24th September 2020
Sidmouth: Now and Then
Originally a fishing village, supported by a herring fleet, Sidmouth appears in the Domesday Book as Sedemuda, meaning "mouth of the Sid" and remained a village until the fashion for coastal resorts grew in the Georgian and Victorian periods of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Following the French Revolution in 1789-99, British travellers became disinclined to risk travelling abroad through France due to the era known as the 'Reign of Terror'; when the wealthy were sent to the guillotine for beheading. Nobility and celebrities were encouraged to visit this quiet village by the sea. Lord Gwydir who had a cottage orné in Sidmouth (now the Woodlands Hotel), invited the Prince Regent to holiday here, sparking the growth of a town.
In 1819, George III's son Edward, Duke of Kent, his wife, and baby daughter (the future Queen Victoria) came to stay at Woolbrook Glen, now the Royal Glen Hotel. Nobility and members of London society began to build their fine ‘country residences’ or cottage orné, many of which still exist, and others have become hotels retaining their Regency charm.
The Victoria Hotel was built in 1902 by Colonel Balfour, Sidmouth’s Lord of the Manor, and was immediately popular for its modern facilities such as some rooms with en suite and garages for cars.
In 1912 Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer moved to Sidmouth to continue his astronomical research, establishing the Norman Lockyer Observatory. Today it provides a facility to pursue the recreational study of science in a practical way, staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers, many of whom are retired scientists.
Another royal visitor who favoured Sidmouth was Victoria’s third son, the Duke of Connaught, who subsequently gave his name to Sidmouth’s prize-winning gardens in1934.
Behind the town lay water-meadows along the banks of the River Sid, ideal for dairy herds. Clotted cream was produced in local dairies and sent to sell in London! The town was also recognised for the quality of its lace-making, but lace goods were usually sent to Honiton to be sold to travellers on the London stage-coaches, where it became known as “Honiton” lace.
Today, Sidmouth is lovingly referred to as ‘a town still caught in a timeless charm’. It's all here in the beaches and countryside of this historic and lovely seaside town that nestles beneath majestic red cliff s and the green hills of the glorious Sid Valley.
Find out more about Sidmouth’s fascinating history.