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Sidmouth (St. Nicholas)

SIDMOUTH (St. Nicholas), a sea-port, market-town, and parish, in the union of Honiton, hundred of East Budleigh, Woodbury and S. divisions of Devon, 13½ miles (E. S. E.) from Exeter, and 158 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 3309 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. In the reign of Elizabeth the manor was leased to Sir William Perryan, and in that of James I. to Sir Christopher Mainwaring; it was subsequently sold to Sir Edmond Prideaux, with the exception of the great tithes, which were given to Wadham College, and now belong to the Rev. William Jenkins, the incumbent. The manor was purchased from Sir Wilmot Prideaux by Thomas Jenkins, Esq., and is at present the property of Hughes Hughes Ball, Esq. In the reign of Edward III., the town appears to have been governed by a portreeve, and to have furnished that monarch with two vessels and 25 seamen for his attack on Calais. It is said to have been famous for its fishery, and to have traded with Newfoundland: the harbour is supposed, from the discovery of an old anchor and of fragments of vessels, to have been in the Ham meadow, near the town; it is choked up with sand and pebbles, and only boats and fishing-smacks can now approach the shore. The land to the west once projected much further than at present into the sea, forming a natural bay, within which vessels sought shelter in times of danger. In 1836 an act was passed for making and maintaining a harbour and other works here; but after expending about £12,000 in collecting materials and building a wall to prevent the encroachment of the sea, it was found impracticable to complete the undertaking without a very much larger sum than was anticipated, and the object was therefore abandoned. To the attractions of Sidmouth as a watering-place, may be attributed its present prosperity.

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; the hills on the east and west sides are of great altitude, and extremely precipitous, terminating abruptly on the shore, and affording shelter to the place. Though irregularly built, it is very neat; and derives much beauty from the numerous detached residences and pleasing villas in its immediate vicinity: among these is Woolbrook Glen, which was honoured by the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Here the duke died, Jan. 23rd, 1820. The climate is mild; and the town being sheltered from all winds but the south, the myrtle, geranium, and other tender plants, thrive in the open air. The inns and boarding-houses are of the best description; every accommodation is provided for sea-bathing, and on the beach is a public walk more than half a mile in length, fronting which are some warm baths, public rooms, a library, &c. Assemblies and concerts take place during the season. The markets, for the regulation of which an act was passed in 1839, are on Tuesday and Saturday, and are well supplied; there are fairs on Easter Monday and Tuesday, and the third Monday in September. Petty-sessions are held on the first Monday in every month; and at a court leet and baron held annually by the lord of the manor, two constables and tything-men are appointed. The parish comprises an area of 1539 acres, of which 128 are common or waste land.

The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £18. 15. 5., and in the gift of the Rev. W. Jenkins: the impropriate tithes have been commuted for £200, and the vicarial for £270; the glebe comprises 23 acres. The church is an ancient structure, with a well-built tower; among the monuments is one to the memory of Dr. Currie, the distinguished biographer of Robert Burns. A handsome church containing 800 sittings, and dedicated to All Saints, was consecrated May 7th, 1840; £1500 towards the expense were contributed by the Rev. J. Bradney, and £600 by Sir J. Kennaway, who, with others, holds the patronage. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. A fraternity of Augustine monks is said to have been settled near the town; and the remains still exist 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 the latter place is an ancient stone cross. The head of a Roman standard was lately found on the beach; it consists of a centaur in bronze, and a figure riding behind him, with a panther leaping up in front of the group. The relic is about eight inches in height, and evidently formed the head of a standard of the second legion under the Emperor Carausius in Britain. Sidmouth gives the title of Viscount to the family of Addington.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.