A group of members met at the Lighter Inn in Topsham for lunch. This Inn was originally the Custom House when the town was a bustling port due to the cloth trade with Holland. After lunch we had the option of touring the museum or taking one of the two town trails.
Those who took the trail around the town with its historic buildings had 28 sites or areas of significant interest to see. Apart from the many buildings associated with its connections to the sea there were other noteworthy places such as St Margaret’s church. The current church is at least the 4th to have been built on the site. The first was perhaps in Saxon times and houses a Norman font which was probably the oldest item we saw.
The view of the estuary on leaving the church is very picturesque and Cara Place which is a square of 9 houses built around a beautiful garden was another stunning area. The Holman family had a great influence on the town and apart from their maritime influence they were responsible for the unusual design of the St Nicholas Methodist Church. Something else that couldn’t be missed was the huge telegraph pole which served the town’s first telephone exchange. The base of this pole was almost too large to wrap our arms around and the top of it was apparently struck by the trailing lines of a low flying Zeppelin in 1917.
The second walk which was for another day had more architectural interest plus lovely river and countryside views and is well known for its internationally important RSPB bird reserve.
Some of our members visited the Topsham Museum which occupies one of the merchants’ houses built around 1688 and was at one time Dorothy Holman’s home. The museum itself explains the importance of the Davy and Holman families and their shipbuilding business which grew from the cloth trade Exeter had with Holland. It shows the story of the town as well as presenting a series of period rooms which are furnished in the Dutch style, a style that is very much in evidence when walking the town.
The museum also houses an impressive large model of the town and has a section on Richard (Pincher) Pym born 1893, Exeter’s most important footballer in its history who was England’s goalkeeper. The maritime history is continued in the outside boat sheds and features unique historic river craft including the famous Cygnet. There are other unusual items one of which is the nightdress worn by Vivien Leigh in the film “Gone with the Wind” (Vivien’s first husband was Dorothy Holman’s brother). The museum’s tea room and garden offered respite for us to gather for tea and recount and discuss this charming town.