The extent of the Ham field has changed in both shape and area over the years, it has also passed from being part of the parish of Salcombe Regis to being part of Sidmouth. It presumably belonged with Salcombe because it was east of the line of the river when the boundaries were drawn.
Prior to the death of Mr Dunning, who owned the Gas Works, the Ham was the bit on which the Gas Works stood plus the field along-side. It had a wide frontage to the shore and at one stage he had intended to build a harbour there to make unloading of coal more efficient. This frontage was narrowed by the building of East Cliff House on the south-west corner of the plot as the manager’s house.
When Mr Sleep, who bought it in 1886, owned the Ham it was everything but the footprint of the Gas Works and associated buildings. And when Mr Radford gave it to the town in 1886 it was just two of the plots sold off by Mr Sleep in 1888, minus the land given by Mr Radford the year before for the building of the Drill Hall.
Old maps give us a good idea of how these changes looked but perhaps the most useful is the Ordinance Survey 1:2,500 map of 1889. This map shows the Ham before the building of Riverside and Glenisla Terraces and is remarkably accurate in its dimensions. When it is laid, in transparency, over a satellite image it gives a very clear view of the extent of the Ham. It also shows how far the cliffs have receded.
It can be seen that the Ham originally went at least as far east as the southern pointing leg of the original wooden Alma Bridge. It’s southern edge overlaps where the Esplanade has been extended.
In 1889 the Esplanade finished approximately opposite the end of Ham Lane, it was lengthened a couple of times before its final extension in 1913 when it reached to the Alma Bridge.
The information about how far south the Ham reached is corroborated by modern Land Registry documents and by the fact that the conveyance from JGG Radford to Sidmouth Urban District Council also conveys any rights he might have in the shore. At one stage the shore belonged to the Lord of the Manor but that may not have included the previous area of river/marsh where it reached the sea.
Photographs showing the original bridge and southern part of Ham field can be found.
The information from the map is corroborated by newspaper reports of the meetings of the UDC when the Ham was being discussed. Extracts are given below.
In July of 1901 the Council approached Mr Orchard to ask if he would give a portion of the Drill Hall land to the Council to allow them to round off the corner of the Ham. This was done and perhaps explains the curve where the eastern edge of the plot meets the Esplanade. However, at this stage it appears that the Drill Hall land may have extended further east than it does now. Photos showing this are in the Old Photographs section.
In June 1902 it was agreed that the UDC would build an ‘unclimbable fence’ on Council land on the east side of the Drill Hall to separate the Drill Hall land from the Ham, as long as Mr Orchard took responsibility for paying for the gates in the fence to allow fishing boats to be stored in the Drill Hall basement. This fence is shown in many old postcards, the contract to erect it was awarded in July 1902.
In the 1929 the Ham had a major overhaul, the toilets and shelter were built and the turning circle created as part of the Ham Pleasure Grounds scheme. At the same time fishermen’s sheds were built behind the Drill Hall, and later the shop used by Sidmouth Trawlers was added along with the ‘fish wall’.
The copy of the 1896 map from the Land Registry is of help with charting the changes as it has been annotated at various times. One margin comment notes that the land is 1.88 acres in extent excluding the turning circle, this note must have been made after 1929. On the reverse of the sheet it shows memoranda about other changes.