England Ireland Find Havens
England Ireland Find Routes
Boat
Maintenance
Comfort
Operations
Safety
Other



NextPrevious

Topsham

Tides and tools
Overview





Topsham is a historic town situated in the north end of the estuary of the River Exe on England’s south coast. It offers boats that can take-to-the-mud alongside its historic quay, the Boatyard's outer pontoons, or the option of anchoring off in its shallow approaches. Visitors are made welcome at the boatyard where almost all facilities can be found.

Topsham is a historic town situated in the north end of the estuary of the River Exe on England’s south coast. It offers boats that can take-to-the-mud alongside its historic quay, the Boatyard's outer pontoons, or the option of anchoring off in its shallow approaches. Visitors are made welcome at the boatyard where almost all facilities can be found.

Nearly five miles from the river mouth and drying for large periods of the tide, Topsham offers complete protection from all conditions. Daylight approaches are straightforward as although the Exe entrance is challenging, it is well marked all the way with lit lateral marks. However, as it has to be approached near high water and in daylight, some planning is required to time this passage.
Please note

The entrance of the Exe should not be approached in any developed southwest around to southeast conditions, particularly on the ebb. Once inside the river mouth, the body of water in the estuary is largely protected.




Be the first
to comment
Keyfacts for Topsham



Last modified
November 1st 2018

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Water available via tapDiesel fuel available alongsideGas availableShop with basic provisions availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaChandlery available in the areaHaul-out capabilities via arrangementBoatyard with hard-standing available here; covered or uncoveredMarine engineering services available in the areaRigging services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesBus service available in the areaTrain or tram service available in the areaRegional or international airport within 25 kilometresTourist Information office available


Nature
Marina or pontoon berthing facilitiesAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsUrban nature,  anything from a small town of more 5,000 inhabitants  to a large cityScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: rising tide required for accessRestriction: may be subject to a sand barNote: could be two hours or more from the main waterwaysNote: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration



Position and approaches
Expand to new tab or fullscreen

Haven position

50° 40.815' N, 003° 27.883' W

This is the southeastern end of Topsham Quay.

What is the initial fix?

The following River Exe Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 35.860' N, 003° 23.790' W
This is the position of the 'Exe' Safe Water Light Buoy Mo(A)10s from which the first lateral marks of the entrance channel can be seen.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Portland Bill to Start Point Route location.

  • Arrive at the initial fix at about High Water -2 in daylight which provides ample time for the seven-mile journey up to Topsham.

  • Use Exmouth Click to view haven for seaward approaches to the mouth of the River Exe.

  • Proceeding up-river following the ample lateral marks and beacons that mark the curves of the channel up to Topsham.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Topsham for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Turf Lock (Exeter Canal) - 0.6 miles S
  2. Starcross Yacht Club - 1.3 miles SSE
  3. Starcross - 2.1 miles SSE
  4. Exmouth - 2.6 miles SSE
  5. The Bight - 2.6 miles SSE
  6. Teignmouth - 5.3 miles S
  7. Watcombe Cove - 7 miles S
  8. Babbacombe Bay - 7.5 miles S
  9. Anstey’s Cove - 7.7 miles S
  10. Hope Cove (Tor Bay) - 8 miles S
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Turf Lock (Exeter Canal) - 0.6 miles S
  2. Starcross Yacht Club - 1.3 miles SSE
  3. Starcross - 2.1 miles SSE
  4. Exmouth - 2.6 miles SSE
  5. The Bight - 2.6 miles SSE
  6. Teignmouth - 5.3 miles S
  7. Watcombe Cove - 7 miles S
  8. Babbacombe Bay - 7.5 miles S
  9. Anstey’s Cove - 7.7 miles S
  10. Hope Cove (Tor Bay) - 8 miles S
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

Resources search



What's the story here?
Topsham
Image: Michael Harpur


Topsham is a small town at the head of the Exe estuary and on the east side of the River Exe, immediately north of its confluence with the River Clyst and the former's estuary. Situated between Exeter and Exmouth it was once a thriving port and shipbuilding centre and it still retains a strong maritime flavour. The river carries about 0.3 – 0.5 metres CD up as far as Topsham's buildings, so this is the domain of shallow draft vessels that can take to the bottom.


