Friday, 2 November 2012


It was a moonlit, blustery night, Tuesday 1st December 1835, and the smuggling fraternity of East Devon had planned an audacious run on the coast just to the Exmouth side of Budleigh Salterton.   Some fifty or sixty men, gathered on the beach towards midnight.   John Batchelor, the chief boatman of the Coast Guard at Budleigh,  had spotted a cutter manoeuvring suspiciously in the offing and had summoned his commander,  Lieutenant William Noble Clay RN.  Lieutenant Clay, with great courage, hastened alone to the beach beneath the westward cliffs where he found a boat ashore and the smugglers busy.  He twice fired his pistol over the heads of the men on the beach.  Some of them fled but others came towards the lieutenant saying, "Seize him!" and "Give it to him!"  They were armed with guns, pistols and bludgeons.  They tied up Clay, hand and foot, and took his cutlass and his pistol from him and some of them beat him and injured him.   He asked them not to beat him and asked one who seemed to be the leader of the smugglers to return his pistol.   The ringleader, who was probably William Rattenbury of Beer, son of the smuggler Jack Rattenbury, pointed to his own pistol.  "This is not your pistol, it is mine,"  he said,  "and damned well loaded  it is."    By now John Batchelor had arrived on the beach and a Budleigh baker called Perriam.  The smugglers surrounded Batchelor and took Perriam by the waistcoat and put a pistol to his head.  Batchelor, however, stood his ground and fired his pistol and then fired a blue light as a signal  and, at this, the smugglers saw the game was up and fled into the night.  John Batchelor untied Lieutenant Clay who, bloodied but unbowed, then had the satisfaction of seizing the smugglers' boat where were 52 kegs of brandy and, no doubt, other smuggled goods.   Batchelor next went to the station house and fired a rocket to alert the countryside and the affray was concluded.

This story is taken from Trewman's Exeter Flying Post , 30th March, 1836.

Friday, 26 October 2012


From The Devonshire Chronicle and Exeter News,  15th August 1835:


"This took place on Thursday last, the town of Starcross and the River Exe presenting a most animated appearance on the occasion.  The Regatta was under the distinguished patronage of the Earl of Devon, whose seat, Powderham Castle, is near the town but whose attendance on Parliamentary duties prevented his being present.   Lady Dantze was the Lady Patroness and S.T. Kekewich Esq. and Capt. Peard R.N., Stewards; and they were assisted by an active and zealous Committee, by whom the most judicious arrangements were made.

"The Public Breakfast took place at Southwold's Courteney Arms Inn,  and was admirably served to a large and fashionable assemblage, a band of music being stationed in an adjoining gallery and playing during this very elegant affair as well as throughout the afternoon.  The weather was delightful and with a fine breeze, and in front of the town and gaily dressed lay Lord Lisle's Yacht and the Transit, E.L.Kemp Esq."

The day seemed to have been a great success except perhaps for the Steward's Race which was "admirably contested" but during which "the Fanny came in contact with a Pilot Boat, and sunk, (sic) but the crew were saved."

How different Starcross must have been, before the railway came, when all the houses looked straight out onto the Estuary.   The dignity of a local Earl made this the most 'fashionable' regatta on the river with, clearly, many of the great men and women of the time wanting to be there.    Lady Dantze, whose husband was competing, was of a family that had prospered with the woollen trade and brought the mills to Ottery.  Samuel Trehawke Kekewich Esq had recently served as the conservative MP for Exeter and is famous in local history because, in 1826, four men ringing a chime of bells in his honour at Saint Michael's Church, Alphington were struck by lightning,  one of them killed.  Captain George Peard RN lived at Exminster and, as a lieutenant, had sailed with Sir Frederick Beechey's Expedition to the Pacific and the Arctic and had brought back artefacts now in the RAMM..

No doubt they all glittered in the August sunshine.  This was assuredly a very elegant and fashionable assembly!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


These verses, written by Arthur L Salmon under the title ‘Sunset by the Exe’ first appeared just before Queen Victoria died.    I have copied them from the book Downalong the Exe by J M Slader,  (West Country Handbooks 1966).   Slader writes, “Before returning to Exeter climb atop Great Haldon.  The view covers the whole estuary of the Exe and the hills as far as Honiton and the confines of Somerset.  Haldon Belvedere erected about 1780, by Sir Robert Palk in memory of his geat friend Stringer Lawrence is a well known landmark.  The last time I stopped here I thought of those enchanting verses by Arthur L Salmon.  Was it here that they were written?  Was this the inspiration?”

Well maybe!   But my own guess is that verses entitled “Sunset by the Exe” were probably inspired on the East bank rather than the West.   “Sunrise by the Exe” would be another matter.

The flood of light falls lingeringly
Where Exe flows out to meet the sea,
And through my heart the flood of dream
Flows deeper with the deepening gleam.

The sun hath touched with loving hand
The stretch of sea, the bars of sand,
And on each crying sea-bird’s wing
His kisses still are quivering.

The world of  spirits opens wide-
The sea of soul that hath no tide;
A moment’s vision comes to me
Where Exe flows out to meet the sea.

I pass with sunset’s passing gleam
Into the life that does not dream;
The secret guarded gates unfold
Unto the self that grows not old.

In moments thus, from youth to eld,
Too briefly given, too long withheld
The soul is snatched from time and place
To boundless peace, to boundless space.

The years that come with stain and soil,
For years of hope,  the years of toil.
Pass by and leave no least impress
Upon this inmost consciousness.

Where Exe flows forth to meet the sea
This message hath been granted me;
The soul, though fast asleep it lie,
Grows never old,  can never die.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


To stand silently by gentle waters
is fleetingly to taste
a peaceful end to time,
questions no longer,
doubts resolved.

Sunlit or starlit,
these spread waters
mirror eternal skies
where you and I
hold no investment.

Rejoice though,
however to be defined,
rest will come.
We shall be rocked in our long sleep
by gentle waters.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


It is six o'clock in the morning.
The fish are in their pond.
They look all round their little world.
They do not look beyond.

They find a fly to feast upon
How glad are they to feed!
The youngest says, “O lucky day!”
The oldest says, “Indeed!”

They flick their fins in the sunlight
which is an act of folly.
They flash their splendid golden flanks.
The world, they think, is jolly.

The herons have lived on the Western bank
since Ex’ter built her wall
but sometimes one will cross the tide 
and condescend to call.  

The herons have been at Powderham
since Harold lost an eye
but now and again one flaps this way
and drops in from on high.

