Teignmouth history is rich and the story begins with two small settlements at the mouth of the River Teign – East and West Teignmouth. They were divided by the little River Tame, or Brimley Brook, flowing down into marshy areas (by the train station) and the sandy spit of the Den. The residents were farmers and fishermen. By medieval times, Teignmouth had become a leading Channel port. trading fish and salt, despite being attacked by French pirates in 1340.
After Newfoundland was first colonised by Sir Humphrey Gilbert (Compton Castle) in 1583, fishermen from Teignmouth began to spend their summers on the cod banks there. They caught and cured the fish, leaving their wives to support their families at home. This continued well into the 1800s.
In 1690, disaster struck again in the war against France, who supported the deposed James II. The French navy won a battle off Beachy Head in Sussex but retreated down the Channel. The attacked Teignmouth believing it was Plymouth and destroyed 288 out of 300 houses. The people fled up to Haldon, but their livelihoods were ruined. They petitioned the king for help and finally relief was secured.
Throughout the 1700s, Teignmouth prospered and became a fashionable resort for wealthy people seeking the health-giving sea air and sea water. The town needed more houses, so it was decided to drain the marshland. A dramatic frenzy of house-building followed to provide lodgings and villas for the visitors. Thus formed the layout of the town today – Den Crescent, the Assembly Rooms (now the Riviera Cafe Bar), rebuilt churches, shopping streets, large villas and the first bridge over the Teign.
The coming of Brunel’s railway in 1846 brought even more visitors to the town; the pier was constructed and also grander Victorian properties, including Yannon Towers in 1851. Teignmouth was a very popular seaside resort right up until cheaper foreign travel came in the 1960s.
The tourist trade and the sea involved everyone. Morgan Giles shipyard achieved international fame in the 1930s for elegant yachts, then built wartime motor torpedo boats and postwar motor cruisers.
The second world war brought major disasters when the town suffered 21 air raids with much destruction and 79 lives lost. Replacement housing was eventually built and in the 1970s, a dual carriageway, to alleviate traffic problems in the narrow streets.
This is what makes Teignmouth what it is today, a mix of old streets, cottages, elegant terraces (and not so elegant 70s buildings!), a seaside resort and port, a modern town, still with a vibrant community at its core.