The native Celtic settlement of Topsham became the port of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) in the first century AD, and continued to serve it until the Roman occupation of southern Britain ceased about the year 400. In the 7th century the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village.
St Margaret’s Anglican Church in Topsham, dates back to the 10th century. Although reconstructed several times, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan, who gave “a parcel of land, i.e. a manse, which the vulgar called Toppesham, to the monastery Church of St Mary and St Peter in Exeter, for the cure of his soul, to have in eternal freedom so long as the Christian Church shall endure.”
Topsham’s position, offering a sheltered harbour to seagoing trade enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for both fishing and shipbuilding. Notable ships such as HMS Terror (part of Franklin’s lost expedition) and HMS Cyane (later known as the USS Cyane after capture by the American Navy) were built here in the early 19th century. The town was the scene of a notable Parliamentarian naval assault during the English Civil War.
There are many Dutch style houses in Topsham dating from the time when Topsham was an important cotton port. Many of Topsham’s houses are built using Dutch bricks, which were brought over as ballast from Holland – to where the wool and cotton from South-West England had been exported.
In response to what had been described in the early 1960s as “a period of genteel decline”, The Topsham Society was formed. The objects of the Topsham Society are “To promote high standards of planning and architecture in or affecting Topsham; to educate the public in the geography, history, natural history and architecture of Topsham; to secure the preservation protection development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Topsham”. The Society currently has around 400 members.