Dawlish Warren's Tourism Heritage

Beach huts, Dawlish Warren

The "Warren"

The name ‘The Warren’ has described this place for centuries and simply implies it was used to raise rabbits on a commercial basis for meat and fur, probably since the Middle Ages. The word ‘Dawlish’ has been interpreted as ‘black, dark or even devil water’, a fact not advertised widely to the tourists who have visited here and nearby Dawlish since the close of the 18th century.

The construction of the railway in the mid 19th century along its contentious coastal route was in part to appeal to holiday-makers and as an afterthought “Warren Halt” station was constructed in 1905. An increase in leisure pursuits saw the establishment of Warren Golf Club on the Inner Warren in 1892 and increased wealth and leisure time since the turn of the 20th century has seen ever increasing number of ‘sun-and-sand-seekers’ travelling to the Devon coasts. The station here was lengthened to become “Warren Platform” in 1907 and then rebuilt 400m north to its present location in 1912 where it was renamed “Dawlish Warren”. The present name of this site (and the recording area boundary) is therefore relatively recent and was thought up by someone at Great Western Railways. On August Bank Holiday 1955, over 7000 people crammed on the trains, leaving behind several hundredweight of sand on their return back into Exeter.

Dawlish Warren became a home-from-home for wealthy visitors from the 1920s and Bill Hunt built the first of “a range of dwellings which ranged from crude, tiny shacks to beautifully built houses with stained glass windows, oak staircases and fittings to match!” (Barber). The majority of these were built at Warren Point (and provided many of the garden ‘escape’ plants on the reserve!) but the last were destroyed in winter storms and shifting, eroding sands by the early 1960s.

Undeterred and with increased private car ownership, hundreds of beach huts were built in the 1970s, covering a large area but with the added safeguard of being movable to avoid winter weather, only one of which survived into the 21st century. More semi-permanent but safer accommodation has in recent decades transformed Dawlish Warren village into a sea of caravan sites, the occupants of which are supported by a range of amusement arcades, souvenir and fast-food shops. More recently the amusements area has been redeveloped, with all of the shops being replaced by a single larger establishment, alongside the amusement arcade and pub!

Within living memory the land use of Dawlish Warren has changed dramatically. Anecdotes reflecting the rich history include a man who once recalled when in the 1940s he complained when the Americans came and built a gun-emplacement in his garden, upon what is now the now dune ridge near 7th tee; another recalled an oval cycle race-track he and friends built here in the 1960s and an old man recalled how his golfing-partner was killed when he trod on a bomb and mused how the incident had put him off his shot!

 

  • Reference: Barber, C. 1992 Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. Sprint Print. Exeter
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Steam Train in sunset (c) M RogersDawlish Warren Nature Reservekids playing ball on Dawlish warren beach