Teignmouth is a town in Devon, England, situated on the north bank of the estuary mouth of the River Teign. In 1690, it was the last place in England to be invaded by a foreign power. The town grew from a fishing port associated with the Newfoundland cod industry to a fashionable resort of some note in Georgian times, with further expansion after the opening of the South Devon Railway in 1846. Today, its port still operates and the town remains a popular seaside holiday location.


The town is linked with Shaldon, the village on the opposite bank, by a passenger ferry at the river mouth and by a road bridge further upstream. The red sandstone headland on the Shaldon side called "The Ness" is the most recognisable symbol of the town from the seaward side.

In the harbour area is the Salty, a small flat island created through dredging operations. Salmon nets are still employed by locals, especially near Shaldon Bridge. The town is located on the A379, B3192 and A381 (which follows the River Teign).



To 1700

The first record of Teignmouth (as Tengemuða, meaning mouth of the stream) was in 1044. There were originally two villages, East and West Teignmouth, separated by a stream called the Tame. Neither village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but East Teignmouth was granted a market by charter in 1253 and one for West Teignmouth followed just a few years later.

Documents indicate that Teignmouth as a whole was a significant port by the early 14th century, second in Devon only to Dartmouth. It was significant enough to have been attacked by the French in 1340 and to have sent seven ships and 120 men to the expedition against Calais in 1347. However its relative importance waned during the 15th century, and did not figure at all in an official record of 1577. This may have been due to silting up of the harbour caused by the operations of the tin miners on Dartmoor.

During the 17th century, in common with other Channel ports, Teignmouth ships suffered from raids from Dunkirkers, which operated as privateers from Flemish ports. It is possible that smuggling was the town's most significant trade at this time, though cod fishing in Newfoundland was also of great importance.

In July 1690, after the French admiral Anne Hilarion de Tourville defeated an Anglo-Dutch fleet at the Battle of Beachy Head, the French fleet was anchored in Torbay and some of the galley fleet travelled the short distance up the coast and attacked Teignmouth. A petition to the Lord Lieutenant from the inhabitants described the incident:

… on the 26th day of this instant July 1690 by Foure of the clocke in the morning, your poor petitioners were invaded (by the French) to the number of 1,000 or thereabouts, who in the space of three hours tyme, burnt down to the ground the dwelling houses of 240 persons of our parish and upwards, plundered and carried away all our goods, defaced our churches, burnt ten of our ships in the harbour, besides fishing boats, netts and other fishing craft …

After examining 'creditable persons' the Justices of the Peace concluded that:

by the late horrid invasion there were within the space of 12 houres burnt downe and consumed 116 dwelling houses … and also 172 dwelling houses were rifled and plundered and two parish churches much ruined, plundred and defaced, besides the burning of ten saile of shipps with the furniture thereof, and the goods and merchandise therein …

As a result of this statement The Crown issued a church brief that authorised the collection of £11,000 for the aid of the town. Churches from as far afield as Yorkshire contributed, and the collections enabled the further development of the port.

This was the last invasion of England (though not of Britain as the French invaded Carreg Gwastad, near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire in 1797). French Street with its museum is named in memory of the occasion.

1700 to present

In the late 18th century, privateering was popular in Teignmouth, as it was in other Westcountry ports. In 1779 the French ship L'Emulation together with her cargo of sugar, coffee and cotton was offered for sale at "Rendle's Great Sale Room" in the town. Teignmouth people also fitted out two privateers of their own: the Dragon with 16 guns and 70 men; and the Bellona, described as carrying "16 guns, 4 cohorns and 8 swivels". The Bellona set sail on her first cruise in September 1779, and was "oversett in a violent Gust of Wind" off Dawlish with the loss of 25 crew members.

The Newfoundland fisheries continued to provide the main employment into the early 19th century and, fortuitously for the town, as those fisheries declined the prospect of tourism arose. A tea house was built on the Den in 1787 amongst the local fishermen's drying nets. The "Amazons of Shaldon"—muscular women who pulled fishing nets and were "naked to the knee"—were an early tourist attraction for male tourists.

