Much of Sidmouth’s charm and atmosphere comes from the beautiful buildings that can be found around the town, many of which remain from the Regency era. Unsurprisingly, Sidmouth’s buildings have often been described as being the jewel in East Devon’s crown and much has been done to protect them. It isn’t just the Regency era that is recognised in the various buildings either, Sidmouth has over 500 listed buildings some dating back to its time as a small market town in the 1200s and many more from when it became a popular tourist destination in the mid 19th century.
A trip into the past
While you can find out interesting snippets of Sidmouth’s history from the blue plaques, you can also discover plenty about the Georgian and Victorian eras by paying attention to the buildings. Many of the town’s original Regency buildings still exist, with many now becoming hotels or shops without losing any of their original charm.
Walking around the town and examining the buildings will give plenty of insights into Sidmouth’s past. For instance, when you visit Costa Coffee in Old Fore Street, make sure to take note of your surroundings. The cobb walled coffee shop was once the Old Ship Inn, one of the oldest buildings in Sidmouth and dates back to the 1300s! The building has 1 meter thick cobb walls and many historians believe it to have once been a monastery. Far from being the site of good behaviour though, for many years it was a favourite meeting point for smugglers! Sidmouth, like much of the Devon coastline was a real haven for smugglers and pirates, you can find further evidence of this by exploring the South West Coast Path!
Fortfield Terrace is another favourite destination for local history buffs. The terrace was built in the 1790s on manor land by Michael Novosielski, a Polish architect and went on to be yet another place in the town that has royal connections. When you head to Fortfield Terrace, you’ll find a double-headed eagle which was mounted to commemorate the visit of the Grand Duchess of Russia when she came to stay in 1831.
While she was visiting, she held a grand reception which included Peter Orlando Hutchinson, a local artist and historian, you can find his sketches and diaries at the museum and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can find logos bearing his initials all over Sidmouth, particularly at his former residence at number 4 Coburg Terrace. The house is next to the Old Chancel, which is all that remains of a medieval parish church. Peter Hutchinson salvaged much of the original stone work and added it to his own garden.
Follow the Blue Plaques
If you choose to follow the Blue Plaque walk around the town, you’ll find yourself at Byes Toll House, Sidmouth’s original Toll House. Build in the Greek Revival style, it dates back to the early 19th century and sits at the start of the Byes Riverside Walk. The original toll gate is still there too. The Toll House is also a great place to visit if you’re looking for walking trails, you can join a number of them from this point.
Another example of the region’s architectural history can be seen at St Giles and St Nicholas Church. This is Sidmouth’s parish church and parts of it date back to the 15th century. Over the years, it has been rebuilt and refurbished and the medieval tower is the only remaining original structure, however, much of the rebuild was done using the original Norman stone work, make sure to stop inside and take a look at the memorial window, it was a gift from Queen Victoria to the Duke of Kent and has been there since 1867.