Category Archives: Local History

STRANGE PROCEEDINGS AT MORTHOE

In 1887 an event took place in Mortehoe that would be later reported in the press as ‘The Strange Proceedings at Mortehoe’, it would be a case that would end at the House of Commons and receive national press.

On the land where Ada’s Terrace now stands, opposite the Methodist Church, there used to be a small chapel and burial ground. This was owned at one time by Mr. T. Smith of Duckpool Farm, Mortehoe, the land having been given to his sister Mrs. M. Irwin of Dukes Cottage. It was she who had the chapel built, with the ground later being used for family graves. These can be seen in the far corner of the opposite picture. The land and chapel would later go on to be inherited by Mrs Irwin’s daughter, Mrs Agnes Coad, on the death of her mother.

Whilst in the ownership of Mrs Coad, it was discovered that the leasehold to the land was actually held by the Chichester Estate, and duly Mr and Mrs Coad tried to buy the land on which their chapel and graveyard were located.

In what became a very nasty dispute, the Chichester’s bailiffs decided that the Chichester Estate should have total possession of the land and what stood upon it, which in turn meant the chapel and the graves would have to removed. The shocking events that followed this, resulted in a case being taken to the House of Commons and later reported in the national press:

“It was reported by Mr and Mrs Coad that on the discovery that the leasehold belonged to the Chichester’s, that an agreement had been made many years previously between Mr. T. Smith and Sir Bruce Chichester, whereby Mr Smith exchanged some of his land for some of that belonging to Sir Chichester.

This land included that which the chapel and burial ground were sited, however as no paperwork verified this, Mr and Mrs Coad who had since inherited the chapel made attempt to buy or rent it from Miss Chichester.  The bailiffs for the Chichester’s refused these offers, and concluded that ‘the chapel must be pulled down for aesthetic reasons, and the buried must be dug up.”

A few days before Christmas an undertaker left Barnstaple at midnight with three coffins, arriving at the burial ground at two o’clock in the morning.When opening one of the graves, where a son and daughter lay, they found one of the new coffins was not large enough and after taking up the corpse, it had to be put back again into the existing grave. The other two bodies were carried to the parish churchyard, and left, above ground for two days before being buried.

In a report prepared for the House of Commons, Mr Coad’s statement read as follows:

“This is how it was done ; the bones of my dear wife’s mother were picked up and put into a bucket, and thus brought from the tomb. The coffins of my dear son and daughter were taken up, and then was found that one of the new coffins brought in at midnight from Barnstaple was not large enough, and the dear girl’s corpse was put back into the grave again.”

The House of Commons ruled that permission had been given to do this, in what was a heated argument, the disagreement was played out in the National Press for some time afterwards

Woolacombe, Mortehoe and The Chichester Family

The Chichester family had a strong and important connection with Woolacombe and Mortehoe. The family owned much of the North Devon Coastline including their home at Arlington Estate. Woolacombe beach and the surrounding land was owned by the Chichester family for over 800 years and was later sold to family friends or donated to the National Trust. Whislt the Manor of Mortehoe was bought by the Chichester’s on the 20th April 1618 from Hugh and Arthur Pollard for £600.

The family had many links to Woolaombe and Mortehoe, including their ‘Mortehoe Clothing Club’ set up Lady Chichester, the development and opening of Woolacombe School, the building of St Sabinus Church and the donation of Potters Hill and Morte Point to name just a few.

Annual Distribution of Clothes

Mortehoe Clothing Club was set up by Lady Chichester. On being asked about the club a local villager said “It is like this, if me or any of us poor folks put in a shilling a month and then the lady put in a sixpence to our shilling.  Yes ‘tis a great help for us that have got families and never could have any clothes otherwise. I have bought up nine of my twelve and I can assure you I have had enough to do.

The village treated it as a festival. “As Lady Chichester’s carriage approached, cannon were fired and the church bell set ringing. All the women belonging to the club and all the village school children met the carriage about a mile outside of Mortehoe and followed the procession, carrying evergreen branches along with flags and banners. Twenty sturdy mechanics then took the carriage horses out of their harnesses and physically hauled the carriage to the Chichester Arms public house in the village, on the way the passed under four arches stretched across the road, profusely decorated with evergreens and banners bearing suitable inscriptions.

