I first visited Sidmouth at the age of 11 with my parents in 1945, returned every year until 1952.
Major earliest memories:
Travelling by train! Did that for a couple of years before we bought our first car.
Many RAAF airmen (distinguished by their darker blue uniforms) in town, probably billeted in local hotel(s).
Anti-invasion scaffolding along beach? Still there in '45 or am I thinking of another resort in an earlier year?
VJ Day! Celebrations including fireworks, along the Esplanade. Jacob's Ladder with its lower flights of steps removed; only a long conventional ladder in their place, fastened to the top landing only weakly, as I was to find out. This know-no-fear and curious young man climbed the ladder up to the landing and as I stepped off the ladder it crashed to the platform below. I had to walk back round to where my parents were sitting on the area above the Jacobs Ladder beach through the Connaught Gardens.
1945, '46, '47: Kingswood Hotel. We were allocated a lesser quality room for our second stay, and we were "walked" to a small B&B round the back for part of our third (and last!) stay.
1948: Devoran, next door!
1949 till '52: Salcombe Hill House Hotel.
Other memories of Sidmouth town:
Tiny greengrocers shop at sea end of Old Fore Street, location I recall (to the best of my memory after 60 years), most likely at or next to Gliddons. Lovely aroma of the fruit as you walked in. It was run by very large lady with cheeks as red as the beautiful apples I can still recall the scent of, with an extremely husky voice and absolutely the broadest Devon accent I have ever heard and still remember easily today. Bookshop and stationers in High Street, at or near the junction with Fore and Old Fore Streets, with a recalled scent of the books, I suppose. For the first years of our visits my father would always buy me a book from there for me to read during our holiday, and I still have one of them on my bookshelves one even today.
My parents were fond of the Mocha Cafe. I preferred the ice cream parlour next door.
Both still there, I see.
Swimming: In 1945 I had only just learned to swim. By the next year I was a strong swimmer and was already successful in schools competition. So I swam a lot off the Esplanade beach where the slope of the shingle took you into the deeper water more quickly. I forget what year it was, but I took to swimming out to the yachting marker buoy which was moored some two hundred (?) yards or so out from the beach, much to my mother's concern. In later years I added snorkelling over Chit Rocks at full tide to my list of pastimes, and one afternoon diving I picked up a very large spider crab in my hands and swam back with it to where my parents were sitting in their deckchairs in front of their hired beach hut to show them, and my appearance with the "monster" crab almost cleared everyone off the deck, many saying they would never swim there again and one man saying he would report me to the police for causing the panic.
Movies at Grand and Radway cinemas.
Daring young man, part 2:
In the sea wall in front of the cricket ground (and Esplanade car park and shelters?) there was a large opening of what I thik must have been a storm water drain, or perhaps a drain for storm water which might have come from heavy seas crashing on the Esplanade above.
It was cavernous. There was a broad ledge running along the sea wall (and, by the way, the ledge and indeed the storm water drain opening look to have been covered right up by the works on the foreshore and beach which appear to have raised the level of beach) and at times of fairly rough seas and higher tides, not only did crowds gather at a safe distance to watch the waves crashing up and on the Esplanade, but it was a spectator sport to watch youths to run along that ledge from the nearest beach access steps to the shelter of the storm water drain between waves, and then gathering breath to time the dash back again without being drenched. I was one of those stupid boys who one summer were playing the wave-dodging game and managed to get drenched - but right through - and had to walk from that far end of the Esplanade right up to Salcombe Hill House Hotel soaking wet, avoiding going through the town and the likelihood of copping a lot of derision, by going along the Esplanade and crossing the River Sid by the bridge and going up and along the footpath to the hotel.
My mother had made me wear on holiday an awful maroon sleeveless pullover she had just finished knitting and which I heartily hated wearing. The colours weren't fast and so by the time I got back to the hotel - and dripped my way through the lobby and back to my room all the rest of my clothing and I were streaked with the maroon and the pullover was wrecked. So it wasn't an all bad experience!
Other clothes my mother requested me to wear - though not this time, thank God, made by her - was my RAF uniform, during our 1952 stay. I was doing my National Service by then and on leave and dearly wished to be out of uniform
I changed my attitude quite quickly after I discovered that holidaymakers ttracted to young men in uniform.
A long time ago it may have been, and now I'm many miles away, but I still have wonderful memories of Sidmouth.
Another fondly recalled memory is the lovely Scottish girl Anne Morrison whom I met while I was at the Salcombe Hill House Hotel in 1951 at the same time as she was there with relatives. We got on so well and after the holidays began writing to eachother frequently and after a brief period of no writing resumed while I was in the RAF. Exchange visits to Scotland for me and to London for her led to our becoming engaged in 1954, but that ended
After my last holiday with my family in 1952, I hardly returned to the place any more. Other influences occurred in my life and took me to other destinations over the years until my wife and I emigrated to Australia in 1966.
An exception was during a tour to the West Country in August 1965 with my future wife when although our final destination was much further west, we detoured so I could show her the place I had fondly described to her. The weather was fine on that day (see above), but turned dreadful as we headedwest, and was one of the factors in addition to considerations regarding our future lives that helped us to decide to come to Australia.
Although I have visited England in 1974, '78 and '81, my travels never took me to Sidmouth. But we managed to get there despite a tight schedule during our last trip in May 2003.
The weather had been fine and sunny as we neared the area, and it lasted as far as Sidford when the clouds rolled in and the first spots of rain fell. Our welcome to Sidmouth as we drove down Vicarage Road looking for Cheriton Guest House, our B&B for the night (a comfortable bed and fabulous breakfast!), was freezing and driving rain.
I was hoping for an evening stroll down Memory Lane - or at least High Street and Fore and Old Fore Streets, picking out familiatr places, but because of the rain the evening stroll became several dashes for shelter until we reached the Anchor Inn where I took on board a pint or so and we had a good meal. In the morning, the rain still heavy and driving in off the sea, we had to very regretfully turn our backs on Sidmoutn for the last time and not add to the fond memories getnered over the years long ago.