Thursday, 14 January 2010


The writer, George Gissing, "poor harassed George Gissing, who had so little peace in his life" Professor Hoskins called him, came to live in Exeter from 1891 to 1893. He used to walk to Topsham from Exeter and he wrote of his feeling for the churchyard view in the largely autobiographical The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

"A whole day's walk yesterday with no plan; just a long ramble of hour after hour, entirely enjoyable. It ended at Topsham, where I sat on the little churchyard terrace, and watched the evening tide come up the broad estuary. I have a great liking for Topsham, and that churchyard, overlooking what is not quite sea, yet more than river, is one of the most restful spots I know. Of course the association with old Chaucer who speaks of Topsham sailors, helps my mood."

The joke about this last sentence is that Chaucer never gave Topsham so much as a mention. George Gissing is thinking of the Shipman who hailed from Dartmouth. But neither Chaucer nor George would have minded. George was all for careless writing "scribbled as fast as pen could go." and with "the zest of life."

Professor Hoskins also enjoyed this view, "The view from the churchyard, set on a small cliff overhanging the river, is incomparably beautiful when the evening tide is coming in."

And I, Wayland Wordsmith, have loved it too, ebb and flow. When, in the sixties, we lived behind the Post Office in Topsham it was good for the soul to wander over to the churchyard in the evening and watch the sun set.

And there is a fine old wall to lean on.

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