A little later the actual distribution of the clothing took place ‘when all the demonstrations of rejoicing were renewed with still great hilarity. The village cannons were again discharged with ‘seven musketeers’ adding their well sustained volleys to the heavier metal, and a brass band from Braunton marched around the village playing as they went. 

The clothing was given out in a room in the public house along with tea and cake for all the club members. Lady Chichester, also gave every woman half a pound of tea ‘to keep Christmas at home’. 

The distribution of clothes over, the members of the club formed into sets of four and began dancing the ‘Brixham Reel’. This was an impromptu forerunner of what was to come later the same day. Over the door of the club house had been hung a notice ‘Lady Chichester invited the members of Mortehoe Clothing Club to meet her at Woolacombe this evening at eight o’clock at the ball’ The ball was held in the manor house which had been tastefully decorated and was lit by several chandelier’s.

St Sabinus Church

st.sab_ext

The original church of St Sabinus, was located where the current  Church car park is now situated and was known as the Iron Church. Prior to the building of the new church, worshippers attended services in a club room lent to them by the late Dowager, Lady Chichester of Arlington. 

The Iron Church was considered cold in the winter and insufferably hot in the summer, it soon became too crowded, and overflowed during the busier months as many visitors to the area would use the church. It was deemed time to build a new church on this site.

The new church was funded by Lady Chichester who gave the land for the building of the church. The foundation stone of the the new church was laid by Miss Chichester, the event was attended by a large number of residents, visitors and church goers. 

Woolacombe School

In 1916 the key to the school was presented to Miss Rosalie Chichester during the grand opening ceremony. The event was reported locally:

“The new County Council School, which was opened amid general rejoicings. It was quite in accordance with the fitness of things that the ceremony should have been performed by Miss Chichester, of Arlington Court, inasmuch as it is to this noble hearted lady that Woolacombe is indebted for the magnificent site on which the School stands. To the generosity of Miss Chichester, indeed beautiful Woolacombe owes largely the facts of its rapid development of late years; and it was only natural that in recognition thereof the warmest of tributes should have been paid to her in Saturday’s proceedings.”

Amid rousing cheers Miss Chichester proceed to unlock the main door at the Woolacombe end of the School, and the company they adjourned to the adjoining large classroom.

Potters Hill and Morte Point

26951846_1737484832962495_8497483623847918089_o

Miss Rosalie Chichester gifted Potters Hill to the National Trust to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The gift of some 30 acres of land was given in 1935 and has only been revealed by the placing at the entrance to the ground of a granite block bearing an inscription recording that the land had been handed over as a gift. No official ceremony marked the placing of the stone.

Previously Lady Chichester gifted the headland of Morte Point to the National Trust, totalling some 180 acres of land.

The Grange, Mortehoe

Mr Thomas founded the Grange as a Ministers Seaside Home, he would be the first warden of the home, visiting The Grange whenever he could, but leaving the day to day running to a husband and wife team of housekeepers. 

The aim of The Grange, was to provide rest and recreation for ministers and their wives of all denominations, who with their stipends so very low, could not possibly have afforded it themselves. 

In The Grange’s visitor’ book are many interesting comments by ministers of numerous denominations. Loud is their praise of the comfort and friendly atmosphere offered at Th Grange. This is a typical entry written in 1885 by a Mr Kick: “I came to The Grange broken in health with nervous prostration, so that I could walk scarcely any distance.

I return to my home comparatively well. It has been the privilege of me and my dear wife to have the company of the generous and loving founder of the house with us, whose genial presence has contributed largely to my restoration. The home comforts of The Grange, together with the grandly wild scenery, the bracing air, and last but not least the religious association make The Grange a very land of Beulah.”

In 1901 Rev. Thomas sadly passed away, the friends from the Church at Redland Park decided that the best memorial would be to form a more secure financial system for the ministers who stayed at The Grange.

