Sidmouth’s shipyard site now York Terrace
Hotel and houses replace Sidmouth’s former ship-building site near Esplanade
RECORDED as ‘a little fischar town’ as early as 1630, it is not surprising there is a record of a Sidmouth ship, the Charity, under its master Edward Cannon, crossing the sea to Newfoundland to trade.
Fish were plentiful and the town had its own shipbuilding yard, on land where York Terrace is now built, at least until the end of the 19th century.
In Sidmouth A History, published by Sidmouth Museum, we read: “Many local men fitted out ships for the long journey across to Newfoundland and maintained their own plantations there and a fleet of the smaller ‘bye-boats’ that were used for the actual fishing.
“The ships would set out as early in the year as the weather allowed, travelling via ports in Spain and Portugal where they would stock up with salt to preserve the fish, and remaining in Newfoundland until the following autumn when they would return laden with salted fish and cod liver oil.
“The boats carried most of the fish back to Spain and Portugal for sale to their Catholic population and returned to Devon with wine traded in exchange for the fish.”
We read that the Follett family was the most involved in the trade.
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Nonconformist tenant farmers at Sidmouth Manor, it was Samuel Follett who brought the family to prominence in the middle of the 18th century by establishing himself as a mercer “dealing in silks and woollens, and graduated to an interest in the fisheries.”
In the 1720s and 30s his ship Ann operated out of Topsham and Samuel acquired the plantation of Trepassy on the Newfoundland coast.
With two sons and a nephew also involved, by the end of the century the Folletts were among the most prosperous tenants of the Sidmouth manor “acquiring further landholdings, maintaining divers trading interests and operating a fleet of seven ships engaged in the fishery trade.”
There was the beginning of a shipbuilding industry, and Reginald Lane in Old Sidmouth wrote: “In 1885 an old fisherman, Thomas Heiffer of Heiffer’s Row – a row of terraced houses that once stood above Clifton Place – said that he could remember as a boy seeing two vessels on the stocks at the same time.
“The ships were launched over the ridge (now the Esplanade) and their rigging and fitting out completed in the shelter of Exmouth harbour.”
However the decline was dramatic and the firm of Follett in Sidmouth quickly slumped.
“By 1787 only four ships from Devon made the journey across to Newfoundland, two from Topsham and two from Dartmouth,” records Sidmouth A History.
The shipyard had gone by the 19th century and in 1811, wrote Anna Sutton in A Story of Sidmouth: “York Terrace and Hotel were built. We first hear of Mr Stone as proprietor of the hotel in 1824, when he suffered great loss of wines and liquors through his cellars being flooded in the great storm of that date. Mr Hooke was owner in 1849.”
Reg Lane records: “In 1887, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, Mr Rogers, the proprietor of the Royal York Hotel (1 and 2 York Terrace) invited the local fishermen to attend the Vaults for a pint of beer and refreshments in honour of the Queen.”
No 4 York Terrace was once Marsh’s Assembly Rooms and in 1851 was fitted out to enable lectures, parties, balls and auction sales to take place.
No 5 York Terrace was, in the same year, Butters’ Baths. “Here one could get ‘warm, cold and showerbaths at any hour of the day’,” he writes. “The rest of the houses in York Terrace were lodging houses.”
The yard at the end was used by John Potbury for storing coal and was later opened by Miller & Lilley. Standing at the end next to the yard was the old lifeboat house.
In 1900 James Pepperell bought some of the yard and built Shenstone in 1911. In 1923 Carlton Mansions, the first flats in Sidmouth, were built on the site by Anna Sutton’s husband Ernest.
*If you have any memories of old Sidmouth you would like to share with Nostalgia readers, contact Di Bowerman at email@example.com or call (01395) 888 502.