the brief of bringing the story up to date. This I did through some rough iphone shots taken over the previous few weeks, drawing on my experience of guiding people round here, and taking some nuggets from the Local Economic Blueprint.


It was an honour to be asked to talk at such an event. Our work is all too often pushed to the margins, branded as ‘alternative’ and so on, so it was nice to be recognised in the place I think we really belong.


I don’t normally write scripts but I was so nervous on this occasion that I did. Well, almost.  Many people who were not able to make it to the event have asked me about it since so I share my script / rough notes here along with the images used.


Thank you.   Great honour to be asked.

Make sure people understand I’m not a history guide.


‘What wisdom once knew our ancestors? Now we can pick out their footprints but can we follow their tracks?’

who said that?

Alfred the Great in preface to his ‘Pastoral care’.


My relationship with heritage is bringing it to awareness of people today, especially young people, and making it real, visible and understood as a resource and knowledge base to build a future from.

Most people on my trips are students, planners or community activists, eyes set on the future exploring big picture topics like economics, geography sustainability and so on.

I begin by pulling them right back into our heritage. To connect with their roots, to understand how we got here, to celebrate who we are today and therefore to better understand why things are the way they are.

Once we do that we we can properly look forward to the future with understanding of our humble place in the great span of time and history.

With our great long history behind us and, hopefully, our great long future ahead.


I make no claim to be neutral.  I give a very partial case for doing things more locally and on a smaller scale.


But I believe passionately there are very strong economic, social and environmental reasons for doing so.


This what an increasing number of people come to south Devon, and Totnes in particular, to experience.


71% of businesses in area are of 10 employees or less.   One of the most dispersed employment bases in the country.


I also consider myself to be an activist.  I’m not just observing what’s going on; I intend to be an active part of it.  Hence the TTT idea excited me.


I have been involved with setting up the REconomy Centre which is based on some important research work ‘The Totnes Local Economic Blueprint’ where I get many of my figures from.


Now I would like to take you from arriving by boat, and departing from the station, seeing a bit of our High St as you go.


Image 1. Home Straight. Approaching Totnes by the River Dart.


Image 1.  River

In summer holidays I work as a steersman for Canoe Adventures.


This is where I like to be able to get people up to by canoe if we can – in sight of Totnes, like marauding Danes. To understand why St Mary’s is where it is.

And soldiers on look out in the castle will have already spotted us.


I like to keep memories of the navigable river and port alive.  Not taken very seriously at the moment but of enormous potential.


To consider if our culture was to value efficiency more in terms of energy spent, rather than time taken, our port would be back in action in some small but significant way.


6-15 times the Carbon emission per unit load Freight by road than by water. Maybe this is a cultural shift we really should make given the sustainability challenges we face globally.


So I invite you in joining me in keeping our port heritage alive. Its more than historical amenity, it has been our lifeblood – our raison d’etre as a town – and may well be again some time soon.


Image 2. Ticklemore St / Warlands


Image 2.   Ticklemore Warlands

Once the face of town, now an interesting side-street.

Three shops that nicely capture the ‘living heritage’ of the town.

‘Living Heritage’ – a visitor described our high st.  a national treasure that needs conserving and is worth fighting for.


Image 3. Blackboard outside 'Annies' grocery shop


Image 3. Annies.

One of 6 or 7 independent green grocers in town?


Why local?

Make local mean something.  Not some jingoistic mantra.

For us we talk about 30 miles.

When it come to food … “Local independent shops employ three times more people per unit spend than supermarkets.”   Source: CPRE Field to Fork, Mapping Local Food Webs


Image 4. Country Cheeses (recently-ish 'Ticklemore cheese')


Image 4. Ticklemore cheese.

We are a dairy beef region. Lets look after our farmers and rural communities, who will come to shop in our town when the tourists aren’t here – if the right things are on offer for them.


Image 5. McCabe Butchers


Image 5 & 6.   McCabe

One of four quality butchers in town within close proximity.

Look how they market themselves.


Image 6. Mccabe 'local' sign


Our high st seems healthy, way better than national picture, but its not what we have just seen, so how good could it be?


We spend over £20m a year importing food, all of which we could buy off independents on or off our high st, and much of which we could grow ourselves.

