Tuesday, 9 February 2010


For some forgotten reason we, a salmon crew, were wading ashore in our long boots one evening at the Sowden end of Lympstone Cove and the raw sewage was floating past our knees. I still remember,after forty years, the banter, the disrespectful pretending to recognise whose were the stools that were floating past our knees. I was reminded of this by Jim Voysey's, of the famous Voyseys of Topsham, testimony recorded in that treasure of a book Talking about Topsham by Sara Vernon: "The sewage went straight into the river then, but we were always allowed to swim in it. There was an old barge out in the middle of the river with a wire going along the side of it and a strap hanging down and that was where you learned to swim"

He was talking about the years of the First World War when he had been a boy. One day in about 1917, three young boys, Jim Voysey and Fred Mills and Tom Pym, were being chased by an older boy called Wills along the old, even then, pier that stood beneath Church Steps. Planks were missing from the pier and JimVoysey and Fred Mills leapt across the gap. Tom Pym tried to follow but he fell between and was drowned. "A lot of people got drowned in the river in those days," said Jim Voysey "mostly young boys playing around."

The pier at Topsham is long gone and forgotten. The Estuary is happily cleaner now and on hot summer days boys and girls swim there still. But remember poor Tom Pym!

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