Saturday, 7 July 2018


Whose stone is this I do not know.  It is so degraded as to prove something of a puzzle.  The stone is flaking away.  It is embedded into the South wall of Salcombe Regis church and has presumably been in the church since the seventeenth century.   I think the verse must  have been composed by Philip Avant, the parson poet whom I have already blogged under the title A GLORIOUS DAY with reference to  his long published poem welcoming King Billy whose ships sailed up the Exe in 1688.

The verse, here 'modernised' is in parts illegible but must, I think, read:

We within this earthly shell
for a time with worms may dwell
till the morning when the just
shall be awaked out of their dust.
Our bless'd redeemer then will raise
us up, his glorious name to praise.
With saints and angels we shall sing
hosannas to the heavenly king.
The memory of such are blessed
and precious to him is their dust.

This is a memorial to a man and his wife.   The man died in 1674, his wife in the March of a subsquent year.  His name seems to begin ELI (Elias perhaps?)  and his surname to end in P (a Clapp perhaps?)  These are wild guesses.

Friday, 29 June 2018


In the churchyard at Salcombe Regis stands a gravestone to Magdalene the wife of Henry Harvey who died the twelfth of July 1822.   She was only 29 when she died.  The stone is unpretentious.  It is a solid rectangle without any of the extravagances that many of the stones here display.  It records her name, her husband's name and the dates of her birth and death.  No more than that. The significance of Magdalene's life was revealed to me by the verger here, the much-missed Gill Thomson, who had been sent a recent publication of the book, first printed in 1904, in which Magdalene gave the world a graphic account of the week after the battle of Waterloo and the days that she spent at the side of her first husband who was dying of his wounds.. .

This first husband was Sir William de Lancey,  a soldier who served as Wellington's Quartermaster at the time of the famous victory.  He was thirteen years or so older than she and she seems to have known him for less than a year and to have been married to him for only three months. Her portrait suggests that she was a very bright, pretty young woman.

Magdalene subsequently married Henry Harvey and bore him three children  The birth of the third  brought about her death.  Because of her manuscript account of de Lancey's death, which was circulated to a multitude of readers including Dickens and Scott and posthumously published in book form a hundred-odd years ago, the early part of her life is fully recorded as at: 
but I can find nothing that records the circumstances that brought her to Devon and to be buried in Salcome Regis churchyard.

Her book, which has been republished by a host of small publishers in the last few years, is usually entitled:  A Week at Waterloo.   It is a stunningly good read and it has established Lady de Lancey's fame nationwide.  But it is Salcombe Regis that has Magdalene Harvey's bones.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018


I have discovered a dragon in Salcombe Regis Church which I want to record for posterity.  No doubt she, dragons are mostly female, has been recorded by others but I don't want to take any chances.  She has almost disappeared beneath the feet of worshippers.   Sometimes I think worshippers should , like the early Nonconformists, be encouraged to take to the fields. In a decade or so this dragon will have completely disappeared.  Right now one can just about trace her wonderful tail and her dragon legs.  She is on the floor just West of the font. What I can read of the inscription is as follows:

2nd (?) of AUGUST 164?.

The dragon or wyvern or wyver-dragon is that of Drake of Ashe, an ancient family with which Sir Francis Drake tried, and initially failed, to share the fiery beast.  This is canting heraldry of course,  Drake being, or considered to be, derived from  draco &c and nothing to do with ducks. She is a red dragon. Who this George Drake was I do not know.  I wish the indefatigable Ray Girvan was still here to find out.  The great slab beneath which George was buried signifies he was a man of substance.

This Wayland Wordsmith blog has now registered more than half a million page-views but for a long while has been much neglected by me.  Today's post constitutes a significant change of direction and, for me, a liberation.  There are personal reasons why I can no longer limit myself to blogs of a salty, estuarial or coastal nature and I hope readers will follow me elsewhere, who knows where?   Perhaps to the stars!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017


It's great to have a pat on the back every now and again. Last year I discovered the passage below in a book, Channel Shore, written by the bestselling author, Tom Fort, and published by Simon and Schuster in 2015. It pleased me too much not to blog it. In the family we call it the Accolade.

“There is a fine chronicler of Exmouth and its estuary who calls himself Wayland Wordsmith. I have no idea who he is – except that he is a poet, a historian, an antiquary of the old kind, a sailor, a fisherman, an explorer, a lingerer over sunsets and dawns, a fierce enemy of the enemies of his town, a philosopher and a gifted writer of a terrific blog. From it I gather that he is around my age, early sixties; that he used to do some netting for salmon when there were still enough salmon seeking the Exe to make it worthwhile; that he has a boat and a family; that he spends a good deal of his time hunting out arcane stories and nuggets of information from piles of old newspapers and books. I confess that I have borrowed freely from him, and without shame, because I am pretty confident he won’t mind. I’d like to meet him and tell him what a debt I owe him.”

