Area of outstanding beauty
Salcombe is a town in the South Hams district of Devon, south west England. The town is close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, built mostly on the steep west side of the estuary and lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town's extensive waterfront and the naturally sheltered harbour formed by the estuary gave rise to its success as a boat and ship building and sailing port and, in modern times, tourism especially in the form of pleasure sailing and yachting. There is also a crabbing industry.
"Salcombe" first appears in official records in 1244. In 1570, there were '56 mariners' living in the village and in 1764, the first holiday home, The Moult, was built in Salcombe. Until about 100 years ago Salcombe earned its living from the estuary and the sea. Fishing, seafaring, boat and later shipbuilding with some smuggling were the principal occupations.
The oldest local settlements were not built at the water's edge but at some distance inland, away from the dangers of the sea. Away from pirates seeking shelter and supplies and away from the boats of the Barbary States of North Africa, that came seeking slaves. Hundreds of Devon people were kidnapped in the 1600s and taken to the slave markets of Algiers and Sallee on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Some were eventually ransomed but many never returned home.
Shipwrecks near Salcombe
There are a number of shipwrecks off Salcombe, the earliest being a Bronze Age ship, which had French made weapons and jewellery onboard, demonstrating the existence of cross channel trade some 3,500 years ago.
A 17th century vessel which sank off Salcombe, Devon, carrying the largest collection of Islamic coins ever found in England tops the list of wrecks most in need of attention... Click here for more
The last Royalist stronghold
Devon was much fought over in the Civil War. The harbour was a protected anchorage for royalist privateers. By early 1646 it had become clear that the royalist cause was lost, but the Fort's defenders refused to surrender when a Parliamentary army arrived from Dartmouth. A battery was set up and a siege lasting 4 months began, ending when the parliamentarians persuaded the garrison to surrender on favourable terms on 7 May. It was the last Royalist stronghold to survive in the county.
Boat building in Salcombe Boats must have been built locally since pre-historic times. By 1819 a writer could refer to "three yards for shipwrights" at a time when the town had about fifty stone houses. Nearly 300 sailing vessels and a handful of steamers were built in Salcombe and around the Estuary during the nineteenth century, almost all for local owners.
The fruit trade developed and with it the superb and speedy 'fruit schooners'. Speed was necessary to carry the perishable cargoes of fresh fruit from Spain and the Azores back to home ports before it started to deteriorate. Passages were also made to the Mediterranean for dried fruit.
Trains to Kingsbridge
The arrival of the railway at Kingsbridge in 1893, connection to Salcombe by steam ferries and, in 1909, by motor buses made the town more accessible to visitors.
The interwar period in Salcombe
Between the two World Wars the town gradually developed as an exclusive holiday resort for those who enjoyed the benign climate, the beautiful scenery, sea fishing and sailing. No attempt was made by developers or the local authority to introduce attractions like those at other centres.
Holidays in Salcombe
The town had started to attract wealthy retirees in the early years of the twentieth century and this trend continued in the 1920s and '30s. Salcombe Sailing Club was founded in 1922 and the Yacht Club in the 1890s. The yacht and sailing clubs merged in 1964.
More people are taking note of the celebrated Victorian historian, James Froude, who wrote that "Winter in Salcombe is winter only in name". The holiday season is lengthening as people make better use of their holiday homes.
Further into the estuary on the east side are a series of popular sandy beaches: Sunny Cove, Mill Bay, Cable Cove, Small's Cove and Fisherman's Cove.
Sailing in Salcombe is very popular, day sailors go out from the harbour or from up river. Many people own boats in the area and this is why many tourists choose to visit.