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 .