Tuesday, 7 June 2011
In the nineteen forties when that classiest of all publishers, Batsford, wanted to add 'The West of England' to the 'British Heritage' series they commissioned the established writer of fairy stories and verses for children,Ruth Manning-Sanders, to write the book. It was an inspired choice.
Ruth Manning-Sanders faced a huge task and necessarily relied on the writings of others to complete it. Nevertheless she is spot on in her comments on Exmouth and she bears witness that, when it comes to the little town taking advantage of its natural glories, the place was as unhappy sixty years ago as it is today. She wrote:
"Exmouth, like Teignmouth, was a Georgian retreat for naval and army officers, but of this period only a few houses, on the Beacon facing the sea, now remain. Away from the sea-front Exmouth is a most depressing network of street after street of execrable buildings. In its busy and somewhat spiderish precoccupation with enlarging its holiday trade, the town has lost whatever native character it once possessed, and so is bound to be depressing, whether in season or out of season, whether its lodging houses are full or empty."
It was true then. It is true now.
When it comes to the Estuary Ruth Manning-Sanders took from that same vein which many a writer has mined before and since:
"From Topsham the estuary extends in a straight wide reach to Exmouth. If you look out from the windows of an ex-G.W.R. train, as it travels up or down the western bank, you may well regard this reach as flat, mud-coloured and uninteresting; but see it from the water-front at Exmouth, and you think very differently. Indeed quite the best thing about Exmouth is the view looking westward, up the grey-blue estuary, backed by the long, wooded heights of Great Haldon; especially at sundown when the waters burn, and the hills fuse their detail into a blue and shaggy silhouette, and day fades in glory behind Haldon's darkening ridge."
The italics are mine.