More to town's past than just a popular tourist spot
- Credit: Picture: Alex Walton
For 6,000 years, people have lived, worked and enjoyed themselves in Seaton. Indeed, the history of the seaside resort is so long and eventful that it's really only possible to give the briefest summary of the town’s history here.
It was once a great Roman port. It is widely believed to have been the site of the Roman sea fort, Moridunum. Even if this were not the case (some people have argued Moridunum was somewhere else, perhaps in Wales) there is plenty of evidence to suggest some sort of settlement or villa existed on the western side of the town in Roman times. The foundations of a number of Roman buildings were excavated in the 19th and 20th century. In 2014, Laurence Edgerton, a builder and amateur metal detectorist picked up over 22,000 Roman coins, one of the largest collections of Roman coins ever discovered.
The Romans arrived in England just over 2,000 years ago, but there were clearly people in Seaton long before that. There is visible evidence of Iron Age settlements which predate the Roman era including the Iron Age forts at Berry Camp, Blackbury Camp, Hawkesdown Hill and Seaton Down.
Despite this, the town was only officially founded in 1005 AD by a Saxon charter which named it as ‘Fleet’ or ‘Fleote’ (derived from ‘Fluta’, the Saxon word for creek). By the time of William the Conqueror’s famous Domesday Book, produced around 20 years after the 1066 Norman invasion, it was established that Seaton had eleven salt works as well as six villagers, 19 smallholders and two slaves. Seaton was also mentioned in a Papal Bull (an official proclamation) issued by Pope Eugenius III in 1146.
The town continued to serve as an important port and crucial part of the shipbuilding industry for centuries. In the 14th century, a major landslip occurred following a storm. This partly blocked the estuary and led the mouth to become engulfed in silt ultimately creating the shingle beach which exists to this day. In 1544 a major fort was constructed and was inspected by the ageing King Henry VIII himself.
In 1868 the first trains arrived in Seaton, a change which was crucial towards ensuring the town became a major coastal holiday resort during this period. On the downside, the arrival of the railways effectively brought to an end Seaton’s maritime and shipbuilding industries, which had thrived for centuries as a result of the estuary. Seaton’s century on the rail network itself came to an end with the closure of Seaton Junction in 1966.
In the 20th century, Seaton played a major role in the Second World War. With the threat of a German invasion high, barbed wire and searchlights were placed strategically along the coast and a pillbox was constructed on Castle Hill. A gun emplacement was also installed secretly and disguised as a destroyed building. A defensive line known as a stop line was established right across Devon. Seaton was intended to be the southern terminus of this last line of defence during any attempted Nazi land invasion of Britain. Thankfully, the long-awaited German attack never came.
Seaton nevertheless remained a hub of activity during the war. Perhaps rather shamefully, a number of holiday camps established during the 1930s were converted into internment camps. Inmates included anyone unfortunate enough to have been born in the land of one of Britain’s enemies, for example, Germany, Italy or Japan, who happened to be living in Britain in 1940. More creditably, Seaton also played host to many of the large numbers of American servicemen stationed in the region as they awaited the D-Day landings and the campaign to liberate Europe.
While no longer as popular a resort as it was during its Victorian heyday, Seaton today remains an attractive location with much to offer any visiting tourists. The town remains a serene delight, perfectly situated amidst the immense natural beauty of the Jurassic coast of East Devon.