Topsham, Devon

Topsham (/ˈtɒpʃəm/, also /ˈtɒpsəm/) is a town in Exeter in the county of Devon, England, on the east side of the River Exe, immediately north of its confluence with the River Clyst and the former's estuary, between Exeter and Exmouth. Although village-sized, with a current population of around 5,023, increasing to 5,519 at the 2011 census for the electoral ward population which includes Countess Wear, which is its own individual settlement,[2] Topsham was designated a town by a 1300 royal charter, until the Exeter urban district was formed. It is served by Topsham railway station on the branch line to Exmouth. In 2011 was the 150th anniversary of the railway coming to Topsham, on what is now called the Exeter–Exmouth Avocet Line.[3]


Fore Street, Topsham
Location within Devon
Population3,730 (Actual Settlement 2011)[1]
OS grid referenceSX966884
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townEXETER
Postcode districtEX3
Dialling code01392
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
EU ParliamentSouth West England
UK Parliament


The native Celtic settlement of Topsham became the port of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) in the first century AD, and continued to serve it until the Roman occupation of southern Britain ceased about the year 400. In the 7th century the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village.

St Margaret's Anglican Church in Topsham, dates back to the 10th century. Although reconstructed several times, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan, who gave "a parcel of land, i.e. a manse, which the vulgar called Toppesham, to the monastery Church of St Mary and St Peter in Exeter, for the cure of his soul, to have in eternal freedom so long as the Christian Church shall endure."[4]

Topsham's position, offering a sheltered harbour to seagoing trade enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for both fishing and shipbuilding. Notable ships such as HMS Terror (part of Franklin's lost expedition) and HMS Cyane (later known as the USS Cyane after capture by the American Navy) were built here in the early 19th century. The town was the scene of a notable Parliamentarian naval assault during the English Civil War.

There are many Dutch style houses in Topsham dating from the time when Topsham was an important cotton port. Many of Topsham's houses are built using Dutch bricks, which were brought over as ballast from Holland – to where the wool and cotton from South-West England had been exported.

Topsham was absorbed into the City of Exeter, along with the parishes of Alphington and Pinhoe, in 1966.[5]

After a period of decline over the first half of the 20th century, Topsham has increasingly become a desirable and high-value residential location. The 21st century has seen development into the 'Topsham Gap' – greenfield land between Topsham and Exeter.


Formerly a major seaport, the town is now of interest for its architecture, scenery and proximity to nature reserves for wading and migrating birds, such as RSPB Bowling Green Marsh on the Exe Estuary, the whole of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Topsham Museum is located in one of a set of 17th century buildings looking out over the Exe Estuary. It consists of furnished period rooms, displays of the local history of the town and memorabilia of Vivien Leigh, the film star.[6]

Name and pronunciation

The name is an Anglo-Saxon one, and means Toppa's village, Toppa having been the local landowner.[7]

There is some difference of opinion on the correct pronunciation of the town. Generally it is referred to as /ˈtɒpʃəm/ with the sh sounded as in shoe. The local pronunciation amongst older native Devonians, however, is /ˈtɒpsəm/ with the s being sounded as in some and the -ham suffix being reduced to um.


Topsham's local football club is Topsham Town AFC, a non-league side in Devon. Topsham Rugby Club has two senior sides and over 200 juniors making it one of the largest "junior" clubs in the South West. The town also has a bowling club, an outdoor swimming pool and a sailing club.

Community and recreation

One of the main focal points of the town is Topsham Pool.[8] Topsham Pool is a community run project in the centre of the town. It was funded by a large fundraising exercise in the 1970s which included collecting waste paper and glass bottles, jumble sales and donations. A Sports Council grant completed the fund raising effort and, in 1979, the pool was opened by Olympic gold medallist swimmer David Wilkie.[9] Topsham Pool is an open-air pool and, as a result, is only open between May and September. Between 6 am and 8.30 am each morning, the Pool welcomes the Nutters Club – a group that swims when the outside temperature is likely to be at its coolest.[10]

In response to what had been described in the early 1960s as "a period of genteel decline", The Topsham Society was formed. The objectives of the Topsham Society are "To promote high standards of planning and architecture in or affecting Topsham; to educate the public in the geography, history, natural history and architecture of Topsham; to secure the preservation protection development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Topsham".[11] The Society currently has around 400 members.[12]

A monthly magazine is published called Estuary: A Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham, which is published by St Margaret's Anglican Church, but is more of a community publication than an ecclesiastical one. It is currently priced £0.70 per month, and copy to be received by the 15th of the preceding month. It is co-edited by Diana Trout and José Northey.

