My research suggests that it was during the 1980s that Totnes began to develop a significant reputation as an ‘alternative’ or ‘New Age’ centre. One of the most important developments in the emergence of this ‘place myth’ was the publication of Spilling the Beans by Martin Stott in 1986. This was a satirical guide to the New Age / Alternative movement which identified the Totnes / Ashburton area as the ‘Marin County’ of Britain.
The publicity generated by the book obviously helped this reputation to spread so that, by the late 1980s and early 1990s there were regular representations of this aspect of the area in the national press. Whilst such ‘place myths’ are based on some kind of tangible reality they are also obviously simplifications. However, one issue that the thesis explores is the fact that they also have very real impacts on places. I will write more about this at a later date.
The representation of Totnes as a ‘New Age’ or ‘Alternative’ capital has become a significant and repeated representation of it as a place. It was the publication of Spilling the Beans (1986), a satirical guide to the Alternative Movement written by Martin Stott that appears to have first put Totnes ‘on the map’ as far as being a ‘New Age centre’ was concerned. In a section on ‘Where to live’ Stott suggests:
“The area of Britain to live in is Devon. There are more natural healers, holistic health practitioners, alternative therapists and other inner-directed souls to the square mile in Devon than in any other part of the country. South Devon is better than North Devon. The Totnes-Ashburton area is the veritable Marin County of Britain. Living there is what all ATs [Alternative Types] ultimately aspire to”
In the local vernacular ‘TQ9ers’ (the first part of the postcode of the area around Totnes) has since become a local term for Stott’s (1986) ‘Alternative Types’. Stott was familiar with the area having visited Dartmoor to attend men’s therapies workshops and through visiting friends who were going ‘self-sufficient’. He also developed friendships with Maurice Ash and Satish Kumar which increased his knowledge of the area. Kemp (2004) notes the tendency of the media to name places as ‘New Age’ centres and it was in the early 1990s that this place myth began to circulate in the mass media with reference to Totnes. This therefore reflects the point when Totnes began to develop countercultural reputations alongside but separate to those of Dartington. Other ‘place myths’ have also emerged. In April 2005 Totnes was designated as one of the top 10 ‘Funky’ places to live in the world by the British Airways in-house magazine High Life. This was not only mentioned by several interviewees but also now features within the Tourist literature for the town.