Salcombe

    Salcombe is the most southerly town in the South Hams and is in an area of unspoilt natural beauty. The town of Salcombe lies beside a vast inlet called the Salcombe estuary, though technically it is a ria, a landlocked salt water inlet, ideal for sailing.

    A ria is a landform,often referred to as a drowed river valley. Rias are almost always estuaries. Rias form where sea levels rise relative to the land either as a result of eusatic sea level change (where the global sea levels rise), or isostatic sea level change (where the land sinks). When this happens valleys which were previously at sea level become submerged. The result is often a very large estuary at the mouth of a relatively insignificant river (or else sediments would quickly fill the ria). The Kingsbridge Estuary is an extreme example of a ria forming an estuary disproportionate to the size of its river; no significant river flows into it at all, only a number of small streams. The estuary was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1987 and a local Nature Reserve in 1992.

    Salcombe and the surrounding area enjoy a particularly good climate, warm summers and mild winters.

     Browse the high quality goods offered in the shops along narrow Fore Street, from jewellery to paintings with a nautical theme Browse the high quality goods offered in the shops along narrow Fore Street, from to chandlers to antiquarian books and gift shops. You can stop and enjoy refreshments at the numerous bistros, restaurants, coffee shops and cafe's too.

    Although Salcombe still has a small fishing fleet, Fishing is still carried out at Salcombe, mostly of shellfish.  Most of the boating activity is now by visiting and local sailors. Water sports include, learning to sail, wind surfing, and how to operate a power boat.
    The port also makes an ideal base for divers, though for safety reasons no diving is allowed within the harbour. The Sea beyond the bar has often crystal clear water- the numerous wrecks are a mecca for divers. Wrecks include HMS Ramillies sunk in 1760, and the Herzogin Cecilie: a famous clipper ship.
    Sea trade peaked in the 1860`s when it was home to 100 or so schooners shuttling to the Bahamas, the Mediterranean and the Azores for exotic fruit for the home market. Profits from the trade provided the cash for many of the substantial Victorian houses you see today.
      
    A BRIEF HISTORY

    Until about 100 years ago Salcombe earned its living from the estuary and the sea. Fishing, seafaring, boat and later shipbuilding with smuggling and probably some piracy were the principal occupations. Sea trade peaked in the 1860`s when it was home to 100 or so schooners shuttling to the Bahamas, the Mediterranean and the Azores for exotic fruit for the home market. Profits from the trade provided the cash for many of the substantial Victorian houses you see today. 

    The oldest local settlements were not built at the water’s edge but at some distance inland. The reason being that danger came from the sea, the Romans, Vikings and Norman, others include pirates seeking temporary shelter and supplies and, in the case of those from the Barbary States of North Africa, slaves. Hundreds of Devon people were kidnapped in the 1600s and taken to the slave markets of Algiers and Sallee on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Some were eventually ransomed but others never returned home.

    The name Salcombe first appears in writing in 1244, centuries after most of the other neighbouring settlements were identified. It fell within the boundaries of the parish of Malborough on the edges of two ‘manors’, Batson and West Portlemouth. The manor was the smallest of the administrative units into which England was divided by William I after he conquered the country in 1066. We know about these because their names and assets figure in the Domesday  book, William’s comprehensive survey of his new kingdom published in 1083. While Salcombe itself may be a latecomer, man has lived around the area from time immemorial. Archaeologists have identified stone age settlements on the cliff tops on both sides of the mouth of the estuary and a recently discovered shipwreck has demonstrated the existence of cross channel trade some 3500 years ago.

    References to Salcombe are limited for several centuries after 1244, perhaps because of a lack of literate inhabitants (the illiterate leave no records). Maybe it was little more than a fishing hamlet with a few ‘cellars’, simple buildings where farmers living a mile or two inland kept their nets and gear. However, ships of some size were already based in the harbour, refered to by 1342 as ‘Portlemouth’. Twelve “barges” and a “ballinger” were hired to transport troops to Brittany at the start of the Hundred Years War. In 1403 Salcombe was raided by a force from France which had previously sacked and burnt Plymouth. The town had been awarded a grant in 1377 “in aid of fortification” but apparently nothing had been done. John Leland described the harbour and settlement in the 1530s in his Travels in Tudor England as “...sumwat barrid and having a Rok at the entering into it ... and aboute half a Mile within the Mouth of the Haven ... is Saultcombe, a Fisshar Towne”.

