Renovations Gallery

Mystery Donor

Trying to acquire funding for the Town Hall Project has been a roller-coaster exercise with many disappointments. However, since October 2007 were been buoyed up and intrigued by an anonymous donor who sent us £1 coins. These came mainly from the northern hemisphere but two were sent from South Africa and Australia. All were in identical handwriting and envelopes. Originally they carried short messages such as:- “hope this helps”, “for the cause” and so on but gradually became more lyrical. No less than 104 were received from places as diverse as Portugal, Rhodes, Dubrovnic and Poland. One sent from Lyon in May 2009 read:- 

Came down to Lyon in France
To find out about fund-raising grants
Alas – none could be found
So I send you this pound
Your lovely Town Hall to enhance.

The Viper

 The mystery donor began using this pseudonym in March 2008.

Local and national publicity encouraged others to respond in a similar way. We received small donations from The Leopard, The Grass Snake, Mondeoman and The Jackal. The Jackal, it seems, lived in the south of France and invoked the aid of his friend Sir Roger Moore to help track down The Viper. A 5 euro note came with his intriguing card. Mondeoman has sent several coins. The first came in February 2009 from Windsor, not the Castle so far as we are aware, though how nice that would be! The latest in July 2009 came from Mumbai.

Now… Imagine our suprise when The Viper recently revealed their identity to be no other than Chris Stacey, a Torrington resident, long time previous member of our committee and hard working Torrington Cavalier…. Amazing…!

Huge thanks for the publicity this gave our cause. If all Torritonians scattered throughout the world were to follow these examples the project would receive a significant financial boost as well as an exciting geography lesson. What about giving it a try?

There are a number of other towns and cities called Torrington worldwide which have derived their name from tiny Great Torrington in north Devon. Torrington Connecticut and Torrington Wyoming spring to mind and some help from our flourishing ‘offspring’ would be wonderful, gratefully received and add a whole new dimension to our project.

If you want to send a gift our ‘lovely Town Hall to enhance’ , you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button on the home page of this website. For postal donations, the address is:-

Great Torrington Buildings Preservation Trust
The Town Hall Office
High Street
Devon EX38 8HN

We would be most grateful.


The Great Torrington Collection of Portraits will be integral to the interior refurbishment of the Town Hall.  When restored the portraits, which at present can be viewed in the museum, will be hung on the walls of the assembly room and gallery.  They will give the room a sense of splendour, fitting for important functions and local events.


One of the first interior considerations for the Buildings Preservation Trust, was an appraisal of The Portrait Collection guided by Mrs Cilla Bangay.  Sotheby’s was asked to view the pictures and give their opinion on the quality of the paintings and background knowledge of the artists and subjects.  The specialist was most interested in the collection as a whole, commenting that it is rare to see such a collection in a small town.  She noted the beautiful frames on several of the portraits and the representation of artists with links to the West Country.  One painting in particular took her attention, the portrait of John Rolle Walter, attributed to the School of Pompeo Batoni, a well known Italian portrait artist of the 18th Century.  A torch was called for and a close inspection made of the brushwork, particularly on the fur collar.  There was a frisson of excitement that a discovery was being made.


Sotheby’s decided they needed authentication, but felt that this was a painting by Pompeo Batoni himself, not merely a copy.  A photograph was sent to the United States for the opinion of Dr. Edgar Peters Bowron, the international Batoni expert.  A few weeks later we were delighted to find that we were in the possession of an original work by Pompeo Batoni, which had hung in a dark corner of the museum for almost a century.  Moreover a sketch of the head is exhibited in The Statens Museum in Copenhagen, titled ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’.   This was an important discovery for Sotheby’s and Dr. Edgar Peters Bowron, not only to find a ‘lost’ Batoni but to be able to identify the unknown gentleman.  We were thrilled to know we have this picture in the Torrington Collection.   

The Town and Alms Lands Trustees (‘Town Trust’), who are custodians of the picture collection, have since sent the portrait to Bristol for restoration.  The photograph shows work on the painting 50% complete. The portrait was afterwards displayed at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until December 2007.

In 2007 the whole collection was reviewed and valued by experts from Christies who confirm their authenticity and importance.  The ‘Town Trust’ has now agreed that 3 of the portraits can be sold to provide additional funding for the Town Hall Project. The Batoni portrait was put up for auction at Christies in London on 6.12.08 with a reserve of £300,000. However, at the very last moment it was withdrawn to allow the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) of Exeter to raise money to purchase it by private treaty. This was achieved in October with the aid of The Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and from their own resources. The purchase price was recently paid to the ‘Town Trust’ and is now available for the Town Hall Project. A very significant boost to our funding.

The portraits of Denys Rolle (1720-1797) by Sir Thomas Hudson and his son Lord John Rolle (1750-1842) by Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA are also being offered for private sale. Recently there has been some encouraging progress on this.  

All will be replaced by full scale photographic facsimiles to preserve the integrity of the collection. Arrangements are in hand to replace the Batoni fairly soon when a suitable frame can be found.

The Artists

Batoni, Pompeo (1708-1787)

Italian painter, who became famous throughout Europe for his classicising portraits, especially of British travellers to Rome, a genre in which he achieved spectacular success.

Hudson, Thomas (1701-1779)

Born in Devon, Hudson’s early life remains obscure. He trained under the successful portrait painter Jonathon Richardson (1665-1745), later marrying his daughter. He was know for his style of solid portraiture in the grand-manner. he shared his time between London and his native Devon, also working in fashionable Bath.