Trout's Boatyard Pontoons
Image: Michael Harpur


The town's deeper berths can be found on the outer side of pontoons owned by Trout's Boatyard. A least depth of 1 metre MLWS and 2 metres MWLN over a harder gravel bottom will be found here. It is best to phone ahead to take advice and check availability, either for the pontoon or for Topsham Quay, from Trout's Boatyard P: +44 1392 873044 or email E: info@troutsboatyard.co.uk for enquiries. Prices (2018) are around £18 for a 10-metre boat to overnight.


Boats alongside Topsham Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Topsham Quay dries over very soft mud. The northern end of the quay is reserved for commercial pleasure trip boats during the day. So visitors must use the southern end which is not as deep making this section only suitable for vessels of 1.5 metres in draught outside of spring tides. The wall is somewhat rough so it will require ample fenders or even better a fender board. A price (2018) of
£11.35 (multihull craft plus 25% afloat, 50% ashore) per night is the charge to stay alongside the quay.


How to get in?
Yacht approaching the entrance to the River Exe
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Portland Bill to Start Point Route location and Exmouth Click to view haven for seaward approaches from the River Exe Initial Fix.
Please note

Unlike Exmouth it is advisable to arrive at the initial fix at High Water -2, an hour earlier, to allow ample time for the seven-mile journey up to Topsham.



The channel is marked by port and starboard buoys between Warren Point and Topsham, with some beacons at the latter stages. The buoys, which tend to be more starboard than port, are not all lit and can be moved as necessary to mark changes in the channel, so they may not sit exactly as charted. Boat moorings in the lower part of the estuary also help illustrate the deep water. As with all rivers it is best to keep to the outside of bends, and should you go wrong there is nothing hard to hit just a long wait stuck in the mud waiting for the next high water to come to your assistance. The speed limit within the river is 10 knots and 5 knots within the Exeter Canal.


The entrance to the River Exe
Image: Michael Harpur


North Eastern Approach Break off the track to Exmouth Click to view haven and enter the river mouth between it and Warren Point opposite. Warren Point which is covered with coarse grass, will be clearly seen with a red can buoy No. 12, marking the outer extremity of Warren Sand that extends northward from it.


The channel from the mouth of the Exe to The Bight
Image: Michael Harpur


Keep to the port buoy No. 12 side of the channel and turn determinedly southwest as the tidal streams run strong here and set across the pathway. Continue southwest through the lines of moorings on either side for about 150 metres to pass clockwise around the frying pan Bull Hill Bank which is marked around its perimeter by starboard buoys No. 13, Q.G., no. 15, Fl.G.5s, and no. 17, Q.G.


The channel circling around Bull Hill Bank
Image: Michael Harpur


Starboard buoys No. 13 and No. 15 mark the north of The Bight where lines of local boat moorings will be encountered. Exeter City Council has provided a set of seasonal yellow visitor buoys, marked 'ECC', in The Bight Click to view haven just above Starboard buoy No. 13.

Starcross
Image: Michael Harpur


The channel bends northwards after The Bight to pass between port buoy No. 14 (unlit) and starboard No. 17, Q.G. Here a fork on the west side of the channel provides a western branch that leads into the village of Starcross Click to view haven.

Floating cafe as seen from the north with Shaggles Sand exposing soutward
Image: Michael Harpur


The main eastern channel continues towards Topsham, bending north by northwest for a short distance toward port buoy No. 16, Fl.R.5s, marking the southern end of Shaggles Sand.


The path northward from the cafe to Starcross Yacht Club
Image: Michael Harpur


Then it tends north by northeast passing starboard buoy No. 19, unlit, and a floating cafe in the middle of the shipbuilding area with boats on moorings. A large area set aside for waterskiing activities, marked by buoys, lies on the opposite side of the channel.


Lympstone Sand beginning to show itself with moorings on its edge
Image: Michael Harpur


Pass starboard buoy No. 21, Q.G, then to port of port buoy No. 18, Q.R, and then along the edge of the Lympstone Sand to starboard buoy No. 25, Q.G. Continue to starboard buoy No. 27, Fl.G.5s, following the lateral marks up the estuary where Powderham Castle and St. Clement's Church will be seen standing prominently on the western shore.

