It is from the King, the Bishop and the See of Exeter that Dawlish has
taken to make their coat of arms that they have held for over sixty
years. On the left, the coat of arms of Edward the Confessor, on
the right Leofric’s arms, and
the crossed keys of the See of Exeter.
THE NORMAN CONQUEST
In 1066 initially nothing much had changed in Dawlish with the new
French overlords. If you had to pay taxes, you continued to pay them,
irrespective of who they were paid to. Then twenty years later the great
‘census’ of Domesday took place. Dawlish was then part of Bishop Osbern’s estate when officials from Exeter visited all places noting who
owned or leased lands, how much, what land was under the plough, what
was meadow or woods, what animals were kept. There was no way of hiding
anything. The only difference is that these officials spoke Norman
The outcome of the Domesday records show that Dawlish paid tax on seven
mansi (manors) or hides (about 840 acres) and there were 30 villagers
and 8 smallholders (around 160 people) living here. It had meadows,
pasture and woods, they had only 3 cows, 2 pigs but 100 sheep and it was
worth £8. Perhaps some of our Saxon-named farms date from this time -
such as Southwood (bequeathed by King Alfred to his son), Aller,
Smallacombe, Lidwell, Cofton, Shutterton, Shiverstone, Weston or Eastdon
- but the Lord of the Manor, Bishop Osbern, had two slaves on his 120
acres which later became the Barton estate.
Life went on, taxes went up (they are never reduced are they) more land
was cleared for farming and the people were probably unaware that in
1253 the newly founded Office of Dean and Chapter for the Exeter
Cathedral now administered Dawlish (with many other parishes) and this
situation for Dawlish lasted until 1802. Initially they selected a local
man to be a Reeve - their man in the village - a position that later
changed annually. Over the 1388/9 period Richard Mugge (Mudge) was the
Reeve, whilst in 1419/20, perhaps a descendant, John Mugge of Easdon
became reeve and later it was John Shylston in 1442/3 - names that still
appeared in Dawlish in the 20th century showing how long the families
It is said that there was probably a wooden Saxon church built on the
site of the present parish church of St. Gregory, itself an early
consecration, built inland away from high tides and the flooding marshy
valley. In fact the earliest date we have for our church is 1148 when it
was one of seven selected by Bishop Chichester for the support of the
canons - so the Norman corbel stone that lies behind the church would
indicate we could have once had a Norman stone church. The date of 1272
gives us the first vicar known only as W and ten years later it is
confirmed that St Gregory’s was the Mother church to St. Michael’s of
East Teignmouth and much later still, of St Mary’s of Cofton. The
remains of a Saxon Cross still stands outside St. Gregory’s church.
During the worst plague in 1348 that killed perhaps a third of the
country’s population, three Dawlish vicars succumbed to the Black Death.
By 1438 a bell tower of local red sandstone was built to the church. We
certainly had at least two bells by 1588 including a great bell rung for
funerals and we had an early clock maintained by the appropriate
named John Clockmaker. There was a later clock in 1715 that now resides
in Dawlish Museum.
Over the centuries Dawlish prospered and grew, it still paid taxes –
usually to pay for wars - Kings came and went – these events would be
announced in the church - but very little changed in this small town.
Even when the biggest change in religion from Catholic to Protestant
caused by Henry VIII in 1548, whatever the locals thought it was not
reported, but it is recorded that Robert Herte (described as a monastery
pensioner) was employed in Dawlish church – possibly St Michael’s at
Teignmouth as he lived there. And of course the Prayer Book Rebellion
started in the West Country in 1549.
Even before the great Armada, monarchs insisted on a training programme
for the men of the country – the first Dad’s Army – records of which are
extant. In Dawlish two wealthy men had to provide armour, pikes, bills
and bows with arrows for two men, whereas twelve other men gave money,
according to their wealth, to supply weapons for the 27 men – three
archers, three gunners, four bill-men and seventeen pike-men - who
practised their weapons on a regular basis. There are payments to
certain men for cleaning, repairing or carrying the muskets and armour
for military training, held either at Chudleigh, Kenton or Haldon .
accounts start in the year of the Armada 1588/9 that
gives little news of the battle but we can find out more of everyday
things and people. That year the churchwardens were Gregorie Ockman and
Christopher Townsen and they did their duties collecting and paying out
money – for candles for the ‘reijsing daie’ (rejoicing day - a party for
Queen Elizabeth’s succession) and repairs for the church bells - a
constant necessity. There is even a payment of 16d for ‘fowre men to
watch when the Spaniards (escaped?) out of the Bridewell’. Spanish
prisoners from the Armada were kept in the barn at Torre Abbey.
