Growing from a celtic settlement into the Roman port serving nearby Exeter, and then into a Saxon village by the 7th century, Topsham officially became a town in 1300AD when granted a royal charter by Edward I. Although officially now a suburb of Exeter, Topsham stubbornly retains its own identity and atmosphere.
Looking up the estuary towards Countess Weir and Exeter
Topsham is located on the eastern bank of the River Exe at the northern point of the river's estuary, in the county of Devon, England.
The River Exe was originally navigable beyond Topsham, all the way up to Exeter. Around 1280AD, Countess Isabella de Fortibus built a weir across the River Exe about 2 miles south of Exeter; the area is called Countess Weir today, and is located between Topsham and Exeter city centre. From 1327AD, and possibly as early as 1284, the weir prevented merchant ships reaching Exeter until England’s first ship canal from Turf Locks to Exeter Quay was opened in the 1560's. In the meantime, Topsham captured all of Exeter's maritime trade, and by the 19th century had established itself as an important shipbuilding centre.
Ships built at Topsham included the HMS Terror that took part in John Franklin's ill-fated expedition through the Northwest Passage in 1848, and the HMS Cyane, Banterer-class sixth-rate post ship, captured by the American Navy in 1815 when outgunned by USS Constitution. Also launched at Topsham at around that time:
- HMS Weazel (1805)
- HMS Surinam (1805)
- HMS Erebus (1807)
As well as shipbuilding, the town was also an important trading port at around this time exporting wool and cotton from mills throughout southwest England including towns like Tiverton. Much of this trade was with Holland and Topsham still has a number of Dutch-style houses and buildings dating from that time. Indeed, many of Topsham's houses are built using Dutch bricks brought across the English Channel as ballast in ships coming from Holland.
Before this, Topsham was heavily involved in some of the significant maritime and land battles during the siege of Exeter by Royalist troops in the English Civil War in 1643AD.
Looking across the estuary to South Devon, and the hills of Dartmoor
Today, Topsham is a much more peaceful place. The silting up of the
estuary has largely reduced the size of vessels that can reach Topsham
to small fishing boats and pleasure craft. The quay area is now the
site of antique shops, and pleasant restaurants, cafes, quaint shops
and art galleries, and the town is home to a wide variety of small,
The flood plain of the River Exe also provides the northern part of Topsham with a large, flat area of land ideal for sports pitches. So along the road towards Countess Weir and the centre of Exeter, on the Bonfire Field, you will find an amateur football club, rugby club, and cricket club. The town also boasts a number of other clubs and societies.
Looking down the estuary towards Dawlish on the western bank
The town is linked by rail to Exeter. The railway line, named the Avocet Line after the wading birds that frequent the estuary, stretches from Exeter's two mainline stations to Exmouth
at the mouth of the River Exe. Arriving
from Exeter, the track passes through a level crossing and into Topsham
Station. At this point, the train must wait for any other train coming
in the opposite direction from Exmouth because Topsham Station is the
only passing point on the otherwise single track along the edge of the
Stuart Line Cruises provide boat trips down the estuary to Exmouth, and east along the Jurassic Coast, or west to the resort town of Torquay. Ferry services across the estuary to Turf Locks run regularly all year round subject to tides and conditions.
For the more energetic, there is Route 2, a national cycle network that when completed will link Dover in Kent with St. Austell in Cornwall. The part of the route along the Exe Estuary is already open and follows the railway line along the edge of the estuary for much of the distance between Topsham and Exmouth pausing briefly to thread it's way through the villages of Exton and Lympstone.
Old Dutch style houses nestle quite happily between more traditional and modern housing
Just outside Topsham, Darts Farm,
is a popular farm shop that has grown into a centre for specialist,
local food and drink shops, as well as a compilation of carefully
handpicked specialist retailers.