Port Royal is the eastern end of the Esplanade with a turning circle, boat ramp and bridge for access to Salcombe Hill and the South West Coastal Path. Images courtesy of Google Maps
It has traditionally been the end of town for the locals, as the Western Town became gentrified and ‘upper class’ with its large villas and expensive hotels. As the fleet of fishing boats dwindled the fishermen retreated to this end of the beach, and here too could be found the gasworks, abattoirs, forges, livery stables etc.
Since the mid 19th century the governing bodies of Sidmouth Town have tried to bring the area of Eastern Town up to the standard of the rest. Huge strides have been made in this task, but then at many times it has also fallen back into neglect. The old slum cottages have gone in some cases, while those cottages that remained have been refurbished and are now desirable residences once more. However narrow streets of interesting buildings have been replaced by featureless car parks. We need the car parks but their barrenness is out of keeping.
Adjoining Port Royal and in some way forming part of it is The Ham. The Ham is a piece of ground given to the town as a place of recreation for inhabitants and visitors. At the time of the gift it was a beautiful natural watermeadow, since then there have been constant changes. The river bank has been raised several times in order to reduce flood risk, it has had railings, then lost them in 1929, then regained them. It has been laid out as a formal space, then used as a construction yard for blocks needed to mend the sea defenses in 1925, then laid out anew in 1929. These features have now been lost again and it is only in the last year (2017) that plantings have been updated: by Sidmouth in Bloom creating a Sensory Garden ( in the raised beds in the area where the children’s boating pond used to be ) and the border along Glenisla Terrace being recreated as a floral feature.
The Alma Bridge over the river Sid, erected in 1900, was damaged in storms several years ago and has been clad in scaffolding since then. A new bridge has been eagerly expected but has not yet been finalised. The Drill Hall and toilets on the turning circle have been neglected, the Sailing Club is looking a little tired and only the Lifeboat Station makes a cheery accent in the area.
Port Royal is desperately in need of love and care. It has not been receiving it because there has been a ‘master plan’ for decades to flatten it all and replace it with something better.
Part of the first task for the newly formed VGS in 2005 was to assess Port Royal.
The report was submitted to East Devon District Council and Sidmouth Town Council in 2006, and again in an updated form in 2012(sections 1, 2, 3): neither report was acted upon. In 2012 EDDC attempted to have the Drill Hall demolished in preparation for a redevelopment of the area but a petition and campaign by Matt Booth, and advice from their own Conservation Officer, saw the application withdrawn. The campaign to retain the Drill Hall has latterly been continued by Mary Walden-Till
In March 2016 EDDC and STC jointly commissioned Consultants to carry out a Scoping Exercise and determine what possible redevelopments could take place at Port Royal. The proposal which emerged from this exercise was not attractive to the people of Sidmouth and EDDC decided that public opinion, the constraints of the site, and existing users meant that the whole site could not be econonomically redeveloped. They have therefore decided that they will leave most of Port Royal as it is and sell the Drill Hall. We are still waiting (as of May 2018) to discover what their marketing strategy will be. We do know that it will be on the market for 6 months to allow any local community groups to put together a bid if they wish.
The emerging Neighbourhood Plan should have an impact on the particulars of sale for the Drill Hall.