Topsham, Devon

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Fore Street, Topsham.jpg
Fore Street, Topsham
Devon UK location map.svg
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Location within Devon
Population3,730 (Actual settlement 2011) [1]
OS grid reference SX966884
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town EXETER
Postcode district EX3
Dialling code 01392
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°41′10″N3°27′54″W / 50.6860°N 3.4651°W / 50.6860; -3.4651 Coordinates: 50°41′10″N3°27′54″W / 50.6860°N 3.4651°W / 50.6860; -3.4651

Topsham ( /ˈtɒpʃəm/ , also /ˈtɒpsəm/ ) is a town in Devon, England, in the district of Exeter, on the east side of the River Exe, immediately north of its confluence with the River Clyst and the former's estuary, between Exeter and Exmouth. Although village-sized, with a current population of around 5,023, increasing to 5,519 at the 2011 census for the electoral ward population which includes Countess Wear, which is its own individual settlement, [2] Topsham was designated a town by a 1300 royal charter, until the Exeter urban district was formed. It is served by Topsham railway station on the branch line to Exmouth. In 2011 was the 150th anniversary of the railway coming to Topsham, on what is now called the Exeter–Exmouth Avocet Line. [3]



The Strand showing some of the houses with Dutch gables The Strand, Topsham.jpg
The Strand showing some of the houses with Dutch gables

The native Celtic settlement of Topsham became the port of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) in the first century AD, and continued to serve it until the Roman occupation of southern Britain ceased about the year 400. In the 7th century the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village.

St Margaret's Anglican Church in Topsham, dates back to the 10th century. Although reconstructed several times, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan, who gave "a parcel of land, i.e. a manse, which the vulgar called Toppesham, to the monastery Church of St Mary and St Peter in Exeter, for the cure of his soul, to have in eternal freedom so long as the Christian Church shall endure." [4]

Topsham's position, offering a sheltered harbour to seagoing trade enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for both fishing and shipbuilding. Notable ships such as HMS Terror (part of Franklin's lost expedition) and HMS Cyane (later known as the USS Cyane after capture by the American Navy) were built here in the early 19th century. The town was the scene of a notable Parliamentarian naval assault during the English Civil War.

There are many Dutch style houses in Topsham dating from the time when Topsham was an important cotton port. Many of Topsham's houses are built using Dutch bricks, which were brought over as ballast from Holland – to where the wool and cotton from South-West England had been exported.

Topsham was absorbed into the City of Exeter, along with the parishes of Alphington and Pinhoe, in 1966. [5]

After a period of decline over the first half of the 20th century, Topsham has increasingly become a desirable and high-value residential location. The 21st century has seen development into the 'Topsham Gap' – greenfield land between Topsham and Exeter.


Topsham museum. Topsham museum.jpg
Topsham museum.

Formerly a major seaport, the town is now of interest for its architecture, scenery and proximity to nature reserves for wading and migrating birds, such as RSPB Bowling Green Marsh on the Exe Estuary, the whole of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Topsham Museum is located in one of a set of 17th century buildings looking out over the Exe Estuary. It consists of furnished period rooms, displays of the local history of the town and memorabilia of Vivien Leigh, the film star. [6]

Name and pronunciation

The name is an Anglo-Saxon one, and means Toppa's village, Toppa having been the local landowner. [7]

There is some difference of opinion on the correct pronunciation of the town. Generally it is referred to as /ˈtɒpʃəm/ with the sh sounded as in shoe. The local pronunciation amongst older native Devonians, however, is /ˈtɒpsəm/ with the s being sounded as in some and the -ham suffix being reduced to um.[ citation needed ]


Topsham's local football club is Topsham Town AFC, a non-league side in Devon. Topsham Rugby Club has two senior sides and over 200 juniors making it one of the largest "junior" clubs in the South West.[ citation needed ] The town also has a bowling club, an outdoor swimming pool and a sailing club.

Community and recreation

The Bridge Inn The Bridge Inn - - 1109266.jpg
The Bridge Inn

One of the main focal points of the town is Topsham Pool. [8] Topsham Pool is a community run project in the centre of the town. It was funded by a large fundraising exercise in the 1970s which included collecting waste paper and glass bottles, jumble sales and donations. A Sports Council grant completed the fund raising effort and, in 1979, the pool was opened by Olympic gold medallist swimmer David Wilkie. [9] Topsham Pool is an open-air pool and, as a result, is only open between May and September. Between 6 am and 8.30 am each morning, the Pool welcomes the Nutters Club – a group that swims when the outside temperature is likely to be at its coolest. [10]

In response to what had been described in the early 1960s as "a period of genteel decline", The Topsham Society was formed. The objectives of the Topsham Society are "To promote high standards of planning and architecture in or affecting Topsham; to educate the public in the geography, history, natural history and architecture of Topsham; to secure the preservation protection development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Topsham". [11] The Society currently has around 400 members. [12]

A monthly magazine is published called Estuary: A Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham, which is published by St Margaret's Anglican Church, but is more of a community publication than an ecclesiastical one. It is currently priced £0.70 per month, and copy to be received by the 15th of the preceding month. It is co-edited by Diana Trout and José Northey.