They noted that The Grange had been the outcome of Mr. Thomas’s loving desire to help and serve his brethren, and was the object of his unceasing care as a warden. 

A memorial window was also added to the Wesleyan Church in Mortehoe. 

The Grange during it’s time was also famed for it hydrangeas, which were frequently documented in the press. In September 1912, it is said that “The Grange, Mortehoe, has an exceptionally fine specimen of hydrangea, declared by visitors to be the finest in England. This year it has been one mass of blooms, over fifteen hundred having been counted on it. 

Visitors wishing to visit them were asked to contact Mr Fred Miles, the head gardener.

More recently The Grange became a large holiday let, catering for large groups, now up for sale it is described as an imposing detached Victorian property with sea views.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Watersmeet Hotel

The Watersmeet Hotel

by Sue Hill, Barricane Books

Find this lovely, gracious hotel at the far end of Woolacombe’s Esplanade, facing due south, with its grounds running down to Combesgate Beach. It occupies an unrivalled location, open to the south to Baggy Point and Hartland Point beyond, with some views westwards to Lundy on the horizon and glorious sunsets.

Strictly speaking the hotel is in Mortehoe, for it is on that side of the stream that flows down through the Combesgate Valley from Twitchen, emptying out onto the beach below.  On the ‘Woolacombe’ side of the stream and adjoining Combesgate Green, is a small public garden area known as ‘Cowler’s Garden’ – including many large ‘gunnera’ – a plant resembling giant rhubarb.  Charles Cowler, proprietor of Cowler’s Garage, was Head of the Home Guard during the Second World War; he was also the choirmaster of Woolacombe’s St. Sabinus’ Church for more than forty years.

From the western side of the hotel’s front lawn, a path and private steps lead down to Combesgate Beach.  Old maps name the area between it and Grunta Beach as ‘Grunta Pool’. At one time there was a gate across the road at this ‘Watersmeet corner’, dividing the two villages.  Also, the clifftop road was deemed to be unsafe and in 1925 a new road was built further away.

The story of the Watersmeet Hotel started shortly before the First World War with a very astute lady, Adelaide Chugg, nee Huxtable, who had married a gentleman farmer, John Chugg, from West Down.  With the farm business failing, Mrs Chugg, having seen that wonderful south-facing spot at the bottom of Mortehoe hill, sold the farm and had the hotel built.  Her grand-children remembered that they were tasked to carry hundreds of stones up from the beach to make a drive, and rocks for the garden.   

The years between the First and Second World Wars were highly successful for the hotel, and members of Adelaide’s family visited for all the holidays – Easter, Summer and Christmas.  Dockings, the chauffeur, would meet the train and drive them to the hotel in the family’s car.  At Easter the children were sent up into the hills to fill baskets with primroses, which were put in large bowls on the big oak chests along the hotel’s hallway.  

A small hotel brochure from the time included this verse:

Rest and comfort, peace and pleasure

Ozone borne on every wave,

All that heart and mind can wish for,

All that appetite can crave;

Wild and rugged rocky passes.

Hills that tire yet ever please;

Scenery beyond description – 

Sands of gold, and silv’ry seas –

If you seek this combination,

Feel resigned through rain or shine?

Trust yourself to north-east sheltered

Rock- and sea-girt “WATERSMEET.”

Before WWII the kitchen had been renovated, and a huge Aga stove installed.  A new wing was built on the east-facing side – this being the ballroom and additional bedrooms above. Then everything changed when WWII broke out, and when the Americans arrived in 1943, Mrs. Chugg quickly arranged for a girls’ independent school, Bartrum Gables from Broadstairs in Kent, to occupy the hotel. Members of her family moved a few yards away to two houses they also owned. They were all to see thousands of English and American troops take over nearly all the hotels and practice the invasion of France on the beaches and sea-craft.  It was an amazing sight.

The Chugg family sold the hotel in 1948 and since then it has been extended to include, for instance, the Pavilion Restaurant and an indoor swimming pool. It is now a luxury 4* hotel.

