Topsham

Street Map

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Topsham is a suburb of Exeter in the county of Devon, England, 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, it was designated a town by a 1300 royal charter, until the Exeter urban district was formed. It is served by Topsham railway station.

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 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 Church in Topsham, part of the Church of England, 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.”

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 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.

In response to what had been described in the early 1960’s as ‘a period of genteel decline’, The Topsham Society was formed. The objects 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”. The Society currently has around 400 members.

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.

The students of nearby Exeter University and Rolle College know the town as the home of the “Topsham Ten”, a pub-crawl of ten pubs in a little over a mile.

The name is an Anglo-Saxon one, and means Toppa’s village, Toppa having been the local landowner. There is some difference of opinion on the correct pronunciation of the town. Generally it is referred to as ‘topshum’ /’tɔpʃʌm/ with the sh sounded as in shoe. Local pronunciation amongst older native Devonians, however, is ‘topsum’ /’tɔpsəm/ with the s being sounded as in some and the -ham suffix being reduced to um.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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