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Topsham (St. Margaret)

TOPSHAM (St. Margaret), a market-town and parish, in the uinion of St. Thomas, hundred of Wonford, Wonford and S. divisions of Devon, 3½ miles (S. E.) from Exeter, and 170 (W. S. W.) from London; containing 3733 inhabitants. In the civil war of the 17th century, the Earl of Warwick brought some ships up the river Exe, but the vessels being left upon the sands, on the ebbing of the tide, two were captured and one burnt by the army under Fairfax, who remained here a short time. The Duke of Monmouth is also said to have been at this place, one of the streets being called after his name. The town is situated just above the influx of the river Clyst into the Exe, and about six miles from the sea. It is celebrated for the salubrity of its air: it is reported to have lost only one person when the plague was raging at Exeter and in the vicinity, in the reign of Charles II.; and during the desolation produced in the neighbourhood by the cholera, in 1832, it entirely escaped. On the strand are some neat residences, fronted with gardens extending to the water's edge, the view being justly admired for its variety and extent. An act for better cleansing and lighting the town was passed in 1843.

The foreign trade was formerly very great, but has gradually fallen away, and at the present time its vessels are chiefly employed in the coasting-trade. In the time of William III., the number engaged in the Newfoundland fishery exceeded that of any port in the kingdom, with the exception of London; but the vessels were mostly taken in the American revolutionary war, and the little trade that remained was transferred to Teignmouth. The river Exe expands here to a considerable width, forming at high tides a noble sheet of water. About a mile to the south, on the opposite side of it, are the sea-locks, opening into the Exeter canal, which was begun in 1563, and altered at various periods, but especially in 1829, when it was extended to Turf, about a mile below the town. An act was passed in 1840 for improving the navigation of the river, under which seven commissioners have been appointed. A quay built about 1313, by Hugh Courtenay, was purchased by the Chamber of Exeter in 1778, and is capable of receiving vessels of 200 tons' burthen. Ship-building is carried on extensively; chain-cables, anchors, ropes, twine, and sacking are manufactured; a large paper-manufactory is in operation, and there is a considerable trade in coal and timber. An annual fair for three days was granted to the inhabitants in 1257, and, together with a market on Saturdays, confirmed to them by Edward I.; the market is still held on Saturday, and there is a small fair on the Thursday after the 20th of July. The parish comprises 1552a. 2r. of rich loamy land, resting principally on gravel; it is diversified with hill and dale.

The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter (the appropriators), with a net income of £227: the glebe consists of about 30 acres. The church was nearly rebuilt in 1794, and was enlarged in 1827 and 1832; it contains some good monuments by Chantrey, among which is one to Sir John Duckworth, Bart., and another to the memory of his son, Lieut.-Col. Duckworth, who fell in the battle of Albuera. A district church, built by subscription, was consecrated in 1838; the patronage is in the incumbent of Topsham, and the living is endowed with £1500 raised also by subscription, to which £200 have since been added, with £100 from the Rev. C. Burne, and £200 from the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. Capt. Burgess, R.N., who was killed at the battle of Camperdown, and to whose memory a public monument was erected in St. Paul's Cathedral, was a native of this place; Capt. Watson, who lost his life in the West Indies under Admiral Rowley, resided here for some time.


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

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