Sidmouth nostalgia: A look at the Sid Vale Association'd history

ONE of Sidmouth s oldest societies, and certainly Britain s first civic society, is Sid Vale Association, which was founded in 1846. The building of Peak House by Emmanuel Lousada in 1796 and Clifton Cottage for use as his beach hut in 1820, started a

ONE of Sidmouth's oldest societies, and certainly Britain's first civic society, is Sid Vale Association, which was founded in 1846.

The building of Peak House by Emmanuel Lousada in 1796 and Clifton Cottage for use as his beach hut in 1820, started a trend of building country residences, or cottage orn� - examples of which include Rock Cottage at Clifton.

The Duke of Buckingham built his in what is now called Sidholme, and provide a lavish music room, still in use today.

Lord Le Dispenseur built his grand residence at the Knowle, which then became an hotel and is now extended and used by East Devon District Council.

Probably the first lodging house in Sidmouth was the Beach House on the seafront, with others, and the Assembly Rooms following, and with the rising popularity of Sidmouth as a place to live as well as holiday, there came a need to refurbish the older, rustic parts of the town to improve it for the 19th century tourists and residents.

It was in early September 1846 that a notice appeared announcing "A meeting of the inhabitants and those interested in the prosperity of Sidmouth" would be held on September 18 in the town hall" for the purpose of proposing Plans for the general improvement of the Place and the greater accommodation of visitors, also for securing to the Public the existing walks on the Cliff Salcombe Hill with the paths leading thereto."

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The meeting, which started at 2pm, was the first of Sidmouth Improvement Committee - later to become Sid Vale Association - and the founding fathers expressed concern that the charm and beauty of Sidmouth and the Sid Valley should be conserved.

It was at this first meeting that John Carslake of Cotmaton Hall was elected as chairman. He died at Clifton, Bristol, in 1865 and is buried in Sidmouth churchyard by the parish church.

Discussions at this inaugural meeting centred around the issue of footpaths and attempts by landowners to enclose land, thus blocking old rights of way.

Later it was registered as a charity "for the Protection of the Beauties and Amenities of the Neighbourhood and to promote and aid its Cultural Development."

The SVA website states: "Through their foresight, (together with the energies and activities of those who followed them down the years), many who come and discover Sidmouth, are able to value and appreciate what they did; and what today's members are continuing to do."

The late Reg Lane, author of Old Sidmouth was archivist for the SVA at the end of the 20th century and wrote: "What is so fascinating about Sidmouth's history is that so much of the past is still present today."

One example of this is the fine double-headed eagle at Fortfield Terrace, which commemorates the stay of the Grand Duchess of Russia in 1831.

She had a retinue of 100, gentlemen, ladies and servants, and mingling among her guests at a reception she gave was Sidmouth artist and historian, Peter Orlando Hutchinson.

In 1985 the late Margaret Clark, a former SVA stalwart, persuaded the charity to join forces with the National Trust to buy 220 acres of cliff land on Salcombe and Peak Hills to preserve them from unwanted development.

TV personality Angela Rippon launched the Landscape Appeal on March 28 1986 to buy the four areas and it was also supported by the Duchess of Kent. Some �225,000 was raised to buy the land.

The fund, renamed The Sidmouth Landscape Fund, continues and has contributed to the purchase of additional woodland in Salcombe Regis, and fields in the Byes containing the remains of General Hunt's Pond, and Margaret's Meadow, named after Margaret.

The woodland is now in the hands of The National Trust, while the grassland is with SVA.

It was Sidmouth's timeless charm that captivated poet laureate John Betjeman, who visited the town often, and the SVA volunteers keep a close eye on planning applications, only recommending refusal when it is detrimental to residents.

"Our aim is to protect, rather than prevent, to conserve rather than condemn; to preserve our heritage rather than see it polluted," says the Association.

*You can donate

Relations between the two organisations remain excellent. This joint Fund, which is unique in The National Trust, has continued to grow over the years since it came into existence. Donations and legacies from all who love and enjoy this beautiful area are always welcome and appreciated. Donations should be sent to H.S.B.C., Fore Street, Sidmouth and legacies left to the Sidmouth Landscape Fund, c/o Sid Vale Heritage Centre, Hope Cottage, Sidmouth EX10 8LY; or The National Trust, East Devon Estate Office, Killerton House, Broadclyst, Exeter EX5 3LE.