Local History

The Queen and I
Margaret Blackmore reflects on her 90 years - and the Queen's

News from Clayhidon Local History Group

2014 a busy year for local historians

Pam Reynolds reports on a busy 2014:
anuary was our annual dinner which was held at the Merry Harriers.
February was the AGM. We thanked Lyn for her services as treasurer for several years and welcomed Brenda who agreed to take her place.
In March, Peter Fisher and Penny Lawrence spoke about the book that they have been helping to produce with the Hemyock group. It is about WWI. Peter told us of the names on the Clayhidon War Memorial which he has researched. >Read more.

More reports and pictures from the Local History Group  >Click here

The 'squire' who paid for the war memorial


Applehayes, Clayhidon in August 1914: Harold Harrison, standing left. Seated right, the recently widowed Mrs Spencer Gore and her two children.
 Picture courtesy of the Clayhidon Local History Group.

Harold Harrison came to Clayhidon in 1905 and bought Applehayes Farm. The son of a Liverpool merchant, he went to Marlborough College, Wiltshire then departed for The Argentine to work on a family ranch. In 1905 he returned to England and bought Applehayes Farm, Clayhidon. During this period, he attended the Slade School of Art in London and befriended several emerging artists. He invited a succession of these to Clayhidon to holiday and paint the glorious landscape. Today the results are found in art galleries throughout the English-speaking world. 

From 1908, Harrison added to his Applehayes Estate, Lears, Barn and Little Garlandhayes Farms. He then joined the St. Andrew’s Church Council, The Clayhidon Parish Council and became a Parish Guardian on the Wellington Workhouse Union Committee. He met most of the costs for the extensive church bell restoration of 1912/13 including the addition of a sixth bell. In 1919 to mark the end of the War he met the costs of the Clayhidon war memorial and presented to the 46 survivors of the 53 men who had served, an inscribed walking stick on behalf of all parishioners in time for the first remembrance service on the 11 November 1919. On the day of the Parish Peace celebration, 18 July 1919, Harold Harrison met the costs of the Parish sports and social events.

In his Will, he left his farms to the tenants; a cottage to the widow of his former groom, Frank Dunn and the contents of his London house to ‘Molly’ Gore, the young widow with family of the Clayhidon artist, Spencer Gore.

Memorial service for a Clayhidon hero

A memorial service  marking the 100th anniversary of the death of one of Clayhidon's First World War heroes,  Corporal Hubert Bright, was held in Holcombe Church, near Dawlish.
After surviving two of the greatest battles of the war, Hubert was fighting in the Machine Gun Corps when he was killed on 17 April 1917, one of 100,000 Allied troops to be lost or injured in the Battle of Arras. His body was never recovered. 
Although his mother came from Holcombe, he had spent  part of his adolescence at Burrows Farm, Clayhidon. His name and that of his brother who was lost at sea a year later, are recorded on the Clayhidon war memorial and on the roll of honour in the parish hall. >From Clayhidon to the killing fields of France
Victory Night in Clayhidon
"The bonfire was blazing. We could see all our neighbours had already drunk several toasts. The parsnip wine was delicious, but very strong, and the cider had been flowing."

>Read Margaret Blackmore's vivid account of how Clayhidon celebrated victory over Japan  in August 1945.

My Clayhidon childhood 90 years ago

Mary Ridgeway's father, Fred Northcott, ran the sub  post office in Rosemary Lane in the 1920s. At the age of 96, confined to her bed in a Wellington nursing home, Mary got out her iPad and emailed a fascinating account of what it was like to grow up in Clayhidon between the two world wars. 

She paints a vivid picture of a life that seems so alien to most of us that it might as well be 200 years ago as 90. No paper to write on at school - only slate - no NHS, so Lord help you if you suffered a life threatening illness. But did teenagers have a good time? Well yes, if you think walking into Wellington sounds like fun, which, at the time, Mary did. 

You can read the first of her memories on this link. Follow the other links to read more recollections. We hope to be able to publish more stories and pictures in the coming weeks.

New book reveals what life was really like 200 years ago in Clayhidon

Pam Reynolds, at the launch of her book
Clayhidon – a Devon Parish in the Nineteenth Century.

Clayhidon, now seen as a rural idyll, was once a place of extreme poverty, of great inequality and cruel injustice.
Pamela Reynolds' new book about life here in the 19th century, launched on 20 November 2015, is an everyday story of country folk. But forget Ambridge, this is more shocking than East Enders. These were absolutely not the good old days.
This is human interest history, not about kings and queens but about farmers and pub landlords and starving labourers and tramps, their struggling wives and illiterate children, of magistrates and murderers, of clergymen and drunken peasants.
 >Read more.

Peering into Clayhidon's Victorian past

The old well behind Clayhidon Parish Hall. Left, Anne Langford, Thelma Blackmore and Gypsy investigate. Right: Doug Goodship tries to get the pump working.

A cleaning blitz at Clayhidon Parish Hall on 7 February revealed evidence of Clayhidon's Victorian past. Doug Goodship was clearing rubble in the back yard when he discovered an old well and hand pump, presumably dating back to the building's origins as a primary school. Probing with a long bamboo showed it is at least 15ft deep.

Haunted by the ghosts of children and hanged rebels 
The ghosts of hanged soldiers and “Spunkies” or "Will-o’-the Wisps" (unbaptized children) were widely believed to haunt the wastes and moors of Clayhidon and other remote parts of the Blackdown Hills, according to an academic study.
Stories of lost souls wandering the hills were common and bandits and thieves traded on local superstition and fear to move through the landscape unchallenged, says Lucy Ryder.