    As relations between England and Spain deteriorated in the 1550s, culminating in the ‘Spanish Armada’ campaign of 1588, new records of town and harbour become available. In July 1570 a census of “mariners mustered in Devon” was taken. 56 are listed for Salcombe and 12 for Portlemouth. Two years later another survey shows that five ships under 60 tons belong to Salcombe with an aggregate tonnage of 150. It has been stated, but not confirmed, that when the Armada finally appeared in local waters on July 31 1588 the villages round the Salcombe Estuary had fitted out 16 small ships to support the English fleet. The only Spanish ship to be wrecked in England, as distinct from Scotland and Ireland, was the hulk San Pedro Mayor, which served as a hospital ship. She came ashore on Bolt Tail near Hope Cove on 6 November with 158 survivors, all of whose names are known. The war with Spain dragged on until 1603 but appears not to have affected Salcombe again.

    Unusually, we know something of the common people of the town a few years later. Most history until recently has been that of great men and their deeds but the maritime surveys of Devon of the early 1600s tell us a very different story. The ambitions of the young King Charles I required the rebuilding of a navy much run down after its Elizabethan successes. His Lord High Admiral, the Duke of Buckingham, demanded of his county subordinates comprehensive parish lists of all those men with maritime skills. In the parish of Malborough in 1619, which then included Salcombe lived 104 mariners, 5 ship-wrights and 2 “coopers barrel makers for sea”. All are named with their ages. Similar details are recorded for all the other parishes around the Estuary and along the south coast of Devon. About half the names would be familiar to today’s town residents showing that many families have been settled here for centuries.

    Devon was much fought over in the Civil War. Devon’s countryside, led by the landowners was largely Royalist, but the towns were for Parliament. The blockhouse at the entrance to Salcombe harbour, which is believed to have been one of Henry VIII’s coastal defences, had become much decayed by the 1640s. In 1644 Sir Edmund Fortescue of Fallapit House near Kingsbridge was commissioned to restore and garrison the fortification which was renamed Fort Charles. The harbour became a protected anchorage for royalist privateers. By early 1646 it had become clear that the royalist cause was lost, but the Fort’s defenders refused to surrender when a Parliamentary army arrived from Dartmouth. A battery was set up on Rickham common across the harbour and the seige began. It lasted for four months until the parliamentarians persuaded the garrison to surrender on favourable terms on 7 May. It was the last Royalist stronghold to survive in the county.

    Few if any published references to Salcombe can be found between the 1650s and the 1750s. It must be presumed that the inhabitants continued to live by fishing and smuggling and kept quiet about it. However, change came in the second half of the 18th century. The first “holiday home”, the Moult between North and South Sands, was built in 1764 by John Hawkins and is described as a “mere pleasure box”. By the end of the century the house had been much enlarged by a succession of owners and began to approximate its present appearance. It seems that the gradual enlargement of Salcombe properties by holiday home owners has a respectable precedent!

    Boats must have been built locally since pre-historic times. Presumably at some time boats became small ships but in the 1790s the town began to develop into a more significant ship-building and ship owning centre. By 1819 a writer could refer to “three yards for shipwrights” at a time when the town had about fifty stone houses. Most of these were “low mean structures”. Nearly 300 sailing vessels and a handful of steamers were built in Salcombe and around the Estuary during the nineteenth century, almost all for local owners. Early trades were coastal, salt to Newfoundland and salted fish back to Europe. At the end of the great wars of the French Revolution and Empire (1792 - 1815, with a short break in 1802), the fruit trade developed and with it the superb and speedy ‘fruit schooners’. Speed was necessary to carry the perishable cargoes of fresh fruit from Spain and the Azores back to home ports before it started to deteriorate. Passages were also made to the Mediterranean for dried fruit. The port and trades prospered until about 1875 when competition from iron and later steel steamers began in earnest. Lack of capital, limitations of space and a shortage of locally available materials made it quite impracticable for Salcombe to compete with the yards of Northern England and Scotland in the building of iron and steel ships. The last sizeable wooden ship was launched in the Estuary in the 1880s. Thereafter Salcombe reverted to boatbuilding for fishermen and leisure use.


