Thursday, 6 May 2021


The Exeter Flying Post of 13th January 1869 reported how the Mayor of Exeter called a meeting of his fellow-citizens "under the roof of our ancient Guildhall" to "concert measures for employing the poor and destitute children of the city during the winter evenings."  

The Dean of Exeter, no less, had said that the city streets were  "positively infested by a great number of unemployed, idle and excessively ill-conducted boys and girls."  and something needed to be done about it.  The Flying Post did not doubt the citizens of Exeter would be able to deal with the problem.  Englishness had something to do with it:

"The  gathering itself was peculiarly English.  Its spirit was English.  Its composition was English....All political, all religious differences are forgotten, and thinking only of the purpose of the hour, we meet together under the leadership of the Mayor to accomplish, by our own energy, an object that in every other country in Europe would be left, with a shrug of the shoulders, to the Government. This is the prerogative of an Englishman - the characteristic mark of an imperial race, - a race intended to govern and fit to govern - to do for ourselves what races of an inferior strength and of inferior intelligence, in their helplessness, leave to the Government."

Wednesday, 5 May 2021


1879 was a tough year for the citizens of Exeter.  At the annual meeting of the Exeter Branch of the Church Pastoral Society, in February 1880,  the Chairman,  Mr. William Porter of Hembury Fort, a wealthy landowner, son of the Bishop of Belleisle and father-in-law to four Anglican parsons, felt he needed to find words to address the fact that the funds at the Society's disposal had decreased.    His audience, in the main, was of clergymen.  

He made reference to the unprecedented depression in trade, commerce and agriculture and particularly to the "falling off" that there had been in the last harvest "both in regard to the quality and quantity of the crops" and "the disease that had prevailed among the flocks."  

"Of course," he told them, "they did not know why all this was permitted, but for himself, he could not help thinking that, when God was pleased to bless them with prosperity, there was only an increase of drunkenness, luxury, self pleasure and those things only which pleased themselves, and that they did not give that glory to God that they ought to have done..... Under the circumstances, it might be necessary for them to look into themselves and see if this might not be the case.  But whilst they had this visitation from God, they must also look on the bright side of the picture and see how He had been pleased to bless our armies at the Cape and in India.  It shewed that He had not forgotten them. and the adversities that they had suffered at home might be a means of drawing them back to give glory and honour to His name. 

With regard to the diminution of the funds, he hoped and trusted, and, he might say he felt, that they ought to use every means in their power, by the exercise of discretion and self-denial, to make it up."

The logic of Mr Porter's speech is that, in 1879, God was displeased with the nation, hence the poor harvest &c.,  but despite being displeased He was still rooting for our armies at the Cape and in India. - Well, maybe! 

Source: The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 13th February 1880.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021


Few phenomena, perhaps, demonstrate the gulf between rich and poor in early nineteeth-century Exeter  as clearly as does the phenomenon of the Sedan chair.   The rich  of the city were literally the poor man's burden.  The wealthy citizen could hire two chairmen to carry him or her to any destination in the city, to wait for him  and to carry him home again.   The old fare had been sixpence to any address within the city-walls at any time of day or night but by January 1805 the cost of a chair had doubled, in some cases quadrupled, and the system had become more flexible.  The tariff, however, lacked regularity.  The Exeter Flying Post proposed a system curiously similar to the taxi fares of today:

"It is therefore recommended....that the single fare be rated at 400 yards and be charged sixpence,  from that to 600 yards ninepence - 800 yards one shilling, and so on, adding threepence for every 200 yards: - that the charge for waiting be threepence for each quarter of an hour - and that if a chair be ordered after twelve o'clock, that the fare be increased one degree; that is to say, a sixpenny fare to be increased to ninepence; a ninepenny fare to a shilling, that of a shilling to fifteen pence, and so in proportion."

I find it hard to imagine these chairmen scuttling about the streets of Exeter perhaps counting their paces.  I gain the impression there were a lot of them.  Nothing is said in the Flying Post's scheme about the weight of the passengers.  One would expect the fat citizens to pay more than the thin.   The physical strain of carrying the chairs and their occupants must have been grievous.   I wonder how you 'hailed' a Sedan chair.   Did you stand at your door until one came by?  Did you send your servant out to find a muscular brace of chairmen?  

Source: The Exeter Flying Post, 10th  January,1805.      

Saturday, 1 May 2021


 In the evening of 5th November, 1858, Mr. John Baker, a tradesman of Ottery, took his little daughter to the dancing-school and was walking back at ten minutes to six and stopped near the market-place to observe the Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.  He was therefore able, in January 1859, to give evidence in an Exeter court, to the Enquiry by a Committee of Magistrates into the disturbances that took place there.  

