Lost Landscapes Recreated

Dawlish Water c.1810


Brunel’s railway cut through this scene in 1846 and changed the land and seascape forever.

The viewpoint, based on a William Payne painting from the late 18th C.  is no more, having been sacrificed to a railway cutting.

This image has been constructed from a limited selection of  artists’ images from the time, most of which contradict each other to a greater or lesser extent. Without the benefit of photography, artists would usually make sketches at the scene, and produce their final images later at home or in the studio. This often meant that they had to rely on memory for position, proportion and detail, resulting in some inaccuracy and contradiction in their work. Some, such as the Rev. John Swete, who travelled Devon making illustrated journals of the County in the late 18th and early 19th C., would omit detail and buildings from his work, or turn buildings around slightly, presumably in order to emphasise the parts of the scene which he considered important.

As a result, I have put this image together by considering the work of these artists, looking for common information, and drawing my conclusions from the most likely interpretation of what is represented in their pictures.  I have also used information from the Dawlish tithe map to help me place some of the buildings. Following the example of Rev. Swete, I  have also elevated and curved the image slightly in order to show landscape which would have been obscured by the cliff face coming towards the foreground.

The large gothic house towards the foreground is Sea Grove, built by Sir William Watson in about 1786. This was later rebuilt and renamed ‘Laherne’. Swete describes the left hand hut on the cliff top in its grounds as ‘The Hermit’s Cell’. The building at the foot of the cliff appears to have an inn sign according to some of the old images I have found, so I have included this.

Dawlish Water runs lazily into an Estuary to the sea.  The stone bridges shown replaced old timber bridges around this time.

The Strand Mill and St Michaels Church can be seen in the background.


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