Oh,  noble is the heron
and stately is her flight!
She looks down on the suburbs
as a noble creature might:

the emerald of little lawns,
of bushes, trees and fronds,
the ruby rose, the sapphire phlox,
the diamond garden ponds.

“O do not leave me, fellows mine!”
So speaks the youngest fish
“I would not stay here all alone!”
The heron grants his wish.

It is six o'clock in the morning,
or maybe a minute more,
and all the fish who once swam here
ride high in the heron’s craw.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


On Sunday 6th August 1815, a couple of months after the Battle of Waterloo and a couple of weeks after the excitement of Napoleon being off Brixham aboard the Bellephoron, four people, a manservant and three women servants, were enjoying a quiet day's boating on the Estuary.   They had hired an Exmouth boat skippered by a  fifteen year old boy.   In the evening they found themselves in the Bight where the great colliers were moored and a sudden squall of wind drove their boat in such a way that it fouled the hawser of one of the ships lying there.   The boat was upset and a young woman was drowned.   The others were helped aboard the collier by the 'active exertions' of the crew.

As well as being squally weather, it was probably that time of ebb when the infamous 'race' is running    Even today,  when there are no colliers' hawsers to plague us,  many a small boat gets into a tangle in that part of the river.

 The report does not tell me,-  I am reading this in the Woolmer's  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of August 12th 1815, -   but I imagine that these were four young people from a local household enjoying the one day in the week when they were allowed out.   We are not told the name or age of the girl who died.  She was, after all, only a servant!

It is no doubt perverse to feel much sympathy with someone whose death took place two centuries ago when there are so many contemporary tragedies shouting for our attention but I am in a melancholy mood today so I am wondering what this lost 'young woman' was like.  One moment she was perhaps laughing, chatting, joking, the next she was fighting for her life in the chilly waters of the Exe encumbered by her impossible Regency petticoats.  Was she still a teenager?  Was she pretty?  Did she have a sweetheart to weep for her or aged parents to grieve?    The distance and the very casualness of the newspaper report somehow make her sad death seem all the sadder.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012


What if it were to be decreed
by our all powerful Mother of Parliaments no less
that the Exe Estuary should become an Area of Outstanding Wildness
with not a dwelling within a mile of the tideline,
the distance to be carefully measured by government officials,
and all the people, simple and gentle, to be humanely removed,
as,  I am told, happened in the South Hams in World War Two,
and the buildings,  the beautiful with the tatty,  to be pulled down stone by stone and brick by brick
and the railways to be broken and all those rails and sleepers dragged away
and the cycle paths to be taken elsewhere and recycled
and all things plastic, concrete, tarmacadamed to be hunted down and rubbished
and stiff penalties to be strictly imposed on trespass,
especially on anyone who introduced any kind of electrical device or petrol engine
with death by hanging to be the fate of any one found sneaking in and driving an offroad vehicle
or carrying a shotgun
and the tides to be left to fight back into the ancient inlets
and the birds and the beasts to be given dominion
and the flora be given permission to flourish
and only a very few privileged people, but not their dogs,
of whom I would be one and, okay, you can be one too,
would have all the fun of walking and boating about here?

Well, I only ask what if?

Saturday, 25 August 2012


"To the Editor of the Western Times,  November 26th 1836.

Sir - If further proof now is wanting of the necessity of a steamer to tow up vessels from Exmouth Bar,  the fact of seven vessels now detained in the bight- in consequence of the present northerly winds is quite sufficient.  The whole of those vessels would have been at Exeter Quay discharging their cargoes, if a steam tug had been ready to assist them - why it is calculated that every trading vessel would make an additional trip, if taken in tow by a steamer immediately as she arrived at the bar -  the necessity of this accommodation to your post,  will be apparent to the most incredulous.   I hear the Exeter Steam Navigation list is rapidly filling,  to which I most cordially wish success,  and I do not doubt it will be a very profitable investment."

The Estuary was behind the times.  Steam tugs with paddle wheels had been operating elsewhere and making a profit since 1802. The year before this letter was written a Kent farmer had invented the screw propeller, which invention would greatly improve the performance of steamboats. Only two years after, in 1838,  Brunel's steam ocean liner,  the Great Western,  crossed the Atlantic in a mere 15 days.   A new age was dawning  and there was money to be made.

One suspects that the writer of this curiously composed letter, whose name is not given in the paper, had no small interest in subscribers being found to the Exeter Steam Navigation.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


In 1911 a book by Lady Elliott Drake who then lived at Nutwell Court entitled 'The Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake' was published.   It quotes from many interesting letters among which is one from the year 1755 in which Mr Rowe, the Drake's faithful agent, returns to Nutwell from Buckland and reports that there has been a bomb ketch and tender lying off Starcross and that 'pressing' had frightened away all the workmen from the harbour, and that for some weeks neither carpenters nor joiners could be induced to come out of hiding to work on the alterations at Nutwell Court, lest they should be caught by the press gang.  'The neighbourhood,' he adds  'had become very melancholy'  as a consequence.  'The harbour' he means is Lympstone, which place, he goes on to say, he fears the war will lower.

Impressment was a serious threat if you were a man 'of seafaring habits' between the ages of 18 and 45.  More than a quarter of the men serving in the Navy in 1755 were pressed men.  The fact that, even on this side of the Estuary, working men hid away for weeks in order to avoid being scrobbled for service means that a press gang must have been expected to leap out at you at any time in any place.  The Impressers must have been a sneaky bunch and it is perhaps curious that their heinous practice survived so long in our avowed land of liberty.

The glorious painting above of a bomb ketch  is by Charles Brooking (1723 - 1759) who produced so many beautiful pictures in such a short life.  The ketch that visited Starcross in 1755 had its bomb tender with it.  This was normal.  The munitions were so dangerous they were stored away from the mortars and everywhere a bomb ketch went her tender was sure to go.

The whole neighbourhood must have rejoiced when the ships weighed anchor and sailed with the tide to hunt for men elsewhere.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


At Exmouth, in the June of the year 1865, while 'sturdy fellows' were busy 'burrowing in the sand' building the dock,  Captain George Gardner, master of the schooner Eleanor of Portsmouth, brought his ship laden with timber over the bar and into the sheltered water landwards of the Warren which then served as harbour to Exmouth.  

A boy called Henry Hearn in the employ of Mr Redway was engaged to haul timber ashore and found himself alongside the schooner and in the same boat as Captain Gardner's boy.   For whatever reason the two boys quarrelled and Captain George Gardner  in the tradition of mad Victorian masters,  leapt from his ship into the boat and dramatically intervened. He picked up Henry Hearn by the heels and threw him overboard and afterwards deliberately forced his head under the water until the poor boy nearly drowned.  Henry was taken home senseless.  