Twice a year Estuary Players present a theatrical production in the Matthews Hall. They are a notably eclectic group, but Shakespeare and Brecht have featured among their favourite playwrights over their 35-year existence. [13]

Topsham Art Group had a summer exhibition in 2012 at the local Topsham Primary School featuring local artists.; A community hall called Matthews Hall where local group can meet, including the Topsham Community Association; [14] Topsham Film Club; Topsham Flower Club;

2011 marked the 80th anniversary of the Topsham Town Fayre and Carnival. [15] As of 2018 there is no longer a Carnival.

Every two years the town holds a Longest Table event, which involves tables being placed end to end through the streets with people bringing food for their own table.

In addition to St Margaret's Anglican church, there is also a Methodist church, situated in Fore Street; a Congregational Church situated in Victoria Road; and a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the Holy Cross, which meets in Station Road.

The Bridge Inn is a Grade II listed public house at Bridge Hill, that dates to the 18th century. [16] It is on the Campaign for Real Ale's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. [17]

Notable residents

William Webb Follett, the noted lawyer and parliamentarian, was born here in 1796. General George Warren (cir 1801–1884) was born here c.1801. Thomas Hardy's cousin, Tryphena Sparks, who was the inspiration for Hardy's poem Thoughts of Phena at News of Her Death [18] lived here and is buried here. She was known locally for the charitable work she did for the local fishermen. [19] Dick Pym, the footballer, was born here in 1893; he was a goalkeeper in the first Wembley FA Cup Final in 1923, and died in Exeter in 1988, aged 95. The newsreader, Trevor McDonald, is a past resident of the town, [20] and both members of the folk group Show of Hands live in Topsham. [21] Clifford Fishwick artist and principal of Exeter College of Art and Design lived here until his death in 1997. [22] The actor Bill Pertwee (ARP Warden William Hodges in Dad's Army ) also lived here. [23] Novelist Philip Hensher also lives here. His 2011 book King of the Badgers is set in a fictional town based on Topsham. [24] The mountain climber Norman Croucher is a resident of Topsham. [25] Dean Pym, also known as the local big man of Topsham, is a resident of Topsham.

Related Research Articles

Devon County of England

Devon is a county of England, reaching from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is part of South West England, bounded by Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the north-east and Dorset to the east. The city of Exeter is the county town. The county includes the districts of East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon. Plymouth and Torbay are each geographically part of Devon, but are administered as unitary authorities. Combined as a ceremonial county, Devon's area is 6,707 km2 and its population is about 1.1 million.

River Exe river in Devon and Somerset, England

The River Exe in England rises at Exe Head, near the village of Simonsbath, on Exmoor in Somerset, 8.4 kilometres (5 mi) from the Bristol Channel coast, but flows more or less directly due south, so that most of its length lies in Devon. It flows for 60 miles (96 km) and reaches the sea at a substantial ria, the Exe Estuary, on the south coast of Devon. Historically, its lowest bridging point was at Exeter, which is the largest settlement on the river, but there is now a viaduct for the M5 motorway about 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the city centre.

Budleigh Salterton Human settlement in England

Budleigh Salterton is a small town on the coast in East Devon, England, 15 miles (24 km) south-east of Exeter. It lies within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and forms much of the electoral ward of Budleigh, whose ward population at the 2011 census was 5,967.

Exmouth Human settlement in England

Exmouth is a port town, civil parish and seaside resort, sited on the east bank of the mouth of the River Exe and 11 miles (18 km) southeast of Exeter.

Tiverton, Devon Human settlement in England

Tiverton is a town and civil parish in the English county of Devon and the main commercial and administrative centre of the Mid Devon district. It has become a dormitory town for Exeter and Taunton. The estimated population in 2019 was 20,587. The total area of the two County Council Divisions had a population of 38,191 in 2019.

Lympstone Commando railway station Railway station in the Devon, England

Lympstone Commando railway station is a railway station on the branch line from Exeter to Exmouth in Devon, England.

