Lympstone Harbour & the Genesis of the
Lympstone Fishery & Harbour Association
Prior to 1990 there was little control on moorings for leisure craft in the Exe estuary. Other than in the lower Exe & at Topsham (where there were & still are leases to manage moorings) sailing & fishing interests tended to manage moorings in their local vicinity. This changed in 1993 when it was decided that the Crown Estates Commissioners should maximise the potential of the land owned by the Crown & all users would need to apply & pay for a lease.
As the greater part of the estuary is owned by the Crown, the local agent was tasked with resolving a long-standing dispute (154 years) between the Crown & the Powderham Devon Estates. Once this was achieved both the Crown & the Powderham Estates exercised their powers as landowners & commenced to charge those who used the estuary fundus.
Powderham Estate’s control extended to an area of the fundus which was once included in the Manor of Kenton. This abutted the Lympstone foreshore, land owned by Mrs Clarke (Nutwell Devon Estates), the boundary was defined by a line running from Darling Rock to the Chetstone Rock. Unfortunately, the line runs straight through the centre of Lympstone Lake where some of the larger vessels had moorings. Other than this inconvenience vessels using Lympstone were unaffected.
However, the Crown Estates were anxious to obtain leases from all those who wish to use their land. Starcross Sailing Club was in the process of obtaining a lease to incorporate the land north of Darling Rock. An eleventh-hour intervention by Neil Downes managed to persuade the Crown Agent that Lympstone should have priority & Richard Bland negotiated a lease for this part of the river & now the LFHA pay an annual rent to the Crown.
The Lympstone foreshore from Darling Rock down to Courtlands House Lodge was owned by Nutwell Devon Estates (Mrs Clarke, who lived in Belvedere). She kindly allowed the residents of Lympstone to use the foreshore & delegated the management to the Parish Council, who in turn delegated the day to day control of moorings to Norman Mitchell. For many years Norman was the Chairman of the Harbour Board which met once a year in August to accept the accounts & review matters. The proceedings of the meeting were recorded in an exercise book kept by Edgar Norton. However, in 1992 adverts appeared in the local Press offering cottages for rental with moorings. Mrs Clarke took exception to her property being used by others for financial gain. On 22 September 1992 she requested that Neil Downes, Richard Bland & Geoffrey Wright attend a meeting at her home. It was decided that she would appoint these people to be her moorings committee. They would manage the moorings on her property, charge fees for moorings, maintain accounts, & submit annual accounts together with a report to her solicitor.
Mrs Clarke’s untimely death in 1994 brought about an unwelcomed degree of uncertainty. The disposal of her property was in the hands of trustees & it was difficult to assess the value of the foreshore at Lympstone. It was decided by the Mooring Committee & the Harbour Board that it was in the interests of Lympstone village that the foreshore should be purchased if it could be acquired. Two valuations were undertaken & in the valuer’s opinion the liabilities outweighed the land value which was considered to be in the region of £20,000, but as a sitting tenant this figure was negotiable. Armed with this information Neil Downes negotiated with the trustees of Mrs Clarke’s estate & managed to purchase the foreshore for £12,000.
As Neil Downes was the chairman of both the Harbour Board & the Mooring Committee, it was agreed that both committees should be amalgamated as it would ease administration. As the Harbour Board sought to own the land it administered a revision of its status became a legal necessity. A new constitution was drafted by Graeme Wheeler which, once approved by the Board, allowed for the creation of the Lympstone Fishery & Harbour Association (LFHA). All persons who paid mooring or harbour dues became members of the Association with the day to day management undertaken by the Harbour Board.
With the requirement that all land should be registered with the Land Registry either voluntarily or when land changed ownership, the Harbour Board, as a landowner, started the lengthy process of ensuring all the property over which it exercised control was registered in its name. The foreshore recently purchased from the Nutwell Devon Estates was easily defined. The inner harbour was not owned by anybody so the Harbour Board, represented by Alan Child & Graeme Wheeler, claimed the land & the Association was given absolute title. Although the Harbour Board held the conveyance for the pier (dated 1938), it transpired that ownership had been, at some stage, transferred to the Devon River Board. No records could be found to support the transfer but nevertheless, as part of the process of regaining ownership, the Harbour Board needed to prove that the original trustees of the harbour were dead. This necessitated Board members visiting graveyards where the trustees were buried & taking depositions from surviving relatives. The ownership of all the foreshore up to the line of mean High Water Spring Tides, harbour walls, slipway, inner harbour & hard standing was finally rationalised & consolidated under a single title in favour of the Lympstone Fishery & Harbour Association in 2003. The Trustees of the Association & of the Sailing Club, are now re-appointed at every respective AGM so that their title & function does not become moribund!
Exeter City, as the principal port on the estuary, had for many centuries been the de facto Harbour Authority for the tidal Exe & took that legal title by act of Parliament in 1840. After the last commercial use of the Exe above Topsham ended when the Slurry vessel ceased making its regular passages out to sea Exeter City decided to surrender its title & duties as Harbour Authority which included maintaining a navigable channel from the sea to Turf Lock. Various attempts were made to draft a Harbour Revision Order to effect this change but the most serious of them began in 2005 when the City proposed to create a Trust Port. Graeme Wheeler was asked to represent the Harbour Board on this issue at a general meeting of the Exe Estuary Users’ Association (EEUA) & was then asked by this Association to represent its views to Exeter City Council. A working partnership was established with the EEUA represented by Graeme Wheeler (who was later appointed Chairman of the EEUA) & Simon Tytherleigh (of Starcross Sailing Club). The EEUA established four Heads of Agreement which Exeter City accepted & under which a formal proposal & Harbour Revision Order (HRO) was drafted for submission to the Secretary of State for Transport (the Department for Transport being the ministry responsible for ports & harbours). The agreement between the EEUA & Exeter City broke down only 2 weeks before the Public Enquiry into the proposals because one of the four Heads had failed (the imperative that the license costs per metre of vessel waterline length should not exceed an amount agreed by the EEUA). Exeter City withdrew the HRO in 2012 before the Enquiry report was published & remains the Harbour Authority for the Exe.
The LFHA continues to manage the Harbour facilities & the moorings owned by it in the interests of enabling & promoting the registered fisheries & recreational boating activities of parishioners. In 2006 it embarked on the long programme of works required to completely refurbish the harbour walls. This is an ongoing project in 2019, with over £60,000 spent so far.