Mr Redway charged Captain Gardner with the assault and he was summoned before the magistrate, the Reverend J F Boles, on  Tuesday 6th June.  The matter, however, seems subsequently to have been settled out of court.

It would seem from this account that up until 1865 timber was being offloaded from ships into the river and hauled ashore by little lads in rowing boats.  The new dock would change all that.

The source of this story is Woolmer's Gazette of 9th June, 1865.  


Friday, 10 August 2012


On Tuesday 2nd August 1836,  Exmouth held its annual regatta.  This was the usual beano with funfair on the beaches and sailing and rowing races up and down the Channel and round the Warren but this year there was to be an extra treat in store for the Exmothians thanks to the opportune arrival from the sea in his yacht of a local worthy.  The Western Times of 6th August reported:

"During the day the "Lady of Saint Kilda" arrived having on board Sir T D Acland and family who had just come from Lisbon.   On her entering the harbour she saluted with eleven guns; she took her station in the Bight  where she speedily appeared splendidly attired in all her numerous colours, forming a most prominent feature in the attractions of the day."

The "Lady of Saint Kilda" was built in Dartmouth as a trading schooner but was bought by Sir Thomas (new?)  in 1834.   Certainly it was the Aclands who gave her her name and who reconstructed the interior of vessel so that she became a luxury yacht.   Some years before the family had made a voyage in another yacht to the remote Hebridean island of Saint Kilda,  hence the name.   Her salute of eleven guns  (What kind of gentleman's yacht carried guns and what kind of guns would they have been?)  must have made the locals jump.

She was a famous ship and lives in history not least because Saint Kilda, the sprawling suburb of Melbourne, Australia,  was named after her.   There can't be many places in the world that are named after a boat but such is Saint Kilda.  The Aclands sailed her from 1834 to 1840 and she was well known on the Estuary.  Where she was moored or berthed I do not know.

Friday, 3 August 2012


In 1883 that wonderful series of 'Ingatherings'  Arber's "English Garner" reprinted Robert Lyde's 1693 "Account of the Retaking of a ship called the Friends' Adventure of Topsham, from the French; after She had been taken six days, and they were on the coast of France with it four days.   When one Englishman and a Boy set upon seven Frenchmen,  and brought the said Ship and them safe to England &c."   With a title like that the story is more or less already told!

Stevenson,s "Kidnapped" was first published in 1885 and I'm wondering if he had been reading "An English Garner"  and the account of this bloody battle on board ship between one man and a boy and a ship's company before he dreamed up his famous Battle of the Round House.

Lyde was a great adventurer and in 1693 was, "a lusty young man aged about twenty three years".  The boy, John Wright, was "about sixteen years" and they were both from Topsham.    Their adventures on the high seas are worth reading but they take place far from the Estuary.   Lyde, however, after meeting many challenges, brought his ship, almost single handed and with prisoners battened down below decks to the mouth of the Exe.

"After three, I bore away for the bar of Topsham,  thinking to go in over the bar in the morning tide; but by five the wind lynned.   At six, I sent up the boy to loose the maintopsail.  At seven,  I let out the reefs of both topsails, and made all the sail I could:  but the wind dying away so, I did not fetch the bar before ten of the clock; which was too late for that tide.  At which time,  the Pilot was coming;  but seeing no colours, nor no men on deck but myself and the boy,  they were afraid:  and were rowing away from me.  But I being in hail of them,  I asked them,  "What they were afraid of?   and why they should not come on board?"  They hearing me call to them in English, they lay still upon their oars till I came up with them:  and seeing me and the boy, whom they knew; they inquired for the Master.  I told them,  "He might be carried into France by this time,"

And after they came on board,  I gave them an account of all the proceedings,  which made them all in a maze;  and they would hardly believe it:  but to put them out of doubt,  I showed them the five prisoners.  Whom the Pilots would have had me let them out to work:  but I refused to do that till the ship was over the bar.  Because they should not see how the bar did lie;  for fear they might become pilots, and go in with their boats hereafter,  and so burn or carry away our ships.   This discourse being ended,  the Pilots would have me sleep,  for they perceived by my countenance, that I stood in need of it:  but the joy of having six Englishmen on board banished all sleepiness from me.

Half an hour after ten,  I sent two of the Pilot's ashore.  One to bring me some help on board.  And the other to ride to Exeter with a letter which I wrote to the owners of the ship....

I stayed without the bar till four in the afternoon;  and then we went for the bar.  After I was got over in safety and landlocked,  and there were many people on board,  who were desirous to see the Frenchmen:  I ript off the plank which was nailed over the hold;  and the prisoners came up,  to the confirmation of the truth of this Relation.  By five,  I was at anchor at Stair cross;  and there were as many people on board as could well stand.  Immediately I sent the prisoners to Topsham, in the Custom House wherry,  that the doctors might take care of their wounds.   At six I put all the people ashore except the boy and Their Majesties' Officers; whom I left on board.

I went to Topsham ...."

And there let us leave him, at least for tonight.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012


In  July 1643, when Admiral the Earl of Warwick and his Parliamentary fleet came sailing up the Estuary, cannon blazing to starboard and larboard, hoping to relieve the Parliamentary forces in Exeter, the Royalist besiegers under the command of Sir John Berkley managed to prevent the ships reaching the city and held them in battle at Topsham until the tide was running out from under the ships' keels and the fleet had to chase back down channel and out to sea.   (This is the same John Berkley who was soon to be the Governor of Exeter and the recipient of laudatory lines from the Cavalier parson poet at Dean Prior, Robert Herrick, viz:.

"Stand forth, brave man, since fate has made thee here
The Hector over Aged Exeter;
Who for a long sad time has weeping stood
like a poore Lady lost in Widowhood:   &c.

