Topsham and the Duke of Monmouth

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VI, (January 1910 to October 1911). pp. 163-164.


Roger Granville

Prepared by Michael Steer

Topsham was once the second busiest port in England. It is now a favourite destination for the retired, and tourists. It is thought the name derives from Topp, an Anglo Saxon landowner, while ham is a small village or settlement. There have been many variations of the name including Apsham, Apsam, Toppeshore, Toppeshant and Toppesham. The Duke of Monmouth in 1685 led an unsuccessful Protestant rebellion in western England against the newly crowned James II. He is said to have ‘roused his troops’ in one of the houses in Topsham’s Monmouth Street. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 151. TOPSHAM AND THE DUKE OF MONMOUTH. - In the interesting account of Topsham in Folk Rhymes of Devon in the last number of D.&C. N. & Q. the doggerel lines,

Topsham, thou'rt a pretty town,
I think thee very pretty;
And when I come to wear the crown,
I'll make of thee a city,

are represented as having been probably spoken by the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth on his return from Plymouth with Charles II. in 1670 (or rather July, 1671) as they drove over Haldon on their way from Dartmouth to Exeter, and looked down on the estuary of the Exe. Even if the Duke accompanied his father on that visit, which does not seem certain, though mentioned by Jewitt in his History of Plymouth, may I suggest a far more probable occasion? In August, 1680, at the instigation of the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Protestant Duke set out upon a quasi-royal progress through the western counties, a district not too well affected towards the Throne, and where the serge manufacturers, most of them strong Nonconformists, were smarting under the severe penalties and continued persecution to which they had been subjected by the "Corporation" and subsequent Acts of Parliament. His progress brought him to Exeter, and after spending the night with that well-known Whig, Sir Walter Yonge, at Otterton, he set out next morning for Exeter, and doubtless his route led him through Topsham, which was at that time the busy port of Exeter and at the height of its prosperity, "whither the merchants convey on horses their serges and soe load their shipps wch come to this place all for London " (Miss Cecilia Fienne's Diary). The tidings of his visit had preceded him, and a vast crowd assembled to greet him, "a brave company of stout young men, all clothed in linen waistcoats and drawers, white and harmless, having not so much as a stick in their hands,"met him on the way and escorted him into the city. They ran "into toon crying ' God bless the Protestant Duke and the devil take the Pope." - an expression hardly in character with their spotless raiment (Hist. MSS. Rep. 12, App. 7, p. 170). This hearty reception may very well have given rise to the sentiment expressed in the lines which local tradition attributes to the Duke; and a "Monmouth Street" and a "Monmouth Head" inn sign still commemorate the event. Cousan, in his History of Herts, notes that, when a boy, an old fisherman of Topsham told him that he had heard his grandfather say that his father had seen Monmouth land for the 1685 rebellion - but Lyme and not Topsham was his landing-place. 

                    Roger Granville.