Wednesday, 10 March 2010


The poet, Patricia Beer, (1919 - 1999) imagines her mother's first coming to Exmouth from Torquay. Patricia's mother, Harriet Jeffery, came to work in Exmouth as a young school teacher in the early years of the First War. There she married Andrew Beer, grandson of Andrew Alexander Beer. master of the Exmouth brig Magyar who died when his vessel was cut in half by a steamer off Hartlepool. The excerpt is from Patricia Beer's autobiography of childhood,'Mrs Beer's House' (Macmillan 1968)

I sometimes try to enter into my mother’s feelings as she approached Exmouth for the first time. She must have come across the estuary on the Starcross ferry, which was the recognised route from Torquay, as it saved going up to Exeter and down again on the Exmouth line…It is impossible for me to recreate her impression of coming into exile or to think of Exmouth as a hated, hostile town; I feel too differently. But I admit that the estuary could look cheerless on its worst days, and this may have been one of them. Wet sand is a very depressing sight, and the ferry-boat would have got a long, uninterrupted view of Dawlish Warren, which stretched half-way across the mouth of the river as well as the two-mile line of beach from Exmouth Harbour to Orcombe Point.

The estuary was hardly ever blue. It varied from silver at its brightest to pewter at its dullest, and always tarnished with currents, which seized the ferry-boat with some violence as it left the shelter of Dawlish Warren at the last stage of the crossing.

As the boat entered the harbour, swinging awkwardly in the current and hardly ever head-on, the passengers , I suppose, would have been as conscious of the residents’ shoes as they waited on the jetty above as the residents were of the passengers’ hats. My mother may have looked into the inner harbour, where the boats tended to huddle up in corners like sheep and where a few swans and a great many rotten apples were usually swilling about. She would have been too far away and perhaps in no mood to enjoy the smell of cut wood from the saw-mill just beyond. The boards and planks of the landing-stage and the steps were slimy and green, with every corner worn off. It may have been raining and she certainly suffered from seasickness. Perhaps it was one of those terrible first impressions from which people never wholly recover.

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