Richard Stentiford's Dawlish

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Until the end of the 18th century, Dawlish remained a tiny enclosed community of fishermen. The land near the shore flooded frequently so the settlement was about half a mile inland and the only tracks in and out of the hamlet were to Teignmouth and up through Ashcombe to join a route used by the wool traders to Exeter. A small stream, known as "the brook" flowed down from Haldon to meet the sea at the edge of the beach, dividing the land into two and providing water power for three mills.

Even when nearby Teignmouth was razed to the ground by French raiders in the late 17th century, Dawlish escaped - hidden by its geographical position and by the lifestyle of its closed community.

 

The Brook, Dawlish looking towards St. Gregory's Church

The Brook, Dawlish looking towards St. Gregory's Church and the old village

 

All that was to change with the coming of the vogue for sea bathing, led by the example of King George III. In 1803, a far-sighted local businessman began to drain the marshy land on the seashore, and built up the banks on either side of the brook which at the same time was straightened. On his newly-acquired land, he put up houses more suited to visitors of quality than the cob cottages of old Dawlish and laid a lawn beside the brook so that visitors could stroll about, see and be seen.

Disaster struck on 10 Nov 1810 after many days of torrential rain. A torrent swept down the course of the brook, taking out 8 wooden bridges, new houses, stables and five other buildings and leaving the developer poorer by some 11,000, a fortune in those days. Richard Stentiford's home and business in Park Street lay safely away from the devastation in the vicinity of the beach but there is no doubt that the dreams for turning Dawlish into a gentile resort received a setback.

 

Dawlish 1821, looking at the Strand Dawlish 2003, looking along the Strand
Dawlish 1821, looking at the Strand

Dawlish 2003, looking along the Strand

 

Lessons were learned and the brook was treated with more respect after this. The rebuilding process included a number of more modern visitor amenities like the Bath House Gore's Lending Library, public rooms large enough to hold balls and assemblies and a promenade area called The Strand for taking the air.

The Bath House, Dawlish

The Bath House, Dawlish

 

Late Regency villas in the Bartons, Dawlish

Smart late Georgian and Regency villas were built on higher ground above the beach area to cater for the ladies and gentlemen whose health needed the benefit of the gentle South Devon air. And once the regular stage coach service was implemented, the visitors began to pour in - Dawlish was established, not only as a seaside resort, but as a place where the air was beneficial to health.

Late Regency villas in the Bartons, Dawlish

 

From Pigot's Devonshire Directory of 1830:

The cliffs overhanging the sea are bold and towering, and give a romantic character to the scenery.

The temperature of the air in this part of Devon is particularly mild and salubrious and to those afflicted with pulmonary complaints, the climate had been found to be singularly beneficial. Doctor Downman, in celebrating this place, in his beautiful poem of "Infancy" writes:

"To thee will I consign

Often the timid virgin to thy pure

Incircling waves; to thee I will consign

The feeble matron; or the child on whom

Thou mayest bestow a second, happier birth

From weakness into strength.

Nor will I cease to prize thy lovely Strand."

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005