A Topographical Dictionary of England
Samuel Lewis (1831)
Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)
SIDMOUTH, a sea-port and market-town and parish, in the eastern division of the hundred of BUDLEIGH, county of DEVON, 13½ miles (E. S. E.) from Exeter, and 158 (W. S.W.) from London, containing 2747 inhabitants. The earliest account of this place is in the time of William the Conqueror, who bestowed the manor on the monastery of St. Michael in Normandy, from which, during the subsequent wars with France, it was alienated to the abbey of Sion, and has since belonged to various persons. In the reign of Edward III., the town appears to have been governed by a portreeve, and to have furnished that monarch, in his attack on Calais, with two vessels and twenty-five seamen. It is said to have been formerly famous for its fishery, and to have traded with Newfoundland; but the harbour, which then existed, is supposed, from the discovery of an old anchor and fragments of vessels, to have been in the Ham meadow, near the town; it has been choked up with sand and pebbles, and boats and fishing-smacks can now only approach the shore. To its great attractions as a watering-place is its present prosperity owing, the extent of which may be estimated by the circumstance of the population having increased more than one thousand since 1821. The town is situated at the entrance of a narrow valley, on a small stream called the Sid, from which it derives its name: the surrounding country is remarkably picturesque and beautiful, and the hills bounding it on the east and west sides are of very great altitude, and extremely precipitous, terminating abruptly on the shore, and, in addition to their scenic beauty, affording great shelter to the town, which, though irregularly built, is very neat, and is skirted with numerous detached residences, altogether occupying a site of considerable extent. The inns and boarding-houses are of the best description, and every accommodation is provided for persons requiring sea-bathing. On the beach is a public walk more than half a mile in length, fronting which are the warm baths, public rooms, library, &c. Assemblies and concerts take place during the season. The markets, on Tuesday and Saturday, are well supplied; and there are fairs annually on Easter Monday and Tuesday, and the third Monday in September. Petty sessions are held on the first Monday in every month, by two resident magistrates, who include Salcombe, Branscombe, Sidbury, and Sidford, within their jurisdiction; and at a court leet and baron held annually by the lord of the manor, two constables and tythingmen are appointed.
The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £18.15. 5., and in the patronage of the Rev. William Jenkins. The church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is an ancient structure, with a well-built tower; it has recently received an addition of two hundred and sixty sittings, one hundred and sixty of which are free, and in aid of the expense, £200 was granted by the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels. Amongst the monuments is one to the memory of Dr. Currie, the distinguished biographer of Robert Burns. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Unitarians. A charity school, on the National system, is supported partly by a small endowment, and partly by subscriptions; and the poor of the parish are relieved by bequests from Anthony Isaack, in 1639, and John Minshull, in 1663, and others of small amount: some charitable institutions are supported by donations and subscriptions from the inhabitants and visitors of the town. A fraternity of Augustine monks is said to have once existed near Sidmouth, and there are still the remains of a building, which tradition affirms to have been a chapel of ease at a period when Sidmouth belonged to the parish of Otterton, on the road to which place there is an ancient stone cross. A fort, mounting four pieces of ordnance, formerly stood near the town. At Wolbrook cottage, in the vicinity, His Royal Highness the late Duke of Kent died. Sidmouth gives the title of viscount to the family of Addington.