Mr. Baker said he had seen a double row of policemen walking up the hill abreast in military style. The policemen stood around the spot where the bonfire was made every year.  They had been ordered, the crowd believed, to make sure there would be no bonfire in the market-square:

"A few minutes after, I saw a bunch of furze lighted in the churchyard, thrown over the wall, into the market-place.  There was a scuffle between police and populace, the police attempting to put out the furze, and they succeeded in doing it.  Another bundle was lighted as before and handed over the churchyard wall with more care;  the police again attempted to put it out, but they could not succeed.  More bundles of furze were brought and put on the lighted bunch and it burnt. I did not see any more attempts to put it out;  wood was brought and the bonfire became as usual.  The police retreated to the corner... Matters took place then as ordinary.  There were squibs, Roman candles, hand-rockets, firing of cannons, &c., but not so many by one-fifth as I have seen before.  There were some tar-barrels. I have seen more people present on the occasion.  Three years ago there was a larger crowd;  that was to celebrate the battle of Inkermann. I have seen the tar-barrels rolled right down the hill."    

Source:  The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 22 January 1859.

Friday, 30 April 2021


Early on Thursday 15th January 1801. Horatio Nelson, "one arm, one peeper, vain as Pretty Poll",  was on his way to Plymouth to make preparations for his ship to put to sea.  He was expected to pass through Exeter. The British victory at the Battle of the Nile had made his a household name.  He was the hero of the hour.  The Mayor and Chamber of the City of Exeter wanted to present him with the Freedom of the City and thus"to add (his) illustrious name to the number of their Fellow-Citizens."

Nelson made no objection to this and the city made ready to receive him.   Sir Stafford Northcote's  troop of the 1st Devon Volunteer Cavalry rode two miles out to meet him and to escort his carriage into town.  The citizens turned out in force to see the nation's hero.  The bells of the Cathedral and of all the churches were rung and little Lord Nelson came to the Guildhall and was formally made a citizen.

He made a short speech which included the stirring lines about the Battle of the Nile in which he famously said that his directive from the Lords of the Admiralty had been very concise:  "It was to take, burn, sink and destroy the French fleet wherever he should meet them" 

"A grand dinner was prepared by the Right Worshipful the Mayor and Chamber, for his Lordship's entertainment."  But Nelson would not stay for it.   His carriage drove off at one o'clock.  He had been in Exeter for only a few hours.  The mayor's grand dinner must have been a Hamlet-without-the-prince occasion but "his Lordship set out on his journey, apparently much pleased with the attentions he had received."

Anyway, let us rejoice that we can count Lord Nelson as one of our fellow-citizens.  There's glory for you!

Source: The Exeter Flying Post, 22nd January 1801. (and Robert Graves!)


Thursday, 29 April 2021


 From The Exeter and Devon Gazette   May 10th 1828:

"A very large Grampus has been basking about the southern coast of this county for several days, and was killed at Budleigh Salterton on Thursday.  In the course of its gambols it has paid a visit to most of the fashionable watering places, and no summer visitor could have excited more attention.   Rumour has conferred on the animal the royal fishly dignity, and had magnified his bulk to about the size of our Cathedral tower.   But though no whale, he has got into high favor with the fishermen, having driven into their nets many thousand mackerel, of which they have made a good market, and supplied the neighbourhood with a cheap dainty." 

The lovely word grampus derives at long-range, believe it or not, from the Latin crassus piscis meaning fat fishFishly is a nice original-looking word.  It seems a pity the grampus had to die.  It was boosting the tourist trade, supporting the fishing industry and, incidentally, providing cheap and dainty food for the population until some bloody-minded Budleigh Salterton fishermen felt they needed to chase and kill it.  The very large Grampus would have fared better these days.

Sunday, 25 April 2021


 On 10th June 1802, The Exeter Flying Post reported:

"On the fifth inst. an inquisition was taken at Elford (Ebford) Barton, near this city, by Henry Pugh, gent. coroner, on the body of John Tucker, son of a Tenant to T. H. Lee, Esq. a lad between nine or ten years  of age, the verdict was death occasioned by the bite of an Ass, the beast is forfeited as a deodand.  This paragraph is inserted to caution the public; at this time of year asses of this description are extremely vicious, and it is hoped will be noticed by those persons in particular, who permit them to rove at large on the highways, to the great annoyance and danger of the passengers." 

Shed a tear for poor little John Tucker!   

But how words change!  To take an inquisition sounds much more serious than to hold an inquest. 

Deodands  (Latin,  deo dandum = to be given to God)  have gone out of fashion.  They were removed from the legal code in 1846, 

These days asses, if there were any, would roam at large rather than rove, although the latter word seems to me to be more fun.  

It is hard to imagine those Devon highways where, in June at least, extremely vicious asses roved to the great annoyance and danger of passengers..