However, the story of Adelaide Chugg carries on to this day with her great-grand-daughters and other members of her family continuing to visit Mortehoe and Woolacombe.

The stories of evacuees continue to fascinate me and I have accounts from pupils at other schools, all of which are part of the overall jigsaw of life in Woolacombe and Mortehoe in the years of the Second World War.  Please email me at susancon.hill@btinternet.com if you would like to read more.

Some memories follow from one ex-Bartrum Gables pupil, written in 1993:

“I remember the summer when some of us stopped at school here for safety during the summer holiday. For eight weeks rules were kept to a minimum and we had a lovely time searching the rockpools, which in those days, were teeming with little shrimps which we fed to the many-coloured sea anenomes.  I also learnt to surf with a wooden belly-board.  

One week, my parents came to stay for a few days.  I was so excited that I climbed out of a downstairs window to greet them and was caught by our Headmistress, Miss Crittall (we called her Critts).  She was a very large lady and seemed enormous to me.  I was scared of her.  Her sister, Miss Olive, was a slimmer, gentler version who seemed to wear olive-green a lot.  She taught us Divinity – a sort of R.E.

One of our teachers left to get married and to go and live on Lundy which we thought very romantic and adventurous. I remember the beauty of a storm out at sea, watching the sheet lightening from our dormitory window. Lots of rabbits used to play on the grass and I enjoyed watching them too.  I remember, too, spray from the waves forming balls and blowing all over the road and into our faces when the weather was windy and wild.

Our War effort was collecting a special seaweed at low tide and putting it into sacks, as it was used for penicillin to grow on.

Our matron was a kind lady called Mrs. Clarke who used to kiss us goodnight and maybe made up a little for our parents who lived so far away.

Now, so many years later, it is good to see Woolacombe and Mortehoe so unspoilt and to have a happy holiday in “my old school”.

Visit Barricane Books website

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Eating, Drinking & Dancing – The Chichester Arms 1841

North Devon Journal – Thursday 07 January 1841

Offence against Ale House Licence – Rev. J. D. Ness, rector of Mortehoe, exhibited a complaint against George Irwin Keeper of the “Chichester Arms” public house in Mortehoe for permitting drunkenness and disorderly conduct in his premises on the 27thDecember. The charge was supported by the evidence of three reluctant witnesses, James Hartnoll, Robert Hartnoll and Thomas Parker, from whose testimony it appeared that there was a large party in the house on the night in question, and they were there, eating and drinking, dancing and candles were repeatedly put out, and in attempting to re light them a flask of gunpowder exploded and burnt one of the witnesses, the evidence as to the time at which the party dispersed was conflicting, some of them making it only half past eleven, and others have past two in the morning. Elizabeth Parker, who went repeatedly during the night to fetch home her husband, fixed the time of her last visit as three o’clock. On cross-examination by Mr.Mortimer, for the defense, the witness said that although there were young women in the room, there was no indecently or irregularity. Mr Mortimer insisted that the evidence was inconclusive; it was not enough that the house was kept open a late hour; there must be proof od indecency or drunkenness, but that was none and dancing could not be construed into disorder.

Barricane House – Mortehoe

Barricane House in Mortehoe is believed to have been given it’s name as it was the closest a horse drawn carriage could get to Barricane Shell Beach before there was a road to follow. Home to the Conibear family and its descendants since the 1800’s the house has a prominent position in the village square. 

Samuel Conibear was a local blacksmith and built his home on the grounds of the former  Barricane Tea rooms, he would live here with his wife and four daughters running it as Barricane Inn before he took over the running of the Chichester Arms.  At some point Samuel was asked to become the landlord of the Chichester Arms.  The story is that in doing so he let the licence of Barricane lapse and was sacked by the brewery having removed the competition in the village. Thus Barricane Inn became Barricane House and a guest house.

Barricane House was extended to include the three storey building alongside it, and the building that is now the Village Stores, these were known as Barricane House 1, 2 and 3. Samuel and his wife, Sarah lived in the orginal house, the second was left empty and the third was run by Samuel’s daughter, Eva, as a lodging house and grocery store. 