 This then is Clarendon's (Royalist) account of the action on the Estuary:

    "The Parliament commended the Relief of this place (Exeter), by special instructions, to their Admiral, the Earl of Warwick;  after whose having made show of Landing Men in several places upon the Coast, and thereby compelling Sr John Berkley to make quick and wearisome marches with Horse and Dragoons from place to place, the wind coming fair the Fleet left those who attended their Landing about Totnes, turned about, and with a fresh Gale made towards the River that leads to the Walls of Exeter, and having the Command of both sides of the River, upon a flat, by their Cannon, the Earl presumed that way he should be able to send Relief into the City, but the diligence and providence of Sr John Berkley had fortunately cast up some slight Works upon the advantageous Nookes of the River in which his Men might be in some security from the Cannon of the Ships; and make great haste with his Horse to hinder their Landing;  and so the Attempt was not only without success, but so unfortunate that it discouraged the Sea-men from endevouring the like again.  For after three or four hours pouring their great shot, from their Ships upon the Land Forces, the Tide falling,  the Earl of Warwick fell off with his Fleet, leaving three Ships behind him, of which one was burnt, and the other two were taken from the Land, in view of his whole Fleet,  which no more look'd after the Relief of Exeter in that way."

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Unique, somehow evocative, and yet a new sound.
Not sleigh bells ringing but merry,
their promise already half conjectured when I wake
in this lumpy bed puzzling, taking bearings, the bumpy journey
having been wondrous strange.

Yesterday I came, the weather fine but poring,
by train and ship and train from the North West German plain,
over the one inch to the mile map of unknown Exeter
which should have been my goal
had it not been for the bright blue eye of the mapped river,
tempting, hinting, promising all the way
until the train lands me at Exter!
(Exter Sin Davids! is the cry all platform long, and Exter 'tis!)

I beach on my America, my new found land.
The cabbie knows,  of course he knows, Topsham.
'O yes, my boy, I knows Topsam, course I does.

And the 'Inn' fulfils the map's prophesy.  The Passage.
Its old board swings as it might be The Sign of the Spyglass or The Admiral Benbow
and on the river, already my sweetheart, I feast my eyes
while on the board a painted boat, a painted arm pulling upon a painted paddle,
ferries, beneath the painted raging of the skies, this bright Exe.

See me now paying off the cab, setting down my bags,,
an overdressed young arrival,
impressed and for one whole minute soul deep
in peace and wonder
on a desert cobbled apron and the bright tide rising and nothing stirring,
the inn, ancient, crooked, gabled, black and tan,
all that my inn should be.

But now a boat,  a wooden boat, tipped upside down and in the sun
and,  from her side protruding, a pair of boots
which do not answer questions put
but are caught in the stillness of that anchored summer evening,
a memory of boots and the echo of a grunt beneath the boat.

Slowly: thighs, backside, shoulders, tousled head,
the landlord of The Passage
appears before me, looks me up and down, scratches his ear.

Well now, if it's lodgings I'm after, I'm in luck!
All I need do is squeeze up a cramped staircase
to view his flat in the twin gables,  two pound a week to perch above The Passage Inn.
I make my bargain,  a bargain even then, and make my lumpy bed
and, after celebrating the golden glory
of living over a pub,  I lie in it
and lie in late  and wake to this new sound,
not sleigh bells but merry.
And from my garret window I look out on the river, bright in the morning sun
where the breeze is rattling the rigging of many a fine boat.

And to this jingle the singing river adds her welcome:
"Here friend,  here begins our love affair!  Here it begins!"
she sings.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


This month and last the execrable weather  and my necessary commitments have meant that I have hardly visited my boat, Poppy, except to bail her out.   Today early,  just before the morning tide crept in,  I once again carried my plastic bucket along a line of curlew tracks the short distance to my dried out mooring and took out enough water to float a stranded whale.  

I mused to myself the while, being a dabbler in wordsmithery, whether the two words 'pail' and 'bail' were related.  It seemed to me, bailing with my pail, that they had to be.

'Bail' is one of those words that can be spelled in two ways, 'bail' and 'bale',  'bail' being the older form and therefore, perhaps, to be preferred.   Bs and Ps are sometimes confused and I was confident that the two words must be variant forms from the same stock but, once back with my books, I was to be disabused.

According to Eric Partridge's Origins , 'bail' comes from the French word 'baille' meaning a bucket whereas 'pail' has to do with pegs and pegging and derives from an Old English word paegel meaning a wine measure.

Well,  there you are now!

A neighbour whom I bored with my false etymological reflections this morning parted from me with the words:  "Carry on pailing!"

The which no doubt I must.

Monday, 25 June 2012


The thought is perhaps amazing that for maybe three hundred years the Estuary was much visited by sailing ships carrying coal.   Throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries more coal was shipped into the Exe than any other cargo.    Most of the coal needed by the people of  South Devon came sailing up the Estuary.     

Coal was offloaded at Exmouth and Starcross and Topsham and at Exeter Quay.    Coal was transhipped into lighters and barges and taken  to the Estuary ports and  up the canal to Exeter.  Coal came from Sunderland and Newcastle and Milford  and Swansea and Tenby and Newport and Neath.

A favourite place for the ‘colliers’ to ride was the Bight.   In Victorian times most ships were too large to venture further up channel.   Transhipping at high water must have been a day and night business that provided a regular livelihood for many men of the Estuary.

The Estuary limekilns needed coal and received direct shipments by lighter and barge.  So did the saltworks at Riversmeet and elsewhere.  In Lympstone the coal, like the limestone, was sometimes dumped overboard below the tide line.   It must have been a grimy trade and all the quays and landings of the Estuary would have had something of coal dust about them.   The men who worked the lighters would have had a decidedly sooty look when they came ashore.

Only in the second half of the nineteenth century, after the railways came to provide  cheaper and easier  transport,  did the coastwise traffic fade away although the docks at Exmouth and Teignmouth with their railway terminals went on importing coal well into the twentieth century.

The time had come to clean up the Exe for the tourists

Friday, 22 June 2012


This amateur watercolour of uncertain date shows what appears to be a firing range with targets ranged against the red cliffs of Orcombe Point .   I can find no written record of butts on the beach but the targets, if  there to be engaged by the rifle volunteers or indeed the yeomanry, seem pretty antique.   My guess is that the picture was painted between 1890 and 1910 but I might be way out.

The little salmon boat in the foreground with her two man crew seems to be prepared to shoot a seine from the beach into the river,  something that has not been done for many a year although it was common enough to take salmon across the channel from the Pole Sand.  Is that the polestaff projecting from the stern?

There is more ledge and less cliff at Orcombe now.  

I am curious to know more about those butts.  

Sunday, 17 June 2012


I had often wondered if 'seines',  the nets which have been used on the Estuary at least since the Middle Ages, took their name from, or shared an etymology with,the River Seine.   Eric Partridge is clear on this point:  "seine, a large fishing net, comes from Old English segne, Latin sagena... The River Seine is of a very different origin, for it derives,  like Italian Senna from the Latin Sequenna."  

