Home: Where we Start From. Totnes and District
Totnes is a rural market town whose fortunes have fluctuated greatly throughout history. In Medieval times it was a wealthy market town, which prospered through the wool trade, resulting in its legacy of many fine buildings built by prosperous merchants of the time. Its success was due to 3 things, its role as a market town, as a river port and as the lowest bridging point on the River Dart. In the 19th century, a long-running legal dispute nearly bankrupted the town, since when its fortunes have gradually improved. Many businesses have been central to the economy of the town, in particular the Dairy Crest milk processing plant, Reeves Timber yard, Harris’ Bacon Factory, Dartington College of Arts, Symonds Cider, Tuckers Toffee, all of which no longer exist.
Totnes has been a vibrant centre for arts and culture, initiated by the establishing of the Dartington Hall Trust in 1923, which turned the Dartington Estate into place, which, to this day, attracts many leading artists to the area. In 2009, Totnes finds itself an economy based on tourism, a number of small and medium enterprises, and not much else in terms of employment opportunities. Many people now travel to Exeter and Plymouth, or even to London, for work. The use of the river for importing goods has all but ceased, being used more for recreation and tourism than for commerce. As King (2008) puts it, “the problem is not that old industries are fading, but that nothing of substance has been put in their place”.
Totnes and District: some socioeconomic data
Totnes is a town in the South Hams in Devon with an urban population of around 8,416, while Totnes and District (that is, Totnes and its surrounding 15 parishes, see map) is a largely notional concept, developed by the Market and Coastal Towns Initiative (MCTI), with a total population of 23,914 (15,498 excluding Totnes town) (Devon Primary Care Trust (PCT) 2008). Although its southern boundaries reflect traditional and geographical relationships based on Totnes’ history as a market town, its northern border is a politically generated boundary, forming the north‐eastern boundary of South Hams district. The total land area is almost 24,000 ha., which, when roads, buildings, water and so on are taken out, translates into around 22,000ha of land (DCLG 2005). In rough general figures, Totnes and District contains around 23,700 ha of land (DCLG 2005). Of that, agricultural land consists of approximately 19,282 ha; woodland and set‐aside land covers around 1,273 ha (Defra 2004); buildings, roads, water, paths, railways and ‘other’ account for about 1,272 ha., and gardens around 329 ha (DCLG 2005).
Totnes itself is seen as one of the significant towns in the South Hams, what South Hams District Council refer to as an ‘Area Centre’, that is, a settlement that plays a distinctive role in the county. Devon County Council (2006) has identified some of the key data about the town and its surroundings (“Totnes and District” is defined as the 14 parishes, of which Totnes parish is one). The area has seen significant population growth since 1991, with Totnes parish seeing a 17.2% rise between 1991 and 2004 (the last year for which data is available). The proportion of ethnic minorities is about average for Devon. Compared to the average, Totnes and District has slightly high levels of unemployment, although in Totnes parish the percentage of people claiming Income Support is 50% over the national average.
The main sectors of employment are wholesale and retail trade, health and social work, manufacturing and education. Totnes has more part-time and less full-time and self-employed workers than the national average. Also, the number of households with an income below £20,000 in Totnes parish is 50% more than the national average. One in fifteen households in Totnes parish is occupied by lone pensioners, and the percentage of people claiming Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disability Allowance is well above average. According to the 2001 Census, in Totnes and District 5.54% of people in the area work in food, forestry and fishing (although an exact figure of how many work in agriculture is unavailable) (ONS 2001). This clearly differs between the urban and the rural populations. 2.4% of Totnes work in food, forestry and fishing, while 7.33% of the rest of Totnes and District do (ibid).
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