By 1803 Teignmouth was called a "fashionable watering place", and the resort continued to develop during the 19th century. Its two churches were rebuilt soon after 1815 and in the 1820s the first bridge across the estuary to Shaldon was built; George Templer's New Quay opened at the port; and the esplanade, Den Crescent and the central Assembly Rooms (later the cinema) were laid out. The railway arrived in 1846 and the pier was built 1865-7.

The First World War had a disruptive effect on Teignmouth, as elsewhere: over 175 men from the town lost their lives and many businesses did not survive. In the 1920s as the economy started to recover, a new golf course was opened on Little Haldon; the Morgan Giles shipbuilding business was established, and charabancs took employees and their families for annual outings to Dartmoor and elsewhere. By the 1930s the town was again thriving, and with the Haldon Aerodrome and School of Flying nearby, Teignmouth was advertised as the only south coast resort offering complete aviation facilities.

During the Second World War Teignmouth suffered badly from "tip and run" air raids. It was bombed 21 times between July 1940 and February 1944 – in these raids 79 people were killed and 151 wounded; 228 houses were destroyed and over 2,000 damaged.

The port

The port of Teignmouth, in existence since the 13th century, is still active as of 2008, mostly handling clay, timber and grain.

The first quay ("Old Quay") was built in the mid-18th century on land leased from Lord Clifford. The opening of the Stover Canal by James Templer in 1792 provided a boost to the port due to the ease with which ball clay could be transported from the mines north of Newton Abbot. After coming down the canal the barges continued down the estuary to the port. By 1820 this trade was supplemented by granite from the quarries near Haytor on Dartmoor carried via the unique granite-tracked Haytor Granite Tramway which linked up with the Stover Canal. The granite that was used to build the New London Bridge came via this route and was sent from the New Quay, which had been built for this traffic in 1821-25 by George Templer, James's son.

The Old Quay was sold to George Hennet in 1850 and became the centre of his trading network. It had been connected to the South Devon Railway the previous year.

Until 1852 Teignmouth was legally part of the Port of Exeter. In September of that year, after many years of campaigning (latterly under the leadership of George Hennet), the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury finally agreed that Teignmouth should have its independence and this news was the cause of much celebration in the town.

Teignmouth also has a long tradition of shipbuilding, from at least the 17th century. By the turn of the 19th century there were three shipyards in Teignmouth itself, and three in Shaldon and Ringmore on the other side of the estuary. The industry declined in the early 20th century, but in 1921 Morgan Giles bought the last derelict shipbuilding yard and gave the industry a new stimulus. His shipyard became a major employer in the town, building pleasure craft in peacetime and small craft such as torpedo boats during World War II. However the business eventually failed in 1968 not long after Donald Crowhurst's notorious attempt to sail around the world.

Shaldon Bridge

The original bridge was owned by the Teignmouth and Shaldon Bridge Company and opened on 8 June1827. It had 34 wooden arches and was 1,671 feet long with a swing bridge at the Teignmouth end to allow sailing ships to pass up the estuary. It had abutment walls of a considerable length at either end. It was the longest wooden bridge in England when built, at nearly a third of a mile long, and its original toll house survives. It cost around £19,000 to build, but the overall expenditure was about £26,000 due to the costs of the act of parliament and the purchase of the old ferry-rights. After only eleven years, on 27 June1838 the centre arches of the bridge collapsed, the timbers being eaten through by shipworms. It was rebuilt in wood, but collapsed again in 1893. The bridge was completely rebuilt in 1927 using steel for the piers and main girders and concrete for most of the deck, except for the opening span which used timber.

On 28 October1948 Devon County Council bought the bridge from the Shaldon Bridge Company for £92,020 and tolls were abolished. The original paintwork was inadequate to deal with the environment, and repairs were required in 1960 and in 1980. In 1998 it was discovered that the bridge had severe structural defects and work to correct this continued until 2002, the bridge remaining open throughout. After this work was completed, residents nearby noticed that in certain wind conditions the bridge "whistles". As of 2007 the problem has not been solved.