Starcross Yacht Club
Image: Michael Harpur


The clubhouse and grounds of Starcross Yacht Club Click to view haven will be seen standing on the point, with its many club vessels moored close by. The small coastal village of Lympstone will be seen on the opposite eastern shore. Topsham at the north end of the estuary will also be visible at this stage.


Topsham becoming visible from Starcross Yacht Club
Image: Michael Harpur


From Starcross, the channel starts to meander its way up the estuary for its remaining length. Follow the buoys keeping a keen eye on the depth sounder up to Starboard No. 39 which is opposite the entrance to Turf Lock Click to view haven. Turf Lock operates daily, during working hours by prior arrangement with the lock keeper, providing a deep water marina in its small non-tidal basin along with access to the canal that leads up to Exeter.


Turf Lock
Image: Michael Harpur


After Turf Lock the channel becomes narrow, steep and, generally, with little more than 0.5 of a metre CD. It is then marked buoys and perches of various shapes to the final starboard buoy No. 45, unlit, that leads into Topsham. Watch the sounder to follow the curves of the channel rather than steering in straight lines between the buoys.

After the final starboard buoy No. 45, FLG.4s, Topsham will be seen to starboard. Here the channel is shallow, with depths as little as 0.1 metres in places, and it dries above the town.

Approaches to Topsham
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Berth at the Town Quay, alongside Trout's pontoons or anchor off in the approaches. Vessels alongside should use a sturdy line up-river as the tide flows fast on the ebb.

Yacht alongside Trout's Boatyard outer pontoon
Image: Michael Harpur



Why visit here?
Topsham was first recorded as Toppeshamme, in 937, where the town appears in a charter for the Manor of Topsham granted by Aethelstone and it was later recorded as Topeshant in the 1086 Doomsday Book. The name is derived from its setting on a red sandstone peninsula located where the River Clyst joins the River Exe. It is the conjunction of the old English word of topp, as in top or summit, plus hamm meaning village or settlement, or ‘village atop’ of the peninsula.


Home boat alongside Topsham Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


A stone possibly used in connection with fishing and an almost pure copper axe head indicate a settlement dating back to the Mesolithic and Neolithic period. Evidence of a Celtic settlement also exists but this was pushed out by the Romans who built a legionary fortress on the northern edge of the town. This was also a works depot for the notable straight Roman road from it to the fortress of Isca Dumnoniorum, (Exeter) where the 2nd Augusta Legion were stationed.



Church of Saint Margaret as seen from the quay
Image: Michael Harpur


The nature of the defence-ditches, Roman pottery dating from 1st and 2nd century AD along with coins variously dating from the rule of Vespasian, 69-79 AD, Hadrian, 117-138AD, and Constantine I, 306-337AD, suggest that Topsham’s military base dates back to the 1st century Roman occupation, between AD 50 and AD 75. The town was originally thought to be the 1st century Roman port for Exeter and it continued to serve as such until the Roman occupation of southern Britain ceased in about the year 400.


Saint Margaret's Anglican Church
Image: Michael Harpur


In the 7th-century, the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village. St. Margaret's Anglican Church, dates back to the 10th century. Although reconstructed several times, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan. A medieval settlement grew around the church and with the development of a quay, by the 13th century, set Topsham on its way to becoming a thriving port. Soon it had a customs house as its imports and exports increased.

At this time Exeter had developed as a centre of the wool trade with much produce being exported from the city. Although the Exe was navigable as far as the quayside in Exeter, the Countess of Devon Isabella de Fortibus, built a partial weir across the river just below the town in 1284 to run her mills. This meant that larger vessels could not reach Exeter and had to unload at Topsham Quay allowing it to expand and control the trade with Exeter. This weir is remembered in the name of the nearby suburb 'Countess Wear' and in an old local jingle that tells the tale:

Once the haughty Isabella – she of Countess Weir renown,
Had a quarrel, as they tell us, with the 'cits'of Exon town;
And preferring - God forgive her! – private rights to public weal,
In her arrogance the river from the City sought to steal...


