Both of these Charities have their roots going back hundreds of years.
In early Tudor times, throughout the country, the poor and destitute were helped by religious groups, but with the dissolution of monasteries and priories, help was no longer available from these sources. For many people there was a gradual descent into poverty and misery. Poor laws passed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I meant that in most parishes landowners, farmers, the parson, churchwardens, overseers and the parish constables were responsible for the relief of poor persons.
By the end of the seventeenth/beginning of the eighteenth centuries the sick, blind, crippled and destitute were suffering great hardship. However, in Torrington things were different, as various charities had been established that gave valuable support to those in need. At one time there were over 40 different charities in the Town.
Through the centuries there have been many public spirited and charitable people in Torrington who bequeathed money, property and land for charitable purposes. The income from these bequests was used for the well-being of the Town and its people.
An ancient document (known as the Book of Wills), lists early charitable bequests in Torrington. The earliest entry in this book was made in 1547 and the latest 1672. It is clear that some bequests predated these records.
In the beginning bequests were left in the hands of the Vicar, Mayor or other such notable dignitaries and often the support was in the form of bread, flour and coal being distributed after a church service. Gradually these bequests were amalgamated and matters became much more formalised, resulting in Great Torrington Town and Lands Charity and the Great Torrington Almshouse Charity, both of which are registered with the Charity Commission. The working name of the Charities is Torrington Town & Lands.