Wednesday, 27 February 2013


In the Spring of 1919 there were experiments being carried out at Beer to see if the East Devon fishing fleets could benefit from fishing boats being fitted with motors.   The Devon Sea Fisheries Committee reported on these trials and the 'Fish Trade Gazette' commented on the Committee's report.   The Gazette was not convinced  that the trials had been necessary.   It seemed pretty obvious to the Gazette that fishermen would want to use motors.

"To praise and point to the greater efficiency of motor power should be superfluous now;  it is like painting the lily and gilding refined gold  -   it is a 'ridiculous excess'    The fisherman with brains is converted.   But the problem is how to get the cash for the engine. Here the Government can help through various channels....    If the Government is slow to act,  why should not the makers of the motors develop the hire purchase scheme on a large scale?   As we know the risk of bad debts is small and the profits should be sufficient to discount such as there may be.   Fishermen are slow to learn;   they are intensely conservative;  but they are as honest as they are brave,  and no class of men could ask for a higher testimony."

Here on the Estuary it was some years before the honest, brave fishermen had their engines.  Whether from slowness, conservatism or shortage of cash, the fishing fleets were still under sail well into the nineteen twenties.   The boats were still constrained to lie at sea for days and nights when the breezes were unfavourable.   In due time all that was to change  and the sight of boats with  tan sails passing silently across the bar, out to sea and back again and up and down the Estuary would be lost for ever.  

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


From: 'Devonshire,  containing historical, biographical and descriptive Notices of Exmouth and its Neighbourhood  &c. by W. Everitt  and published by S Drayton and Sons,  Exeter,  1867:

"The Exmouth boat is on the improved model of Peake and Washington, with air-tight compartments at both ends; air-tight boxes along the sides;  and with copper tubes in the centre, passing quite through the boat, with downward opening valves; so that when a sea is shipped, the weight and impetus of it open the valves and give it an outlet, whilst the water seeking to ascend keeps them usually closed.   Ample appliances of ropes, grapnels, anchors, hatchets, lifebuoys, and cork jackets provide for varied emergency;  and ingeniously constructed rowlocks make the oars self-protecting.  The keel is of iron, with well-adjusted wood and cork ballast,  and the boat is much higher at the air-tight poop ends than along the sides;  so that, in case of capsizing,  she floats on the high ends,  and being free in the middle and heaviest along the keel,-  momentarily her top, - she rolls over by mere gravitation, and so rights herself.   The boat is at all times kept ready mounted on a four wheel truck;  and the "Wreck and Salvage Act" provides ample power to get horses,  wherever horses are to be had."

This was the lifeboat which Charles Dickens wrote up in 1862 and to the cost of which Lady Rolle contributed, and not with two fingers!   It sounds a bit alarming that someone had to go looking for horses before the boat could put to sea


Saturday, 9 February 2013


"Musopolus" is the pen name of a truly awful Victorian poet who was collected by William Everitt in his anthology of Devon verses.  William  Everitt is our old friend William John Wesley Webb under another name.   The last three stanzas here are perhaps of interest giving evidence of stone boats sailing to and from  Budleigh kilns at the time that this fulsome work was composed which seems to have been the eighteen sixties.


By Musopolus

By river marge and rushy fen
The lights proclaim 'tis evensong;
And woods grow darker to the ken,
While swift and swallow dart along.

Across the timber bridge I see
Long files of bleating sheep go by;
Now scattering here and there they flee,
And now the sloping fields reply.

A gloomy furnace seems to glow
Behind yon western hills of fir
Methinks a blacksmith wind should blow
Heaven's lazy smouldering fires to stir.

But lo!  that edge of golden gleam
Eating the vapours as they rise,
And now before the setting beam
Splits the piled carbon of the skies.

The stream was falling as I went
'tis falling now as I return;
With ebb and flow alike content
From eve to eve, and morn by morn.

In this remote and silent scene
Of pasture, flats and oozy lake,
What common sights are hailed, I ween,
A flagging fantasy to wake.

Here weeds have virtues of their own,
Here thistles rank as purple kings
And sandy cliffs with beech o'ergrown
Are grand indeed 'mid humbler things.

The dusty kiln in this dim light
Some ruinous old fort appears
E'en yon red bluff's unnoticed height
A mystery on its forehead wears.

The heavy lime boats are away-
Their sails were flapping at the shore
An hour ago.  With parting day
They hasten now the gray seas o'er..

The stream pours back its borrowed salt,
The barges push across the foam,
They have a task that does not halt,
And I the gazer, - I've my home.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


I was out walking yesterday,  a country walk not an estuarial one, when I suddenly remembered a letter I once , some years ago, read in an ancient Exmouth Journal and failed to take a note of it and now do not even know in which century it was that this particular newsheet was printed.  The letter in question was from an Exmothian who wanted the world to know something to the effect that his great grandfather, or whatever, had held the horse of William of Orange in 1688 while that personage popped into The Mount Pleasant Inn on Dawlish Warren, no doubt for a quick pint, while on his way from Brixham to Exeter. Thence, it was implied, making his way up river by ship to Exeter where he was famously acclaimed king of England.   This letter was shortly followed by another from a second correspondant claiming that the ancestor in question had too few 'greats' before his name for this to be possible and I imagine I dismissed the whole story as a great silliness.

But now I wish I had made a record of it.   These old lies and legends sometimes have something unexpected to tell us.  Perhaps one day I shall get back to it.