Complementing SAVE’s letter warning of the damage at Knowle to the “history and character” of our town, a talk this week by local author and photographer, Peter Nasmyth, delves into why so many great writers have been attracted to this town, and to East Devon as a whole. The evidence poses the inevitable question, about the intrinsic and economic value of what is rapidly being lost to “regeneration” and inappropriate development in our local area. The Talk, organised by the Sidmouth National Trust, starts at 10.30 a.m., at All Saints’ Church Hall, All Saints’ Road, and is open to members and non-members.
Here’s the Times Literary Supplement review of Peter Nasmyth’s book, East Devon’s Literature and Landscape
(Available from local bookshops, at £15.99)
Visiting Sidmouth for the BBC in 1949 John Betjeman remarked, “A silver mist hung over Sidmouth when I came into it. A silver mist was over it when I went away”. Peter Nasmyth’s Literature and Landscape in East Devon is thick with Devon’s silver mist. Produced in association with East Devon Alliance, the book, as befits its subject, is large, eccentric, utterly beautiful… It’s as though the pages are alive with Devon pixies, dashing among the shadows and flashing their eyes.
Nasmyth writes the kind of delightful, delighting prose that one associates with another era – glad and gleeful prose which occasionally throws up the most extraordinary insights. Writing about Coleridge’s childhood in Devon, for example, Nasmyth writes about the ways in which the River Otter “cut a profound psychological mark into his character”. The cutting of the river into Coleridge’s consciousness captures exactly the outrageous edge of his vast Devonian imagination. “Looking out across East Devon’s undulating green hills and open fields that lead to a sparkling expanse of sea”, Nasmyth writes, “is a feeling in itself” – and indeed it is.
The book is a treasury of just such remarks and information…We see, too, how Sidmouth is paraded and disguised in literature: it is, variously, apparently, Thackeray’s Baymouth, Beatrix Potter’s Stymouth, William Trevor’s Dynmouth, Thomas Hardy’s Idmouth, and Jane Austen’s Sanditon.
Nasmyth’s most unexpected discovery in the book, however, is John Fowles’s home on the Undercliff, that strange area of landslip on the Dorset-Devon border, where Fowles famously wrote The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Peering inside his writing shed, Nasmyth discovers fresh signs of slippage and subsidence: “the large, plate-glass window had just, a couple of days earlier, received a long crack, from one side to the other”. Even Jurassic East Devon, it seems, is always in the process of change… Visit now, before it is too late.
IAN SAMSON , The Times Literary Supplement 27 May 2015
Reminder of SAVE’s warnings here: https://saveoursidmouth.com/2016/02/16/knowle-demolition-would-be-devastating-blow-for-sidmouth-says-save/