The St Mary’s Heritage Area Project (HAP) is led by the Totnes Trust, a local charity dedicated to preserving historic buildings and enhancing public open spaces in the town.
The project aims to realise the unique potential of the historic St Mary’s Church Precinct Area, by: improving access and amenity; creating a coherent experience of three sets of amazing buildings in the Precinct (the mediaeval and Elizabethan merchants’ houses out on High Street in St Mary’s Square, the Elizabethan Guildhall behind the church, and the mediaeval St Mary’s Church); and providing historic and engaging information and interpretations for the public.
The HAP initiative has largely been driven by community aspirations and consultations. It seeks to create spaces and places that are useful to the community, as well as enhancing the wonderful heritage area that surrounds St Mary’s Church.
An historical and archaeological report on the precinct was prepared for the Totnes Trust in 2017 by the historian and archaeologist Stuart Blaylock, and was made available to official consultees. A ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey was commissioned by the trust in late 2017 from SUMO/Stratascan, after consultation with the Historic England technical team. The survey report is now available. Stuart Blaylock was commissioned again to assess the implications of the GPR report for the proposed works. It appears that there are no archaeological remains of buildings that would be affected by the proposed works.
All proposed works would need to be agreed in advance through detailed discussion with many partners, including Totnes Town Council, Historic England and the Exeter Diocesan Advisory Committee.
Core objectives of the Heritage Area Project
To create a new, highly visible and attractive access to the isolated Guildhall, encouraging democratic service and visitor access. This would mean binding the Guildhall to the whole of the St Mary’s Precinct area, the town, and the church history. This objective would also include restoring the quality and attractiveness of Ramparts Walk and its Eastgate entrance.
With minimal interventions, to improve the main part of the churchyard to make it an accessible and attractive green amenity area for townsfolk who have no other significant green space in the town centre. It would involve creating a meeting point at the natural junction of routes at the east end of the church, where the history of the precinct could be celebrated. There would be improvements to the path from the church porch into the churchyard, in order to ‘draw in’ visitors into the rest of the Precinct.
To create an open space which matches the intentions of the church reordering project to be accessible, welcoming and useable for the community. This project would focus upon retaining and improving the green planting in the Precinct, which is a vital break in the hard surfaces in the whole of the rest of the town centre. It would include extending the pedestrian area of St Mary’s Square, making more space for relaxation and enjoyment, as well as a more magnificent setting for the church.
To contribute to the scale and magnificence of the setting for the church, with a visual extension into a more open and welcoming church forecourt. This would include creating conditions in St Mary’s Square which signal to drivers that this is more than part of the highway, a space where people feel they have some priority, and can relax. The intention would be for this area to be more suitable as open ‘overspill’ space for assembly, for weddings, baptisms and funerals.