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Great Torrington, Devon

Historical Description

Torrington or Great Torrington, a town and a parish in Devonshire. The town stands on the river Torridge, with a station on the L. & S.W.R., 226 miles from London, and 6¼ SSE of Bideford. It was anciently called Cheping or Chepan Toriton; belonged to Editha the mother of Harold, passed to Richard de Merton, acquired in his time (about 1340) a castle which is now extinct (only a mound, the site of the old keep, remains together with traces of the ditch round the castle), went in the time of Mary to the Bassets. In 1484 it was the scene of the trial of Bishop Courtenay for treason. In 1590 the county assizes were held here on account of the plague at Exeter. It was garrisoned in 1643 for Charles I., suffered capture by Fairfax after a severe action in 1646, when the church was blown up by gunpowder stored there. It sent members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till that of Henry VI., was made a municipal borough, by Mary, is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, who act as the urban district council; gave the title of Earl in 1660 to General Monk, the same title in 1669 to Admiral Herbert, and the title of Viscount in 1720 to George Byng. In 1724 a fire occurred in which the town records were burned. The town is situated on an eminence commanding delightful views; contains many old-fashioned houses, and several handsome residences, is a seat of petty sessions and county courts, and has a head post office, three banks, several inns, a guildhall, a market-hall, subscription reading-rooms, a free institute, a drinking fountain erected in 1870, a column commemorative of the battle of Waterloo, an endowed school, and a workhouse. The church is a large building of stone in the Decorated style, with an embattled western tower and lofty spire. The building has been well restored and contains some memorial windows and monuments. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Exeter; gross value, £419 with residence. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, There are Wesleyan, Congregational, Baptist, and Bible Christian chapels. The town-hall is a structure of brick, rebuilt in 1860. A weekly market is held on Saturday in a recently erected cattle market, a cattle sale on the last Saturday in every month, and annual fairs on the first Thursday and two following days in May, and the second Thursday and two following days in October. The manufacture of silk gloves is largely carried on; there are also flour mills and a leather dressing establishment. A public recreation ground has been laid out at the west end of the town. Area of the municipal borough, 3592 acres; population, 3436. The ecclesiastical parish is coextensive with the borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDevon 
Ecclesiastical parishTorrington St. Michael 
Poor Law unionTorrington 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The parish register dates from the year 1616, and contains a number of entries relating to the burials of officers and soldiers slain during the civil war.

Findmypast, in association with the South West Heritage Trust, Parochial Church Council, and Devon Family History Society have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Great Torrington


Church of England

St. Michael (parish church)

The church of St. Michael is an edifice of stone in the Decorated style, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, south porch and an embattled western tower, 57 feet in height, with pinnacles and a lofty spire, and containing a clock and 6 bells, all cast by Abraham Rudhall, of Gloucester, in 1716, weight of tenor 14 cwt. 3 qrs.: the present tower was rebuilt in 1830; the old tower, a structure of peculiar shape, stood at the principal entrance on the south side, and in the year 1839 the top of the spire was blown down by a violent hurricane, and, falling through the roof, did considerable damage: the east window is stained, and in the south aisle is one erected by J. O. Moore-Stevens esq. of Winscott, at a cost of £150: the reredos, in sculptured stone, represents the Crucifixion: the alabaster font was presented in 1914 in memory of Margaret Cecil Jones, wife of the vicar, who died on June 30th, 1913: the west window, given by the Palmer family, cost £100; a window in the south side was placed to the memory of Mary Colby by her children, Frederic, Ellen and Reynolds, in 1863, and another in the north aisle was given by the representatives of the late Mr. Callon, of Torrington; in the transept is a window inserted by the Rev. Hugh Fowler, in memory of his father, Thomas Fowler, who died in 1843; two other memorial windows were placed in 1891 and several stained windows were placed in the church by the late Mr. W. F. Glubb: there are monuments to the Stevens family with a Latin inscription, dated 1676, and to John Palmer, d. 1770: the carved oak pulpit is that in which John Howe M.A. the celebrated Nonconformist divine, preached while vicar of this parish, until his ejectment in 1662: the organ was presented in 1809 by the late Lord Rolle, and in 1892 a handsome brass cross was given by Messrs Yeo and Binnore: under the Bible desk are these words, carved in the wood - "Heare God's word": on a stone, let into the wall outside the church, is the following inscription: - "The church was blown up with powder, Feb. 16th, Ano. 1645 and rebuilt Ao 1651": the church was restored in 1864 and has 1,200 sittings.

St. Michael, Great Torrington

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Great Torrington from the following:


Online maps of Great Torrington are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Devon online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier visitation of 1531, is online.

The Visitations of the County of Devon, comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620, with additions by Lieutant-Colonel J.L. Vivian, published for the author by Henry S. Eland, Exeter 1895 is online.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtEX38
Post TownTorrington