There are local references to sagenae as long ago as the twelfth century.   No doubt they were very different to the seines we know today but the essential principle,  that they were nets to be taken in an arc in order to enclose the fish and then hauled in,  has remained the same

'Haknetts' were snaring devices.   They were  nets set in such a way that fish would tangle in them when the tides ebbed away.   Harold Fox records:  "Fixed nets are frequently referred to in the sources,  an early reference, from 1296,  being to a rent paid on Kenton manor for permission to 'fix up' nets on a mudbank in the Exe estuary."  This method of fishing was known as 'haking' in mediaeval Devon.  

The name, haking, has been said to derive from the 'hooking' of the nets to fixed poles but it seems to me it might just as well refer to the fish being hooked in the net because that's what would have happened.   It seems a delightfully easy way to catch fish.   I remember seeing models of fixed nets in the museum on the Ijssel Meer and wondering why nobody at home fished that way.   They were common on the old Zuider Zee.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Reverend John Swete observed what he called  'poles for fixing nets to take fish at high water' at Sidmouth.  So it would seem that there was a long tradition of 'haking' in these parts.  These days no one is haking and not too many are seineing.

Monday, 14 May 2012


Lympstone Twitch

"An albatross has flown across",
as though it was a common crow,
"Its ten foot pinions have got stuck, oh! what
bad luck, between the red wall and the cream.

We sprang to unspring his pinions, "Thanks"
he snorted salt down his flutey nose;
"May I give you lift before I land?
"I'm afraid that may not be for some six years".

"That's fine, Lympstone's outgrown me."
"Well, when we land it will be wild and windy,
"my birthplace, where I hope to wed
and leave white pompom chicks on Taiaroa Head*".

*South Island, New Zealand

Saturday, 5 May 2012


From 'Lympstone Jottings', 'The Devon Weekly Times' September 20th 1895:

"Hurrah! Hurrah!  The Fishermen's Boat Shelter is about to begin.  The following notice is displayed in the Post Office window - Fishermen's Boat Shelter - The Committee appointed by the Parish Council having obtained the necessary authority from the Board of Trade &c., would be glad to meet the fishermen at the Girls' Schoolroom on Tuesday next,  September 24th at 7pm. to consult as to the steps to be taken to carry out the works as soon as possible - C. G. Browne, Chairman, etc.

"The work will be proceeded with directly the tides allow of the stone being brought from Babbacombe and landed close to the spot where the Shelter is to be built."

As late as 1895 boats were still the  chosen transport to deliver stone to the Estuary ports and Babbacombe still the favourite provider.    The stone, like the limestone for the kilns,  was clearly offladed into the tide,  Splash!,  and then collected at low water.  This Lympstone boat shelter is not the one that we know now but was an earlier one,  cruder but very welcome to the fishermen who had been without any form of boat shelter since they lost the Herring Cove to the Railway in 1861.    Hurrah!  Hurrah! indeed.

Sunday, 29 April 2012


From 'The Devon Weekly Times'  Friday February 15th 1895

"Mr Andrew Haydon of Cockwood, who is in the habit of attending Exmouth with market garden produce, had unpleasant experience on Saturday, as well as a boy with him.

"After completing his business he attempted to return home in his boat which got into an ice floe.   He and the boy were powerless to manage the craft, which drifted at the will of the tide and ice to Starcross, when two young men -  Bert Serle and Ernest Morrish put off to render assistance,  with the result that they got into a similar predicament. 

"After strenuous efforts they took the boy into their boat and managed to catch the sea wall with their anchor near Exeleigh.  They and the boy, in a very benumbed state, landed while the other boat continued up the river.  A rope was eventually tossed aboard from the seawall and the boat was secured."

It makes sense that boats came across the river to bring produce to the Exmouth Market.  There would have been many such crossings on Saturdays although perhaps not too many in a freezing February. 

'Exeleigh' is the great  house that was built for Sir John Duntze in the middle of the nineteenth century.  It is close to the Estuary, near Painter's Wood and close to the southern entrance to Powderham Park.   The ice bound boats would therefore have drifted upriver no more than a mile and a half  but, especially for the boy in 'a very benumbed state',  it would have been a terrifying experience.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


The coming of the railway to the Estuary in 1861 robbed the fishermen of Lympstone of their traditional boat shelter.  This was a cove, a natural little harbour , known as the "Herring Cove".  The railway was constructed right through this cove.  What remains of it is now a marshy tract in the grounds of Nutwell Court which can be seen from the new Cycle Track.   For generations the Herring Cove had provided safe shelter and beaching even in the roughest weather.

When, in 1895 the fishermen were looking to build a boat shelter to replace the cove both the Railway Company and Lady Drake were asked to contribute to the cost.   The Railway Company offered not a penny.  It was 'unable to tender any pecuniary assistance' and Lady Drake offered to find £15 but only on condition that the fishermen paid to her agent 'dues' to which she may or may not have been legally entitled.   Unlike Lady Rolle she was someone who gave with two fingers. She also required, as a condition of her giving, that "the fishermen would cease to draw up their boats on the bit of beach known as Parsonage Stile which was annoying to her tenants."

'Cove' is a pleasant word which you don't hear too often these days.   It is related to the Anglo Saxon word, 'cofa' meaning a room and hence a shelter and was much used locally for a sheltered bay.

(Source:  The Devon Weekly Times,  March 1895.)

Thursday, 19 April 2012


The tides that know no purpose,
their ebb and their flow,
they bring to my remembrance
old men I used to know
who left their punts on Lympstone's Hard,
two anchors to the bow,
and wandered home in seaboots.
-  I do not see them now.

The tides that know no purpose,
their fall and their make,
they bring to my remembrance
fine boats in Lympstone Lake,
the skippers and the crewmen,
their dignities and pride,
all washed away  - as we shall be
this or another tide.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


From the 'Lympstone Jottings' of 'The Devon Weekly Times' March 22nd 1895:

"Mr Williams related a bit of interesting history in connection with Lympstone and the River. When the Bight Oyster Company had formed (ca. 1862) they laid certain claims to the foreshore along the sides of the river for some distance and placed buoys at certain points. Lympstone fishermen, who had been in the habit of getting shellfish, did not see the fun of having their ancient rights taken away by a new Company and, as per usual would go and gather cockles and other shellfish.

"Eight of these men were arrested and taken to Starcross, and one of them was bound over to appear at Exeter Assizes. It was to be a test case. However on the Saturday before the Monday on which the man was to appear at Exeter the poor fellow dropped dead. The next day a letter was received from the Admiralty saying that the prosecution was not to be proceeded with. Then Lympstone fishermen gathered together all the Oyster Company's buoys and took them out over the bar and left them, 'and' added Mr Williams, 'I dare say they are out there now.'"