If we shifted just 10% of that from supermarket to local independents, that would add £2million to our local economy. 


Image 7. Riverford and Totnes Wine


Image 7.  Riverford Totnes Wine

Up the high st.   Maybe a more modern developments in food sectors.

Riverford – 3 shops are a significant but small part of the Riverford businesses.

Company now delivers about 40,000 boxes a week around the UK. 

Guys Watson most proud of the growers cooperative. Getting farmers working together.  Maintaining their independence, keeping the jobs and communities.  Not just buying them out, and expanding.


Image 8. Tidefords Organics on shelves in Riverford shop


Image 8. Tideford Organics

But when we look on the shelves – that’s when it gets really exciting.

Since 1996.

Newly expanded processing facilities on the industrial estate.

Employs over 22 people.


Food processing  –  really big point here –  not just where it is grown and where it is sold, but where is it made?

Food processing really adds the value.

This is why to me, loss of Dairy Crest was a big deal.


Why? – check out the local Economic Multiplier –

First identified by Maynard Keynes.

Your expenditure is my income etc… her expenditure is his income.

…And that Friday he buys me a pint.   Ideally down the Albert where Giles brews his own beer using local ingredients as much as possible,

and so it goes on.


That one pound has realized its value – 5 x over.    Its suddenly worth £5 to the local economy.   That’s very crude.  Obviously diminishes at each layer but we understand this multiplier effect tends to be bigger in the food economy, with estimate of 2.5x.


If spent in a national chain with the bulk of its operations and interest outside of the town, that money is gone.

Currently Of every pound spent in an average British market town, 80% leaves the local economy in the first next transaction. 

Image 9. Sharpham wine


Image 9. Sharpham Wine.

Lets see what is on sale here.

Sharpham wine – realising heritage value of Sharpham point with its wonderful southerly riverside aspect. Great for growing food.  The Georgians turned it to parkland, moving the food production the Tudors had going to the back of the house.   V significant cultural shift for us as a nation – an emerging global power.  Aesthetics override the practical  – Dirty menial food production; move it out of sight.


Sharpham winery also a key piece of infrastructure.  Growing number of vineyards in our area come to process their grapes here.  An example of competitors cooperating within the same shared local economy.


Image 10. The Narrows featuring Greenfibres, Social Fabric, and Drift Records

Image 10.  Narrows

Contemporary  – non food – living heritage

Greenfibres – William Lana

Since 1998.

Employs 9 people p/t;  4 f/te

80:20 internet/catalogue : shop

National fan base through internet & catalogue sales that brings visitor to Totnes.

Locals mainly buy cleaning & cosmetics and underwear. Long johns are ‘flying out of the house’ at the moment.   Get yourself a 10% discount.


Social Fabric – Caroline Vaoden and Saj Collyer

Keeping traditional skills alive, passing them on to the next generation, fostering the social contact that has all too often been lost in modern fast living.  But they are doing it with a very modern context.


Social benefits of ineraction.

Shopping on high st and at markets involves 5-20x more social interactions than in a supermarket.  Isolation a growing concern in our society with growing numbers of elderly living on their own, single parents and also carers.

With our vibrant high st and market, hardly surprising Totnes has a reputation as a very friendly town.  Of all aspects of our living heritage that has to be one to be particularly proud of.

They also bring in visitors to the town from across the Westcountry.


Drift Records –  family run; son, Rupert, and Mum and Dad, Jenny and Graeme.

As do Drift Records with quite a following, bringing in collectors from Cornwall and North Devon.

Releasing local artists’ recordings through their shop, giving them recognitions and an opportunity with no middle-man distributor.

How many other small rural market towns could boast this?


Image 11. Conkers.


Image 11  – Conkers outside.

Over recent years we have been seeing the Narrows creeping down the High St.  Iconic Totnes shop Conkers. Since 1977.

Repairing soles and stretching kids shoes so they live longer.

2/3 purchases in shop, 1/3 remote.

But 50% posted out – indicates significant number of people coming into town specially to be measured.

People come from around the UK.


Image 12. Conkers workshop, behind the shopfront


Image 12 – Conkers inside

Yvette former Dartington College of Arts student.

