Topsham, the former port of
Exeter, has a long and ancient history. Originally a Roman hamlet,
as well as an Anglo-Saxon settlement, it is sited on land bounded
by the Exe estuary and the Clyst river.
The Exe estuary was once navigable as far as Exeter, though Topsham’s
importance increased when Countess Isabella de Fortibus built a partial
weir across the river in 1290 to run her mills. This cut Exeter off
from the sea and allowed Topsham to control all maritime trade.
Topsham’s town charter dates back to 1300. Its shipyards supplied
three boats to sail against the Spanish Armada. The town was an important
Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. Though Exeter recovered
some of the maritime trade when it commissioned England’s first ship
canal to be cut between Turf Locks and Exeter Quay, Topsham continued
to be a seafaring town of some importance. Shipbuilding was an important
trade through the 19th century, and ships still came up to Topsham
Quay until the end of the 20th century. Maritime trade with the Netherlands
is reflected in the Dutch architecture of The Strand.
Topsham today is a part of the city of Exeter.
It is a popular place to live as well as to visit. Its location,
just two miles off the M5 motorway, midday between Exeter and Exmouth,
makes the town easily accessible and it is well served by public
transport, including both regular rail as well as frequent bus connections
to Exeter and Exmouth.
Topsham has a sailing club, bowling green, heated outdoor swimming
pool (open early mornings for ‘The Nutters Club’), tennis courts
and a recreational ground with children’s playground and skateboard
park. There are numerous other activities to pursue in Topsham or
nearby: walking, sailing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, canoeing,
cycling, golf, bird watching (the Exe estuary is a protected bird
sanctuary) and much more.
A town for food lovers
In recent years, Topsham has emerged as an important food destination.
There are great independent food and drink shops here (especially
useful for those staying in the Steam
Packet Apartments), including
an excellent butcher and delicatessen, an award-winning cheese
shop, greengrocer, mobile fishmonger, wine outlets and a nearby
vineyard, Pebblebed. A Slow Food Devon Topsham market takes place
once a month in Matthews Hall.