Wood recovered from the bridge during 19th-century rebuilding was used to make a large table which was displayed at Lindridge House until it was destroyed in the fire which immediately followed that house's conversion into a hotel.


Teignmouth railway station, which opened in 1846, is close to the town centre. It lies between the stations of Dawlish and Newton Abbot on the Great Western Main Line between London Paddington and Penzance in Cornwall.

The line built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel runs along the South Devon Railway sea wall which is a stone embankment between the sea and cliffs that runs for several miles between Teignmouth and Dawlish Warren. This line was originally both broad gauge and worked by the atmospheric system, with steam pump houses at regular intervals to create the vacuum. It was not successful for a host of reasons and was converted to normal steam locomotive working.

Redundant sections of the atmospheric railway pipes were used as drains all over Teignmouth. One was set in the roadside in Woodway Lane, near Woodway House. In December 1852 a large landslip from the cliffs east of the town caused the railway to close for four days and in 1855 and 1859 the sea broke through the line at Teignmouth. There have been many more closures since, caused both by landslips from the cliffs and breaches by the sea, especially in winter. The sea wall between Teignmouth and Dawlish is still the most expensive stretch of line to maintain of the whole British railway network. In 1936 the Great Western Railway surveyed an inland deviation between Exminster and Bishopsteignton and a shorter route starting near Dawlish Warren, but the advent of World War 2 brought these projects to an end.


Den Crescent and its central Assembly Rooms, laid out in 1826 by Andrew Patey of Exeter, still survive relatively unchanged today. The Assembly Rooms were the hub of the town's social life in the 19th century and lavish balls took place in the 70ft long ballroom. In 1871 the building was taken over by the East Devon and Teignmouth Club which had an exclusive membership taken from the gentry and professional middle class. In 1934 it was converted into the Riviera Cinema, in which guise it continued until 2000; part of the building has now been converted into flats.

The town boasts a rather unusual parish church in the shape of the octagonal St. James's church. Another example of this rare church design is now called Dreghorn and Springside Parish Church (formerly Dreghorn and Perceton) in North Ayrshire, Scotland. St Michael the Archangel church is in the east of the town. A story from Cornwall suggests why these churches are more rounded than is usual, for villagers in the village of Veryan built several circular houses so that the Devil had no corners in which to lie in wait for unsuspecting occupants and these buildings were therefore 'Devil-proof.'

St. Scholastica's Abbey, on the road to Dawlish, built in 1864 by Henry Woodyer is a notable Gothic Revival building, and the Roman Catholic Church, on the same road, is a late work by Joseph Hansom, the inventor of the hansom cab.

In 1894 there were 26 public houses in Teignmouth. Pubs today include the Blue Anchor Inn on Teign Street and the Devon Arms on Northumberland Place.

Legend of the Parson and Clerk

Along the coast towards Dawlish where the railway runs through the Parson's tunnel can be seen the twin stacks of the Parson and Clerk. Many versions of the story exist, however the 'Nummits and Crummits' version of 1900 relates that a certain Bishop of Exeter fell ill and came to Dawlish to restore his health, however an ambitious local priest aimed to succeed to the See in the event of his superior's demise. The priest's guide was his clerk and they often made the journey to check on the condition of the bishop. One night, in a terrible storm, whilst crossing Haldon moor they lost their way and found themselves miles from the correct path. The priest in his frustration abused his clerk with the words I would rather have the Devil himself, than you, for a guide. At that moment a horseman rode by and volunteered to be their guide. After a few miles they came across a brilliantly-lighted mansion and were invited by their guide to enter and partake of his hospitality. They enjoyed a sumptuous repast and in the midst of the merriment the news arrived that the bishop was dead. Eager to secure his chance for promotion the priest took his leave together with the clerk and the guide, however the horses refused to move. After liberal use of his whip and spurs the priest cried Devil take the brutes, upon which the guide exclaimed Thank you, sir and shouted Gee up. The horses galloped over the cliff carrying the parson and the clerk with them. The Devil turned them both to stone, facing forever sea-ward, monuments to greed and disappointed ambition.

