Wembury is a village on the south coast of Devon, England, very close to Plymouth Sound. Wembury is located south of Plymouth. Wembury is also the name of the peninsula in which the village is situated. The village lies in the administrative district of the South Hams within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The South West Coast Path goes past the coastal end of the town. The National Trust has taken an active role in maintaining the scenic and historic characteristics of the village and its surrounding area


The Mewstone
Location within Devon
Population2,740 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceSX518484
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtPL9 0xx
Dialling code01752
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
EU ParliamentSouth West England

The beach is well known for its surfing and rock pooling. Wembury Marine Centre educates visitors about what they can find in the rockpools and how they can help protect and preserve them. The centre is managed by Devon Wildlife Trust and was refurbished in 2006. Basking sharks can be seen in the summer near the Mewstone. There is also Wembury primary school

There are three pubs within the Wembury parish; the Eddystone Inn, Mussell Inn and the Odd Wheel (the Oddy). Three shops are also in Wembury; Down Thomas stores, Wembury stores and Wembury Spar. The Spar was a Knighton Store before it was taken over in April 2012.

Its electoral ward is called 'Wembury and Brixton'. The ward population at the 2011 census was 4,455.[2] Wembury is a part of the South West Devon UK Parliament constituency.


Wembury was visited by Mesolithic man as evidenced by flint implements found on local sites. Some Roman coins have also been found.

The name 'Wembury' may derive from a place name containing the name Woden,[3][4][5] and John Mitchell Kemble notes that it was called "Wódnesbeorh".[6]

Saxons colonised south-west Devon during the 7th century and founded agricultural settlements here. There was also a church dedicated to Saint Werburgh, a Saxon saint, in the area, an alternative derivation for the name.

Wembury expanded vastly in the 20th century with areas of farmland sold off for housing. Some older buildings are still present in the village, mainly in Knighton and West Wembury.

Wembury in the public eye

Wembury is mentioned in The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Galsworthy visited Wembury as part of his research for the book, he was intensely interested in his own origins and descent through a long line of Devon farmers who farmed in Wembury for three hundred years from the 17th century to the late 19th century.

Wembury was used as a location in the filming of the Comic Strip's parody Five Go Mad on Mescalin. In the film the Mewstone can be clearly seen.

Wembury parish

The parish of Wembury was once divided into four manors: Wembury, Down Thomas, Langdon and Alfelmeston. According to Lyson's Devonshire, published in 1822, the manor of Wembury originally belonged to Plympton Priory. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 it went into private ownership.

Today the parish of Wembury is divided into three principal villages; Wembury, Down Thomas, and Heybrook Bay. There are also a number of smaller hamlets; Hollacombe, Knighton, Thorn, Langdon, Andurn and Bovisand. The population of the parish was 2740 during the 2011 census.

Wembury House survives as an elegant late Georgian mansion, originally an exceptionally grand Elizabethan house built by the lawyer Sir John Hele (c.1541–1608) a Member of Parliament for Exeter and Recorder of Exeter (1592-1605). It was already a ruin by about 1700,[7] and was finally demolished in 1803.[8] The surviving house on the site was built in the early 19th century and rebuilt by Major Edmund Lockyer.

Fort Bovisand, an ancient monument lies in the North West corner of the parish. The first fort on this site was built in 1845. Plans have been approved for the conversion of Bovisand Fort and associated buildings, removal of one building, and construction of new towers, an apartment building, 11 new dwellings, new quayside commercial accommodation and conservation of historic fabric, together with associated landscaping, parking and re-establishment of the link to the coastal footpath, creating a total of 81 residential units, office, teaching/studio space, event space, visitor centre and facilities, café and relocation of MOD space and additional commercial space.

The Mewstone

A distinctive feature visible from Wembury Beach is the Mewstone, a triangular island which is uninhabited. In the past it has been host to a prison and a private home, as well as a refuge for local smugglers. Its most infamous resident was Sam Wakeman who avoided transportation to Australia in favour of the cheaper option of transportation to the Mewstone, where he was interned for seven years.[9] After his internment on the island he remained there paying his rent by supplying rabbits for the Manor House table. It is said Sam Wakeman is responsible for carving the rough stone steps to the summit of the Mewstone.[10][11]

The island was painted several times by J M W Turner after sketching it during a sailing trip from Plymouth in 1813. "The Mewstone", painted between 1823 and 1826, was left to the nation by the Turner Bequest and is in the collection of Tate Britain. A watercolour of about 1814 in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin is entitled "The Mew Stone, at the Entrance of Plymouth Sound, Devonshire". Another watercolour traditionally known as "Storm off Margate" in a private collection, is now accepted to be a view of The Mewstone.[12] A further Turner painting that had been identified as the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth was re catalogued as The Mewstone when it was auctioned by Christie's in 2008.[13]

The Mewstone and Little Mewstone is now a bird sanctuary and access is not permitted to visitors.


  1. "Parish population 2011". Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  2. "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  3. 'Report and transactions, Volume 10'.Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science 1878. Original from the University of California. Pages 285, 299
  4. Taylor, Isaac. 'Words and Places: or, Etymological Illustrations of History, Ethnology, and Geography'. Macmillan, 1865, Harvard University. ISBN 1-4212-7015-3 Length: 561 pages. Pages 322 and 323
  5. Allen, Grant.'Early Britain' BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2007. ISBN 1-4346-0560-4, ISBN 978-1-4346-0560-3. Length: 172 pages. Page 63
  6. Kemble, John Mitchell. de Gray Birch, John (editor). 'The Saxons in England V1: A History of the English Commonwealth Till the Period of the Norman Conquest'. Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1849. ISBN 978-1-4326-3740-8. Length: 562 pages. Page 336, 343, 344
  7. Gray, Todd & Rowe, Margery (Eds.), Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of The Reverend John Swete, 1789-1800, 4 vols., Tiverton, 1999, Vol.4, p.6: Swete writing in 1797 referred to "Wembury the ruinous house" and its "magnificence about a century ago"
  8. Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England: Devon, London, 1959 (first published 1954), p.513
  9. Gardner, Suze (2016). The A-Z of Curious Devon. The History Press. ISBN 9780750964104.
  10. "Wembury Beach - Wembury". South Hams. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  11. "The Mewstone" (PDF). Wembury Parish Council. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  12. Tate - Art and artists - Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Mewstone c.1823-6
  13. BBC News - Monday, 2 June 2008 - Fine art experts in Turner U-turn
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