A Brief History

Guilds and Guildhalls

Guilds, in medieval times, were the major form of local organisation. These groups were social, economic, and religious units that worked to keep the peace and settle disputes within their towns. One of Barnstaple’s most powerful Guilds in the 14th and 15th centuries would have been a confederation of wool merchants, who oversaw the importation and exportation of wool and woollen goods.

Guildhalls would have been the meeting place for such municipal bodies. The first recorded site of a Guildhall in Barnstaple was on the east side of the entrance to Maiden Street, at the town end of the Long Bridge where Bridge Buildings now stands. The second Guildhall, probably built during the reign of Henry VII, was acquired by the Borough in 1532. It stood at the end of the High Street on raised pillars, under which many commercial stalls operated.

The third and present Guildhall was built in 1826 when the second one was demolished. Once used as a courtroom, it is now used for council and community events as well as private hire occasions. Two major events which take place every year in the Guildhall are the Mayor Making ceremony and the Fair Proclamation.

Guildhall Main Chamber meeting

The Main Chamber 

The layout of this room denotes the Guildhall’s previous use as a courtroom, with a Justices’ bench, a jury gallery, and tiered public seating. What draws the eye most in this room is the collection of oil paintings which cover most of the walls, some of which were painted by the famous painter Thomas Hudson (1701-1772). Portraits include those of William Rock, a Barnstaple benefactor, and John Gay, an 18th-century poet and playwright who was born in the town.

The collection of paintings at the Guildhall can now be viewed online at the Art UK website.

Art UK is a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) and participating collections and museums from across the UK.

Example layout in the Dodderidge Room

The Dodderidge Room

The Dodderidge Room is one of Barnstaple’s hidden treasures. It holds the town silver and many fascinating relics of Barnstaple’s past. The room is named after Pentecost Dodderidge, a wealthy merchant who previously owned the oak panelling and fireplace displayed within the room.


This fireplace housed within the Dodderidge Room was ‘discovered’ when a house in Cross Street was demolished in 1910. After being moved to another house in the town it was given to Barnstaple Town Council as a gift, along with the oak panelling, from Alderman John Smale in 1949. The top feature dates from 1617 and incorporates the initials PD and ED, signifying Pentecost Dodderidge and his wife Elizabeth Dodderidge. The Dodderidge family was one of the leading families in Barnstaple for many years, serving as merchants, judges, mayors, and councillors. The main fireplace is older than the top feature and was probably carved in London, or possibly Spain. The top feature was undoubtedly carved locally.

Guildhall Mayor's Parlour

The Mayor’s Parlour

The Mayor’s Parlour is a functioning office, used by the Town Mayor for civic receptions and meetings. The room hosts a range of historic artefacts including fine examples of Brannam pottery and a US flag that once flew at the Capitol Building in Washington, a gift from our twin town of Barnstable, Massachusetts.

On the walls you will find rolls of honour detailing Barnstaple’s past Mayors, and a range of pictures and other artefacts celebrating our twin towns and our links with the Royal Family.

Visions and Values

The Guildhall functions as the centre of Barnstaple’s heritage, perfectly positioned within the heart of the town. Throughout the upcoming years we aim to increase the usability and community function of the Guildhall to create a space that promotes the heritage of Barnstaple for all to see.

Our Values

Educate: To support local education through regular involvement with schools and frequent community activities that encourage learning.

Engage: To promote a passion for culture through regular community activities and accessible resources.

Excite: To publish and promote the heritage of Barnstaple in an inspiring and exciting manner.

Encourage: To encourage active community participation within the Guildhall regarding local history and heritage.

Available for Hire

The Guildhall is available for hire. You can hire the space for an event, function or we are licenced for weddings.

For more information please visit our venues page.