Sampson Society


Jonathan Ball MBE, our speaker at this year’s annual lunch sent us the following comment:

I really must say I found the Sampson Society amazing …. there cannot be many communities so blessed with a caring civic group with so much devotion and a resource base to ensure their voice is heard …. Bravo say I ! …..


Stuart Line Cruise on board the “Tudor Rose”.  Not all of you may know that we had to cancel our Cruise in July due to there being so many other events being held on the same day and consequently a lack of numbers booking.  So, NEXT YEAR’s cruise will be on the evening of Saturday 16th June.  Further details will follow in due course, but you may wish to note the date in your diary.

Walking Tours - In June, Martin Mallinson organised two identical Walking Tours of Bickwell Valley for an hour or so preceded by coffee.  These were well paced and well informed.  There may be further demand for a Bickwell Valley tour but meanwhile Martin is now planning a Town Centre tour either side of Easter 2018 and further details will follow in our next Newsletter. 

If anyone would like to hold another Appreciation Visit one weekday morning, Martin will prepare a history of your house:  please be in touch.  For new members, these take the form of coffee on arrival, Martin giving a talk on the history of your house and a look round whichever rooms you wish to make available to look at the architectural style.

AGM – Monday 23rd October at 6pm at the Kingswood Hotel on the Esplanade.  This is usually a convivial affair with a complimentary glass of wine after the short business of the evening.  Edmund Harrison, our Vice-Chairman wishes to step down as Vice-Chairman due to other commitments but he is, thankfully, willing to remain on the committee as his knowledge of and long association with Sidmouth is invaluable.  We are now looking for nominations for Vice-Chairman which should be with the Secretary by Monday 16th October.  

Christmas Drinks and Buffet – Sunday 10th December at Noon.  Nicky and Graham Davies are our hosts again at their lovely home, Trow Hall.  Tickets, costing £12.50 each will be available for purchase at Sidsoft in Church Street from Wednesday 1st November.  If you are not able to get to Sidsoft, please e-mail Alan Weaver at his address below.  Due to space, this is a Member only event, but if you have house guests whom you wish to invite, our ‘one member, one guest’ rule applies.

Friday 9 March 2018 – Annual Lunch at the Victoria Hotel – further details to follow, but please note the date in your diary.

Alma Bridge update – your Society has been asked to put forward suggestions to Sidmouth Town Council regarding the positioning, on view to the public, of the preserved side walls and parapet of Sampson’s Alma bridge.  There is no ‘bridge element’ in what remains but is of historical interest.  We plan to discuss this at our AGM.

Spotlight on Alma Bridge

Extracted from ‘Sampson’s Sidmouth’ – In 1846 the Sid Vale Association agreed to build a bridge near the mouth of the river Sid, but the wife of the Lord of the Manor for Salcombe Regis, Mrs Cornish, refused to grant access.  Eventually a deputation met Mrs Cornish and she finally consented.  After much discussion an iron bridge was agreed, but the money was not forthcoming, therefore a wooden structure was approved.  It was to be made out of the timber salvaged from the shipwrecked ‘Laurel” and would cost £26.10s.

The bridge was named ‘Alma Bridge’ after the Battle of Alma in 1854 in the Crimean War.  The bridge was erected by July 1855 but in 1877 it was severely damaged and was nearly washed away.

In October 1895 it was proposed to build a new bridge and a letter was written to the then Lord of the Manor for Salcombe Regis, Robert Kestell Cornish, Bishop of Madagascar who was abroad at the time.  His permission had to be obtained.

Mr Sampson was asked to design and prepare specifications and get tenders for a wooden bridge on brick piers to be built at the same place as the existing bridge.  (It is not known if the above gentleman is Mr Sampson, but it is likely to be so, dressed as he is and with a plan in his hand!  He would have been aged 34 at the time)

Tenders were accepted from Mr Butters for the bridge and Messrs Skinners for the brickwork.  The new Alma Bridge was opened in November 1900.  It looks like they had someway to go to open in November if the date of the above photograph is correct.

