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The Strand, Topsham.jpg
The Strand, Topsham
Grid reference: SX966884
Location: 50°41’10"N, 3°27’54"W
Population: 5,023  (2001)
Post town: Exeter
Postcode: EX3
Dialling code: 01392
Local Government
Council: Exeter
East Devon

Topsham is little town in Devon on the east side of the broad Exe Estuary, on which it was once a major port. Upstream, to the north, is the City of Exeter, the county town of Devon, whose suburbs have so grown as to reach south to Topsham.

Topsham is immediately north of the point where the River Clyst enters the Exe. It has the namure of a modest village, but it was designated a town in 1300 by royal charter by virtue of its commercial importance.

Topsham railway station is on the branch line to Exmouth, now called the Exeter/Exmouth Avocet Line[1]


The name "Topsham" is from Old English and means Toppa's village, named after an otherwise unknown landowner.[2]

There is some difference of opinion on the correct pronunciation of the town. Generally it is referred to as "topshum" (ˈtɒpʃəm), but the local pronunciation amongst older native Devonians is "topsum" (ˈtɒpsəm).


St Margaret's 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."

In the thirteenth century Topsham was owned by the Earls of Devon and in 1286 Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, had a weir built across the Exe above Topsham which prevented ships from sailing to Exeter, cutting the city's direct maritime trade off at a stroke. Instead, ships were forced to unload their cargoes at the Earls' wharves at Topsham where they could exact large tolls to carry goods on to Exeter. From this point Topsham grew as a port town. The location of the weir is known as Countess Weir to this day.

Topsham's position, offering a sheltered harbour to seagoing trade enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for both fishing and shipbuilding.

In the Civil War, the town was the scene of a notable Parliamentarian naval assault.

There are many Dutch-styled houses in Topsham built in the days when Topsham was an important cotton port. The fine merchants' houses along the strand have distinctive Dutch gables and many of Topsham's houses are built using Dutch bricks, which were brought over as ballast from the Netherlands, to where the wool and cotton from the south-eastern counties had been exported.

Shipyards were busy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 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.

In response to what had been described in the early 1960s as 'a period of genteel decline', The Topsham Society was formed. The objects 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".[3] The Society currently has around 400 members.[4]


The parish church is St Margaret's. Churches in the town include:

  • Church of England: St Margaret's
  • Congregational Church (in Victoria Road)
  • Methodist (in Fore Street)
  • Roman Catholic: Holy Cross

The town today

Topsham Museum

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 designated a "Site of Special Scientific Interest".

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.[5]

The students of nearby University of Exeter and Rolle College know the town as the home of the "Topsham Ten", a pub-crawl of ten pubs in a little over a mile.

Big Society

One of the main focal points of the town is Topsham Pool, a community run project in the centre of the town.

A monthly magazine is published called Estuary: A Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham , which is published by St Margaret's Church, but is more of a community publication than an ecclesiastical one. It is currently priced £0.60 a month, and copy to be received by the 15th of the preceding month.

Topsham Art Group had a summer exhibition in 2012 at the local Topsham Primary School featuring local artists.

Matthews Hall is a community hall where local group can meet, including the Topsham Community Association;[6]

Others include Topsham Film Club and Topsham Flower Club.

2011 marked the 80th anniversary of the Topsham Town Fayre and Carnival [7]


  • Football: Topsham Town AFC
  • Rugby: Topsham Rugby Club
  • Bowling

Outside links


  1. Estuary: The Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham (August 2011, p.32)
  2. "Discover Exeter - Local Towns". Discovery Exeter. Discovery Travel Network Limited. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  5. "Topsham Museum". Devon Museums Net. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  6. Matthew's hall, Topsham
  7. Estuary: A Monthly Community Magazine for Topsham (August 2011)