MEM22381 - Lynmouth (Place)


The original small fishing port has medieval origins. Its layout has been greatly altered by a flood in 1952.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

The population of the parish, which includes Lynton was estimated at 1,658 in 1998. The name Lyn (river) mentioned in Assize Rolls of 1282 is probably from the Old English hlynn “torrent.” Lynmouth, together with Lynton still retains a sense of the unique and remote qualities the Victorians especially sought. The A39 route between Minehead, 18 miles to the east, and Barnstaple, 22 miles to the south-west, crosses the East Lyn river here. No route into Lynmouth is entirely exempt from steep gradients or hairpin bends, and several require crossing the high moors. There is mention of a flood in 1607 when “many of the houses were swept away.” Within living memory the disastrous flood of 1952, as well as causing tragic loss of life, also led to the eventual demolition of many buildings damaged beyond repair. The resulting changes including construction of the Lyndale Bridge, a re-routing of part of the course of the river and construction of Riverside Road. The original small fishing port has medieval origins. An early mention of Lynmouth as a settlement, is in the Subsidy Rolls of 1330. Fishing had been a staple industry of Lynmouth for about 300 years since the middle of the 16th century. Thomas Westcote was a writer during the reign of James I, and referred to an extensive herring fishery which exported to Holland among other countries. Another writer mentions that the fish were so plentiful in the years prior to 1797 that they were used as manure. Even so catches could be irregular and were sometimes greatly diminished. Another local industry was the manufacture of warp, a soft textured hand-made fabric also produced in Lynton. The locality with its unrivalled setting would have first acquired a wider reputation among fashionable people when the Continent was closed to English visitors during the Napoleonic Wars. Around 1810, William Litson, a Lynton wool trader, encouraged the building of the first hotels, which were speedily patronised by the wealthy. Mr Thomas Coutts, the banker, and the Marchioness of Bute are known to have been early visitors. The reputation of the locality also spread among poets, artists and writers. Robert Southey was an early visitor and eulogised about the natural beauty. Shelley rented a cottage with his young bride at Lynmouth around 1812 and stayed for a year. Some of his pamphlets were considered to be of a seditious nature and the authorities ordered his arrest, but a local boatman assisted in an escape to Wales. William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge also stayed. Reputedly the natural beauty almost persuaded them to settle. Thomas Gainsborough is also thought to have spent time here. From the 1830’s road acccess was gradually improved and regular coach services introduced such that from the mid 19th century, Lynton and Lynmouth came to special prominence as a holiday destination of the Victorian middle class, by meeting all the requirements of a romantic landscape setting that were then especially sought. Other writers, for example Charles Kingsley became associated with the area, and the setting of R.D. Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone with its mixture of fact and fiction remains a magnet for visitors. George Newnes the publisher loved the area and before moving into Hollerday House, high above Lynmouth, in 1893, had been largely responsible for building the Cliff Railway, which opened in 1890. It climbs at a gradient of 1 in 1.75 and is little changed from the original cable driven water displacement method of operation. Black’s Guide of 1898 feared “it would flood the place with a class of excursionists for whom there is little accommodation, and on whom, for the most part, its characteristic beauties would be thrown away.” In fact it has long provided an essential link between the twin settlements and is used by both residents and visitors. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner mentions the German flavour of Lynmouth in the Rhenish tower, the conifers, and the “Zahnradbahn” up to Lynton, when journeys up the Rhine to the Black Forest were becoming popular. The abundance of water led to Lynmouth becoming one of the first localities in 1890 to produce hydro-electric power. The original plant, built by local inventor, Charles Green, was situated on the East Lyn river below Watersmeet Road. It was severely damaged in the 1952 flood. A new plant opened at Glen Lyn on the River West Lyn in 1962. It was completely renovated in 1985, and as well as continuing to produce electricity is also a visitor attraction. [1] The old boundary between Lynton and Lynmouth parish and Countisbury parish used to be marked by the East Lyn river. It can be traced on historic mapping. The layout of the settlement has also been altered greatly since the flood referred to in [1] and again, the old layout can be seen on historic mapping. This is particularly noticeable around the river courses, which have shifted. The area to the far east of Lynmouth was known as Middleham. [2-5] In the early summer of 1770 a disastrous flood hit the town. The Lyn river swept down enormous rocks (each weighing several tons) which completely choked the harbour. They also eroded part of the stone jetty sheltering vessels from westerly gales and swept boats out to sea. The tiny harbour was devastated and the implications were grave as the local trade was fishing or employment on local sailing vessels. The lord of the manor, John Short (who lived in Exeter) was petitioned in August 1770 for help in repairing the jetty or many would have to leave the settlement. He hired masons to rebuild the foundations but the seamen had to do all the labouring work without charge. Further damage was caused by 1775 and Mr Short refused any further help. William Lock, a Lynmouth merchant paid for some repairs but the condition was still poor and so he purchased the manor of Lynton from the Short family in 1792, almost immediately reconstructing the jetty much more substantially. The collapse of the herring and oyster fishing industries together with that of the wool industry caused problems for Lynmouth; however, many artists and writers began to visit the town. Early visitors found it extremely difficult to find accommodation. The first to take advantage of this was William Litson, who founded a small in on the site of the Globe Hotel in Lynton. [6] Additional bibliography. [7,8] Further details of the settlement are recorded in the Lynmouth Conservation Area Appraisal adopted in 2018. It was first designated in 1973 and had last been reviewed in 2003. The appraisal included the proposal to expand the boundary of the Conservation Area in three places; to include a memorial garden at Middleham, to regularise the boundary north of Midhills and at Tors Road. [9]

Sources/Archives (10)

  • <1> Report: Fisher, J.. 2003. Lynmouth: Conservation Area Character Appraisal. 4-6.
  • <2> Map: 1840. Lynton and Lynmouth Parish Tithe Map and Apportionment.
  • <3> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1854-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <4> Map: Ordnance Survey. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <5> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information.
  • <6> Monograph: Travis, J.. 1995. An illustrated history of Lynton and Lynmouth 1770-1914. Breedon Books. 1st E Edition. All (9-17).
  • <7> Article in serial: Chanter, J.F.. 1906. The Parishes of Lynton and Countisbury. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 38. 114-224.
  • <8> Monograph: Chanter, J.F.. 1907. A history of the parishes of Lynton and Countisbury: Their antiquities, manors, churches and families and some account of the natural history and botany of the neighbourhood. James G. Commin, Exeter. 1st Edition.
  • <9> Report: Pratt, N. and Thurlow, T.. 2018. Lynmouth Conservation Area: appraisal document. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <10> Index: Charterhouse Environs Research Team. 2012. The CHERT Index of the Drawings and Sketches of the Reverend John Skinner. Vol 18 (1836 Devonshire), 109 verso.

External Links (0)

Other Statuses/References

  • Coastal Risk 2014: Flood Zone 2 fluvial & tidal
  • Coastal Risk 2014: Flood Zone 3 fluvial & tidal
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 2 fluvial
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 2 fluvial and tidal
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 2 tidal
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 3 fluvial
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 3 fluvial and tidal
  • Coastal Risk 2016: Flood Zone 3 tidal
  • Local Heritage List Status (Rejected)
  • Local Plan - Historic Core
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (0-20)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (20-50)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (50-100)



Grid reference Centred SS 7252 4944 (741m by 477m)
Map sheet SS74NW

Finds (0)

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Related Events/Activities (2)

Related Articles (2)

Record last edited

May 18 2023 6:11PM


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