We regret that we are not able to display he photos mentioned above which are in our original Newsletters.


We decided some time ago to alternate with a garden party one year and a different outside event another, so this year it’s a Stuart Line Cruise on Saturday 15th July on board the “Tudor Rose”.  Departure time from Exmouth Dock is18.30, boarding from 18.00.  Pay and Display parking is available on Exmouth seafront – the boat will have to leave at 18.30 regardless.  Tickets are £25 to include a 3-piece jazz band and cold buffet with a return to dock at 22.00.

Steven Jellyman has arranged a 59 seater coach at a cost of £5 a seat.  Please book at the same time as your ticket (and indicate preferred pick up point).  Departure from Sidmouth Triangle at 5pm.

Tickets will be on sale from Monday 22 May to Friday 7 July at Sidsoft in Church Street or by post from Alan Weaver.  Due to a limit on numbers to 75, your membership Number will be required as the event is restricted to Member and Spouse/Partner.  A Reserve List will be started for those wishing to bring a guest      (1 Member, 1 Guest).  If you do not know your Membership Number, please contact Pamela Gordon-Lee, details at foot. 


A new venture - Thursday 1 June and Tuesday 6 June – Martin Mallinson is organising two identical Walking Tours of Bickwell Valley for an hour or so preceded by coffee at 10am at Steve and Sally Jellyman’s.  Tickets limited to 12 on each day.  Tickets will be on sale at £2.50 through Sidsoft again from Monday 22 May.


If anyone would like to hold another Appreciation Visit one week-day morning, Martin will prepare a history of your house.  Please be in touch.  For new members, these take the form of coffee on arrival, Martin giving a talk on the history of the house and a look round whichever rooms you wish to make available to look at the architectural style.

The Bungalow, Manor Road, Sidmouth.

This is an early Sampson design - the plans for it dated October 1895 are held in the Devon Record Office. The house was somewhat curiously called the Bungalow, and was built for (and presumably by) the Skinner brothers. It occupied a site on Manor Road between Crossways and Grey Turret, both built a year or two earlier. In the 1901 census the occupiers are identified as Arthur & Blanche Stone, who went on to build Trow Hall the following year.

The house was demolished some years ago and the site is now occupied by the Brinkburn Court flats. Sad that this rather grand house has now gone – there are one or two elsewhere in this area which have met the same fate.

Friday 10th March 2017 – Annual Lunch, Victoria Hotel 12 noon for 12.30. Tickets for a 3-course lunch including coffee and mints will be £25 and will be on sale from Friday 3rd February to Friday 3rd March at Sidsoft in Church Street or by post from Alan Weaver using the form at the end.

We are delighted to have Jonathan Ball MBE, Architect, and a Bard of Gorsedh Kernow, as our 'after lunch' speaker.  Some of you will have met Jonathan when he came across from Bude to represent the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) at our Sampson Memorial ceremony last March.

Qualifying as an architect, he set up his practice in his home town of Bude, and was appointed MBE for Services to Architecture in 1992.  Together with Tim Smit, he co-founded the acclaimed Eden Project, but his subsequent removal from the Project against his will, losing his architectural practice in the process, became the subject of three high profile appearances in the Royal Courts of Justice over four years in order to save his name, his home and professional reputation. 

We are sure his talk will be both entertaining and informative as he is a larger than life personality, and a natural raconteur.  We are also hoping that he will be able to bring and sign copies of his book "The Other Side of Eden". 

Sid Park Road – Sampson’s (and Sidmouth’s) first scheme of council houses - it is not possible to show the photographs referred to here.

Martin Mallinson has researched and written a fascinating history which follows.  As our Chairman responded to Martin, it is quite remarkable that Sampson should offer to do the work for a partial fee and even that only payable if planning approval was given!

From the beginning of the 20th century there was increasing concern in Sidmouth about the lack of appropriate housing for the working men of the town. There were few houses available and rents were high compared to local wage levels. The poor condition of many existing houses was of particular concern to the local Medical Officer of Health. So it was that Sidmouth UDC began to consider the idea of building houses for rent, and set about a search for suitable sites.