The Parson and Clerk are composed of relatively friable sedimentary Teignmouth Breccia of Permian age, as are all the nearby cliffs. The outer rock, the Clerk, lost his "head" in a storm in January 2003.

The town today

In 2005, the volunteer Teignmouth Regeneration Project in association with the town, district and county councils published a strategic plan that identifies issues to be dealt with by 2015. Among the issues listed are to develop quality tourism, alleviate the danger of flooding to the town and provide affordable housing.


Although reduced from its heyday, Teignmouth still receives considerable numbers of holiday makers. It is twinned with the French town Perros-Guirec.

Apart from its sea-facing beach and pier with amusement arcade and rides, the beach wraps around the spit at the head of the river Teign providing another beach on the estuary side which overlooks the harbour with its moorings for many pleasure craft, and has views up the estuary to Dartmoor. An long waymarked route known as the Templer Way has been created between Haytor on Dartmoor and Teignmouth. It closely follows the route of George Templer's granite tramway, his father James's Stover Canal and finally the estuary to Teignmouth.

Since 1999 the town has hosted a summer folk festival. In 2005 Fergus O'Byrne and Jim Payne from Newfoundland were the 'headline' artists at that year's festival which celebrated the town's links with that region.


The local secondary school, Teignmouth Community College, gets high GCSE results with 2007 graduates getting some of the highest in the country and the college is now ranked top 30% of all secondary schools in England and Wales.There is also a sixth form. There is also Our Lady and St Patrick catholic primary school, and the Hazeldown and Inverteign non-denominational primary schools.


The town is the home of Teignmouth A.F.C. whose first team currently play in the South West Peninsula League and reserves play in the South Devon League division five.

The town is also the home of Teignmouth R.F.C. with the 1st XV playing in the Cornwall & Devon League.

The Den Bowling Club situated on the sea front is the home of the Teignmouth Open Bowls Tournament.

Notable people associated with the town

Fanny Burney, the diarist and novelist, visited Teignmouth several times in the late 18th century. She took her first dip in the sea here in 1773, as she recorded in her journal. Elias Parish Alvars, the harpist, was born in East Teignmouth in 1808, and three years later Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt, vice-admiral, hydrographer and geologist, was born at Woodway House. In spring 1818 the poet John Keats spent several weeks in Teignmouth and completed his epic poem Endymion here. His arrival coincided with a period of wet weather and he wrote to a friend of "the abominable Devonshire Weather … the truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod county."

From 1812 until his death in 1833, Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth had his home at Bitton House, which was then called West Cliff House. Meanwhile, Thomas Luny, the painter of seascapes, lived in the town for thirty years until his death in 1837 and executed over 2,200 paintings while living here. Shortly afterwards George Hennet, the railway engineer and contractor who was closely involved with Brunel's railway, moved to the town and took a close interest in local affairs. He died here in 1857. Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871), the mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, who originated the idea of a programmable computer, also lived here for some years.

More recently, the Norman Wisdom film, Press for Time, in which Norman becomes a reporter at the seaside town of Tinmouth, was shot largely on location in Teignmouth in 1966 and contains many scenes showing the town as it was at that time; the film trailer includes a shot of the Jolly Sailor Pub.. On October 31, 1968 Donald Crowhurst, competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, started his ill-fated attempt to sail round the world single-handed from the town. His boat was a trimaran named the Teignmouth Electron after the town and his electronics company. In popular music, all the members of the rock band Muse attended school at Teignmouth Community College, and Patrick Wolf released a song named after the town on his second album, Wind in the Wires (2005).


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  • Andrews, G. J & Kearns R. A. (2005) Everyday health histories and the making of place: the case of an English coastal town.
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  • Through the Window. Number 1 - Paddington to Penzance (1924). Great Western Railway. Paddington station. Price 1s.
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  • Wilson V (2002) Teignmouth: Frith's photographic town memories. Frith Book Company, Teffont.
  • Social and Cultural Geography 7, 2, 153-177
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