Sunday, 27 March 2011


In the August of 1883 J B Davidson MA FSA gave a paper to a meeting of the Devonshire Association at Exmouth on the History of Exmouth. Among other good things he knew the story of the stair cross. In the thirteenth century, according to Mr Davidson, ...

"...amongst the other privileges conferred upon Sherborne Abbey by these grants was the right of ferry from Exmouth to the opposite shore of the mouth of the river. The starting-place of this ferry was at a place called Pratteshide, which is spoken of by Dr. Oliver as an ancient name of Exmouth. At any rate it was a place of resort for the purposes of the ferry, and of some commercial importance. The actual point of departure must have shifted from time to time with the changes brought about by waves and storms. On the other side of the river the ferry terminated at a place formerly called Woolcomb's Island, where there was a flight of stone stairs ; and near this ferry-house was set up by the bishop of Sherborne a stone cross, whence was derived the name Stair, now Starcross."

Presumably Woolcomb's Island was properly an island connected to the main by bridge or ford. Another source, Sidney Heath's book "The South Devon and Dorset Coast" published by T Fisher Unwin in 1910 has the following|

"On November 26, 1703, in the same storm that wrecked Winstanley's Lighthouse on the Eddystone Rock, the houses on Woolcomb's Island, as the district was then called, were washed away by the overflowing waters of the Exe. In order to guard against a similar disaster in the future, the Courtenays of Powderham Castle built a strong embankment all along the shore from Powderham Point to Eastdon, a short distance below Starcross, and some years later this embankment was completed by the construction of a wall to keep out the tides, but provided with sluices for the outlet of the water of the little River Kenn. Up to this time the Kenn was navigable as far as Powderham Castle, and a contemporary painting shows the castle with the river at high tide.

"Where Exe meets curled Kenne, with kind embrace,
Betwixt their arms they clip fair Powderham's place."

Well, there's a lot to be commented on here had I not already written my quota. But I must say before I go that "Pratteshide" seems to me a very apt name for the Exmouth of today, especially at the weekends.

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