Manufacturing inside. closest footprint to original Tudor shops.

How a low margin product can add real economic value, and also social and environmental value too.

No sweat shops, no road miles, no branding department taking their cut.

Shoes made with love by people you might live next door to.

… and who might buy you a drink one day?


Image 13. Preview of the forthcoming Totnes Pound £10 note.  IMAGE WITHHELD!  Sorry – you needed to be at the event  to see this. Now you will have to wait for the launch next year!


Image 13.  Totnes Pound

What sort of things might we need to build on the living heritage, strengthen it and allow it to thrive again?


Here’s a way to keep money circulating.


Also a great way to celebrate our heritage.  Instilling sense of identity, pride in where we live and getting people to think about how they spend their money.


Such a wonderful note – could have been my sole slide actually.

Members of Chamber of Commerce now developing this

They are looking for funding and aim to launch the new notes (£1, £5, £10 and £21) in the Spring.

The new notes will have security features and the QR code on them will link to TP website, where retailers can make special offers for purchases with TP notes.


An inaccurate leak of this got out a few months ago and it was interesting to see how it was already picked up the media, although just a rumour. Mainly due to this guy:


Ben Howard – 2 Brit awards and a sterling Glastonbury performance.  Represented Totnes on the Dermot O’Leary Radio 2 Sat afternoon.  In a cafe in France?

Brit awards announced deep in pages of Totnes Times.  How well do we understand our living heritage and celebrate what we produce?


Listed buildings per population vs number of solar panel per population.  Made up statistic but might be true.  Reflects a town rooted in history but also forward looking.


Image 14. Roof and chimney of former Brunel pumping station and Dairy Crest dairy


Image 14.  Atmos Chimney

So approaching the end of our happy tour of Totnes living heritage.

Every time I pass this I honour and salute those who got this building listed in what could have been the closing days of its existence.

May have sat idle since but it has sparked countless ideas around its potential as a community asset,

One day to resume its role as a place for key food processing activity, at the heart of a new, mixed economy site which also includes affordable and energy-efficient residential  accommodation.


Image 15. Totnes Railway station northbound platform


Image 15.  Totnes railway

Also potential to create a distinct welcome to Totnes.  People arriving, departing and passing through will see us as more than just another replicated railway station. They will see our living heritage.


Image 16. ATMOS logo

Image 16.   ATMOS logo.

A vision that has been doggedly pursued for a number of years now.

The vision has evolved and emerged over time and attracted support and endorsements from a number of celebrities and politicians of differing hues.

There is an interesting website behind this worth taking a look.

May seem like it has dragged on but these things take time and, I am told, the legal agreement to allow the beginning of the transfer of ownership to community will be in place by the end of the year. 

Image 17. Vision from Local Economic Blueprint


Image 17. Vision

This bring us back to is the importance of holding to vision that we can all share and be a part of.

Something we can do with an understanding and appreciation of our past and present heritage, which is still very much alive today.


This is a vision for our local economy we worked out with an independent facilitator, and representatives from SHDC, Chamber of Commerce, Totnes Town Council, KEVICC,  South Devon College, Schumacher College and TTT.

And it provides the basis for the work we are doing at the REconomy Centre.


Its about allowing our Living heritage to flourish –

for me heritage not just for getting day trippers to come and photograph our tudor buildings, as glorious as they are.

Its about the businesses inside them, who works there, who shops there, what do they sell and where does it come from.

We are a market town that serves a wide rural area with a full set of needs.  That is our living heritage. And the priority life blood of our town.

We get that right and visitors will follow.


Alfred the Great had a vision. 

Clawing back from down and out in the swamps of Somerset to setting out the template for a new nation to emerge.

Less of a master-plan, very much more of a vision that was bigger than any one person – he certainly never lived to see it realized – but  established conditions for culture to emerge.

“What wisdom once knew our ancestors? Now we can pick out their footprints but can we follow their tracks?”

Alfred the Great in preface to his ‘Pastoral care’.


“What wisdom once knew our ancestors? Now we can pick out their footprints but can we follow their tracks?”


Alfred the Great in preface to his ‘Pastoral care’.





Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by