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.

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.