Upon the broad estuary of the Exe lies Redcliff” - so writes Eden Phillpotts as the first line of his novel set in Lympstone in the 1920s, “ and the fishermen’s quarters thrust so near its brink that at spring tides, under push of an equinoctial gale, the highways are invaded and ducks swim in the little streets.”
Flooding has always come to the Estuary’s towns and villages at a time of spring tides and the Estuary seems to be making a visit and takes the blame for it. In fact there are never floods without heavy rainfall and our floods tend to come to us at the same time that there is also extensive flooding inland At least when the floods come to the banks of the Estuary there are boats to float in the streets and spare people from getting their feet wet.
We have not had bad flooding for many years. Much engineering work has been done. Time was the Council used to send sandbags so that householders could block their doors against the tide. Before that every house had its floodboards. These were caulked with clay and were surprisingly effective. The fittings for them can still be seen at many cottage doors.
On Thursday 4th August 1938, 1.97 inches of rain fell on the Estuary. The tides were at their highest and there was extensive flooding. Dead sheep and tree trunks floated ashore along the Exe and in Exmouth, Lympstone and elsewhere boats were busy in the streets.
“There was a comic side to the flooding on the Parade, “ thus the ‘Exmouth Journal , “and it was caused by the Council’s traffic sign, “To the Sea,” which was on a veritable island in the middle of the flood.”
The floods of 1960 caused equal chaos. At Exmouth barefooted barmen served drinks at the London Inn while women at the hairdressers' suddenly found themselves sitting in rising, stinking water. There is a photo in the Journal that shows three shopkeepers trying to sweep away the invading waters with brooms and brushes. The spirit of the famous Dame Partington of Sidmouth lives on in these parts!