Lawrence, Sir Thomas (1769-1830)

Born in Bristol, Thomas Lawrence was one of the foremost English portrait painters of his day. A child prodigy, he was largely self taught, although he spent some time at the Royal Academy of Arts. He succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as principal painter to George III, who knighted Lawrence in 1815. Lawrence was made a member of the Royal Academy in 1794 and served as president of the academy from 1820-1830. With Reynolds and Gainsborough, it is said he represents the apex of English portrait painting.

Cosway, Richard (1742-1821)

Born in Devon, Richard Cosway received his artistic training in London and was a painter of miniatures. Having gained the friendship of the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, Cosway was appointed court painter. He painted members of the Royal Family and aristocrats of both England and France.

Original Construction

A New Town Hall for Torrington

Tim Wormleighton

The document transcribed below was found among records of Torrington
Borough Council, held by the North Devon Record Office, Barnstaple (ref:2558add2/64). It is undated, although there is a later note written on the back
recording that ‘the Town Hall was built in 1763’. This date can be verified by
evidence from the Town Receiver’s account book, also in the North Devon Record Office (re: 2558/5/1).

The accounts for the year 1761-62 record payments of 5s for ‘wine at the Globe Inn for Mr Wall’, 12s to Richard and John Lugg for ‘carring off ye Rubbish of ye old Hall’ and 10s 6d to ‘Mr Wall at laying ye foundation stone of  ye Hall’. The accounts for the following year have, for some reason, not been entered into the book although there are six blank pages left for them. It is probable that the missing accounts contained full details of payments for the construction of the new Hall. The accounts for subsequent years record the payment of several instalments to Mr Wall ‘towards his Bill’. For the record, the section relating to the Town Hall in Alexander & Hooper’s History of Great Torrington (1948) is misleading; they assert that ‘the Mr Wall mentioned was probably John Rolle Walters, lord of the manor, who laid the foundation stone of the new buildings’ and their interpretation of one of the Receiver’s accounts entries is incorrect. The present Town Hall was built in 1861 on the same site.

An Estimate for Building a new town Hall for ye Corporation of Torrington,
Estimated by Robert Wall

To pulling down ye old Buildings & Clareing foundations                             £6.1Os
To Building ye front walls with good Courser, Brick, Labour & metariels       £73.10s
To Building ye Back front. Ends & party, walls, all metariels Except stones  £46.16s
To Carkessing ye house, viz. Roofing, naked flooring & Ceiling joys             £104.9s
To heleing. Labour & all metariels Except slate                                       £20.0.0
To a plain deal Cornice outside in propotion to ye height                          £11.5
To laying ye Boarded flooring deal Labour & metariels                             £32.11s
To ye sash windows of dealwood & all other metariels                              £8.8s
To one Venetian window in ye Back front                                              £3.3s
To one stair case, with Rails & ballusters                                              £4.4s
To 3 doors & doorcases, Labour & all metariels                                      £3.
To Plastering ye 3 Rooms above stairs, plain work 3 Coats                       £21.18s
To Pitching ye Ground floor etc. Labour only                                          £2.1Os
To Lintles, Centers, Bond timber etc                                                    £5.1Os

                              £ 347.4s
the above to be done in a strong, plain, workmanlike manner with out any ornaments of Bath stone, but if the Bath stone ornaments is aded the Expence is under

Expence of Bath stone

To Rusticks for ye Coines                                                                   £5.15s
To windowstools to ye front windows                                                   £ 1.1Os
To Architrave Round ye front windows                                                 £6.5s
To Facia to ye front                                                                         £4.
To Impost, & Keystones to ye arches                                                  £ 1.1Os


Before The Renovations

Great Torrington Town Hall dominates the centre of the town and was for several centuries the hub of the civic, social and judicial life of this ancient borough.  In 1724 fire destroyed many documents and papers relating to the history of the town so information about the building before that period is very sparse. It is Grade 2 listed.

By the mid 18C the buildings associated with what was then called The Guildhall had all fallen into considerable dilapidation.  As it was also the trading centre of the town and associated with a Leather Hall, Cordwainers’ Chamber, Yarn Hall and the Shambles Meat Market it was urgent to make some repairs.

Before Renovations

Today’s building

In 1761 rebuilding started on the first phase of what we see today.  The estimated cost of this part was a little under £400 shared equally by The Town Council and The Almshouse, Town Lands and Poors Charity (The Town Trust).  On completion there was then a gap of almost 100 years before work re-commenced and it was not until 1861 that our present Town Hall was completed. The cost of about £600 was paid wholly by the Town Trust.

Since then, and before the recent renovations, there had been little change save for the provision of a small toilet suite adjacent to the Council Chamber and the construction of ground floor offices for the Trustees, in what was, for many years, a public convenience.

town hall

The building is an imposing one in the classical style with a rusticated limestone lower storey and red brick with stone dressings above.  The pedimented centre reaches out into The Square and has arched openings leading on to a cobbled and paved area beneath the large assembly room.  This open space has provided a meeting area for young and old alike for many decades but has long been the subject of much abuse.  From this area two doors lead to imposing staircases.  One goes directly into the assembly hall and the other leading to an impressive landing outside the Council Chamber.

 The Council Chamber itself is at the rear of the building which is the oldest part dating from the 17C.  Its walls are completely covered in fine oak panelling rescued at the turn of 20C from The Plough Inn. 

The Assembly Room is a larg,e imposing, galleried room, as befits its previous purpose. It has an ornate, semi-vaulted beamed ceiling with a central rose. Decorative bosses mark the end of each beam.  The ceiling plaster, which dates from the reconstruction 140 years ago, was nearing the end of its natural life before the renovation. The walls are hung with a number of large oil paintings, mainly of the Rolle family, formerly in the ownership of the Lords Clinton. There are a number of smaller rooms associated with the main chamber. Before the renovation there were no modern facilities, and access for the disabled was not possible. The building is now fully accessible.