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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 63 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TORRINGTON (GREAT TORRINGTON), a market town and municipal borough in the South Molton parliamentary division of Devonshire, England, on the Torridge, 225 M. W. by S. of London by the London & South-Western railway. Pop. (1901), 3241. It stands on a hill overlooking the richly wooded valley of the Torridge, here crossed by three bridges. Glove manufactures on a large scale, with flour and butter making and leather dressing, are the staple industries. The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 3592 acres. Torrington (Toritone) was the site of very early settlement, and possessed a market in Saxon times. The manor was held by Brictric in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and in 1o86 formed part of the Domesday fief of Odo Fitz Gamelin, which later constituted an honour with Torrington as its caput. In 1221 it appears as a mesne borough under William de Toritone, a descendant of Odo and the supposed founder of the castle, which in 1228 was ordered to be razed to the ground, but is said to have been rebuilt in 1340 by Richard de Merton. The borough had a fair in 1221, and returned two members to parliament from 1295 until exempted from representation at its own request in 1368. The government was vested in bailiffs and a commonalty, and no charter of incorporation was granted till that of Queen Mary in 1554, which instituted a governing body of a mayor, 7 aldermen and 18 chief burgesses, with authority to hold a court of record every three weeks on Monday; law-days and view of frankpledge at Michaelmas and Easter; a weekly market on Saturday, and fairs at the feasts of St Michael and St George. This charter was confirmed by Elizabeth in 1568 and by James I. in 1617. A charter from James II. in 1686 changed the style of the corporation to a mayor, 8 aldermen and 12 chief burgesses. In the 16th century Torrington was an important centre of the clothing trade, and in 1605 the town is described as very prosperous, with three Chateau-Renault, who had a stronger force. Being discontented with the amount of force provided at sea, he resigned his place at the admiralty, but retained his command at sea. In May 1689 he was created earl of Torrington. In 1690 he was in the Channel with a fleet of English and Dutch vessels, which did not rise above 56 in all, and found himself in front of the much more powerful French fleet. In his report to the council of regency he indicated his intention of retiring to the Thames, and losing sight of the enemy, saying that they would not do any harm to the coast while they knew his fleet to be " in being." The council, which knew that the Jacobites were preparing for a rising, and only waited for the support of a body of French troops, ordered him not to lose sight of the enemy, but rather than do that to give battle " upon any advantage of the wind." On the loth of July Torrington, after consulting with his Dutch colleagues, made a half-hearted attack on the French off Beachy Head in which his own ship was kept out of fire, and severe loss fell on his allies. Then he retired to the Thames. The French pursuit was fortunately feeble (see TOURVILLE, COMTE DE) and the loss of the allies was comparatively slight. The indignation of the country was at first great, and Torrington was brought to a court martial in December. He was acquitted, but never again employed. Although twice married, he was childless when he died on the 14th of April 1716, his earldom becoming extinct. The unfavourable account of his moral character given by Dartmouth to Pepys is confirmed by Bishop Burnet, who had seen much of him during his exile in Holland. An attempt has been made in recent years to rehabilitate the character of Torrington, and his phrase " a fleet in being " has been widely used (see Naval Warfare, by Vice-Admiral P. H. Colomb). See Charnock's Biog. Nay., i. 258. The best account of the battle of Beachy Head is to be found in " The Account given by Sir John Ashby Vice-Admiral and Rear-Admiral Rooke, to the Lords Commissioners " (1691).

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