Topsham is an ancient and well preserved historic port town close to the City of Exeter on the Exe Estuary. Although it is now technically part of Exeter, the town still has its own distinct identity. It is an ideal centre from which to explore the banks of the river and to enjoy the abundance of wildlife in the area. It also has a Saturday morning market, some interesting old buildings and many shops, restaurants and cafés.
There was a Roman port here in the 1st century AD and later a Saxon settlement, administered by the Monastery of St Mary and St Peter in Exeter. Topsham was granted a Charter in 1300 by Edward I, shortly after the Countess of Devon had built a weir across the river thus making the town into the port for all exports from and imports into Exeter. Consequently Topsham developed into a major port and shipbuilding centre. Much of the interesting architecture is a testimony to the maritime past of the town, particularly the houses built in the Dutch style. There are also some fine Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings.
Topsham Museum is housed in a late 17th century building on the Strand, a street that has wonderful views over the Exe Estuary. The house has rooms furnished in the manner of the period of the house in addition to displays of local history, maritime history, local crafts and wildlife of the Exe Estuary. One interesting exhibit is the memorabilia of the film star Vivien Leigh. Apparently the actress’s first husband was the brother of Dorothy Holman who bequeathed the house to the town for use as a museum.
Not far from Topsham is Powderham Castle, set in an ancient deer park with gardens and park informally laid out beside the Exe Estuary. There is a Victorian Rose Garden, apparently home to Timothy the 155 year old tortoise, a Secret Garden for the children and a Woodland Garden. The castle was completed early in the 15th century by Sir Philip Courtney and the family have owned Powderham ever since, apart for a period during and after the Civil War. The house is a mixture of medieval features and fine 18th and 19th century alterations and decoration. It houses many paintings and family portraits, some by famous artists, and a 14 feet high Stumbels Clock.