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Bradshaw’s Guide

The Esplanade, Exmouth, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


This place has, within the last few years, made rapid strides in the march of improvement. The Beacon Hill is covered with buildings, and the Parade is stretching away right and left, with no visible signs, hitherto, of limitation.

Situated on the eastern side of the river Exe, two projecting sand banks form a partial enclosure, leaving an opening of about one-third the width of the harbour. The Exe is here about a mile and a half across, and though the entrance is somewhat difficult, the harbour is very convenient, and will admit the passage of ships of more than 300 tons burden.

There are two good inns, numerous boarding-houses and apartments, mid a good subscription library and reading-room, but the visitor must create his own amusement, chiefly in the rides or pedestrian excursions, which the beauty of the surrounding country will so well afford the opportunity of enjoying. The proper time for bathing here is at high water, but there are hot and cold baths that can be taken at any hour, conveniently situated under the Beacon Terrace. Like many other maritime towns in Devonshire, Exmouth has in its immediate neighbourhood a valley sheltered on all sides from the winds, and capable of affording a genial retreat to those affected with complaints in the lungs. This will be found at Salterton, four miles to the east, and here the romantic caverns of the secluded bay, the rough but richly-pebbled beach, and the continuous marine prospect, will form irresistible temptations to explore the way thither. Dr. Clarke says, in speaking of the climate —  Exmouth is decidedly a healthy place, and notwithstanding the whole of this coast is rather humid, agues are almost unknown. Invalids often, experience the greatest benefit from a residence here, more particularly on the Beacon Hill, the most elevated and finest situation in the neighbourhood, and which, as some compensation for the south-west gales, commands one of the most magnificent views in Devonshire. Along the southern base of this hill there is also a road of considerable extent, protected from the north and north-east winds, and well suited for exercise when they prevail; and here it may be remarked, that between the summer climate of North and South Devon there is as marked a difference as between the cast of their scenery, the air of the former being keen and bracing, and its features romantic and picturesque, while in the latter the rich softness of the landscape harmonizes with the soft and soothing qualities of the climate. An omnibus runs twice a-week from Exmouth to Sidmouth.

About a mile from Exmouth is the secluded and picturesque village of Withycombe, and two miles further a fine old nun, known as the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, will attract attention. It was built probably in the reign of Henry VII., but the old tower, one of the aisles, and part of the pulpit, now alone remain.

Sidmouth, eleven miles from Exmouth, is one of the most agreeably-situated little watering-places that can be imagined. It lies nestled in the bottom of a valley, opening to the sea between two lofty hills, 500 feet high, whence a most extensive and varied prospect of a beautiful part of the country is afforded on one side, and on the other a view of the open sea, bounded by a line of coast which stretches from Portland Isle, on the east, to Torbay, on the west. The summit of Peak Hill, on the west, is a lofty ridge, extending from north to south; that of Salcombe Hill, on the east, is much broader, and affords room for a race-course: both are highest towards the sea, where they terminate abruptly, forming a precipice of great depth, on the very verge of winch the labourer may be seen guiding the plough several hundred feet perpendicular above the sea.

Although Sidmouth is irregularly built, its appearance is generally neat, occasionally highly picturesque, and in some parts positively handsome. The magnificent villas and cottages on the slopes are, almost without exception, surrounded with gardens; they command pleasing prospects, and are delightfully accessible by shady lanes, which wind up the hills and intersect each other in all directions. Old local topographers speak of Sidmouth as a considerable fishing town, and as carrying on some trade with Newfoundland, but its harbour is now totally choked up with rocks, which at low water are seen covered with sea-weed, stretching away to a considerable distance from the shore. Its history may be very briefly recounted. The manor of Sidmouth was presented by William the Conqueror to the Abbey of St. Michel in Normandy, and was afterwards taken possession of by the Crown, during the wars with France, as the property of an alien foundation. It was afterwards granted to the monastery of Sion with which it remained until the dissolution.

Hotels, boarding and lodging-houses are scattered over even part of Sidmouth and its vicinity, and the local arrangements are throughout excellent. The public buildings are soon enumerated, for they only consist of a church, near the centre of the town, a very ordinary edifice of the fifteenth century, enlarged from time to time, a neat little chapel of ease, and a new market-house, built in 1840. Around here, and in the Fore-street, are some excellent shops, and the town is well supplied with gas and water. The seawall was completed in 1838. There was formerly an extensive bank of sand and gravel, thrown up by the sea, a considerable distance from the front of the town, but this being washed away in a tremendous storm, this defence was resorted to as a more permanent protection from the encroachment of the waves. It now forms an agreeable promenade, upwards of 1,700 feet long.

Sidmouth is sheltered by its hills from every quarter, except the south, where it is open to the sea, and has an atmosphere strongly impregnated with saline particles. Snow is very rarely witnessed, and in extremely severe seasons, when the surrounding hills are deeply covered, not a vestige, not a flake, will remain in this warm and secluded vale. The average mean winter temperature is from four to five degrees warmer than London, and eight degrees warmer than the northern watering-places.

“In Sidmouth and its neighbourhood” (says the author of the “Route Book of Devon”), “will be found an inexhaustible mine for the study and amusement of the botanist, geologist, or conchologist. A very curious relic of antiquity was found on the beach here about five years since — a Roman bronze standard or centaur, representing the centaur Chiron, with his pupil Achilles behind his back. The bronze is cast hollow, and is about nine inches in height. The left fore leg of the centaur is broken, and the right hind leg mutilated. The under part or pedestal formed a socket, by which the standard was screwed on a pole or staff.”

The present great features of interest in the neighbourhood are the landslips, ten miles distant, which, extending along the coast from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis, are most interesting to the geologist and the lover of nature. This range of cliffs, extending from Haven to Pinhay, has been the theatre of two convulsions, or landslips, one commencing on Christmas-day, 1839, at Bendon and Dowlands, whereby forty-five acres of arable land were lost to cultivation — the other about five weeks after on the 3rd of February, 1840, at Whitlands, little more than a mile to the eastward of the former, but much smaller in magnitude than the previous one.

There are one or two situations, says an excellent local authority, overlooking the more western or great landslip, which seem to be admired as peculiarly striking — the view of the great chasm, looking eastward, and the view from Dowlands, looking westward, upon the undercliff and new beach. The best prospect, perhaps, for seeing the extraordinary nature of the whole district, combined with scenery, is from Pinhay and Whitlands, and looking inland you see the precipitous yet wooded summit of the main land, and the castellated crags of the ivy-clad rocks, on the terraces immediately below, and the deep dingle which separates you from it. By turning a little to the north-east Pinhay presents its chalky pinnacles and descending terraces; whilst to the west the double range and high perpendicular cliffs of Rowsedown offer themselves. By turning towards the sea is embraced the whole range of the great bay of Dorset and Devon, extending from Portland on the east to Start Point on the west, bounded on either side by scenery of the finest coast character.

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