Sidmouth has long been a family favourite holiday destination – since the Georgian times it has been a well loved resort and over the years, the town has welcomed some very esteemed guests. Here are a few of Sidmouth’s most famous visitors – which familiar faces have you seen when in town? Let us know!
Famous for her novels Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey among others. Jane Austen was one of the best known members of Georgian society, particularly in the south west. She is well known for having spent time in Bath, where she lived for a time, but did you know that she also spent the summer of 1801 in Sidmouth? Much like Bath, which had become popular among high society for its spa waters, Sidmouth’s mild climate and calming atmosphere made it the place to go for health purposes, which led to the wealthier people of the day coming in their droves. Jane Austen was one of those that visited in 1801 where it is said she had a holiday fling with a rather dashing young man. Sadly, for Jane, her suitor caught typhus and died so their relationship ended rather abruptly.
Austen isn’t the only writer to have spent time in Sidmouth – JRR Tolkien, creator of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit also holidayed in Sidmouth. He stayed at Kennaway House where it is said he wrote parts of his epic fantasy Lord of the Rings. In fact, a visit to one of the town’s pubs is said to have inspired Aragon’s introduction scene!
One of the most popular British Poets Laureates and a founding member of Victorian Society, John Betjeman wrote an entire poem about how much he loved being in Sidmouth. Still Sidmouth was read by Betjeman on ITV as part of a series where he performed a series of poem’s he’d written about his favourite places in the west country. You can find four lines of the poem on a plaque in Connaught Gardens, which is mentioned by name in the poem. The ending even says:
“Farewell seductive Sidmouth by the sea,
Older and more exclusive than Torquay,
Sidmouth in Devon, you’re the town for me!”
Sidmouth was very popular with poets and writers, another that stayed in town was Beatrix Potter. She was known to spend a number of family holidays in Sidmouth and in April of 1908, she stayed at Hylton, where there is now a plaque commemorating the event. She later talked about how the views, her local walks and the general atmosphere helped her complete the Tale of Little Pig Robinson which was written and illustrated during this trip. Her last visit to Sidmouth was in December of the same year, which she spent at Meadhurst.
Another poet that wrote extensively about Sidmouth was Elizabeth Barrett, also known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In 1832, at the age of 26, her family moved from Herefordshire to Sidmouth, first settling at what is now 8 Fortfield Terrace, which at the time was known as Raferel House, and then at Cedar Shade, formerly known as Bellevue. During her time in Sidmouth, Elizabeth became close friends with a local reverend and many of their correspondence survives. You can read about Elizabeth’s life in Sidmouth in several books on the subject and you can learn more about the time at Sidmouth Museum.
It isn’t just writers who loved their time in Sidmouth, actor and entertainer Stephen Fry stayed nearby when starring in the television adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster, which was filmed in town. If you’ve ever seen the show, you might recognise Sidmouth as Westcombe on Sea and if not, you might have heard about Stephen Fry’s visit in either his Telegraph column or his book, Paperweight.
Perhaps the most famous of all Sidmouth’s visitors was the Princess Alexandrina, the future Queen Victoria. In 1819, the Duke and Duchess of Kent arrived in Sidmouth, staying at Woolbrook Cottage, which is now the Royal Glen Hotel, with their entourage which included their infant daughter. It wasn’t the happiest of holidays as sadly, her father became ill and died. There was a grand procession through the streets and the rest of the family departed Devon, returning to London.