Dramatic arrests and a death! It can't quite have been the way Mr Williams, (of Sowden?) remembered it, but it's a good tale and there must be a foundation of truth to it which we shall sound.

Friday, 6 April 2012


In the summer of 1984 Harold Fox, who was at that time a Senior Research Fellow of the University of Leicester, was on the shore at Starcross planning a lecture which became a paper which some seven years later became a book entitled, "The Evolution of the Fishing Village, Landscape and Society along the South Devon Coast, 1086 - 1550." (Leopard's Head Press, 2001.)

Many, if not most, of his examples of early activity come from the Estuary, particularly from Starcross,Kenton and Woodbury. His main thesis was, in a word, that the origins of permanent settlements on coast and estuary were often the consequence of the erection of 'cellars' or cabins set up by farmers who chose to build their houses well inland.

"Most of the rural settlements of Devon's coastal manors - typically small hamlets and isolated farms - were situated away from the shore and often out of sight of the sea. The reasons for this were probably fairly simple and basic: a desire to avoid the fiercest of winds and a need for security... Such considerations, and, in South Devon, rich farmland inland, drew rural settlements away from the coast. On the other hand, when and where fishing was a by-employment among farmers, fisheries in estuary or sea drew people towards the waters. The Devon solution to this tussle...was for farmers living inland to use cellar settlements, collections of storage huts on the beach which served as bases for their fishing operations."

Starcross gave him his best example of this evolution with farmer/fishers residing well inland but keeping their boats, nets and other tackle in sheds at the water's edge. In time, so the theory, the fishing village of Starcross evolved from these largely uninhabited buildings.

Professor Fox was a true scholar, able to study Latin texts and to interpret them. Sadly he died within weeks of his retirement in 2007. But so much work went into his monograph that he provides many answers to questions about the nature of the Estuary from the eleventh century to the sixteenth that are not to be found elsewhere .

Saturday, 17 March 2012


Up on the Admiralty square
the sergeant turns his squad about.
The virgin ‘royals’ are not aware
this morning's tide is running out.

The boats are turning on their moorings.
The squad is turning as one man.
The Lympstone boats are going nowhere.
These boys are for Afghanistan.

The boats are nudging this and that way.
They heed no snap word of command.
Some start late and some start early;
some point seaward, some to land.

The squad is turning as one man
up there on the booties’ square.
These boys are for Afghanistan.
The boats aren’t going anywhere.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


The sculptural object above, not the Co-Op matchbox, is already something of an antique. It was found some fortyfive years ago serving as a doorstop in one of the Harefield Cottages, 'The Buildings', at Lympstone and it is anyone's guess how many years it is since it was last in use.

It is one half of a mould for making the leads that were commonly used to sink mackerel lines. It is handmade from local stone and there is one hole to pour in the lead and another to let out the air and the gases. There is a tiny nick at the other end of the torpedo through which a copper wire could be passed to make fastenings. It was, no doubt, used by generations of Estuary fishermen who went 'out over' to take mackerel.

It speaks of the canny independence of the Estuary fisherman . The artisan who fashioned it did so with great care and the many, it was surely passed from neighbour to neighbour, users of it were not men to go to unnecessary expense. In addition it is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


When, in 1794,William George Maton travelled along the West bank of the Estuary he was accompanied by two friends. They were a remarkable trio although probably they did not seem so. They were all men of genius who would die to be written up in the Dictionary of National Biography. Thomas Rackett, the oldest of them, he was in his fortieth year, was a clergyman distinguished as an antiquary, a naturalist and a geologist. There is the famous painting by Romney of him as a boy in a red coat represented above and now in the Dorset County Museum. Charles Hatchett, ten years younger, was the English chemist who discovered the element niobium and William Maton, all of twenty years old, was to become the Royal Family's favourite medical man.

William wrote his 'Observations' but it was Mr Rackett who was "occupied in representing the more striking beauties of the scenery by a series of masterly sketches." He particularly liked to sketch castles but he made no sketch of Powderham, at least there is not one in the book. William wrote:

"We were led to expect a noble situation for the Castle, but how great was our disappointment to find it almost in a flat, very much exposed on the side towards the Channel and with a broad marsh in front. It faces the river, but little pains have been taken to open the view to it with advantage, or to heighten the effect of those materials which nature has furnished."

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


There is a gentle and pleasing video made by Alexandra Mattholie in 2009 about the then ferryman at Topsham, Mike Stevens. The ferry is said in the film to be 500 years old but it is probably much older. The less likely ferry from Pratteshythe (Exmouth) to Starcross was busy in the twelfth century. As I remember, the Topsham ferryman was traditionally also the landlord of the Passage Inn, hence the name. It was an obligation that came with the license. I recall George Leach(?) in the sixties grumbling about being called out to row, in those days it was a rowing boat, passengers across the Exe, but Mr Stevens and his predecessor, Mr Pym, were fulltime ferrymen with an outboard motor. Mr Steven's other claim to fame is that he is in the Guinness Book of Records for his 1986 feat of Underwater Endurance. Alexandra Mattholie has caught a moment in the history of the Estuary in a film that has some lovely shots of that corner of Topsham, its slipways, hulks, reedbeds. and its glorious mud. This calm account of the eternal to and fro of the ferry reflects the steady pace of the lives of those who work the tides.

Sunday, 26 February 2012


On Friday I walked from Lympstone to Exmouth along the new cycle track and found myself watching wigeon. They were a cricket pitch away,  on the mud , just by Lower Halsdown farm. I counted them. They were nineteen. They were bunched up and in line, shuffling and wobbling comically one behind another with their heads down and their beaks dipping in and out of the wet mud and the puddles. They made me think of Peter Breughel’s painting ‘The Blind leading the Blind.’

I thought to myself as I stood watching wigeon that the words ‘watching wigeon’ were so wonderfully euphonious that they ought to be gracing the verse of a song, something like:

“When we were watching wigeon
A weary while ago
A wintry world was turning
A wicked wind did blow.
The sun was waning in the west
The warning was for snow
When we were watching wigeon,
A weary while ago.”

That perhaps is quite enough to be going on with!   The wigeon gave a welcome touch of colour, - those delightful heads like so many polished conkers -, to a very grey day on the Estuary for which I was truly grateful to them. Thank you wigeon!