One of it’s interesting guests would be the Victorian artist Walter Sickert who stayed with the Conibears in 1875 on his return home he sent the family a letter with a drawing he had done of Morte Church. The Conibears have a connection to the Church as we see it today, as in 1883 Samuel Conibear made the ‘lofty, ornamental and substantial weather vane’ that is on the tower of the church which had been a gift of G. B. Longstaff of Twitchen house.

Barricane House was past to Samuel’s daughter Mary (who married Philip Gammon) and then Mary and Philip’s son, Arthur Samuel Conibear Gammon, and then to George Arthur Goodin Gammon.

When Philip married Mary, her father Samuel, to ensure his future son in law had bought a proper diamond engagement ring, he used it to write his signature on a pane of glass in the kitchen, it is still there today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station

The London and South Western railway line was extended from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe in July 1874, when the Mortehoe railway station was opened. On Tuesday 9th January 1894 the station saw a fire that very nearly destroyed it. The local newspaper reported it the following day: “Yesterday the officials were able to work the signals at Mortehoe Railway Station from the signal-box which was destroyed by fire early on Sunday morning. Karslake, the signalman, left the box quite safe on Saturday night. Mr Loader, the stationmaster, was also there at half past nine, and, as the fire was not discovered until nearly 5 o’clock the next morning it must have been smouldering all night. Fortunately the wind was not in the direction of the station house, or the whole block would have come down.”

The railway became a busy line and the orginal single track line was doubled between 1889 and 1891. On the northbound platform, stood the station masters house, waiting room and ticket office. There also stood a small, 20 lever, signal box and the entrance to a small goods yard. On the southbound platform stood a simple shelter. The name of the station was known as Mortehoe until it was changed to Mortehoe & Woolacombe on the 13th May 1902, and Woolacombe was not added until the 5th June 1950. Michael Karslake worked at the station for 40 years, prior to this he worked as a railway porter. When he moved to Mortehoe he and his family lived in the Railway Cottages, Mortehoe. Michael would retire from the station work, after 48 years of service, 40 of which had been spent in Mortehoe “After 40 years service with the London and South Western Railway, which have been spent Morte-Hoe Station, Mr. Michael Karslake has retired, carrying with him the respect and esteem his colleagues and the public generally. Of cheerful and obliging disposition, and ever ready to help in any good cause, religious and social, Mr Karslake will much misted by the community. It is proposed make public presentation appreciation of his services

Mortehoe and Woolacombe Railway station in 1908 appeared in the London and South Western Railway Guides: “Although the railway does not penetrate into this delightful seaside village, the line of the London and South Western Railway, on its way to Ilfracombe, passes through Morte-Hoe, whence a descending road among the hills takes the traveller the famous Woolacombe Sands, which extend round the curve of Morte Bay for a distance of three miles, and constitute one of “the finest in the county. The little creek that runs under to the forbidding headland of Morte Point well known as shell-gathering ground, and many types of sea birds are found the numeroua of Baggy Point. This year Woolacombe will be more attractive to visitors than ever, inasmuch as it now possesses marine drive extending from one end of the sands to the other. Golfers have the use excellent 15-hole course; and during the summer months tennis and cricket” The station was eventually closed to passengers in October 1970. The North Devon Railway company tried to reopen the line in the early 1970s but were unable to raise the asking price. The tracks were removed in 1974, following its closure the station remained derelict until the mid 1980’s when it was opened as the theme park ‘Once upon a time.’ Once upon a time became a railway themed park, where it was enjoyed by many children until its closure in 2005, when it was put up for sale for £800,000. Designed to be ‘fun’, it was run for a time by the same people who operate nearby Watermouth Castle. The theme park included a number of old train coaches, and railway stock which were used to create displays and interactive attractions. Following it’s closure in 2006 the land was approved for a housing development consisting of seven units located where the orginal platforms had been and thirty seven holiday let units. The signal box became a reception area and a shop for the holiday accommodation.

« Older Entries