Devon Perspectives

Totnes: a riverside setting

on the dart
The River Dart is navigable from Dartmouth, where it flows into the sea, to its tidal limit at the weir on the northern edge of Totnes. Much of the town's early prosperity was underpinned by the use of the Dart as a trade route, especially for the export of woolen cloth in Elizabethan times and before.
Totnes bridge across the River Dart
Old Totnes bridge, 1825
The lithograph depicts the old Totnes bridge in 1825. The sturdy structure we see today is the new bridge designed and built by the Devon architect Charles Fowler in 1828.
The part of the town on the east bank of the Dart is known as Bridgetown. This used to be a borough in its own right, but was incorporated into the Totnes borough in 1835. The approach to Totnes from the Bridgetown side is described in "The route book of Devon: a guide for the stranger and tourist", Besley, Exeter 1846:
[...] we descend to the valley of the Dart, having before us a fine view of the respectable old town of Totnes. A somewhat sudden turn of the road takes us into Bridgetown, and by a handsome bridge over the Dart, connecting this suburb with the main street, we enter the town. [...]
The wide and beautiful river Dart being navigable for vessels of considerable burthen up to the foot of the town, a good trade in exports and imports to supply the wants of the numerous and increasing population of the town and neighbourhood is carried on.
Warehouses in Totnes Plains in the 1940s
No longer is the Dart used to transport goods to and from Totnes. The former warehouses along the river in The Plains have been converted to upmarket residences, shops, or restaurants. These warehouses were still very much in use as such in the 1940s as can be seen above.
There used to be a paddle steamer service running to and from Dartmouth to the Totnes Steamer Quay. Today there is still a popular pleasure boat service from Totnes to Dartmouth and back from April through October, providing an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery in what is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of river in the country.
This undated photo shows the Heart's Content and its passengers leaving Totnes, with the Steam Packet Inn in the background. The modern day craft are powered by marine diesel.
Heart's Content pleasure boat

A pleasant feature of the riverside scene is Vire island, named after the French town twinned with Totnes. It is a narrow, tree lined stretch of parkland with full public access, sitting snugly between the town and the main flow of the river. A narrow channel of water divides the island from The Plains.

Vire Island
The black and white picture of Totnes Plains is reproduced by kind permission of ©The Totnes Image Bank
The print of the old Totnes bridge is reproduced from the Devon Libraries Local Studies Service ©Etched on Devon's memory series.
The picture of the Heart's Content is reproduced by kind permission of ©Ian Boyle at
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