Sidmouth

Street Map

Sidmouth (/ˈsɪdməθ/) is a town situated on the English Channel coast in Devon, South West England, 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Exeter. It has a population of about 15,000, of whom 40% are over 65. It is a tourist resort and a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. A large part of it has been designated a conservation area.

Sidmouth appeared in the Domesday Book as Sedemuda. Like many such settlements, it was originally a fishing village. Although attempts have been made to construct a harbour, none has succeeded. A lack of shelter in the bay prevented growth as a port.

Sidmouth remained a village until the fashion for coastal resorts grew in the Georgian and Victorian periods of the 18th and 19th centuries. The numerous fine Georgian and Regency villas and mansions are now mostly hotels.

In 1819, George III’s son Edward, Duke of Kent, his wife, and baby daughter (the future Queen Victoria) came to stay at Woolbrook Glen for a few weeks. In less than a month he had died from an illness. The house later became the Royal Glen Hotel; a plaque on an exterior wall records the visit.

In 1874, Sidmouth was connected to the railway network by a branch line from Sidmouth Junction. This was dismantled in 1967 as part of the Beeching Axe.

In 2008, Canadian millionaire, Keith Owen, who had vacationed in the town and planned to retire there, bequeathed the community’s civic society, Sid Vale Association, about £1.5 million upon learning that he had only weeks to live due to lung cancer. The bequest is to be used as a capital fund to generate an annual interest dividend of around £60,000 for community projects.

Sidmouth lies at the mouth of the River Sid in a valley between Peak Hill to the west and Salcombe Hill to the east. It is surrounded by the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is on the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, and the South West Coast Path. The red-coloured rock indicates the arid conditions of the Triassic geological period.

Erosion remains a serious concern east of the mouth of the Sid. The cliffs have been heavily eroded, threatening homes and the coastal footpath.[3][4]

The wide esplanade has been a prominent feature since Regency times. A series of southwesterly storms in the early 1990s washed away much of the shingle beach protecting the masonry. A series of artificial rock islands was constructed to protect the sea front, and tons of pebbles were trucked in to replace the beach.

Sidmouth has its own Town Council, presided over by a Chairman elected from the Councillors. There are eight wards, giving a total of 19 councillors in all. The Town Clerk is the senior paid officer with a team of full-time and part-time staff. The town is responsible for many of the locally run services including the Information Centre. Sidmouth lies within the district area of East Devon District Council and the County area of Devon County Council. The Parliamentary seat is for the East Devon Constituency.

The Manor Pavilion houses an arts centre and a theatre that hosts both amateur and professional productions. There is also the Radway Cinema.

Sidmouth has been a frequent winner of Britain in Bloom awards. Most recently it won the Small Town category in 2001 and the Coastal Resort category in 2005.

The parish church is St Giles & St Nicholas. The Museum, next to the church, has local memorabilia, historical artefacts, and geological samples.

Sidmouth is home to the Norman Lockyer Observatory and Planetarium, located on Salcombe Hill. The facility, completed in 1912, fell into disuse but was saved from demolition by the appeals of enthusiasts to East Devon District Council. The observatory now operates as a science education project and is open to the public.

The Old Chancel in Coburg Terrace is a folly started by the historian Peter Orlando Hutchinson in 1859, in protest over the destruction of the original church fabric during rebuilding.

Sidmouth Folk Week is a famous annual folk festival in early August attracting musicians and visitors from around the world. Due to the increased cost of public liability insurance, it became less financially viable over the years and in 2005 the last of the commercial sponsors, essential for its existence, pulled out. To continue the tradition, individuals grouped together to form Sidmouth FolkWeek Productions, a limited company. Since the change of format, the event has been held on a smaller scale, with no arena at the Knowle, though marquees are still erected in the Blackmore Gardens and The Ham at the eastern end of the town.

Sidmouth has featured in various works, e.g. as “Stymouth” in Beatrix Potter’s children’s story The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930). The author included views of the beach and other parts of the Devon countryside. In Thomas Hardy’s Wessex it is the inspiration for “Idmouth”. “Baymouth” in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Pendennis, and “Spudmouth” in the The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, are both based on the town.

Sidmouth has been the setting for television shows, most recently an ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Marple in Summer 2005.

It was a favourite spot for Sir John Betjeman. He chose it as the subject of the first programme of the television series John Betjeman In The West Country that he wrote and presented in 1962. The script takes the form of an extended poem and was republished in 2000 as a short book.

During the summer, the Sidmouth Town Band, a brass band, play a series of concerts in the Connaught Gardens each Sunday at 8pm. This tradition has been maintained since it was formed in the 1860s, and runs from late May until early September.

In 2010, during competition, it was crowned West of England Champion in the third section. It went on to win third prize at the National Finals of Great Britain. In 2011, it retained its West of England Champions title, becoming one of only a handful of bands to win back-to-back titles, and was promoted to the second section from 2012.

Sidmouth is twinned with Le Locle in Switzerland.

The Esplanade is the main street down by the front in Sidmouth. At one end are the red cliffs, and at the other is Jacob’s Ladder Beach. Peak Hill can be seen in the distance. Along the street are many shops and cafes, and it is the ideal place to sit in a deckchair to watch the sea.

The Victoria Hotel is a prestigious hotel overlooking Sidmouth bay, with grounds covering five acres of land. It is a four star luxury hotel which is just a short stroll from the center of town. It is situated next to the Royal Glen Hotel which accommodated Queen Victoria when she was young, however it was just a house then.

Jacob’s Ladder is popular with tourists; it is a simple series of wooden steps leading up to a viewing point for Jacob’s Ladder Beach and the entrance to Connaught Gardens. The steps are next to Jacob’s Ladder beach, another location under the red cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, which is linked to the beach in Sidmouth bay. Below Jacob’s Ladder is a path linking The Esplanade to the steps and the beach. An alternative route up to Connaught Gardens is a steep path, which (at the top) ends with a grassy hill to the left and a different entrance to Connaught Gardens to the right.

The Connaught Gardens are one of Sidmouth’s best features. They date back to around 1820, and they were named after The Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria. He officially opened the gardens in 1934, when he was aged 84. The gardens were used during the Second World War, a key to protecting the south coast; they provided a wide view of the sea.

They are used regularly for entertainment today – in one of the gardens there is a bandstand and a wide, open space facing it. On most weeks during the warm seasons bands will play.

This grassy slope up and along Peak Hill can be seen while on The Esplanade. It follows the red cliffs which stand above Jacob’s Ladder Beach, and there are benches placed along the edge the whole way up. At the top the view is spectacular – the whole of Sidmouth can be seen, as well as Salcombe Hill in the distance, the Esplanade, the town centre, and Connaught Gardens below.

A popular site (especially to drive through!), is the ford where the River Sid (which runs through Sidmouth) crosses the road at the end of Mill Street.

The principal revenue is from tourism. Sidmouth is a retirement location, so pensioner spending is another source of income.

The largest employer is East Devon District Council, whose headquarters are at the former Knowle Hotel. There is a large independent department store, Fields of Sidmouth, which has been on the same site for over 200 years. There are pubs, restaurants, coffee houses, and tea rooms; also an indoor swimming pool, a sports hall at the leisure centre, and a golf course.

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