Monday, 24 January 2022


It was April 1829 and Thomas Helston and William Trethrew were to be launched into eternity at Exeter's gaol, each protesting his innocence to the last breath, for attempting to murder W, Jeffrey on the King's Highway:

"Before the execution a silly woman applied at the Prison Gate for a piece of the rope; with which either of the malefactors should be hanged,  this was to act as a charm against the effects of some disease, and another asked permission to rub the neck of a child afflicted with the King's evil with the hand of one, after the execution.  Mr Cole, the governor, had very properly left orders that all such applicants should have a decided negative." 

It would seem that such applicants were likely to be at the prison gate at every Exeter execution.  These were two silly women but they were desperate.   It is no more silly believing that a dead man's hand might cure scrofula than might the touch of a monarch but the kings of the French were still touching swollen necks at this time and the 'rational' French folk were queueing up for it.   

Source:  The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette,  4th April 1829.

Saturday, 15 January 2022



[As I write, wide areas of Northernhay Gardens' lawns have been trampled to mud.  Vehicle tracks have torn up the ground.  The gates are still locked against the citizens of, and visitors to, our city.    By my reckoning the park has, for more than 72 days. ( about the fifth part of a year.) either been locked up or has been a fairground  From before Remembrance Sunday, though the Christmas weeks and well into the New Year the Gardens qua gardens have been denied to the people and they have been well and truly 'disfigured' by being hired out to serve as an amusement park. 

Fairs are fun but a less suitable site for a fairground than our exceptionally lovely Northernhay Gardens is hard to imagine!   

Compared to us, the Victorian RATEPAYER below, whose letter appeared in the Express and Echo of 12th August 1896, had little to complain about, yet no citizens nowadays seems greatly to care!!!  Perhaps some will when they are permitted to see the state of the park:]


"Kindly allow me a short space in your valuable paper concerning Northernhay.   On Saturday afternoon, about 4.30, i should have liked a mouthful of fresh air, but I was refused admission on account of a 'private' garden party.   

"We all have to pay to keep the grounds in order, and it is very hard when one cannot enjoy the beauties of Northernhay after a hard day's work.

"I notice that the turf, which we are not allowed to walk on, is cut up with tent pegs, and the borders of the turf driven over in a reckless way by the vehicles of Saturday last.

"I have seen several little children ordered off, and sometimes the gardener has used more force than he ought, because they have simply walked across the turf;  but others who have permission may come and disfigure the place as much as they choose.



And are not the concluding 15 words true today?

Saturday, 8 January 2022


"A beautiful specimen of the Grosbeak was shot a few days since at Upper Nutwell, near Lympstone.  This bird is frequently met with in Spain, Italy and France, and but rarely visits England.  A specimen of the Black-toed Gull was caught last week in a singular way, at Lympstone - a floating bait was out for fish which the bird caught, and was effectively hooked.   This bird also is very rarely seen in Britain. 

"Both birds are now in the possession of Mr. Atkins, South-street, to be preserved."

I had often thought, when trailing a couple of inches of pipe-clay in the hope of catching a bass, that one or other of the tern might one day fall from the sky and swallow the hook.  I'm pleased to say he never did.  

This  Black-toed Gull swallowed the bait and was not able to disgorge it.  Hence it ended up being stuffed by Mr. Atkins of South Street.

I think the Black-toed Gull might now be rare to the point of extinction.  The Grosbeak is but a finch and it seems shocking that it should have been considered fair game. 

Somewhere the two stuffed birds are quite possibly still to be seen.  The Victorian understanding of preservation was rather different to ours,   One wonders what else was in Mr. Atkins' shop.

Source: The Western Times, 22nd January 1842. 


Sunday, 2 January 2022


 In August 1800 two young men were 'executed on the Drop' at the High Gaol in Exeter.  Joseph Buywater aged 28 and John Chimleigh aged 21.  They were convicted of highway robbery but they were not at all like the highwaymen of romance. 

They seem to have been strangers to Devon,  indeed at first their captors thought they were Americans but  'at the gallows' they claimed to be Englishmen.   Nothing else, it would seem, was learned about them.

The first of the crimes for which they were executed was in May, 1800.  They stopped Richard Wakeham, a farmer who was riding along the road  between Dartmouth and Totnes.  The two robbers were walking along the road, one some distance behind the other:

"It appears that Mr. Wakeham rode by Chimleigh and came up with Buywater, who seized the horse's bridle, and demanded his money.

"Mr. Wakeham seeing some persons in a neighbouring field, was about to call for help;  when Buywater presented a large pistol, and, with an imprecation, told him he would blow his brains out if he made the least noise. Chimleigh now came up, and told Mr. Wakeham if he would give them a shilling, he would be permitted to depart.   Mr. Wakeham then delivered them the shilling and rode off."

Later the same day the two desperados went to the house of the Rev. Mr Cholwich (no location given) where they:

"....  demanded victuals in very rough terms, which he very spriritedly refused. though Chimleigh had a pistol, and Buywater a bludgeon.  Finding him determined, they went away from Mr. Cholwich's house, Chimleigh with threats and curses and Buywater civilly asking pardom if offence had been given.

