Exmouth

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Exmouth (/ˈɛksməθ/) is a port town, civil parish and seaside resort in East Devon, England, sited on the east bank of the mouth of the River Exe. In 2001, it had a population of 32,972.

Exmouth is a gateway town to the Devon and East Dorset Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Byzantine coins dating back to c. 498–518, with the mark of Anastasius I, were retrieved on the beach in 1970. More recent human occupation of Exmouth Point can be traced back to the 11th century, when it was known as Lydwicnaesse, “the point of the Bretons”.

The two ecclesiastical parishes, Littleham and Withycombe Raleigh, that make up the town of Exmouth today can be traced to pre-Saxon times. Whilst the name of the River Exe is an ancient Celtic word for fish, the town has only recently become known as Exmouth.

In 1240 an area known as Pratteshuthe (Pratt’s landing place) was sold to the mayor and citizens of Exeter. This was the site of the estuary’s ferry dock and over time the name evolved first into Pratteshide, then Mona Island. The original site is marked by a seating area next to the Magnolia Shopping Centre.

For some centuries, commercial trade through the port was limited in part by the shallow waters on the approach to the quay, but mainly by the power of Exeter, which owned the dock and controlled all estuary traffic. The roads in and out of the area were in a poor state and only occasionally repaired by the parishes through which they ran. A more permanent dock was built in 1825, replacing a series of apparently seasonal docks first noted on maps from 1576 as “The Docke”. New docks designed by Eugenius Birch were opened in 1868, and a short line connected them to the railway goods yard. The area adjacent to the docks once housed a thriving community of some 125 chalets built on the shoreline. These have been replaced by a residential marina complex known as Exmouth Quay.

Human habitation was restricted by the harsh exposed position on the estuary – civilisation took a hold in a greater and more permanent way in the more comfortable outer lying rural areas. The town began to develop in the 13th century. Morin Uppehille owned the land, granting part of it to John the Miller who in turn built a windmill, and earned his living on the exposed point, aided by the prevailing south-west winds. The windmill, the ferry dock and a small settlement of farms began to develop into Exmouth.

Sir Walter Raleigh (born 1544) sailed on many of his voyages from Exmouth harbour.

In the mid 17th century the area suffered from the ravages of Turkish pirates (actually Algerian rovers), who raided the Devon and Cornwall coastlines, attacking shipping and attempting to capture sailors and villagers for sale as slaves in North Africa.

The town established itself during the 18th century. Regarded as the oldest holiday resort in Devon, visitors unable to visit Europe due to the revolutionary turmoil in France were attracted by the views and medicinal salt waters which were then fashionable. Exmouth was renowned as a destination for the wealthy to recover their health. Notable visitors in this time included Lady Byron, and her daughter, Ada Lovelace. Exmouth was also the residence of Lady Nelson, the estranged wife of Lord Nelson. She is buried in Littleham Churchyard.

Exmouth’s first lifeboat was provided in 1803. A boathouse was built near Passage House but was washed away in a storm in 1814. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution revived Exmouth Lifeboat Station in 1858. A new boathouse was built near the beach, although the lifeboat had to be taken across the road before it could be launched. This boathouse was demolished and a one built on the same site in 1903 to accommodate a larger lifeboat. From 1961 the lifeboat was kept afloat in the river near the entrance to Exmouth docks. A boarding boat was kept on a davit that was lowered into the water to ferry the crew to the lifeboat. The old lifeboat station by the beach was retained as a fund-raising display centre and, from 1966, was the base for an inshore lifeboat. The building used by crews at the docks was demolished in 1996 and replaced by temporary portable buildings. On 21 November 2009 both lifeboats were transferred to a new lifeboat station in Queen’s Drive at the eastern end of the beach. The old boathouse was retained as a base for the RNLI lifeguards who work in and around Exmouth.

High class tourism remained steady for a number of years. This changed when the first railway line into Exmouth was built in 1861, bringing with it mass tourism. It is from this “golden age” for Exmouth that the present form of the town can be traced.

Exmouth has a number of active churches. The Holy Trinity Anglican Church was built by Lord Rolle, at the cost of £13,000 in 1824 to 1825. Standing on Beacon Hill it was built in the perpendicular style with a tower 104 feet (32 m) high, containing a clock and a bell. The interior, which has 1,500 sittings, has a canopy of Beer stone in the florid Gothic style over the altar. Until the erection of this church, Exmouth was without an episcopal place of worship; for though a small ancient chapel, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was standing in 1412, all traces of it disappeared many centuries ago.

