Wednesday, 28 December 2011


It was a bitter winter’s night,
the goddess rose up beaming,
a twinkle frost creaked underfoot,
the silver stars were gleaming.
The flood slipped in like beaten light
while all but they were sleeping;
the tide was mirror to the night
it came so calmly creeping.

Chill to the water's edge they came;
she trembled at his shoulder
but when they kissed they burst aflame,
their whole world was asmoulder;
their eyes were furnaces of love
that blazed with youth and yearning;
the very stars looked pale above
the brightness of their burning.

Orion from his post peeped round
and could not mind his duty.
The lady from her chair looked down
and sighed for fatal beauty.
The great bear grinned to gaze upon
a kiss that warmed for ever.
Even the sacred moon smiled on
these lovers in their fever.


Monday, 26 December 2011


In the year 1888 there lived at Topsham a villainous reprobate who spread falsehoods blackening the name of a young woman called Harriet Louisa Finch Pearce. Harriet was the daughter of a market gardener who lived on the High Street. She was thirty three and engaged to be married to a Topsham baker called Louis Ware.

The scandal was so foul that poor Harriet could find no better solution than to drown herself in the Estuary. She told her brother that rather than see her name in the paper she would 'make a hole in the water' but he could not believe that she was serious in her intention.

On the morning of June 18th she rose up early and this time told her brother she was off to Devonport because she could not bear to stay in Topsham to hear the awful scandal which had been circulated about her. Her journey that day should have been by way of the ferry across the Exe, there to catch the early train to Plymouth but events proved that Harriet had been planning a longer and a sadder journey.

A passing stranger found some of her clothes and jewellery on the public footpath opposite the stable yard of the Retreat. Later a fisherman called Edward Hall found her corpse below the summer house and brought her home.

'Touchstone' who in those days wrote up the local news for 'Trewman's Exeter Flying Post' reported as follows:

"The spirit of the poor young girl at Topsham who has gone down to her death will surely haunt those who started against her the foul slander which was the cause of her broken heart and unhinged reason. She was, as Shakespeare says:
'slandered to death by villains,...
boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!'
I need scarcely say that I would not stand in the shoes nor feel the remorse of the individual who aspersed the good name and fame of Miss Pearce for all the gold that could be gathered together within the limits of the little town on the Exe."

Touchstone's 'only regret' was:

"that the name of the creeping snake in human form who first assailed her character should be kept from the eyes and ears of the outside public."

I don't think there are many young women in Topsham these days who would 'make a hole in the water' if they were libelled. More 'suing' than 'suicidal' perhaps. Nor these days are there many local reporters quoting from Shakespeare, more's the pity.

But shed a tear with me for unhappy Harriet Pearce!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


The Victorian poet, Coventry Patmore, wrote a poem called 'The Rosy Bosom’d Hours' in which he describes an August rail journey to Dawlish and the rosy bosomed hours that he and his second wife spent there. Below is the poem in full.

The Rosy bosom'd Hours.

A florin to the willing Guard
Secured, for half the way,
(He lock'd us in, ah, lucky-starr'd,)
A curtain'd, front coupé.
The sparkling sun of August shone;
The wind was in the West;
Your gown and all that you had on
Was what became you best;
And we were in that seldom mood
When soul with soul agrees,
Mingling, like flood with equal flood,
In agitated ease.
Far round, each blade of harvest bare
Its little load of bread;
Each furlong of that journey fair
With separate sweetness sped.
The calm of use was coming o'er
The wonder of our wealth,
And now, maybe, 'twas not much more
Than Eden's common health.
We paced the sunny platform, while
The train at Havant changed:
What made the people kindly smile,
Or stare with looks estranged?
Too radiant for a wife you seem'd,
Serener than a bride;
Me happiest born of men I deem'd,
And show'd perchance my pride.
I loved that girl, so gaunt and tall,
Who whispered loud, ‘Sweet Thing!’
Scanning your figure, slight yet all
Round as your own gold ring.
At Salisbury you stray'd alone
Within the shafted glooms,
Whilst I was by the Verger shown
The brasses and the tombs.
At tea we talk'd of matters deep,
Of joy that never dies;
We laugh'd, till love was mix'd with sleep
Within your great sweet eyes.
The next day, sweet with luck no less
And sense of sweetness past,
The full tide of our happiness
Rose higher than the last.
At Dawlish, 'mid the pools of brine,
You stept from rock to rock,
One hand quick tightening upon mine,
One holding up your frock.
On starfish and on weeds alone
You seem'd intent to be:
Flash'd those great gleams of hope unknown
From you, or from the sea?
Ne'er came before, ah, when again
Shall come two days like these:
Such quick delight within the brain,
Within the heart such peace?
I thought, indeed, by magic chance,
A third from Heaven to win,
But as, at dusk, we reach'd Penzance,
A drizzling rain set in.

