Monday, 11 January 2010


Ursula Brighouse in her fascinating history of Woodbury, "A View from the Beacon" makes much of the mystery of how Woodbury Salterton came by its name. All the clues, and they are listed, seem to point to Woodbury Salterton being named after "salt-workers or salt-sellers engaged in some sort of storing and distributing business connected to the salt trade." and yet, "it is hard to see, looking at the map, how Woodbury Salterton could have been on a direct route leading from any of the known saltpans to an inland market."

But what if salt was being produced in quantity on the Exe estuary? Surely then Woodbury Salterton would be a likely place to store salt for onward distribution.

In Charles Vancouver's "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon" which was published in 1808, he writes the following:

"In the parish of Dawlish there is a large proportion of coarse, though improvable land. A large range of sand-hills extend south-westerly from the mouth of the river Axe:" (This a typographical error for Exe)" these are chiefly appropriated as a warren; some of their lower parts have been enclosed with a view to improvement, but the rank driving sand of which the surface is composed, defeated the undertaking. Among these sand-hills are some lagoons or lakes of salt water, where the making of salt has lately been renewed with the prospect of answering very well."

So there was at least one saltern on the Exe at Dawlish Warren. This is the only reference I have seen to it but there must be more about this nineteenth century initiative. Vancouver writes here of a renewal and salterns can be very ancient and it is not unthinkable that salt was being made on the Warren and/or elsewhere on the Estuary before ever Woodbury Salterton got its name.

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