Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Smuggling provides one of those fascinating subjects ,as for example, highway robbery and piracy, where so many romances are spun that it's hard to receive a sharp image of the way things were.  The Exeter newspaper, The Express and Echo of April 26th, 1963 tells how Forestry Commission workers 'ploughing' on Salcombe Hill found two limestone slabs hidden beneath the turf in a field 'near the top of the hill leading down to the village' of Salcombe Regis.   Beneath these slabs was a chamber ten foot square and twelve foot deep.   A team of local worthies investigated the hole and concluded that this was a hiding place for contraband goods landed at Salcombe Mouth.  

The investigators were a retired parson, the Reverend R.J. Reed, living in Newton Poppleford, a local archaeologist, Mr R. E. Wison and a certain Mrs S.H.M. Pollard.   They noted that the floor was of compressed earth and flints and that the diggers of it had scattered the earth 'to avoid drawing attention' to the chamber. It would be a satisfaction to know if a more detailed account of their discovery was published.  Is there anybody out there who knows, for example, exactly where was this cache?

Stories of hidden contraband abound but hard evidence of where it was hidden is thin on the ground (or under it!).   Clearly such a hidey-hole as this would be a safer place to stash goods than a farmer's barn or a church tower,  although there is no doubt these too were used.  There was a legend, no more than that, in the estuary village of Lympstone, which was infamously involved with smuggled goods coming across the Exe, that the carriers routinely hid their contraband in the deep ditches that run parallel to Wotton Lane.   This seems to make sense in that no greedy farmers or pious parsons needed to be involved.

In this same Express and Echo article, the writer, Frank Cole, quotes J.R.W. Coxhead, the writer on local smuggling, as saying:   'some half a dozen (such caches) have been found in the Branscombe area since the turn of the century.'  (That century not the last one!!)   Again it would be pleasing to see some hard evidence of such finds.   None seem to have been ploughed up recently.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.
He steals the daylight and he cools the sun.
He kills the lily and he blights the rose.

Storms are his claim to fame. He blasts and blows
and robs the mariner of all he’s won.
Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He strips the green from ev’ry tree that grows
and paints the garden brown and when he’s done
he kills the lily and he blights the rose.

Insolent spoiler,  see him thumb his nose
and drown a country wedding - not just one!
Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.

He fills the skies with seagulls and with crows
and bids the swallows flee,  the hedgehogs run.
He kills the lily and he blights the rose.

He breathes his chill on fingers as on toes
and pockets all he finds of summer fun.
Trust not this joker in his gaudy clothes.
He kills the lily and he blights the rose.


Saturday, 17 October 2015


One of the duties of World War One coast watchers was to report exposed lights.  The Defence of the Realm Act included a Lighting Order that required householders to obscure lights that might be visible from the sea.

On the third of July 1915, at about a quarter past one, William Cordey, a Sidmouth coast watcher, ( I'd like to think he was a little boy scout but he probably wasn't.) noticed a light shining from a window at General Hopwood's house.  The house was "right on the cliff".  Only three nights before the general had been cautioned with regard to a light shining from the same window.

William Cordey and James Greenwood, a reserve constable, knocked at the general's door.   The general answered the door and the constable told him a light was shining from a window on the ground floor. The general said it was not so.  I suspect it was a Plebgate moment.

The general was wrong and the constable was able to demonstrate to him that a curtain had been pulled aside and a candle was shining into the night and out to sea.  The general blamed Nellie Hillry, his housemaid, but months later, in court at Ottery, Mr Michelmore, his solicitor, said that General Hopwood had been giving a party that night and it must have been a lady visitor who had unwittingly moved the dark curtain. Only a few inches of the curtain had been moved and it was only a candle.

The magistrates fined General Hopwood five pounds.

(Reported in the Western Times 14th April 1916.)


Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Today is a sunny day and a good day perhaps for lying on the pebble beach at Salcombe Regis and watching cormorants for an hour or so.   They are fitting creatures for a Jurassic Coast - prehistoric monsters!  There are now eight birds on two tidebound rocks all facing into the breeze, Not one of them wants to go for a swim.   Not one of them wants to make the famous cormorant cross.  The sea is choppy but not rough and the breeze is strengthening.

Half an hour ago there was a fair amount of activity.   Some of the birds were swimming and there was a coming and a going on the rocks. Some birds were apparently having fun pushing others into the sea like young men on the radeaux of Mediterranean resorts.   When the cormorants wanted to get back onto the high rocks most of them climbed up it foot by foot, each foot gained by a fluttering leap upwards,  but one or two arrived from the sea in full flight and landed on the top deck like helicopter pilots of the Royal Navy.   There has been little evidence of the birds catching fish.  If they were feeding they were doing so in a way that deceived the eye.  As soon as one gained the summit of a rock it spread its wings and shook them. Then for a short while it would stand still, spread-winged, the way that is expected of a cormorant.