Where to buy the local history book everyone is talking about
This beautifully produced book records the lives of people in the Upper Culm valley before, during and after the Great War. 
Every soldier, sailor and airman who served is here, along with many touching stories. After months of intensive research by a team of colunteers  it is now on sale, price £10, at Hemyock Post Office and the Strand Stores, Culmstock.

What it says in the Domesday Book
>Click picture to enlarge
When the Domesday Book was compiled in the late 11th century there were 26 households in Clayhidon. These were listed as 14 villagers, six smallholders and six slaves.
In 1086 the surveyors counted 22 cattle, 12 pigs, 60 sheep and 27 goats. Odelin was the Lord and Baldwin the Sheriff was Tenant in Chief.

>Click picture to enlarge
The bride is fashionably pretty in a sensational hat, her bridegroom a handsome fellow with a steady gaze. This is the Clayhidon wedding of Amelia Cross, of Deadbeer, and Frank Salter on 7 May 1902. It was taken in the Wellington studio of A.R.French and Sons and is one of many fascinating photographs  stored in the Blackdown Archives. 

Rosemary Lane's long lost inn
>Click picture to enlarge
This is Rosemary Lane in the 1890s, with men posing outside the Hare and Hounds Inn. The picture was sent in by David Gladwell, who writes: "At the left edge, the old post office/bakery (now Rock Cottage), to the right of centre, South View (now one house) and the Hare and Hounds (demolished, now Rosemary House). The chapel can be made out at the bottom of the lane." 
The pub apparently closed around 1930 and was then used as a farmhouse.
>For the story of Rosemary Lane's lost pub, from the History Group newsletter, click on separate pages. Page 1, 2, 3 ,4

Pixies, fairies and a pregnant 'witch'

The terrifying consequences of being a suspected witch in early 19th
 century Clayhidon have been highlighted on the website www.strangehistory.net. 
Rev. John Clarke, a former rector, is quoted as telling a Conservative festival in Cullompton in 1839 that there was still a firm belief in the existence of pixies, fairies and witchcraft in Clayhidon and other parts of Devon. 
He told of a suspected witch in the parish who became pregnant, but when she went into labour “there was not one of her own sex who would aid her”. 
“The woman would actually have died by means of the cruel and barbarous superstition of her neighbours, if it had not happened that her husband returned at the time to his home, and was able to procure the assistance of a medical gentleman.” 
The writer described this story as “horrible to relate” – but even more horrible, to modern sensibilities, is the conclusion he and “the worthy divine”, Dr Clarke, drew from it. 
It proved to them “ how well justified the Reverend John Clarke and his brother clergymen of this county are in opposing the attempt to give education to the people confided to their care”. 

Shock revelation

‘Lawk-‘a-Massy! I should never a’ believed the worldle was half so big!’      –     the shocked reaction of a Blackdown Hills lady on seeing the view from the Wellington Monument, after leaving her parish for the first time in 60 years.
From the Book 'Always Abounding' (1889) recounting the life of George Brealey, the evangelist who found the people of the Blackdown Hills so ignorant ‘some scarcely knew they had souls’.

>Click for the full text of the book on the Rosemary Lane Chapel website

Bog standard

Charlotte Hawkins, a PHD student at Exeter University, took peat core samples from a bog at Middleton, south of  Bolham Water. By analysing pollen samples she found that 4,500 years ago the area was mainly woodland, with elm, oak, lime, alder and birch. Many trees were felled in the 7th century and in the 8th century she found the  first signs of cereals being grown.
Samples from another site, in Bolham Water, suggest an unusually open meadow landscape 11,000 years ago, possibly caused by beavers damming the river. 

>Click here for her 'Palaeoenvironmental report for the Blackdown Hills'

Historic links

http://www.dunkeswellwarstories.com/>Video interviews tell the story of Dunkeswell at war. 

Robert Bevan's Blackdown Hills picture gallery

Clayhidon in the National Archives
>Click here

A brief history of the Blackdown Hills

Where to find Clayhidon family history records
>Click here

Photos from the past 
  • Then and now in Rosemary Lane 
  • Walled-up cat: accident or superstition?
        >Click here

Clayhidon Roll of Honour
The men and women who served and died in two world wars

Devon Digital Archive
A useful guide for local history researchers.
>Click here

'Gospel was strange' 

'The place where I live is called Clay-Hydon . . . The gospel was strange to the people when I first came among them and for a time I met with little success.' 
– The 18th century origins of Rosemary Lane Chapel.

>Click for full Chapel history


D-Day memory

'Two weeks before the D Day landings American Troops marched out from Honiton Station . . . It was the first time many of the school children, me included, had seen a coloured person.'

Memories of when the US 101st Airborne Division arrived at Smeatharpe. 

>Click for History of Smeetharpe Airfield



Fire in the sky

'I can remember one night being called down stairs to look north at the glow in the sky and being told it was Bristol burning.'

The vivid memories of a young wartime evacuee in Clayhidon. >Click for BBC website


Who owned what

For a highly detailed list of who owned what properties in Clayhidon in 1839, click here , then select Clayhidon to see the tithe apportionment records on  the University of Exeter website.

Our lofty hills
'Acres, 5,089. Real property, £5,204. Pop., 705. Houses, 137. . .The surface rises, in lofty hills, from the river Culm to the watershed of the Black Downs.'
19th century description of parish from Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales
Ancient map
18th century map and other information from Devon County Council Local Studies.

Camden Town artists
When England's impressionists came to Clayhidon.
See Wikipedia on The Camden Town Group.
Band of Brothers
Wartime pictures of Smeetharpe Airfield, briefly the home of Easy Company, immortalised in Steve Spielberg's TV series Band of Brothers.