Sidmouth was a town of three parts. There was the shore, the farmland to the west and the river and marsh to the east.
Peter Orlando Hutchinson spent his adult life finding out about Sidmouth and the surrounding area and makes a good case in his ‘History’ for the Sid having been a much larger river in prehistoric times. The Byes would have been the bed of the river, with the eastern bank running along the line of Sid Road as it got near the town and then running at the bottom of Salcombe Hill; whilst the west bank ran behind Temple Street, across the upper part of Salcombe Road, behind Myrtle Terrace to emerge on High Street at the top of Mill Street, continued across to Church Lane, the upper side of Chapel Street, eventually ending up on the beach below Clifton Place.
This would have given a very large delta which gradually silted up from the west with shingle, sand and erosion from the hills, while the river moved further east as the amount of water coming down reduced and it became smaller. In this scenario it is reasonable to suppose that the port which is mentioned as having existed in the reign of Edward II was in the east as were the boats which made Sidmouth an important fishing place.
As Sidmouth developed as a health resort in the late 1700s the west side and foreshore became the tourist area and the working people were, in general, pushed east into what was then called Marsh. POH refers to it as Marsh in his History of Sidmouth, and Directories of the time also refer to it by that name, the Congregational Chapel built in that area in 1810 was called Marsh Chapel.
With this name, for what we now think of as Eastern Town, being so well established there seems little doubt that this area was a marsh which was reclaimed to house, as Wallis says in his publication of 1816, ‘the poorer sort of people’.
In 1940 Vaughn Cornish, in ‘Scenery of Sidmouth’, states that ‘ Eastward of No. 1, Marlborough Place … a terrace was built on the ridge of the beach, and most of the marsh behind became the eastern town, although then ill suited for habitation.’ As he is a descendent of generations of Sidmouth authors and artists he should know what things were like.
Marsh ran from the east side of High Street and Fore Street to the Sid.
As the pressure on available land on the west grew greater Marsh moved up-market and some larger houses were built as well as lodging houses. However, it was always limited by the fact that this was where Sidmouth had its industrial area.
There were laundries, forges, coal merchants, livery stables, an abattoir, a variety of artisans workshops, small local shops, a brewery, as well as the gas works and of course the fishermen. York Terrace was built ( 1810 ) on the site of what had been a thriving shipyard, it seems to have been successful up to the time the land was sold for building.
The gentrification of Eastern Town has continued with many of the cottages now devoted to the holiday trade in one way or another. The pressure first began in earnest in the 1880s when the local council was considering purchasing Ham field to make a pleasure ground. There were complaints about the state of the beach and Sid, with them being used as a dumping ground for rubbish. It was felt that this area was badly letting down the town as a whole at a time of great competition for the holiday trade.
In 1895 Radford gave Ham field to the town under covenant that it should remain as an open place of recreation. There have been many attempts to dodge this covenant, such as the suggestion by Sampson that it become a car park, but the legal situation is quite clear.