Sidmouth, documented as Sedemuda in the Domesday book lies at the base of a beautiful valley, protected from the elements by the sandstone cliffs. Where the River Sid now gently passes over the pebbles of the beach into the seawater, was once a harbour. In the fifteenth century the town was subject to the arbitrariness of the elements as it so often is today. After a particularly long spell of stormy weather, there was and devastating land loss from the cliffs above, causing the harbour to be blocked up.
There were plans in the 1810's to revitalise the town's harbour. Stone would
need to be transported into Sidmouth in bulk and the most efficient option,
it was decided, was to build a railroad through the cliff faces. The railroad
and sheer rock tunnel are evident today, but despite surmounting all the excavation
problems if the time, the most basic of considerations was not met; engines
could not fit through the narrow passage of the tunnel. So the railroad, like
the harbour, was soon abandoned to financial ruin.
It is the architecture around Sidmouth that truly unveils its fascinating history. The array of different designs, eras and identities is magnificent and some 500 buildings are now officially 'listed'. Many of the most grand designs around Sidmouth date back to the 18th century, the time of the town's manor house. Many of the smaller cottages built to house the manor house servants still stand today, many retaining their original structures of thatched roofing, stone foundations and cob walling. At this time the town was a quiet, small fishing village.
Fortfield Terrace, an elegant structure looking out to sea, has had a number
of famous and royal visitors in its time including the Grand Duchess Helena,
sister-in-law to the Tsar of Russia. It now overlooks a croquet lawn and cricket
green that add to the beauty and essence of the town.