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About Us

Topsham has a rich inheritance of townscape in a uniquely scenic setting, but in the early 1960's the Town had entered a period described at the time as 'a period of genteel decline'. Several attractive buildings were in danger of being cleared or re-developed in less than sympathetic ways. In response to this challange, a group of people who cared about the historic character and built environment of the Town and wished to maintain and improve it for the future, formed The Topsham Society.

Today we have around 300 members who pay a small annual fee and elect a committee to look after our main areas of interest. These include planning and architectural quality, and the preservation and improvement of features of historic or public interest. The Committee represents a wide area of Topsham interests and keeps in touch with Members by monthly items in the Estuary magazine and a bi-annual Newsletter. We also work in close liaison with the Topsham Community Association and the Topsham Museum Society, and there is overlapping committee membership between our organisations.

Over 30 years ago, The Topsham Society published what has proved to be a very popular ‘Account of the Streets and Buildings of Topsham'. This took the form of a book, with strip illustrations of the buildings, drawn by Caroline Oboussier. This publication was recently updated and extended, and it continues to be a valuable way of disseminating information about the quality and character of buildings in the Town. Copies are available - see Publications.

In responding to new development proposals, we encourage sympathetic improvements to the submitted plans. In support of this, in 2005 we initiated a scheme which we call the ‘Enhancing Topsham Awards’. This recognises and celebrates new developments and projects which enhance and improve our Town and has played a positive part in our efforts to promote high standards in planning and architecture.

Other areas of activity include planting trees and caring for open areas; organising guided town walks; a programme of talks and visits detailed in the 'Activities' section of this website; and the annual award of The Topsham School Cup, for a piece of writing, poetry, painting or collage, by schoolchildren attending Topsham School.


The objectives of the Society are:

  • To promote high standards of planning and architecture in Topsham

  • To inform the public of the geography, history, natural history and architecture in Topsham

  • To secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Topsham

Topsham in this context includes Topsham and its surroundings.

The Society is not obliged to deliver against all of the objectives, but as a registered charity is restricted by law to undertake only activities which fall within its objectives.

This brief provides the basis for the work of the Committee and sets the scene for members as to why we do certain things and why we refer other matters to the other community groups in the town.

To promote high standards of planning and architecture
The initiative introduced some six years ago to develop a Design Statement falls within this objective and the Society will maintain such a document, updated at no less than [five] year intervals. In preparing an updated statement the Society will take a view based on discussions with the planning authorities and the provisions of the Local Plan. It will consult with members and the population of Topsham as a whole before finalising the document. The Design Statement (or Townscape Review) will provide guidance to the Committee when responding to planning applications. It will be recommended to any person wishing to build or make alterations to a property who seeks guidance before a formal planning application.

Education of the public
The Society arranges a programme of talks throughout the autumn and winter and seeks speakers of high quality to address the second objective. The extension of subject matter to a wider area than Topsham is considered appropriate as part of the understanding of the historical setting of the town.

The Society arranges a programme of guided walks in the Conservation Area of the town during the summer months. These walks are scheduled to run twice per week at fixed times on a “turn up and walk” basis or by prior agreement at other times for groups visiting the town.

Planning matters
The Society has a sub-committee which reviews planning applications in the town. In addition, we are often asked to comment on proposals at the pre-application stage. When we do this we examine the proposals against the framework of the Local Plan and Design Statement guidelines (see above) and seek to maintain and enhance the quality and standards of planning and design in the town. Where appropriate, we offer comments to the applicant or planning authority suggesting modifications to the design of proposals and/ or advising on planning conditions which may make them acceptable; but where necessary we will recommend that consent should be withheld. Feedback is sought on any application for which the decision made is contrary to our views.

The Society also reviews from time to time the status of buildings and structures within the town to raise with the appropriate bodies the use of listed status to protect them. It makes formal application for listing as appropriate.

The Enhancing Topsham Award, a competition held annually to recognise works which contribute to the townscape, makes awards based on nominations from members and others. It recognises all the parties involved in the winning developments, which may have a social as well as a structural element to them.

The Society offers annual and life membership to individuals who support its objectives. However, the programmes and activities which support our objectives are intended for the benefit of Topsham; participation in consultation exercises and educational activities is not therefore limited to members.

Joint representation on issues affecting the town
The Society works with other representative groups in the town, most notably the Topsham Community Association and the Museum Society to address issues in which those other groups have an interest. This is particularly relevant in matters affecting the community and the life of the town.

The principal printed document produced by the Society is the Design Statement/ Townscape Review. However, the book, Topsham: An Account of its Streets and Buildings, written by Caroline Oboussier, has been published by the Society as a comprehensive record of the town’s architecture. Any proposed publication contributing to the historic record of the town would be sympathetically considered for publication.

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