Church bells were very important in the past – the television news
report of its day - ringing for the usual church services, weddings,
burials, then for Guy Fawkes day and good news such as battle victories,
coronations or anniversaries of such. But they would also be rung
strangely to dispel lightening! In 1595 John Langmeade was paid for
repairing the second bell, but also for mending the stocks and the
pillory (holding miscreants in public by legs or hands and head in
public to shame them) and the cucking stool (for ducking people for any
other misdemeanours). We know of one - Dorothy Stoninge - as she appears
that year when thongs were bought for whipping her and for bread and
drinke given to one who kept her and one to whip her - 6d. What had she
done? Whatever it was she did it severall tymes !
There are clues that the church building was beginning to crumble.
Reports that posts were inserted to shore-up something and in 1596 Giles Colsery and his man were paid 3s.2d. for
ij (2) daies worke upon the
church with viid (7d) of nailes to sett in Ric. Treipes ladder to fasten
a piece of tymber.’ Eventually a whole tree was used to support the roof
in 1599 - which took three days - but it was not until 1825 that the
church was remodelled by actually raising the roof and then the whole
was enlarged in 1875.
THE 17th CENTURY
THE CIVIL WAR
We can assess the population of Dawlish long before the advent of the
19th century census, from the Protestation Returns taken in 1641. Men
and boys over 16 had to show their loyalty to King Charles I and thus
the Protestant Religion by signing this document. It showed there were
360 males living in Dawlish of 123 separate family’s names; and by
adding their wives and children we can guesstimate the population to be
about 800 - and they were all Royalists.
Were any in the army? I would have thought so without a doubt, but we
have no details. Even before this time, males over the age of 16 had to
train with weapons by law. We also know that Thomas Tripe of Rixdale
Farm was a Royalist as on the restoration of the monarchy he had the
plaster ceilings in his house decorated with scenes of the King hiding
in the oak tree and other symbols. However after the siege of Powderham
Castle in the January of 1645 two unnamed soldiers, presumably
Royalists, were buried in the churchyard after this battle.
The parish registers date from around this time and although they give
us names and dates, we seldom have any further details as to occupation
or status. The labourer gets the same treatment in the registers as the
lords and ladies. However there is a missing Churchwarden’s Accounts
ledger for this period so it is difficult to build up a complete picture
of the period. But Exeter history reveals that Sir Peter, a member of
the Balle family had built and lived in the neighbouring mansion at
Mamhead, and also leased the Manor of Dawlish and became our Lord of the
Manor. He was the Recorder of Exeter and personal servant to Queen
Henrietta, wife of Charles I. Some of his Dawlish land passed to his
descendants when the last one, merchant Thomas Balle, built the obelisk
at Mamhead in 1743 as a landmark for shipping coming into the river Exe
and Exeter. Later part of the Manor of Dawlish was leased by Stephen
Weston, Bishop of Exeter, and it then descended through his family until
eventually it went through his granddaughter who married a Fortescue in
the time of George III.
AN 18th CENTURY ANTIPODEAN CONNECTION
This then brings in a story connecting Dawlish with the newly found land
- Australia. After a life at sea, when he retired Admiral John Schank
lived in Barton House, opposite Church House, and around 1799 he was
visited by a young naval officer about to go to the other side of the
world. Distantly related to his wife, the visitor, Lieutenant James
Grant was commissioned to plot the coast of south Australia and sailed
on the 18th February 1800 on the Lady Nelson. The reason for his visit
was that Admiral Schank had designed this ship with a retractable keel
specially designed for coastal work.
During this visit he was introduced to Peter Churchill, a very distant
relative of the Dorset Churchills, one of whom became Duke of
Marlborough. Peter Churchill had married Fortescue’s sister and they
lived in Church House but within a year she had died and he married
again to Elizabeth Foulkes whose naval brother lived in Bridge House.
Churchill was a keen gardener and gave Lt. Grant some seeds to sow on
his travels when he had the chance for the future benefit of our
fellowman, be they Countrymen, Europeans or Savages.
Ten months later Grant arrived in Australia and in the area of Bass
Strait he discovered an small island close to Phillip Island off the
coast of Victoria, on which he landed and built a block-house and
developed a garden planting some of the seeds of vegetables, apples,
peaches and nectarines trees he had been given by Churchill and so he
named the island after him. It is now a National Park owned by the
Victorian Conservation Trust.
NOT JUST A FISHING VILLAGE
Many early guide books called Dawlish a fishing village – but one cannot
live on fish alone - without the chips! Fishing was important (there was
once a tithe on fish in 1535 worth £2 a year) but even then it seems the
fish were beginning to declining. Certainly barrels of fish were sent to
London by train until the 1920s but it has always been a secondary
occupation to farming in Dawlish. With the decline of fishing and with
the advance of faster, larger, and different practices (and present fish
quotas) it has reduced to being a part-time trade or more of a hobby.