Avocet Line

The Avocet Line is the railway line in England connecting Exeter with Exmouth. It was originally built by the London and South Western Railway, and was historically known as the Exmouth branch railway. The line follows the Exe Estuary for about half of its route, from just outside Topsham to Exmouth, giving views of the estuary. The line is named after the pied avocet, which lives in the estuary.

Topsham railway station railway station in Devon, England

Topsham railway station is the railway station serving the town of Topsham in the English county of Devon. It is the passing place for the otherwise single-track branch line from Exmouth Junction to Exmouth. Both the loop and adjacent level crossing are remotely worked from the signal box at Exmouth Junction.

Exton railway station Railway station in the Devon, England

Exton railway station is a railway station serving the village of Exton in Devon, England. It is situated on the Avocet Line which runs between Exeter St Davids and Exmouth.

Lympstone Human settlement in England

Lympstone is a village and civil parish in East Devon in the English county of Devon. It has a population of 1,754. There is a harbour on the estuary of the River Exe, lying at the outlet of Wotton Brook between cliffs of red breccia. The promontory to the north of the harbour is topped by a flat pasture, Cliff Field, that is managed by the National Trust and used for football matches and other local events.


Exminster is a village situated on the southern edge of the City of Exeter on the western side of the Exeter ship canal and River Exe in the county of Devon, England. It is around 6 km (3.7 mi) south of the centre of Exeter, and has a population of 3,084, increasing to 3,368 at the 2011 census.

Starcross railway station Railway station in Devon, England

Starcross railway station is a small station on the Exeter to Plymouth line in the village of Starcross, Devon, England. It is 8 miles 44 chains (13.8 km) down the line from Exeter St Davids and 202 miles 36 chains (325.8 km) measured from London Paddington via Bristol Temple Meads.

Exe Estuary estuary in Devon, England

The Exe estuary is an estuary on the south coast of Devon, England.

Woodbury, East Devon Human settlement in England

Woodbury is a village and civil parish in East Devon in the English county of Devon, 7 miles (11 km) south east of the city of Exeter. It is a commuter village and is primarily residential, since the majority of the workforce commute to Exeter. At the 2011 Census the village had a population of 1,605, and the parish had a population of 3,466. It lies on the east bank of the Exe Estuary, has borders – clockwise from the estuary – with the district of Exeter and then the parishes of Clyst St George, Clyst St Mary, Farringdon, Colaton Raleigh, Bicton and Lympstone. Woodbury is part of the electoral ward of Woodbury and Lympstone whose population at the 2011 Census was 5,260.

A379 road road in Devon, England

The A379 is a road in the English county of Devon. It links points on the edges of that county's two principal cities, Exeter and Plymouth, by an indirect and largely coastal route. The A38 provides a faster and more direct inland route between Exeter and Plymouth, whilst the A380 provides a similarly faster route between Exeter and the Torbay area. However the A379 serves many small coastal communities and ports along the coast. The indented nature of the South Devon coast means that the road is usually out of sight of the sea, but the many rivers and estuaries are crossed by bridges and, in one case, a cable ferry.

River Clyst River in Devon, England

The River Clyst is a river of Devon, England. The name derives from Old English, and translates as Clean-stream. The river lends its name to several settlements on its route, Clyst Honiton, Clyst St Lawrence, Clyst St George, and Broadclyst. The William part of Clyst William derives from the Old English of aewelm, which means river source.

Countess Wear Human settlement in United Kingdom

Countess Weir is a district within the city of Exeter, Devon, England. It lies about two miles south-east of the city centre, on the north bank of the estuary of the River Exe. Historically an estate known as Weare, part of the manor of Topsham, was in this area. From the late 13th century, the construction of weirs in the River Exe by the Countess, and later, the Earls of Devon damaged the prosperity of Exeter to the benefit of Topsham which was downstream of the obstructions, and was owned by the Earls.

Mamhead Human settlement in England

Mamhead is a rural village and civil parish near Dawlish and Kenton in Devon, South West England, in the Teignbridge local authority area.

Exeter City in the south west of England

Exeter is a city in Devon, England, on the River Exe 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Plymouth and 65 miles (105 km) southwest of Bristol. It is the county town of Devon, and home to Devon County Council and the University of Exeter.


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  10. Archived 13 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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  20. Making headlines with TV newsman, Western Morning News (Plymouth, England), 11 May 2004
  21. Far from the looting crowd, Western Daily Press, (Bristol, England), 30 October 2009
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  25. "Amputee Norman Croucher from Devon takes up paragliding". BBC News. 28 November 2011. Archived from the original on 22 May 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2020.