Twice a year Estuary Players present a theatrical production in the Matthews Hall. They are a notably eclectic group, but Shakespeare and Brecht have featured among their favourite playwrights over their 35-year existence.[13]

Topsham Art Group had a summer exhibition in 2012 at the local Topsham Primary School featuring local artists.; A community hall called Matthews Hall where local group can meet, including the Topsham Community Association;[14] Topsham Film Club; Topsham Flower Club;

2011 marked the 80th anniversary of the Topsham Town Fayre and Carnival.[15]

In addition to St Margaret's Anglican church, there is also a Methodist church, situated in Fore Street; a Congregational Church situated in Victoria Road; and a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the Holy Cross, which meets in Station Road.

The Bridge Inn is a Grade II listed public house at Bridge Hill, that dates to the 18th century.[16] It is on the Campaign for Real Ale's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.[17]

Notable residents

William Webb Follett, the noted lawyer and parliamentarian, was born here in 1796. General George Warren (cir 1801–1884) was born here c.1801. Thomas Hardy's cousin, Tryphena Sparks, who was the inspiration for Hardy's poem Thoughts of Phena at News of Her Death[18] lived here and is buried here. She was known locally for the charitable work she did for the local fishermen.[19] Dick Pym, the footballer, was born here in 1893; he was a goalkeeper in the first Wembley FA Cup Final in 1923, and died in Exeter in 1988, aged 95. The newsreader, Trevor McDonald, is a past resident of the town,[20] and both members of the folk group Show of Hands live in Topsham.[21] Clifford Fishwick artist and principal of Exeter College of Art and Design lived here until his death in 1997.[22] Novelist Philip Hensher also lives here. His 2011 book King of the Badgers is set in a fictional town based on Topsham.[23] The actor Bill Pertwee (ARP Warden William Hodges in Dad's Army) also lived here. Norman Croucher - Amputee mountaineer


  1. "Topsham (Devon, South West England, United Kingdom) - Population Statistics, Charts, Map, Location, Weather and Web Information".
  2. "Ward population 2011. Retrieved 23 Feb 2015".
  3. Estuary: The Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham (August 2011, p.32)
  4. St Margaret's Church Topsham: History Margate: The Church Publishers, 2010
  5. "Exeter Order 1966". Hansard. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  6. "Topsham Museum". Devon Museums Net. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  7. "Discover Exeter – Local Towns". Discovery Exeter. Discovery Travel Network Limited. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  8. "home – Topsham Outdoor Swimming Pool". Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  9. Archived 13 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Archived 13 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. "Topsham Society news and constitution". 29 April 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  12. "Topsham Society: About us".
  13. "Topsham Estuary Players".
  14. "Market Traders – Exeter". Matthews Hall Topsham. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  15. Estuary: A Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham (August 2011)
  16. Historic England, "Bridge Inn, Topsham (1306502)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 19 August 2014
  17. Brandwood, Geoff (2013). Britain's best real heritage pubs. St. Albans: CAMRA. p. 34. ISBN 9781852493042.
  18. Millgate, Michael Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited (2004) Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-927566-1
  19. Cornforth, David. "Drakes in Topsham". Exeter Memories. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  20. Making headlines with TV newsman, Western Morning News (Plymouth, England), 11 May 2004
  21. Far from the looting crowd, Western Daily Press, (Bristol, England), 30 October 2009
  22. "Clifford FISHWICK | cornwall artists index". 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  23. Between The Covers: 10 April 2011, The Independent ("No sooner has my novel about Topsham come out ... ," writes an excited Philip Hensher)
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