About 1902 there was a failed attempt to start the process, and it was not until 1913 that the issue was looked at seriously. Col Balfour offered a 3 acre site adjacent to Woolbrook School, ‘subject to Mr Sampson being employed as architect’. Sampson agreed to prepare plans on the understanding he would only charge a fee if the scheme proceeded. The proposal, for 51 houses, was costed at £11,300 and an application was duly made to the government for loan sanction.

However, the Council appears to have had second thoughts about the Woolbrook site and ultimately it was abandoned. By November 1913 it was known that the Glebe land, a site much closer to the town, was about to come on the market. A further review of alternative sites was concluded early the following year when the Council agreed to purchase land at Higher Salter’s Meadow. The land was owned by local builders, Messrs Pidsey and Son, and the Temple Street frontage was already earmarked for development. Sampson was employed to design a scheme for 52 houses and the Council applied to borrow the projected costs of £12,526.

In May 1914 the Sid Vale Association promoted improvements to the scheme on behalf of Mrs Leigh Browne. Land on the Temple Street frontage was included to give a larger area for housing. An area adjacent to the River Sid was to be safeguarded as public open space. By designing semi detached houses and shorter terraces the number of houses was reduced to 48. Mrs Leigh Browne, a generous benefactor to the town, offered a gift of £600 to finance the additional cost of the revised proposal.

Sampson prepared plans for the new proposals, and the Council appointed Mr Dingwall as clerk of works. Having approved Sampson’s specifications and quantities, the Council put the scheme out to tender in September 1914. The following month 12 tenders were received. In November, the tender of £9,365 from Mr A J Carter of Exmouth was accepted.  And so it was that Sidmouth’s first Council houses came to be built at what is now known as Sid Park Road. Including that for the abandoned site at Woolbrook, it was the third scheme that Sampson had designed. Contemporary reports suggest that he charged his fees only in relation to the six houses on the Temple Street frontage.

Building work started almost immediately, but progress was slow because of the shortage of labour caused by the ongoing war. Towards the end of 1915, with some of the houses nearing completion, the Council set provisional rents of 5/3 (26p) per week, including rates. For the larger houses on the Temple Street frontage, the rents were set at 6/6 (32p) per week to exclude rates. During January 1916 applications were invited for those wishing to take on a tenancy and the following month 15 of the houses were ready for occupation. Building continued throughout 1916, with the provision of pathways and landscaping at the end of that year.

Sampson designed the houses to include a scullery, with larder, coal store and WC, and a single kitchen/living room. The 6 larger houses on Temple Street included an additional sitting room, and all the houses had 3 bedrooms. The scullery was fitted with a copper and bath with hot and cold water, the bath provided with a top forming a table when not in use.

Porch detail and boot scraper alongside each door.

Externally, Sampson incorporated the typical features found in many of his buildings. The houses were finished in roughcast render with tarred plinths. The steeply sloping pitched roofs were covered in plain tiles and had deep overhangs with exposed rafters.

The low eaves were pierced by gables of various sizes, thus adding interest to the front elevations. Casement windows were used throughout, although the originals have long since been replaced. Open porches with a mix of roof designs sheltered the front doors. Semi-circular boot scrapers of a simple but classic design were provided alongside each entrance door.

Throughout the country Arts and Crafts architects like Sampson were heavily involved in the provision of early social housing. Many worked for industrial philanthropists to create model villages, whilst others were involved in the creation of the world’s first garden city at Letchworth.

These architects believed that good design should not be the exclusive province of the wealthy, and Sampson adhered to this principle at Sid Park Road. Despite some concern that the Council was venturing into uncertain territory, the scheme appears to have been self financing, and indeed provided the opportunity to subsidise later more expensive projects. Crucially, contemporary reports suggest that the scheme was regarded from its inception as a credit to the Council and the town as a whole.

The assistance of Sidmouth Museum in the preparation of this article is acknowledged.


Martin Mallinson January 2017