"For this behaviour they were indicted, but acquitted, 

"Mr Cholwich, Thomas Borne, and some others, afterwards went in pursuit of Buywater and Chimleigh, and when Borne, who was a little before the others , came up with Buywater and Chimleigh, they seized his bridle and demanded his money or his life.  Fortunately at this time his associates came up, and apprehended both."

There is, I think, something very fishy about this story.  I suspect it might have been that Parson Cholwich was so dissatisfied with the acquittal that is reported (no further details) to have taken place that he had, Wild West fashion,  'got up a posse'.  It seems rather too convenient that the young strangers then decided to rob one of their pursuers in classic highwayman fashion - your money or your life.

There are no further clues in the report of The Exeter Flying Post of 28th August, 1800 but the two men were most certainly hanged:  

"Baywater appeared very penitent, whilst Chimleigh seemed equally hardened, and did not appear even to be depressed at his unhappy situation." 

Bludgeon  is a jolly word,  of obscure origin but it certainly makes one think of blood and blows and bloody deeds.




Thursday, 30 December 2021


In August 1876:

"SYDNEY BOWDEN, WILLIAM BOWDEN, and WILLIAM SPARKS, three lads, the eldest being ten, living in Well-lane, were summoned for having placed stones on the rails on the incline between Lion's Holt and the tunnel.

"P. C. Leeworthy stated that about eight o'clock the previous evening he was on the railway bridge in Lion's Holt, and therefrom saw the lads picking up stones between the rails and placing them on the metals  On seeing him the eldest lad, William Bowden, knocked the stones off the metals and ran away.

"Mrs Sparkes said her child only placed pins on the metals, and produced some that had been crushed by the train,  The mother of the Bowdens said she had thrashed her boys.

"The parents reluctantly consented to have the childen whipped, and they were put behind to receive six stripes each.

"Mr. Rogers, who appeared on behalf of the Company, said that if the stones had been large they would have thrown the engine off the metals as it was a very steep incline, but as the defendants were young the Company were willing to leave the matter with the Magistrates"

The eldest of these boys, William Bowden, was ten!  How young, for humanity's sake!, were the others?  Their tender age did not spare them six stripes each in the cells behind the Exeter Guildhall.... and the Bowden boys, perhaps, were being thrashed for a second time!

When I wa s a little boy, in Mossley Hill, we liked to bend halfpennies by putting them on the line.  It was strictly forbidden.  I don't remember any thrashings but this was a long lifetime later.  

One doesn't often see therefrom these days.  Wherefore!?

Does anyone still speak of the metals of the track?

Source: The Exeter Flying Post, 30th August 1876. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2021


From The Exeter Flying Post, 23rd August, 1876:

"THOMAS HOOKWAY, a lad, was charged with misbehaviour in High-street the previous evening. (Sunday.)  Capt. Bent stated that the conduct of lads in High-street was so bad that he had to put on an extra force of officers to keep order.

"P.C. Ray saw defendant standing with others on the footpath and obstructing the thoroughfare.  He ordered them off.  Subsequently he saw defendant push two females from the inside to the outside of the path.

"Defendant said he knew the females and denied having pushed them.  He was convicted for a similar offence in March last.  The Bench fined him 3s., or a week."

Along Exeter's High-street in 1876 ran not the pavement nor the sidewalk but the footpath.  It was the footpath across which Thomas Hookway chose to push females but only those whom he knew.  It seems that this had become habitual misbehaviour.

Capt Bent, chief of the city police force, told the court that the conduct of lads was so bad that he had to put on an extra force of officers to keep order.  It would, however, seem that the worst example of misbehaviour that he could find was Thomas Hookway shoving a couple of girls.

I could wish that he and his extra force of officers might be along Queen Street, say, or in the Northernhay Gardens during the Exeter College term. 


Sunday, 19 December 2021


In July 1867, the Reverend J. C. Jackson of Hackney wrote a strong letter to The Times which was reprinted in The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 19th July:

"At Exeter some of the most interesting tombs in the country have been simply destroyed.  Of the Courtney tomb there is not a vestige of old work left, and the so-called restoration is partly in stucco.  The figures themselves are perfectly ridiculous.  More than this the monuments no longer stand over the places of interment.   Happily, at present, there have been few funds for restoring this charming building, or we might have to regret even geater loss than in the case of Lincoln.  Where cash has been forthcoming it has been worse than wasted.

When I heard of the proposed restoration of Bishop Oldham's tomb, I made a point of going down to Exeter to see how things really stood, and I was horror-struck.  This fine monument was thus treated.  First, all vestiges of old colour, of which much remained in its original comdition, were removed;  then all the stonework, except the sculpture, and it is said, though I can scarcely believe it, the effigy was re-tooled, and finally the whole was painted up in oil colours of the most distressing crudeness,  just as any village painter might do it.  The face has been aptly compared to a Guy Fawkes.  The furbishing up of the Carew monument is not a bit better; even the inscriptions are now of no sort of authority, except as possible copies."  

I am taking the Reverend  J. C. Jackson at his word and shall never again look at the monuments in the Exeter Cathedral with the same eyes.