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.


  1. I looked in the British Library 19th Century Newspaper Archive, and found only this reference to the case:

    At the last session a fisherman of Lympstone, named Clapp, was arraigned on a charge of illegally dredging for oysters in the river Exe. The prosecution was instituted by the Exe Bight Oyster Fishery Company. The defendant, with others, have been in the habit of dredging in the river, and set up a right to do so, the Exe in this part being navigable. At the trial, documentary evidence to establish certain rights claimed by Earl Devon not being forthcoming, the case was adjourned. On Friday the solicitors for the prosecution, Messrs. Daw and Son, wrote Mr Toby, who represented Clapp, stating that the prosecution would be abandoned; but before the defendant's solicitor could communicate this to his client, he received intelligence, under the date of Saturday, stating that Clapp had died suddenly through rupturing a blood vessel.
    - Devon Intermediate Sessions, reported Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Wednesday, February 19, 1868.

  2. Very satisfying. Thanks for digging that out. My Mr Williams was doing quite well considering he was recalling events nearly thirty years old at the time of telling.

  3. Glad to help. The whole story of the Exe Bight Oyster Fishery Company looks worth chasing up. WW, do you have an Exeter Central Library ticket? All you need is your ticket number to log on to the archive.