RIVER SID – ‘THE BAD OLD DAYS’
This is an account of the river banks in Sidford and Sidmouth from the early twentieth century, as told by Nigel Hyman of the Sidmouth Museum. It originally appeared in the One Magazine in August 2021 and has been published here with the kind permission of the author.
The Revd James George Cornish (1860-1938) lived at Salcombe House (now Hunters Moon) in his later life. In 1911 he wrote a booklet, The Beauties of the River Sid and an Appeal for their Preservation. The ‘good old days’ certainly did not apply to the sad state of the river and its banks in the early 20thC. House owners close to the river had riparian rights and erected ugly enclosures surrounding their land. (photo) At that time neither the National Trust nor the Sid Vale Association (SVA) owned land in the Byes. He wrote: ‘Some of the owners regard it as a convenient place in which to deposit refuse, dead cats, empty tins and broken crockery.’ The SVA was active in tackling the problems but realised that purchase of land adjacent to the river was essential. In addition, circulars were sent to all houses close to the Sid asking the residents not to use the river for depositing their rubbish.
Cornish added a supplement to his original text in 1933 and was pleased by improvements but was critical of some of the residents of Sidford and asked them to ‘…refrain from depositing motor tyres and tins in the water, for they all travel down to the sea and Sidmouth gets both the squalor and the blame of them.’
The single individual to whom we should be most grateful for positive change was Annie Leigh Browne (1851-1936). She divided her time between London and Sidmouth, where she lived at The Hills on Sid Road, a family property. In the first decade of the 20thC she bought about 20 acres of land on both sides of the River Sid between Lovers Walk opposite Lawn Vista and the bridge at the bottom of Sid Lane. (This land was gifted to the National Trust on her death.) Nationally she was a seasoned campaigner for women’s rights, especially with respect to education and local government, and she must have been a forceful member of any local committee.
There was, however, an obstacle which even this formidable lady could not overcome in her lifetime. Mr Medhurst owned a dairy on Temple Street, opposite the entrance to the cemetery, and land behind the dairy down to the river as well as a plot on the opposite (eastern) bank. In 1911 he applied for permission to build a house on that plot and, surprisingly, approval was given. This red brick house, ‘The Rest’, was between the river and the footpath, onto which it encroached. On the western bank his garden and orchard were surrounded by a red brick wall with barbed wire and glass on the top.
After his death the land was bought by Lady Lockyer, Annie’s sister, and demolition of the house and garden walls was planned. However, WW2 intervened and Sidmouth UDC postponed the demolition until the late 1950s as the property was requisitioned to accommodate evacuees. Some older residents still remember the house and the plank bridge across the river which joined the property and the orchard.