Walking up Fore Street, Totnes, into the High Street and on to the Narrows recently I counted more than 20 shops selling cloth or clothes – some vintage, some fairtrade, others organic.
Cloth plays an important part in this small South Devon town’s economy, just as it did in the 16th century when the town’s wealth was built upon the wool trade and rich merchants flocked there to be part of the action. The wealth came firstly from raw wool, then later from cloth which was woven on looms in first floor rooms – some of which can still be seen in houses along the Butterwalk today (look out for ones with triple windows).
One of the most authentic Tudor merchant’s buildings on the Butterwalk is Bogan House, now home to the town’s Fashion and Textiles Museum, which last week opened a new exhibition, Corsets and Crinolines: the changing shape of fashion. It features under and over garments, shoes and accessories from the eighteenth century through to the present day. It’s a wonderful museum nurtured by a devoted team of volunteers, and well worth a visit
If the intricacies of bodices and bustles inspire you, there’s plenty more sartorial delights to be discovered on the streets of Totnes, so if you can bear to be away from the supreme comfort of Hillfield Village, why not step out in search of threads…
Founded by eco pioneers, William and Gabriela Lana in 1996, this small, and deliciously fragrant shop in the Narrows holds a range of organic and natural fairtrade outerwear, underwear, nightwear, tights, socks and accessories (as well as bedding, blankets, towels and linen) all ethically sourced and responsibly made. The natural fibre and organic clothing is chemical free, and exquisitely comfortable. Go there. Touch and smell. You will be hooked!
99 High Street, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5PF
Handmade leather shoes have been crafted by hand at Conker Shoes since Andy Langford founded the business in 1977. As well as shoes, Conker specialises in fairtrade, natural fibre clothing from People Tree, John Smedley, Beaumont Organic and EKO. They also stock a fabulous range of tights from European companies Cecilia De Rafael and Falke as well as long lasting and toasty warm socks made in England by Pantherella and Scott Nichol.
28 High Street Totnes TQ9 5RY 01803 862490
This small shop is stuffed with a huge and eclectic range of vintage costume, chinoiserie and costume jewellery. Owner Sue Nurse has been gathering cleverly chosen pre-owned items for more than 30 years. You never know what you will find here. Heaven for vintage fans – and definitely worth a visit for everyone else as there’s always a surprise in store.
64 High Street Totnes TQ9 5SQ 07984 406826
A new arrival to Totnes, this dress agency is going great guns. It has a super selection of high quality (often designer label) clothes, bags and accessories that have been previously worn or owned. A lovely bright and airy shop with friendly staff with advice if you feel the need, and to ease your conscience, there is the opportunity to re-sell mistake purchases that might have been stuffed to the back of the cupboard.
10 High Street, Totnes TQ9 5RY 01803 862136
Established in 1997 by Jane Starey out of a frustration with the limited choice of fabrics available to dressmakers Stone Fabrics hold a wide range of top quality, one-off and unusual fabrics sourced from across the globe at surprisingly fair prices. Not only that, the staff know their stuff and have infinite time for indecisive customers.
97 High Street Totnes TQ9 5PB 01803 868608