Now though, there is no coming or going and no spreading of wings.  The birds are not moving. Watching them now is like watching grass growing.  For the last twenty minutes these eight cormorant have been about as lively as Antony Gormley's Iron Men. 

Friday, 28 August 2015


During the Great War, if you were a Boy Scout and over fourteen you could be employed as a coast watcher.  The boys worked a twelve-hour shift, six hours walking the coast and six hours in the post. They were seen to be valuable to the war effort, joining with the Coastguard in watching out for Zeppelins, submarines, spies and invaders.  Most of the time none of these came along to be spotted from the East Devon cliffs but Mr Hastings of Sidmouth felt that there were not enough Boy Scout coast watchers and wrote to the  Devon Education Committee asking them to withdraw their prohibition on boys under the age of fourteen being employed in coast watching.

The Education Committee met at the beginning of May 1916 and discussed Mr Hasting's letter and his request.  Mr Hurrell said he was sure it was a bad thing for boys to be engaged in this work.  It was bringing them up to be idlers and loafers.   Mr Morshead assured Mr Hurrell that there was no loafing where the East Devon boys were concerned.  They did not loaf;  they did not smoke and they certainly looked better than they would poring over miserable books.

Mr Vickery was of the opinion that coast watching had a tendency to make boys idle and he did not think it desirable.  Mr Young said the Boy Scouts of Teignmouth took their duties seriously and coast watching did them any amount of good.

By a majority the Committee decided to keep the age limit at fourteen.

Only a few days before, on Easter Saturday 1916 one of the coast watchers between Teighnmouth and Maidencombe had looked down from the cliffs and seen two young ladies perched on a rock surrounded by the sea and with waves breaking over the rock upon which they sat, or perhaps stood.  They had been on the beach all night having set off from Teignmouth in the afternoon of Good Friday.  They had at first been cut off by the tide and had sheltered in a sea cave overnight.   The next morning they tried to reach Maidencombe but ended up marooned on the rocks.   The coast watcher ran to his post and used the field telephone to alert Teignmouth and a motor boat was despatched to rescue the young ladies who, so the newspaper reported, "bore traces of the trying ordeal through which they had passed."

Source:  The Western Times,  April 24th. and May 5th.  1916

Friday, 17 October 2014


This altogether unimportant and inconsequential story I found in the Exeter Flying Post for 26th November 1857:   

John Richards had a coat worth one shilling.  He was a boatman who sometimes picked up passengers from the railway station at Starcross and ferried them to Exmouth.   On Sunday 15th November 1857 he made his boat fast to the landing at Starcross and went ashore to collect passengers from the station.  He was gone for only ten minutes but when he came back to his boat his coat had been taken.   John Richards reported the theft to Constable Froude. Two little lads from the collier brig Wyke Regis had been seen rowing about near John’s boat.   The intrepid Constable Froude went in pursuit of the suspects.   He boarded  the brig and saw fifteen year old Robert Puckett throw a bundle over the side.   The constable first fished out the bundle and found it to be John Richard’s one shilling coat,  then he confronted two boys with the evidence.   The second boy said to Robert Puckett,  “Now, tell the truth,  I had nothing to do with it, had I?”   “No,”  said Robert,  “I stole the coat.”

The Chairman of the Magistrates  (Cole Cole Esq.) told Robert Puckett he was sorry to see so young a lad charged with such an offence,   He hoped that the punishment which the Bench inflicted - a month’s imprisonment - would have the effect of inducing him never to repeat the offence.    

Sunday, 6 April 2014


Woodhead Farm in a Branscombe Mist.

"On Sunday morning last, from information they had received, a party of our active coast guardsmen, consisting of chief boatman Teed, and Messrs. Charlesworth, Fox, Mitchell, Sneedy, Dunn, Wilson and Dingle, proceeded to a barn, in the occupation of farmer Bray at Woodash in the parish of Branscombe, in which they discovered 35 tubs, and eight flagons of smuggled brandy, concealed under some straw.  The waggon in which it had been brought was standing outside, and in a very short time they had the whole loaded and brought to the coastguard station at Sidmouth, from whence it was taken, on Tuesday last, to Exeter.   Bray was taken into custody but is out on bail,  himself in £100 and a substantial security for £50. The case will be heard on Tuesday next, the 3rd instant."

Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette,  Saturday, February 28th 1857.

Subsequent reports give 'Woodhead Farm'  not 'Woodash' which, GR 204901, would appear to be the farm where the goods were seized.