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Northam community page

Northam is located within Torridge local authority area. Historically it formed part of Shebbear Hundred. It falls within Hartland Deanery for ecclesiastical purposes. The Deaneries are used to arrange the typescript Church Notes of B.F.Cresswell which are held in the Westcountry Studies Library. The population was 2054 in 1801 5355 in 1901 . Figures for other years are available on the local studies website. In the valuation of 1334 it was assessed at £05/00/01. The lay subsidy of 1524 valued the community at £08/19/03. In 1641/2 617 adult males signed the Protestation returns.

A parish history file is held in Northam Library. You can look for other material on the community by using the place search on the main local studies database. Further historical information is also available on the Genuki website.

Maps: The image below is of the Northam area on Donn's one inch to the mile survey of 1765.


On the County Series Ordnance Survey mapping the area is to be found on 1:2,500 sheet 12/14 Six inch (1:10560) sheet 12ASE,12SW
The National Grid reference for the centre of the area is SS449291. On the post 1945 National Grid Ordnance Survey mapping the sheets are: 1:10,000 (six inch to a mile: sheet SS42NW,SS42NE, 1:25,000 mapping: sheet Explorer 139, Landranger (1:50,000) mapping: sheet 180. Geological sheet 292 also covers the area.

Illustrations: The image below is of Northam as included in the Library's Etched on Devon's memory website. Other images can be searched for on the local studies catalogue.


Extract from Devon by W.G.Hoskins (1954), included by kind permission of the copyright holder:

NORTHAM includes Appledore and Westward Ho, and fills the peninsula between the Torridge estuary and Barnstaple Bay. The village occupies the top of a hill overlooking what was once a supremely beautiful scene, now ruined by power lines, pylons, masts, ill-placed bungalows, and much local white brick. It is an outstanding example of what unplanned "development" can do. Yet there are still fine views in the parish and much of historical interest. Northam itself contains little worth looking at. The parish church (St. Margaret) stands well on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Burrows and the bay. Its tall tower has been for centuries a landmark for shipping crossing the dangerous bar at the entrance to the estuary. The church is better outside than in, having been thoroughly restored in 1849-65. The memorials to the Leighs and other local families were either swept away or buried out of sight, and the ancient plate melted down. Risdon says "the well-disposed people have twice enlarged their church" and the N. aisle bears the date 1593. These were the great days in this estuary. Burrough, a little SE. of the village, was the ancestral home of Stephen and William Burrough or Borough, the notable 16th century navigators. Kingsley made Burrough the centre of his epic Westward Ho!, which is saturated with scenes from this corner of Devon. No Amyas Leigh ever lived here; but all the same, one cannot stand unmoved in the churchyard of Northam, looking westwards over the foaming bar, remembering how Mrs. Leigh hurried out of the house to this spot and how she stood here to see her son's ship home again after all those silent years. A barbarian pulled down in 1868 the old house that Kingsley knew and built two semi-detached houses on the site.

Kenwith Castle is an earthwork which has been identified with Arx Cynuit, the scene of a decisive Danish defeat in 878, now believed, however, to have taken place at Countisbury (q.II). The general configuration of Ken with rather suggests an early medieval site. About 350 yds. E. is a linear earthwork of unknown purpose.

Appledore is a delightful unspoilt village at the meeting place of the beautiful Taw and Torridge estuaries. The delicate colouring of the estuary, of the Braunton Burrows, and of the hills beyond, is matched by the colour-wash everywhere in the village. The streets are narrow, many of the houses old; some are certainly Elizabethan. The church (St. Mary) was built in 1838 and is dull: everything else in Appledore is fascinating. There is little doubt that a village called Tawmouth existed here in the 11th century It seems to be identical with the Tawmutha referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 1068 (actually 1069) when Harold's three illegitimate sons crossed from Ireland with 64 ships, landed here and were beaten off with great losses. The scene of this battle may be Bloody Corner, just below Northam, where human bones and coins are said to have been found. This site is marked on the O.S. map as the scene of the battle of 878 but there is no authority for this identification.

The name Appledore first occurs in the grant of a shop or a stall (seld) "next the strand ate Apildore" in 1335, but it seems to have decayed almost to nothing during the 15th century if Westcote's statement c. 1630 is correct. He says, speaking of Northam: "This parish is grown very populous lately, for in the memory of man, at a place called Appledore …stood but two poor houses; and now for fair buildings and multiplicity of inhabitants, and houses, it doth equal divers market towns, and is furnished with many good and skilful mariners." On the other hand, Leland, writing about 1540, calls Appledore "a good Village" and it is plainly marked on Saxton's map of 1575. It certainly became a populous place in Elizabethan days, rising with Bideford, having the advantage of being the first place within the bar where ships could lie up.

On Staddon Hill, the summit W. of the village, is an earthwork, thrown up during the Civil War, which commanded the two estuaries and commands to-day a magnificent view towards Exmoor and Dartmoor. In Ogilby's day (1675) the main road from Bideford to Ilfracombe passed over Staddon Hill, crossed the estuary by a ferry to St. Ann's chapel (now gone), and continued across the Braunton Burrows. A small shipbuilding industry is still carried on at Appledore, which has two dry docks. The salmon fishery in the estuary has been carried on continuously since Saxon days. In 1086 the abbot of Caen had a fishery in the manor of Northam (probably here at Appledore) worth 30 pence yearly.

Westward Ho is an entirely modern settlement. Following the publication of Kingsley's book in 1855, a 'company was formed to develop this site as a watering place. The Westward Ho Hotel was built, a church (Holy Trinity) followed in 1870, and by 1872 there were two or three rows of terraces, many scattered villas, and a single line of shops. A golf course was laid out on the Burrows which became known as one of the finest in England. The United Services College for the sons of officers was opened in 1874, and is the mise en sctne of Kipling's Stalky& Co. Within the next thirty years much more building took place in a planless way, but worse came in the 20th century. To-day Westward Ho is a sad spectacle of what uncontrolled speculative building can do with a fine site. Many of the buildings are alien to Devon, and most of them could be anywhere else. The golf course remains superb. The Pebble Ridge is a remarkable natural phenomenon nearly 2 m. long, about 50 ft. wide, and 20 ft. high.

Creator: Devon Library and Information Services
Title: Northam community page
Imprint: Exeter : Devon Library and Information Services
Date: 2004
Format: Web page : HTML
Series: Devon community web pages ; GAZNOR1
Ref. no.: WEB GAZNOR1
Coverage: Devon . Northam . History . Web pages

Last Updated: 22/02/2005

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