Wednesday, 16 January 2013


In the summer of 1773,  the twenty-one year old Fanny Burney famously came to stay in  Teignmouth and  kept up her journal there.  To her young eyes one of the wonders of the place was the shocking dress of the women employed at pulling in the seine.  "Their dress,"  she writes,  " is barbarous,  they have stays half-laced and something by way of handkerchiefs about their necks;  they wear one coloured flannel or stuff petticoat; no shoes or stockings,  notwithstanding the hard pebbles and stones all along the beach;  and their coat is pinned up in the shape of a pair of (trousers) leaving them wholly naked to the knee."

She also recorded that there was a rowing match that summer between the women of Teignmouth and the women of Shaldon.

This lively sketch of  bare footed women working at the nets and the evidence that women were rowing the Teignmouth fishing boats  leads one to conclude that in the eighteenth century the women of East Devon were a particularly hardy and independent sisterhood prepared to tackle anything.   There is also to be considered William Maton's account of girls ploughing at Starcross some twenty years later.    These 'mannish' activities were probably the consequence of  many men being away for long months with the Fleet or with the Newfoundland fishery .  

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