Great Torrington Heritage Museum

Great Torrington Heritage Museum

The history and heritage centre of Torrington

Featured exhibits and histories

Glove making

The glove making industry around Great Torrington dates back to the early 16th century and developed amid thriving wool and leather industries in the 17th century, increasing through to the 19th century as the town’s major source of employment. Cutting was originally done by hand using shears while much of the stitching was done by women and girls at home, the cutting, checking and selling being done by the owner.

Rolle Canal

In the late eighteenth century, various alternative routes were under construction for a canal to carry coal and limestone inland from the port of Bideford to improve the productivity of the acidic agricultural land. Eventually John Rolle engaged the engineer James Green to build a canal and in 1823 work commenced, cutting a route up the west side of the Torridge valley towards Great Torrington.


Pottery has a long history in Great Torrington  as illustrated by the discovery of a post-medieval pottery kiln at Castle Hill during the construction of houses in 1989. Stacked towards the back of the kiln were quantities of broken pottery, a near-complete jug and three complete saggers. The finds from this discovery have since been on display in Museum along with more recent pots and jugs.

Local inventor Thomas Fowler and his early computer

In 1840 Thomas Fowler produced a mechanical calculating machine, which could possibly be described as an early computer, using balanced ternary arithmetic for the calculations. The machine has not survived to the present day, however using a 2 page description written by the prominent mathematician Augustus de Morgan at the time, a replica was constructed by a team consisting of Mark Glusker, Pamela Vass, and David Hogan. The completed model was presented to the Great Torrington Museum in August 2000.

Exhibit of the week 6

English pot helmet, 1640 (c

This helmet has a hinged visor, cheek pieces and a fixed ‘lobster’ tail to protect the neck. It would have been worn by a harquebusier (light cavalryman) of the English Civil War. The common belief is that Royalist ‘Cavaliers’ all wore large floppy hats with feathers, while Parliamentary ‘Roundheads’ wore what the Victorians called ‘lobster pot helmets’. This is a nineteenth century myth. Both sides in the war would have looked very similar and the quality of any item of dress would depend on the status of the wearer, not his allegiance. (Text from National Army Museum)

See past Exhibits on this page