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
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
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
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
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"
thee will I consign
timid virgin to thy pure
waves; to thee I will consign
matron; or the child on whom
bestow a second, happier birth
weakness into strength.
Nor will I
cease to prize thy lovely Strand."
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