Friday, 24 February 2012


In the spring of 1814 the little ports of the Exe Estuary celebrated wildly the coming of peace. They celebrated prematurely because less than a year later Bonaparte had escaped from Elba and the genie had to be put back in the bottle.

Exmouth put on the biggest and best show of all but I am partisan enough to write up the parallel, but naturally more genteel, festivity that took place at Lympstone on Thursday 9th June 1814 as recorded in Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette:


On Thursday last the inhabitants of the town of Lympstone celebrated the return of the blessings of peace; on which joyous occasion the populace assembled at ten o clock and the procession marched to the Rectory in the following order:-

20 Children with baskets of flowers.
10 Young Suitors with their Lasses.
Vulcan preceded by two Cyclops with hammers.
Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Bl├╝cher.
Count Platow and a Cassock (sic) as Aid de Camp.
Neptune in a car, arranged in a green mantle.
Two English Admirals with a flag bearer.
Peace, Virtue and Plenty, in a car, wilh a guardian.
The Mayor of Lympstone with Mace Bearer, attendants in office &c.

They proceeded to a delightful field suitable for the festivity, where a handsome and profuse entertainment of roast beef and plum pudding was provided. The town was decorated with garlands, and also with colours from His Majesty’s brig Cracker, by the courtesy of the Officers who afterwards dined with the Rector (the Reverend J.P. Gidoin). The day concluded with the utmost hilarity and sobriety prevailed to the latest hour.”

This is a puzzling reference to a ‘Mayor of Lympstone’ and with a mace! Was he perhaps just ‘mayor’ for the day?

Starcross had already celebrated but not quite so successfully. Woolmer’s reports on the 30th April:


On Wednesday last, during a festivity at Starcross, to celebrate the prospect of returning peace, a vessel near the shore, on giving a salute, fired (by accident) two shots, three pounders, which penetrated Mr Buckley’s house, passed close to Lord Courtney’s waggoner and a fine horse, and but a short distance from Mrs Newcombe, the Lady of the High Sheriff of this county. The Captain of the vessel was immediately summoned on shore to explain the cause of the accident.”

Saturday, 18 February 2012


It was a summer of the seventies,
this story by the bye is gospel true,
a pink flamingo took off with the breeze
and found the Exe. She came from Paignton Zoo.

She made our smoky heron look quite frumpy.
She curtsied to them but they looked elsewhere
and made the cormorant seem dull and dumpy
but cormorant are not the birds to care.

She flurried human hearts at Exton station
of all who travelled up and down the line.
There she appeared like some high born relation
among the muddied birds who peck the brine.

Sometimes we'd catch her trying to be clever,
standing on one thin leg, a haulm of straw.
We marvelled and we hoped she'd stay for ever
to brighten up the estuarial shore.

For these her vivid ways, her shows diurnal,
we estuary dwellers gave her thanks.
A picture of her in The Exmouth Journal,showed her flamenco-dancing on the banks.

For weeks this stranger stayed here suavely feeding,
her gorgeous plumage caught the summer sun.
She graced the river with her noble breeding
but come one Monday morning she was gone.

I’d like to think she made it back to Paignton
to tell her babes about the birds she’d met
and, though the notion is a somewhat quaint one,
I’d like to think they talk about it yet.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Text from "The Book of Fair Devon" United Devon Association, 1899

("This book is the official invitation of the United Devon Association to visitors and others who desire to become more thoroughly acquainted with this beautiful county so full of historical associations and romance of delightful scenes and unsurpassable variety and excellence of climate")

"Even when the tide is out, the estuary of the Exe is not to be despised. "There are reaches of golden sand bars, tinted with green and crimson patches of seaweed, which it is refreshing for the jaded toiler in cities to look upon.

Mysterious forms are moving to and fro over these sandy flats - whether of men or women it is next to impossible to decide, so weird and wonderful is the costume. It is as though the skirts of a woman were tucked into the garment peculiarly belonging to men,and which it is a reproach for women to wear. These mysterious figures are gathering into their baskets cockles , or shrimps, or winkles or whatsoever treasures the retreating tide has left high and dry."

Our supposed 'tourist', the 'jaded toiler' of the cities, is travelling on the South Devon line 'now, 1899, part of the Great Western system.' He has been advised to 'choose a seat on the left side of the carriage facing the engine on leaving Exeter for the South. 'Most of the beauties of the line are on this side.'

There is no mystery to the 'forms' he sees on the banks. They are the honest working women of the Estuary, none of whom is ever daft enough to try to gather a shrimp into a basket.

Monday, 6 February 2012


It would be nice to believe that this old, naive oil painting was of the Estuary, viz. the estuary of the Exe. If it is not an altogether imaginary scene existing solely in the mind of its creator then where is it? It was bought in Exeter a quarter of a century ago and there are no further clues to its provenance. One feels that one is looking up river to commons and moorland rather than out to sea, perhaps looking across to the Clyst. That would put it on the western bank of the river and perhaps, if on the Exe, Powderham is the only likely spot. But could Powderham ever have looked like this, and if so, when?

The 'creel' or fisherman's basket is very convincing. ('Creel' is a jolly word but too Norman to be an estuary word. There is no doubt a splendid Anglo Saxon word for it lurking somewhere.) Convincing too is the boy in the punt poking with a paddle and the man in the lugger who it seems has anchored off on two, what we would now call 'fishermen's,' anchors.

The Exe or not, this painting gives the feel of what the shores of the Estuary would have been like before the railways came and straightened things out for us.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


In the little Hamlyn "Sailing Handbook" under the heading "Other channel markings" is the following:: "Minor channels in creeks, rivers and so on are usually marked with sticks or branches of trees, called withies, stuck into shallow water on either side."

There are still a few such sticks to be found on the Estuary mostly in the channels leading across Greenbank into the Clyst and  "withies" is or was the local  fishermen's name for them.  

"Withy" is the country name in Devon and elsewhere for the willow tree and therefrom for the wands of the willow.   Withycombe Raleigh,  a neighbouring parish to Lympstone, was presumably once a valley of the willows. 'Withy' is an  Anglo Saxon word with Old Norse cognates,  closely related to the modern German word for a willow, 'die Weide'.   Is Widecombe In the Moor perhaps another Willowdale?

Once, for many hundreds of years, perhaps back to prehistoric times, before the coming of  buoys and the International Buoyage System, the channels of the estuary would have been marked only by such withies.   They stand to their places on the banks remarkably well.  Wind and tide seem to find it difficult to shift them.  They are, however, hard to find by day and impossible by night.