Topsham's pretty High Street
Image: Michael Harpur
In 1300 Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (Isabella's cousin), was granted the Manor of Topsham when it was granted a Charter by Edward I. This transformed the small market village into a town with market days and local festivals. Learning from this Hugh de Courtenay then built St James’ Weir in 1317, completely blocking navigation to Exeter as was noted… 'he caused the channel which had been for the passage of ships and boats, to be again filled entirely up, and this was done at a great expence, by cutting down a great number of trees, which, being chained together, were laid in the channel, with great quantities of stones and gravel; these, in time, so united together as to make their removal impracticable...'


Hand in hand with the weir, he also built a quay at Topsham ...he also erected a Quay and a Crane at his mansion at Topsham, thereby hoping to remove all of the commerce from the Citizens, and to benefit himself and his tenants.' When completed all boats were forced to unload at Topsham and the earls were able to exact large tolls to transport goods to Exeter. Wither by fair or foul means, this canny action meant that Exeter was completely cut off and Courtenay's small town of Topsham had found greater purpose and prosperity as the main port for Exeter. It enabled Topsham to develop a larger trade with the Continent than any other port in England, and in its heyday, it rivalled London as a port.


Boat alongside Topsham Quay at sunset
Image: Michael Harpur


In 1539, after the de Courtenay family had fallen out of favour, King Henry VIII granted Exeter powers to remove the weirs, but it was too difficult to dismantle and it was by then too late because the river channel had silted up. Following the execution of Henry de Courtenay in 1556 and the transfer of his estate to the crown, a 1563 Act was passed to construct a barge canal from the Quay to just below The Countess Weir. So a canal was constructed between 1563 to 1566 initially to Matford Brook. The canal was less than a metre deep, and over time silted up cutting-off Exeter once again.

So called Dutch Houses with curved gable ends on The Strand
Image: Robin Drayton via CC BY-SA 2.0
All the time Topsham was a runaway success, equipping ships for the journeys to Europe and the New World. Shipbuilding was also becoming important to the town with a busy workforces labouring over part built trading and fishing vessels that lined the banks of the Exe, whilst others were fitting-out galleons that would face the Spanish Armada. Supporting trades of sailmaking, and nail and chain manufacturing grew alongside the shipbuilding trade. Notable ships such as HMS Terror, part of Franklin's lost expedition, and HMS Cyane, later known as the USS Cyane after capture by the American Navy, were built here in the early 19th century.

By the 17th Century, Topsham was a crucial base of the English woollen goods, particularly jerseys produced by towns such as Tiverton and Cullompton, and also the export by the East India Company of Devonshire serges, which made many of the town’s merchants very wealthy. Returning vessels brought linen from Antwerp, wines from France, Portugal and Spain, tobacco from the West Indies, and dried cod from Newfoundland. It was noted then that…‘Crews from foreign parts used to gather together at the riverside inns bringing with them news, often dubious in quality, but surely adding much to the richness of life along the banks of the Exe’.


Dutch style house on Ferry Road
Image: Michael Harpur


In the Civil War Topsham was the site of what appears to be a small fort built in the vicinity of the old Roman fort on the northern edge of the town. Whilst the suburbs of Exeter bore the brunt of the destruction and fighting, Clyst Bridge was demolished by a Parliamentarian naval assault under Thomas Fairfax’s command in 1647. Because of its Dutch connections, Topsham was used as the port to land William of Orange’s ammunition and gold when he landed in England to become king in 1688. Following the Civil War, there was significant new building and redevelopment in the town. This reflected the great prosperity of the town based on the burgeoning cloth trade with exports to North America and the Low Countries.

Ferry Road, Topsham
Image: Michael Harpur
British merchants appreciated that the Dutch were highly skilled in their trading practices and development of modern capitalism – complete with a stock exchange in Amsterdam. Many came to live in Topsham and these traders invested their money in building the unique Dutch-gabled townhouses that can be seen along The Strand, overlooking the quay, before they could store their wealth in banks. Many of these houses were built using Dutch bricks brought over as ballast from Holland so that wool and cotton from southwest England could be sent back.