He was, I think, travelling soon after 1865 with his second wife from the estate that he had purchased in East Grinstead. His rail journey involved changes at Havant, Salisbury and so to Dawlish for a couple of days where the happy couple stepped hand in hand over the same rock pools John and Tom Keats had known some forty or fifty years earlier. Then the Patmores made the mistake of pressing on to Penzance where, as so often, it was raining.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


There is a sign outside the Methodist Chapel in Sidmouth at the moment that reads “Jesus is what Christmas is all about!” and the same maxim is big on the internet. The argument of this too true statement is as circular as a holly wreath and therefore signifies nothing. If you call Christmas, Christmas, then it clearly has everything to do with Jesus Christ but if you call the Winter Solstice, the Winter Solstice, then there have been many hundreds of gods claiming this space and competing with the Christians’ 'Nativity' and, I dare say, there are still a few competing gods about.

As every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows, the magic of the winter solstice is that the sun stops its apparent run along the horizon, bobs up and down in the same place for three days and then starts moving back the way it came. After this magic time when the sun ‘stands still’, the days, which were getting uncomfortably shorter, start once again to lengthen and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and congratulates the priests and wisemen who have predicted the happy outcome.

Few places allow a better view of the march of the sun than the East bank of the Exe Estuary. The Western hills provide a stage where this oldest of dramas is played out year after year. For thousands of pre Christian years the many different pagan races who lived on the high ground towards Woodbury would have kept a close eye on the setting sun as, day by day, he sank dramatically behind the Haldon Hills ever further to the South, across the wide Estuary. They would have followed his slow apparent journey from his midsummer position on the high moors behind the Turf Lock Hotel (which pub of course they all knew well!) to the seacoast at Dawlish, and they probably prayed to the gods of the age to encourage the sun to fight, fight against the dying of the light which, in the end he always did and, which,as yet, he has never failed to do.

And then, at last, ‘Phew,!’ just in time for Christmas, the sun stops slipping away into the ocean, and, ‘Wowee!, what an excuse for a party!

Midsummer Sunset.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011



Not for us the Sailing Club,
the racing and the craning in,
we lived up the village
far away from the river;

but there were occasional signs;
the fisherman who sold his fish
at the back door, the ships' sirens
on New Year's Eve;

and when I was in bed
the hollow sound of trains
floated across the river
as I faded into sleep;

the hollow sound of trains
across the river
as I faded into sleep...

Stephanie Jupp

Thursday, 1 December 2011


"To the Editor of the EXMOUTH JOURNAL

SIR,- We have all, I am sure, heard with pleasure of the proposed 'Sailor's Rest', which seems in a way to become one of the Institutions of the place.  We all sympathise with sailors and fishermen, and nearly every one in the community is, I imagine, willing to help, according to their power, in this effort for their comfort and well-being.  

But, while we help them,  does it not seem a little too bad that of all the nice fresh fish these men bring ashore so small a portion, if any, is available for the people of Exmouth - and that it must be sent off to different parts of the kingdom and come back to us from London and elsewhere, not improved by the journey?  Sailors and fishermen,  as a rule, like fair play,  and if the good people of Exmouth do their best to provide a Sailors' and Fishermen's Shelter, ought we not to have the chance of buying such fish as is brought in daily by the fishermen?

Fresh fish is a palatable and wholesome food and a plentiful and cheap supply would be a great boon to all classes in Exmouth.

Yours truly,

Exmouth,  January 3rd  1898."

"Housekeeper" wrote this  trenchant  but patronising letter almost one hundred and fourteen years ago but it has been revealed to me, by way of extra sensory perception, that she, yes definitely 'she' , was in fact a mean old biddy,  an Exmouth landlady,  who contributed not so much as a mite to the Flying Angel charity that set up the Exmouth Seaman's Mission  in Victoria Road and who did not give a shrimp's whisker for the comfort and wellbeing of seafarers.  She was rather one who dreamed nightly of serving, cheap, cheap, cheap, boiled fish every 'teatime' to her suffering Victorian holiday guests.   If  I'm wrong in this , may her shade forgive me!

It is no doubt true that the fishermen sold their catch regularly to the London buyers but I don't believe that there was not, in 1898, a local supply of fresh fish available to those Exmothians who were prepared to pay the market price for it.