Tom Fort got most things right although maybe he overdid the compliments and I am a decade older than he thinks. He, and anybody else, is always welcome to borrow from the blog. I'm working up the courage to contact him and tell him that the debt is all mine.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


This blog intends primarily to concern itself with tales of the coast, the estuary, boats ,ships, sailors, fishermen and sea creatures.  There are now over 300 posts published.  For some years, largely out of idleness but for other personal reasons, I have stopped digging for items of interest,  I have resolved to be somewhat more productive this year.  In 2013, I left the busy village of Lympstone and the Exe Estuary where there is a wealth of salty history and where I had lived for fifty years.  Now I find myself in a quiet hamlet half a mile from the sea.  It is more difficult to find 'copy' in these parts but I have only recently made some effort.  It therefore pleased me to find this record of a midshipman of the Royal Navy who drowned off Sidmouth, not that I was pleased to think of his untimely death.

There is a white memorial tablet framed in black to him in Saint Gregory's church, Seaton.   His story is soon told.  His name was William Henry Paulson  and he was a midshipman aboard HMS Queen Charlotte but on 13th June 1817 he was commanding a galley with eight men with orders to cruise 'for the prevention of smuggling.'   A 'galley' in Navy parlance, if it is not the place where you get a square meal, is an open boat like a whaler, rowed by, usually I think, six men.   Given a big enough sea such boats can fill and sink.  Henry William Paulson met with a gale, the boat turned over and all nine were drowned.  The men were all volunteers and presumably local men.  They, as one might expect, seem to be nameless and have no memorial,. Their 'commander' was only twenty-two years old.

There is a verse, better than many, on his memorial which reads;

'Twas God's high will that in the prime of Youth
The hand of Death should whelm him in the wave.
His will be done but know the eternal truth,
Redeeming Mercy triumphs o'er  the Grave."

I like the word 'whelm'.  It is one of Shakespeare's words.  In The Merry Wives of Windsor,  Pistol says, of Mistress Quickly, "She is my prize, or ocean whelm them all!"   At twenty-two, poor, lost William Henry Paulson was quite old for a midshipman.  He was probably worrying about examinations and promotion when his cruise for the prevention of smuggling put an end to all that.

Thursday, 19 January 2017


The, as from tomorrow, president of the United States, is said to be a Scottish Trump and, therefore nor likely to be related to the East Devon Trumps.  (Well, it would seem I got that wrong.  It was Donald.s mum who was Scottish.  Someone said on radio today that his grandfather was a German,  a Trumpf perhaps!!)   'Trumps' was the fine old grocer's in Sidmouth which, when it closed in September 2014 was two hundred years old and said to be the oldest in the country and the Trump of this blog was probably related to him, her or them.

My source for this story is the diary of the wonderful Sidmouth antiquary, Peter Orlando Hutchinson  (1810 - 1897) as recorded in a fine book called "Travels in Victorian Devon" compiled by Jeremy Butler and published by Devon Books in 2000.   In 1869 Hutchinson wrote:

"There used to be (and still is) a tradition that a man called Trump found a crock of gold many years ago when ploughing a field between the pound and Trow, but his nephew some decime or duodecime of years ago laughed at the story when I told him I had heard so, and assured me his uncle made his money in other ways."

Trow, for those who do not know it,  is the name given to a house or two and, close-by a farmhouse just inland from Weston Mouth.  These days the old farmhouse is part of the famous Donkey Sanctuary.

'Decime' and 'duodecime' are lovely words are they not?   (They don't appear in any of my dictionaries) with the meaning 'ten and twelve years.'

So the 'crock of gold' was found some years before 1859 which puts it fairly into the age of smuggling.  If, as I suspect,  Farmer Trump was using Trow Farm to store smuggled goods and telling the tale of the crock of gold to account for his making too much money from that moonlight trade, the story makes sense.   No wonder then that his nephew laughed.

This is of course a fancy with no evidence to back it up but I have read elsewhere (I don't have the source) that Trow Farm was for a long time said to be haunted and that this tale was put about by the smugglers to keep good people away from it at night.   It would seem, perhaps that Mr Trump and  the Weston Mouth smugglers were prepared to tell fibs to achieve their ends.

Which perhaps brings us back to the President Elect of the United States.


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.