A brusque trade and shipbuilding continued until the 19th Century with few predicting the sudden decline that the developments of the new century would precipitate. The single most important nail in Topsham's coffin was the coming of the railway to Exeter in 1844 that provided a far more efficient means of distributing goods around the country. Then came the completion of the last great extension of the recently enlarged Exeter Ship Canal to Turf, which saw an increasing number of ships unloading their cargoes into lighters, for transportation up-canal. Then, in 1823, a great storm moved the channel between Exmouth and Dawlish Warren just at a time when ships were becoming larger. This caused additional silting of the channel into Topsham shallowing its quay and reducing its usefulness. All of these events removed or obsoleted Topsham’s historical stranglehold on the city of Exeter leaving its quay serving smaller ships, especially fishing vessels.


The Lighter Inn on Topsham Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Topsham is today one of Devon's prettiest and best-loved towns. Fishing and maritime trades have continued to a certain extent alongside a burgeoning artistic community that gives the town a vitality and individuality that many towns in the southwest lack. Its pretty streets today are home to intriguing arts and crafts shops, together with copious restaurants and pubs. But what is unmistakable is its legacy of buildings be they medieval churches, Dutch houses and/or fine examples of Georgian and Edwardian architecture that remind us of its heyday, when it rivalled London as a port. The town museum, in a group of 17th-century buildings, tells its story well whilst also providing overviews of the Exe Estuary wildlife. All of this is delightfully self-contained within a five or ten-minute walk from the water's edge, from which, it all came to be.

The Lighter Inn at dusk
Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating perspective this is the gem of the Exe Estuary, that should not be overlooked by a boat that can take to the bottom.


What facilities are available?
Topsham Quay has a water tap and toilets nearby. Trouts Boatyard offers full boatyard services with diesel and water available alongside, camping and Calor gas. The yard provides engineering services, general boating repairs, rigging services and hauling out. Retreat Boatyard, about ½ a mile upriver, has lifting capabilities up to 36 tonnes with full boatyard facilities. They also have a good chandlery and are the local main dealers for many marine engines +44 1392 874720.

Topsham has all the basic provisioning capabilities that you would expect from a small town. Most notable amongst its craft stores is a branch of County Cheeses, in Ticklemore Street, that should not be overlooked.

Served by the Avocet Line Topsham has excellent train connections including Exeter Airport. The line servres: Exeter - Topsham - Lympstone - Exmouth, half-hourly Mondays to Saturdays, hourly on winter Sundays, half-hourly on summer Saturdays.

Buses serve: Exeter - Topsham - Exton - Lympstone - Exmouth Runs Monday-Saturday daytime every 15 mins, and Sunday and evenings every 30 mins
57 Exeter - Exminster - Kenton - Starcross - Cockwood Harbour - Dawlish Warren - Dawlish Runs Monday - Saturday daytime every 20 mins, and Sunday every 30 mins from spring (service runs hourly during evenings and winter) To check seasonal timetable changes please call: +44 1392 427711


With thanks to:
Michael Harpur eOceanic.


Expand to new tab or fullscreen
Please zoom out to see the 'initial fix' for this location.
The above plots are not precise and indicative only.




Topsham, Exe Estuary, Devon England
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Topsham's pretty High Street above the Quay
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Trout's Boatyard Pontoons s seen from the steps to Saint Margret's
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Trout's Boatyard Pontoons
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Trout's Boatyard Pontoons
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur


Yachts anchored off Topsham
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur




Topsham Aerial views


About Topsham

Topsham was first recorded as Toppeshamme, in 937, where the town appears in a charter for the Manor of Topsham granted by Aethelstone and it was later recorded as Topeshant in the 1086 Doomsday Book. The name is derived from its setting on a red sandstone peninsula located where the River Clyst joins the River Exe. It is the conjunction of the old English word of topp, as in top or summit, plus hamm meaning village or settlement, or ‘village atop’ of the peninsula.


Home boat alongside Topsham Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


A stone possibly used in connection with fishing and an almost pure copper axe head indicate a settlement dating back to the Mesolithic and Neolithic period. Evidence of a Celtic settlement also exists but this was pushed out by the Romans who built a legionary fortress on the northern edge of the town. This was also a works depot for the notable straight Roman road from it to the fortress of Isca Dumnoniorum, (Exeter) where the 2nd Augusta Legion were stationed.



