Sunday, 27 March 2011


In the August of 1883 J B Davidson MA FSA gave a paper to a meeting of the Devonshire Association at Exmouth on the History of Exmouth. Among other good things he knew the story of the stair cross. In the thirteenth century, according to Mr Davidson, ...

"...amongst the other privileges conferred upon Sherborne Abbey by these grants was the right of ferry from Exmouth to the opposite shore of the mouth of the river. The starting-place of this ferry was at a place called Pratteshide, which is spoken of by Dr. Oliver as an ancient name of Exmouth. At any rate it was a place of resort for the purposes of the ferry, and of some commercial importance. The actual point of departure must have shifted from time to time with the changes brought about by waves and storms. On the other side of the river the ferry terminated at a place formerly called Woolcomb's Island, where there was a flight of stone stairs ; and near this ferry-house was set up by the bishop of Sherborne a stone cross, whence was derived the name Stair, now Starcross."

Presumably Woolcomb's Island was properly an island connected to the main by bridge or ford. Another source, Sidney Heath's book "The South Devon and Dorset Coast" published by T Fisher Unwin in 1910 has the following|

"On November 26, 1703, in the same storm that wrecked Winstanley's Lighthouse on the Eddystone Rock, the houses on Woolcomb's Island, as the district was then called, were washed away by the overflowing waters of the Exe. In order to guard against a similar disaster in the future, the Courtenays of Powderham Castle built a strong embankment all along the shore from Powderham Point to Eastdon, a short distance below Starcross, and some years later this embankment was completed by the construction of a wall to keep out the tides, but provided with sluices for the outlet of the water of the little River Kenn. Up to this time the Kenn was navigable as far as Powderham Castle, and a contemporary painting shows the castle with the river at high tide.

"Where Exe meets curled Kenne, with kind embrace,
Betwixt their arms they clip fair Powderham's place."

Well, there's a lot to be commented on here had I not already written my quota. But I must say before I go that "Pratteshide" seems to me a very apt name for the Exmouth of today, especially at the weekends.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


There was, in the early eighteenth century, a craft plying the Estuary called the ‘Water Tin Quart’. This is according to a thin book about Topsham by D.M. Bradbeer called ‘The Story of the Manor and Port of Topsham’ and published by Town and Country Press in 1968. Mr Broadbeer doesn’t reveal his source but he must have found one.

The business of the ‘Water Tin Quart’ was no less curious than its name. It sailed up and down the Estuary from Topsham to Exmouth Bar where it laded a cargo of sea water which it carried back to a salthouse in Topsham. (Meekin's salt manufactory at Riversmeet which gets a mention under 'Saltworking' in the Topsham-Exton Cycle Walkway Environmental Statement.) At the saltworks the sea water was transferred into a huge cauldron. There it was boiled until salt granulated.

The name ‘Water Tin Quart’ must have been a Georgian joke. Perhaps there was something about the lines of the vessel that reminded its owner, the salt boiler John Meacham, more often known as John Meekin, of a tin quart measure. She must have made the trip more or less every navigable tide to keep the business going. She would have been a familiar sight on the river.

Salt, of course, was much in demand in the eighteenth century on the Estuary because of the cod fishing off the Newfoundland coast. The ships that carried the fishermen across the Atlantic could not set off without a hold full of salt. The enterprising Mr Meekin, according to D.M. Bradbeer, went on to bring in rock salt by sea from Liverpool, to take his business to what is now the Bridge Inn, and to make a small fortune.

Friday, 11 March 2011


On Saturday 29th December 1957 was buried William John Carder, 53, lifeboatman and landlord of the Volunteer Inn in Exmouth. He was a volunteer and his father had been a volunteer before him and he had been called out in the evening of Christmas Day 1956 to be one of the crew of the Maria Noble. She launched to go to the aid of the Dutch motor vessel, Minerva. The lifeboatmen would hardly have enjoyed their Christmas puddings when they received the call. Between them they would have had a drink or two. It was a wicked wind blowing from the southeast. “It was,” said Coxwain ‘Dido’ Bradford later, “the biggest gale I have ever known in my life.” Before the Maria Noble reached the channel buoy, William Carder had been washed overboard. The lifeboat could not turn. His body was recovered from Orcombe the same day.

Another gale was howling and raging and the rain was lashing down when, four days later, William Carder’s funeral cort├Ęge left Chapel Street bound for the old church at Littleham. Silent crowds gathered in the raindrenched streets to watch the procession go by. Men took off their hats. The police sergeant on point duty solemnly saluted the dead man. At Littleham, William Carder’s coffin was carried into church by blue jerseyed, red capped lifeboatmen. The church was packed with lifeboat crewmen, launchers, rocket men, fishermen, sailors, boat builders, dockers, shipowners and their agents and representatives of all the people of Exmouth and of the Estuary. Naturally William’s fellow publicans were there too and no doubt a few sinners.

The parson did his best, as parsons do, and Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” was read and the salty congregation sang the old hymns “O God, our Help in Ages Past” and:

“Eternal Father! strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

“Here in Exmouth,” said the parson of William, “We shall remember him for all time to come.”

Well, there is a plaque to his memory on the wall of the new lifeboathouse but, although little more than half a century has passed, not only is he mostly forgotten but the Exmouth in which he lived has mostly been forgotten too.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


There are some birds that are easily recognised from their names. The wheatear is one because of his white arse and the redshank is another because of his bright orange legs. Well , there are no whitearses on the Estuary at the moment but there is an abundance of orangelegs. I have just been watching many of them, not in a flock you understand but spread out along the mudbanks. They stride about pecking at sandhoppers and seaweed hardly slackening their pace. They turn out in large numbers for the month of March.

Shank for leg has an ancient Middle English ring to it. In the Thirteenth Century it was standard English. Edward I had the nickname Longshanks and the word has persisted to describe the 'leg' of an anchor, a fish hook, a wine glass and so on.

The "noisy, restless, redshank" is the master of silly walks. He makes John Cleese look as though he needs some practice. His flight is pretty crazy too, "swift and erratic," says Mr T A Coward. He makes a lot of noise which the birders consistently write as tewk. In some localities, not here I think, he is said to answer to the echoic name of Tewk or Tewkie but Redshank is such a good name he hardly needs another.