Houses listed Grade II & II *
The Strand is described by Pevsner as ‘still one of the most delightful urban groups in Devon.’ The Strand, famous for its ‘Dutch ‘ gabled merchants’ houses, lies to the south of the medieval town centre and continues the linear form of the earlier settlement, lying alongside and parallel with the River Exe. This part of the shoreline was formerly utilised for ship building; docks and wharves remained in operation in this area into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The waterfront is now mostly laid out as garden plots, divided into strips whose width reflects the tenements on the opposite side of the road. Some of these garden plots may have originated as jetties or quays reclaimed from the foreshore, and probably served as private quays for the properties on the eastern side of the Strand. The garden of Topsham Museum, the home of the shipbuilding Holman family, is open to the public. This waterfront garden was designed by Roger Webster, who also designed the garden at 46 The Strand, built by Captain Holman in 1907.
The earliest historic map of Topsham which shows the buildings of the town in any detail is Henry Troake’s Map of Topsham, a copy of which is now held at the Westcountry Studies Library. This map was surveyed in 1836 but was copied in 1842 in advance of the Topsham Improvement Act of July 1843. The map is accompanied by a Tithe Apportionment . The next useful historic map is the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map sheet 92.4, dating from 1890. This seems to show that substantial changes had taken place during the 19th century. By this period the docks and wharves on the western side of the road had been enlarged and redeveloped to include warehousing.
Archaeological excavations of medieval and post-medieval urban waterfront reclamation at Dartmouth and Plymouth has revealed a process in which piers and jetties projecting into the water became gradually built over with later buildings; although initially these structures would have remained separated by narrow docks and slipways, these would eventually have been infilled or built over and the working waterfront eventually consolidated as a continuous row fronting a new ‘Esplanade’ or ‘Strand’, the process often repeating itself as more land was reclaimed. This process of urban development produces a typical townscape of long narrow buildings at right angles to the shoreline, often with narrow yards or ‘Opes’ between them. At Topsham, a comparison of historic maps shows that there were formerly narrow projecting quays here. Troake’s map shows several such projections, while the OS 1st edition 1:500 map shows that many had been enlarged during the mid-to late the 19th century to form larger rectangular projections into the river. It is possible that the pattern of long narrow houses alternating with yards along the Strand could reflect an image or tradition of waterfront development in prosperous towns of the period which was familiar to the 17th-century residents of Topsham and to the unknown developer who first conceived the ‘Dutch Houses’.