Administratively Exmouth lies within the East Devon district, along with neighbouring coastal towns east of the Exe. It has its own town council, presided over by a mayor elected from amongst the Councillors. There are five wards each electing five Town Councillors thus 25 town councillors in all. Councillors are entitled by law to claim basic allowance but all have decided not to claim and are volunteers for which they receive no remuneration. The Town Clerk is the Council’s senior paid officer with eight part time staff. The town supports Exmouth Town Management Partnership and employs a Town Manager and his assistant with the role of supporting the economy of the town working with businesses and promoting the town.

The town is defined by the sea and river frontages (each about a mile long), and stretches around 2.5 miles (4 km) inland, along a north-easterly axis. The docks lie at the western corner of this rectangle, where the river passes through a narrow passage into the sea, the mouth of the estuary being nearly closed by Dawlish Warren on the opposite shore of the river. Dawlish Warren is a natural sand spits and is home to rare wildlife and plants, part of which is a nature reserve and restricted access. The sea frontage forms a sandy two mile long beach; at its eastern end, the town is limited by the cliffs of the High Land of Orcombe, a National Trust-owned open space which rises to a peak at Orcombe Point.

Geologically, the low hill known as “The Beacon”, in the centre of the present town, is formed of breccias that are an outcrop of a similar formation on the west side of the Exe estuary. The rising land on which the town has grown is formed of New Red Sandstone. This solid land is surrounded by mudflats and sandspits, some of which have been stabilised and now form part of the land on which the town is built, and some of which remain as tidal features in the estuary and off the coast. The outflow from the river flows eastwards, parallel to the beach for some distance, limited by sandbanks that are exposed at low tide. Buildings in this reclaimed land during high tide, are often fitted with pumps to pump the water from their basements.

In addition to its substantial summer tourist trade, Exmouth serves as a regional centre for leisure industries, particularly water sports such as sailing jet-skiing, and wind-surfing, and outdoor activities such as bird-watching, and walking. The Exe Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is noted in particular for its wading and migrating birds. A large part of the estuary lies within a nature reserve. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which stretches eastwards along the coast to Poole, in Dorset; the South West Coast Path allows for walking along this coast. The town is also at the western end of the East Devon Way path that leads to Lyme Regis.

Exmouth serves as a commuter town for Exeter, to which it has good public transport links by train and bus.

As of December 2010, £3 million is being spent on regeneration plans for The Strand. The new features include an additional seating area and bicycle storage; the area has also been completely pedestrianised. The Strand was partially open for Remembrance Sunday 2010 with the War Memorial area complete.

The 16-sided 18th-century house called A La Ronde, now in the ownership of the National Trust, lies on the northern outskirts of the town. At the eastern end of Exmouth is The Barn, a late 19th century house in Arts and Crafts style.

Exmouth Lifeboat Station is situated at the eastern end of the seafront near Maer Road. From here the Royal National Lifeboat Institution operates a Mersey Class All Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named Margaret Jean and D Class Inshore Lifeboat (ILB) named George Bearman.

Exmouth has a wide range of architecture, ranging from small cob cottages in parts of the town that were once villages and are now incorporated into it, such as Withycombe, to the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian town houses. The seafront has a traditional promenade. High above the promenade is the Beacon terrace, which first became fashionable in Georgian times.

The majority of buildings in Exmouth were constructed during the Victorian era with the arrival of the railway. The area to the west of Exeter Road is land that was reclaimed by the railway, Exeter Road originally being part of the seafront. Some houses near to the station in Littleham were constructed for the workers on the railway.

Exmouth railway station is the terminus of the Avocet Line to Exeter St Davids station. The Exmouth to Starcross Ferry is a passenger ferry that operates during the summer months across the Exe estuary to Starcross, where the pumping station for Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway can be seen.

There have been three railway stations at Exmouth. The line first reached Exmouth from Exeter in 1861. In the first five days 10,000 people travelled on the line and property prices increased overnight. By the 1880s commuter traffic to Exeter was considerable. In 1903 a link to Budleigh Salterton was opened the line going eastward over a viaduct which went from Exeter Road to Park Road where it entered a cutting continuing onto Littleham Cross where there was also a station (now a private residence), and from there to Budleigh Salterton, there turning north to rejoin the main London and South Western Railway line. Exmouth Station was rebuilt in 1926. When the line to Budleigh was lifted the viaduct was left in place for many years, with its final destruction in the late 1980s. Housing marks its position now.

The route of the line continued behind Phear Park, which was once the grounds of a large house belonging to the Phear family, used during the Second World War to station US soldiers. Shortly after the war the house was burnt down and left derelict; eventually it too was demolished, and its grounds were given to the town by the Phear family to become a park. The old railway line behind Phear Park was just left as a bare trackbed for many years. At its far end there was a deep cutting to Littleham, which was filled in when the line was closed. The trackbed has now been tarmaced and now forms an off-road cycle way and footpath from Exmouth to Knowle, close Budleigh Salterton.

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