    The collapse of ship building and owning was not the end of the town. Visitors in small numbers had been attracted to the neighbourhood since the late 1700s. Large houses were gradually built at the various viewpoints along the cliffs and foreshore to the south of the town. Woodville (now Woodcot) in the prime position in Cliff Road dates from 1797. Ringrone House followed in 1839. It still exists, now totally invisible within the structure of the Marine Hotel to which it was converted in the 1890s. The removal of the noisy and smelly shipyards from the waterfront and the redevelopment of a prime site by the building of the York Hotel at about the same time improved facilities for the visitor. This was later renamed Salcombe Hotel and was in the 1980s converted yet again into appartments for sale to visitors. The arrival of the railway at Kingsbridge in 1893, connection to Salcombe by steam ferries and, in 1909, by motor buses made the town more accessible to visitors.
    In 1895 roads were laid out on the higher ground to the west of the present town centre by the newly established South Devon Land Company and building plots for development were gradually sold off.

    What is arguably the town’s greatest disaster occured in October 1916 at the height of the Great War of 1914 - 1918 when many of the townsmen were serving in the army and Royal Navy and some had already been lost.

    Salcombe’s lifeboat station had been established in 1869 with the donation of the lifeboat Rescue and the building of the boathouse at South Sands in 1877. William and Emma, Salcombe’s third lifeboat came on station in 1904. She carried out one service in 1910 and was next launched in earnest in 1916 in a furious south west gale to go to the aid of the schooner Western Lass which was aground in Lannacombe Bay near Prawle Point. The lifeboat’s crew managed to row her out over the breaking seas of the Bar and then hoisted sail and soon reached the ship. There was no sign of life aboard and it soon became clear that the ship’s crew had been saved from the shore. The lifeboat then had to sail back to Salcombe against the gale and regain the harbour by crossing the Bar. Sail was lowered for the crossing but as the run in started the boat was capsized “end over end” by a huge “rogue wave” and soon broke up. Only two members, of the fifteen strong, crew were saved, cast ashore on the rocks at the eastern side of the harbour entrance. The loss of fifteen Salcombe men, in a small community where everyone knew everyone else and many were related, cast a dark cloud over the town for years. The names of the drowned lifeboatmen are inscribed on the town’s war memorial in Cliff Road.

    When a new lifeboat arrived in April 1917, despite the tragic events of the previous October, there was no shortage of volunteers to reform the crew. The coxswain appointed was young Eddie Distin, still in his twenties and one of the two survivors from the William and Emma. He remained coxswain until his retirement in 1951, taking part in many services and being awarded a silver medal for his part in the rescue of crew and passengers from the Belgian ship Louis Sheid, torpedoed by a German submarine in the early days of World War II.

    Between the two World Wars the town gradually developed as an exclusive holiday resort for those who enjoyed the benign climate, the beautiful scenery, sea fishing and sailing. No attempt was made by developers or the local authority to introduce attractions like those of the popular holiday centres. The town had started to attract wealthy retirees in the early years of the twentieth century and this trend continued in the 1920s and ’30s. Salcombe Sailing Club was founded in 1922 for the town’s artisans. The annual subscription was 5 shillings (25p). The Yacht Club, dating from the 1890s, was exclusively for gentlemen. Ladies were grudgingly admitted in 1939. No ‘working man’ would ever have been elected to membership even if he had been willing to pay the £2.10 subscription.

    Much evidence of World War II remains in the town. It was the target of many ‘hit and run’ bombing raids undertaken by fast fighter/bombers. It has been said that civilian casualties in Salcombe as a proportion of the total population were as high as anywhere in the country. Several of the new buildings in Fore Street replace those destroyed in the raids. The Edgar Cove Boatyard at the east end of Island Street was completely destroyed, fortunately in the lunch hour, so there were no casualties. It was speedily rebuilt to allow work to continue on Admiralty contracts building boats for small warships. The new yard eventually succumbed when glass fibre replaced wood as the material of choice for pleasure boats and an apartment block was built on the site. British warships arrived in the harbour at the start of the war in the shape of air/sea rescue launches and an army service corps water transport company. Then in 1943 came the advance party of a substantial United States naval force which eventually reached a strength of almost 2000. The present Whitestrand Quay with its slipway was constructed following the demolition of two streets of decaying cottages. A concrete slipway was built on the beach at Millbay, the remains of which can still be seen and a fuel depot was constructed on the end of Snapes Point. The armada sailed on 4 June 1944 for the Normandy beaches to take part in the Allied assault on enemy occupied Europe leaving Salcombe almost deserted and strangely quiet.

    The town took some time to readjust to peace after the long war years. Travel was difficult in the period of post-war austerity with food and petrol rationing both continuing for some years.
     When the summer visitors eventually returned things seemed much the same as before. The resident population continued to grow until the 1960s but since then it has been falling, despite the building of a residential estate on the town’s outskirts, as more and more properties in the town are converted to holiday homes. Many small hotels have closed though the market in self-catering accommodation, which   flourishes as never before. The yacht and sailing clubs eventually merged in 1964. The former had to forego its exclusivity in the face of a falling membership and accept all comers.