The few surviving examples of such sticks on the Exe seem not to be from the willow but they are 'withies' none the less.  "A good man steers between the withies."  should be a proverb.   "He sailed between the withies." - a fitting epitaph for one who always managed to steer clear of trouble.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


How many shining hours
have we drifted here
with no more aim than flotsam
while all around us river creatures pulse
and quiver to meet their needs inherent:
feeding, fighting, mating,

Is this to be most human,
so to be idle,
least like a beast,
not to be busy,
thus to lie  low
and let sun, wind and tide
deal gently with us

but not to forget,
how we are favoured
who are free to think and float
over calm waters,
while around and about,
the storms are brewing
and the birds and the beasts are still hungry?

Saturday, 28 January 2012


The Darling Rock at Lympstone was once quite a stack and is still a landmark of the Estuary although time and tide have worn it to a stump no longer visible at springs.  Local myth records it as once havng been big enough for sheep safely to graze upon it and no doubt once it was but certainly not in living memory.    John Swete painted it in watercolour when he visited the Estuary no later than 1799 and the Darling Rock is clearly shown to be a needle remarkably much the same shape and size as when it was photographed well over a hundred years later,  which is to say not big enough for even one remarkably agile mountain goat to graze upon it.

If it is true, as it is recorded, that, in 1792 the Rector of Lympstone burned Tom Paine's Rights of Man at the Darling Rock and if,  as is written in that most excellent book, For Love of Williamina,  "The loyal parishioners of Lympstone watched the ashes float away on the ebb tide in the direction of Revolutionary France."  they must have been not so much standing on the rock as all around it.

The name, Darling Rock, appears to be ancient and consistent.  It appears on William Chapple's map of the Estuary of 1743 but it could well have been so (Deorling!) called by an Anglo Saxon.  The local account that it gained its name because women stood upon it waiting for their loved ones to come home and calling out 'O my darling!' to the waves and water seems to me not to carry conviction.

Saturday, 21 January 2012


Gytha Thorkelsdottir,  the mother of King Harold II, he who died at the battle of Hastings, spent  many years in Exeter and was perhaps the foundress and certainly a patron of Saint Olave's church in Fore Street.  When, in 1068, William of Normandy came to Devon and besieged Exeter and the city held out  against him for eighteen days, Gytha was living there but she escaped, "perhaps down the Exe" says Derek Gore in his 'concise history' of the Vikings in Devon.   Gytha is said to have been accompanied by other women who had lost their loved ones at Hastings.   She herself had lost three sons there and a fourth, Tostig, who was on the 'wrong' side at Stamford Bridge.  Gytha is then said to have taken refuge with her widows on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel and later to have found safety in Scandinavia..

It is a pity about that 'perhaps'  in 'perhaps down the Exe' but it can't be helped.  It was a long time ago!  But I am allowing myself an image of this longboat full of widows and the old, proud mother of dead and living jarls being pulled down the channels of the Exe and so out to sea,  the women frightened and desperate but at the same time excited and just a bit exalted to be giving the great Conqueror the slip.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


Over Haldon hills and the Western hills
Burn the winter skies
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.

And I think once more of the cheerful days
When my world was new
And up jump the ghosts of fine men I’ve known,
Fine women too.
And up jump the ghosts of fine men I’ve known,
Fine women too.

Those who seined with me, those who trawled with me,
Those who worked the tide,
Those who romped with me, those who quaffed with me
Drift to my side.
Those who romped with me, those who quaffed with me
Drift to my side.

Old friends of mine, are there fish to take
Where now you float?
And is there work for a ready man
In someone's boat?
And is there work for a ready man
In someone's boat?

Over Haldon hills and the Western hills
Burn the winter skies
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.


Friday, 6 January 2012


From 'The Evening Post with which is incorporated Trewman's Exeter Flying Post', 18th August 1888.


"The Exmouth Regatta, which is an annual event looked forward to by the inhabitants with great interest,  and by whom the day is kept as a general holiday, took place on Thursday.   The weather was beautifully fine, and in every way suited to both rowing and sailing matches.  The various events were watched with great interest from the sea wall, which was lined with spectators.  Besides the racing there were various amusements provided on the beach in the way of shooting galleries, swinging boats &c. and which during the afternoon were kept busy at work.  The number of entries for the different events were, if anything,  above those of former years and the Regatta was in every way a success.  

"The programme numbered thirteen events and in addition there were several swimming matches and other amusements such as walking the greasy pole &c. and athletic sports on land.  The starting point was from the Committee boat stationed about three hundred yards from the shore,  and the course for the large boats was from Bull Hill buoy to Fairway buoy a distance of about three miles while for the smaller boats the course was from Bull Hill to Double Ledge buoy, a distance of about two miles."

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Listen, how wind and rain fight up the channels,
Old enemies raiding on a winter's night.
They crash upriver like berserkers.

We are none the less anxious who have forgotten how to cower.
Our walls are strong but here's still a suggestion,
A mere hint, of fears our long dead forebears knew.

Under duvets, we do not sleep but listen
For the crashes and the screams
As these old enemies pillage and murder someone else, not us.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


At the start of the year 1910, the Fairway Buoy leading ships into the River Exe had neither bell nor light.  In thick or foggy weather or at night it was very difficult picking up the channel buoys.  The responsible,  irresponsible rather, public body was the Exeter City Council, the Navigation Committee of which had for years delayed a decision to provide a better buoy.  They did not want the expense.  It is likely that their parsimony was the direct cause of the loss of many seamens' lives and of a good many ships.

In January 1910, a public spirited Exmothian, Dr Martin, collected the signatures of a hundred and fifty of the captains, mates and seamen of vessels trading in and out of the river and of the fishermen of Exmouth, Lympstone, Torquay, Topsham and Budleigh Salterton to petition Trinity House to change the Fairway Buoy into 'a lighted buoy with a bell attached, or into a lighted buoy or into a bell buoy'.

In February, Trinity House promised to supply to Exmouth a bell buoy.   The Exeter City Council which collected the harbour dues of Exmouth readily enough made neither comment nor contribution.

In March, a bell buoy painted with black and white stripes and surmounted with a Saint Andrew's cross was placed in the Exe Fairway.

The Exeter Navigation Committee was shameless in its indignation.   'Why no light?'  asked one counsellor,  while another, a Mr Rose, at a Council Meeting of 12th March announced that the new bell buoy was a great inconvenience.  Three of his friends had  been disturbed in the night by the terrible booming of the bell.  It was one of the most dismal of sounds.

Did Mr Rose blush?  The record makes no mention of it.