Church of Saint Margaret as seen from the quay
Image: Michael Harpur


The nature of the defence-ditches, Roman pottery dating from 1st and 2nd century AD along with coins variously dating from the rule of Vespasian, 69-79 AD, Hadrian, 117-138AD, and Constantine I, 306-337AD, suggest that Topsham’s military base dates back to the 1st century Roman occupation, between AD 50 and AD 75. The town was originally thought to be the 1st century Roman port for Exeter and it continued to serve as such until the Roman occupation of southern Britain ceased in about the year 400.


Saint Margaret's Anglican Church
Image: Michael Harpur


In the 7th-century, the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village. St. Margaret's Anglican Church, dates back to the 10th century. Although reconstructed several times, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan. A medieval settlement grew around the church and with the development of a quay, by the 13th century, set Topsham on its way to becoming a thriving port. Soon it had a customs house as its imports and exports increased.

At this time Exeter had developed as a centre of the wool trade with much produce being exported from the city. Although the Exe was navigable as far as the quayside in Exeter, the Countess of Devon Isabella de Fortibus, built a partial weir across the river just below the town in 1284 to run her mills. This meant that larger vessels could not reach Exeter and had to unload at Topsham Quay allowing it to expand and control the trade with Exeter. This weir is remembered in the name of the nearby suburb 'Countess Wear' and in an old local jingle that tells the tale:

Once the haughty Isabella – she of Countess Weir renown,
Had a quarrel, as they tell us, with the 'cits'of Exon town;
And preferring - God forgive her! – private rights to public weal,
In her arrogance the river from the City sought to steal...


Topsham's pretty High Street
Image: Michael Harpur
In 1300 Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (Isabella's cousin), was granted the Manor of Topsham when it was granted a Charter by Edward I. This transformed the small market village into a town with market days and local festivals. Learning from this Hugh de Courtenay then built St James’ Weir in 1317, completely blocking navigation to Exeter as was noted… 'he caused the channel which had been for the passage of ships and boats, to be again filled entirely up, and this was done at a great expence, by cutting down a great number of trees, which, being chained together, were laid in the channel, with great quantities of stones and gravel; these, in time, so united together as to make their removal impracticable...'


Hand in hand with the weir, he also built a quay at Topsham ...he also erected a Quay and a Crane at his mansion at Topsham, thereby hoping to remove all of the commerce from the Citizens, and to benefit himself and his tenants.' When completed all boats were forced to unload at Topsham and the earls were able to exact large tolls to transport goods to Exeter. Wither by fair or foul means, this canny action meant that Exeter was completely cut off and Courtenay's small town of Topsham had found greater purpose and prosperity as the main port for Exeter. It enabled Topsham to develop a larger trade with the Continent than any other port in England, and in its heyday, it rivalled London as a port.


Boat alongside Topsham Quay at sunset
Image: Michael Harpur


In 1539, after the de Courtenay family had fallen out of favour, King Henry VIII granted Exeter powers to remove the weirs, but it was too difficult to dismantle and it was by then too late because the river channel had silted up. Following the execution of Henry de Courtenay in 1556 and the transfer of his estate to the crown, a 1563 Act was passed to construct a barge canal from the Quay to just below The Countess Weir. So a canal was constructed between 1563 to 1566 initially to Matford Brook. The canal was less than a metre deep, and over time silted up cutting-off Exeter once again.

So called Dutch Houses with curved gable ends on The Strand
Image: Robin Drayton via CC BY-SA 2.0
All the time Topsham was a runaway success, equipping ships for the journeys to Europe and the New World. Shipbuilding was also becoming important to the town with a busy workforces labouring over part built trading and fishing vessels that lined the banks of the Exe, whilst others were fitting-out galleons that would face the Spanish Armada. Supporting trades of sailmaking, and nail and chain manufacturing grew alongside the shipbuilding trade. Notable ships such as HMS Terror, part of Franklin's lost expedition, and HMS Cyane, later known as the USS Cyane after capture by the American Navy, were built here in the early 19th century.

By the 17th Century, Topsham was a crucial base of the English woollen goods, particularly jerseys produced by towns such as Tiverton and Cullompton, and also the export by the East India Company of Devonshire serges, which made many of the town’s merchants very wealthy. Returning vessels brought linen from Antwerp, wines from France, Portugal and Spain, tobacco from the West Indies, and dried cod from Newfoundland. It was noted then that…‘Crews from foreign parts used to gather together at the riverside inns bringing with them news, often dubious in quality, but surely adding much to the richness of life along the banks of the Exe’.