    The town and beaches remain as busy as ever in the summer, and the season lengthens each year now as holiday home owners make more use of their properties.

    It is believed that Lord Tennyson`s famous poem “Crossing the Bar” was inspired by a visit to Salcombe during the 19th century. The poem begins with the following lines,Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, When I put to sea.
    The moaning refers to the noise of the water breaking over the Bar. The same Bar that the local lifeboat capsized when crossing it in 1916.

    Further into the estuary on the east side are a series of popular sandy beaches: Sunny Cove  (nearest the bar), the large  Mill Bay, Cable Cove  (the landing point of a cross-channel cable, Small`s Cove and Fishermans Cove. Adjacent to Fisherman's Cove is a landing slip used by the ferry . It connects  Salcombe  to the other side of the estuary to the  the hamlet of East Portlemouth. The ferry takes local residents and tourists to the beaches on the other side of the estuary.
    Opposite the Bar on the west side of the estuary are the beaches of South Sands and  North Sands.  A picturesque ferry operates between Salcombe and South Sands, with a Sea Tractor ferrying passengers between the boat and the South Sands beach.

    North of North Sands Salcombe town begins, occupying the steep west side of the estuary opposite the beaches and East Portlemouth and extending north and west into the first of the estuary's many creeks: Batson Creek by Snapes Point.. Others, including  Southpool Creek and Frogmore Creek  branch off to the east and north east, while the main channel continues to Kingsbridge.  A larger boat operates in the summer as a ferry between Salcombe and Kingsbridge when the state of the tide permits. Salcombe now also has spread down the west side of The Berry below the main road to Malborough.

    Sailing

    Sailing in Salcombe is active, day sailers go out from the harbour or from up the river. Many people own boats, power and sail, in the area and is the reason that many of the tourists choose to go to Salcombe.
    Probably due to its popularity for pleasure such as sailing and yachting, Salcombe has the second highest property prices in the UK outside of central London (after  Sandbanks, Poole in Dorset). Many of the shops, bars and restaurants in the town, especially towards the waterfront, cater for a predominantly well-off, fashionable and nautically-inclined clientele, with prices to match. There are many clothes shops and art galleries. Salcombe has hotels and bed and breakfast establishments as well as self contained apartments and houses.

    Salcombe has a number of boatyards and marine stores, while boats are stored on the carpark by the fishing quay during the winter. There is a sailing school run by the  Island Cruising Club, based on the ex-Mersey ferry "Egremont" moored in the estuary. There is also a power boat school and SCUBA diving is popular. The town and yacht club regatta weeks are one of the main features of the summer season. There are races for dingies and yachts as well as crabbers in addition to other activities. Salcombe Estuary Rowing Club is a member of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association and takes part in races around the south west.

    Because of the narrow streets and the priority given to pedestrians, a park and ride scheme operates during the summer from the outskirts of Salcombe. Near Salcombe primary school is a swimming pool.

    There is a marine museum in Salcombe that has information on the fruit schooners and other items of interest.  By South Sands is Overbecks a house and gardens belonging to the  National Trust. In the house are inventions of Otto Overbeck.

    Salcombe is a good place for walking and is on the  South West Coast Path. There is a golf course near by at  Thurlestone.

    Eating Out

    There are a wide range of dining options in Salcombe and the surrounding area. These include excellent restaurants, cosy pubs, and coffee shops; some with al-fresco facilities and some catering especially for young families. All provide the best in local fish, meat and vegetables.



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    The Signal Box Totnes Railway Station, Station Road,Totnes, Devon TQ9 5JR01803...
    20/02/2010
    La Fourchette Brasserie26 High StreetTotnesTQ9 5NDBookings: 01803...
    12/03/2010
    Totnes Rare Breeds Farm is a non-profit-making organisation, which relies on the work of volunteers and the great support of its customers. It aims...
    06/01/2011
    SOUTH BRENT BUTCHERS Neil Langworthy - Quality Butcher 1 Church Street, South Brent, Devon, TQ10 9AB 01364 73338 ...
    02/11/2010
    BRIDGETOWN CHIROPODY OF TOTNESBRIDGETOWN 13A TOTNES TQ9 5AB01803 222827...
    29/06/2010
    Brixham a maritime treasure, where life centres on the bustling harbour, one of Britain's busiest fishing ports.Wander around the harbour side...