Yet without a harbour, Dawlish town had a great number of sailors in the
past. In 1619 lists of sailors (again in case of impending wars) shows
we had a serious number of seamen divided into 15 master mariners, 116
sailors and 15 seinemen (those who caught fish off the shore). These
numbers are surprisingly high compared with East and West Teignmouth
with its harbour, that had 92 sailors, 14 master mariners but they had
seven ships compared to
two at Dawlish. Fishing was kept to families,
father to son – in 1619 there were 9 Tapleys, 5 Babbs, 4 Bricknolls.
Then due to the Napoleonic Wars in the 1790s when Torbay became a naval
base, Naval Officers and their families began to live in our town. The
local builders soon took up any empty plots of ground in town to build
bigger and better houses to lease to them and to the increasing number
of wealthy people who could no longer travel on the Continent due to
these wars. Tourism had arrived! Two hotels had been built in the 1780s
on The Strand to cater for any visitors whilst most of the locals were
happy with their cob and thatched cottages (which are cool in the summer
and warm in the winter) and some still remain.
THE 19TH CENTURY
In 1802 the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, the owners of Dawlish,
were allowed to sell their Dawlish land. Businessmen from Exeter and
farther afield took up the advantage with their money to buy farms,
houses and land to create their own estates. The London banking family of Hoares had Luscombe Castle and
Stonelands built by the well-known
architect John Nash.
Sir William Watson from Bath built Lanherne (now
sheltered flats), John Pidgley from Exeter built Elm Grove (demolished
and now a housing estate), Sir John Ley (the Chief Clerk of the House of
Commons) built Plantation House later combined with Sefton House (now a
nursing home) and his son was once High Sheriff of Devon. Oaklands, was
also once the home of the High Sheriff, is now a school, and the Hoares
of Luscombe have held that position twice whilst Codrington Parr of
Stonelands was High Sheriff in 1839.
The Rise (now a retirement home)
was the home of Miss Pennyman who entertained Princess Caroline of
Brunswick in 1806, the uncrowned Queen of George IV. In the early 1930s
the late Queen Mum with the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her
sister Margaret, would visit a house called The Cottage (now Weech
House) where lived Miss Cavendish-Bentinck, the Queen Mum’s aunt.
THE RAILWAY COMETH
The next biggest event to happen in Dawlish in the middle of the 19th
century was the coming of the railway. That great engineer, Isambard
Kingdom Brunel, planned to run his Atmospheric Railway along the coast
from Exeter to Plymouth. In 1845 a single track with wide rails were
laid and pumping stations were built at St David’s, the Turf, Starcross,
(which still stands), Dawlish, Teignmouth, Bishopsteignton and Newton
Abbot. It ran for 20 miles and was achieving nine passenger trains a day
between Exeter and Teignmouth. However, this novel method of
transportation was impractical and expensive and was soon taken over by
the more usual steam trains of the South Devon Railway.
station at Dawlish was demolished but remnants are in the railway car
park built into a retaining wall.
The first wooden station caught fire and was rebuilt in 1873. In the
late 19th century the rails were changed to narrow gauge and the lines
doubled. With the railway practically on the beach it was ideal for the
fishermen around 1900 to send their catches by rail (packed in barrels
as this photo shows).
But on the other side of the coin because of its nearness to the sea the
spray, high tides and winter storms caused it to be the most expensive
stretch of railway line in the country, which it remains. Plans to take
it in inland has been mooted for over a hundred years.
The coming of the railway didn’t immediately increase the population of
Dawlish but as with many other country towns in that period, numbers
increased, and within a few years the total of other born Devonians
out-numbered the locals. Happily there is still a core of Dawlishians
here and many more people who hope they have been accepted to be called
by that name.
Many small farms have disappeared due to a change in farming together
with an increase in the population requiring more houses to be built
whilst our industries were small compared to large towns and cities.
Cider was always made locally on the farms, making Honiton lace was
carried out in a small way by a few families but the largest industry
that lasted for over a century was the brewery in the High Street
(1817-1925) that provided beer and lemonade to its 28 pubs in the area.
And in the days when gentlemen and ladies wore fresh buttonholes every
day, famous Dawlish violets were sent to London from the gardening
smallholders of the area.
THE 20TH CENTURY
Dawlish has increased in population to around 13,000. There are many
more houses in Dawlish but in many ways not a lot has changed – but
perhaps that is why we like it. Big industry has passed us by and the
change in shopping has altered the look of some of our streets, but for
nearly a hundred years tourism is our biggest business. As locals we
still love our beaches, our Carnival with the Red Arrow displays, our
churches, our black swans on the Lawn that so many tourists remember
with pleasant memories.
So I hope this gives you a brief history of over a thousand years of our
delightful, peaceful town of Dawlish on the sunny English Riviera coast
of South Devon. But be aware when walking round the town. Is that a
Neolithic man collecting shellfish off the shore? Or is that a Norman
walking his hound on the Newhay (French for new hedge)? Is that a 17th
century mariner sitting with the fishermen on Boat Cove, a Regency dandy
strolling along Marine Parade and a navvy checking the cliffs rocks? Or
is it just sea mist?