Dutch style house on Ferry Road
Image: Michael Harpur


In the Civil War Topsham was the site of what appears to be a small fort built in the vicinity of the old Roman fort on the northern edge of the town. Whilst the suburbs of Exeter bore the brunt of the destruction and fighting, Clyst Bridge was demolished by a Parliamentarian naval assault under Thomas Fairfax’s command in 1647. Because of its Dutch connections, Topsham was used as the port to land William of Orange’s ammunition and gold when he landed in England to become king in 1688. Following the Civil War, there was significant new building and redevelopment in the town. This reflected the great prosperity of the town based on the burgeoning cloth trade with exports to North America and the Low Countries.

Ferry Road, Topsham
Image: Michael Harpur
British merchants appreciated that the Dutch were highly skilled in their trading practices and development of modern capitalism – complete with a stock exchange in Amsterdam. Many came to live in Topsham and these traders invested their money in building the unique Dutch-gabled townhouses that can be seen along The Strand, overlooking the quay, before they could store their wealth in banks. Many of these houses were built using Dutch bricks brought over as ballast from Holland so that wool and cotton from southwest England could be sent back.

A brusque trade and shipbuilding continued until the 19th Century with few predicting the sudden decline that the developments of the new century would precipitate. The single most important nail in Topsham's coffin was the coming of the railway to Exeter in 1844 that provided a far more efficient means of distributing goods around the country. Then came the completion of the last great extension of the recently enlarged Exeter Ship Canal to Turf, which saw an increasing number of ships unloading their cargoes into lighters, for transportation up-canal. Then, in 1823, a great storm moved the channel between Exmouth and Dawlish Warren just at a time when ships were becoming larger. This caused additional silting of the channel into Topsham shallowing its quay and reducing its usefulness. All of these events removed or obsoleted Topsham’s historical stranglehold on the city of Exeter leaving its quay serving smaller ships, especially fishing vessels.


The Lighter Inn on Topsham Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Topsham is today one of Devon's prettiest and best-loved towns. Fishing and maritime trades have continued to a certain extent alongside a burgeoning artistic community that gives the town a vitality and individuality that many towns in the southwest lack. Its pretty streets today are home to intriguing arts and crafts shops, together with copious restaurants and pubs. But what is unmistakable is its legacy of buildings be they medieval churches, Dutch houses and/or fine examples of Georgian and Edwardian architecture that remind us of its heyday, when it rivalled London as a port. The town museum, in a group of 17th-century buildings, tells its story well whilst also providing overviews of the Exe Estuary wildlife. All of this is delightfully self-contained within a five or ten-minute walk from the water's edge, from which, it all came to be.

The Lighter Inn at dusk
Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating perspective this is the gem of the Exe Estuary, that should not be overlooked by a boat that can take to the bottom.

Other options in this area


Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Turf Lock (Exeter Canal) - 0.6 miles S
Starcross Yacht Club - 1.3 miles SSE
Starcross - 2.1 miles SSE
Teignmouth - 5.3 miles S
Watcombe Cove - 7 miles S
Coastal anti-clockwise:
The Bight - 2.6 miles SSE
Exmouth - 2.6 miles SSE
Beer - 8.9 miles E
Axmouth - 9.6 miles E
Lyme Regis - 12.5 miles E

Navigational pictures


These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Topsham.


























































Topsham Aerial views



A photograph is worth a thousand words. We are always looking for bright sunny photographs that show this haven and its identifiable features at its best. If you have some images that we could use please upload them here. All we need to know is how you would like to be credited for your work and a brief description of the image if it is not readily apparent. If you would like us to add a hyperlink from the image that goes back to your site please include the desired link and we will be delighted to that for you.


Add your review or comment:

Please log in to leave a review of this haven.



Please note eOceanic makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, we have not visited this haven and do not have first-hand experience to qualify the data. Although the contributors are vetted by peer review as practised authorities, they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for the accuracy of their contributions. It is essential that you thoroughly check the accuracy and suitability for your vessel of any waypoints offered in any context plus the precision of your GPS. Any data provided on this page is entirely used at your own risk and you must read our legal page if you view data on this site. Free to use sea charts courtesy of Navionics.