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Book launch: Clayhidon in the 19th century

Horrible histories: what Clayhidon life was really like 200 years ago

How to buy the book

Copies of the book. Clayhidon – a Devon Parish in the Nineteenth Century, will be on sale at Hemyock Market on 12 and 19 December.
They are also  available, price £10, direct from Pam Reynolds, tel 01823 680481 or email lhgclayhidonex15@waitrose.com

Clayhidon, now seen as a rural idyll, was once a place of extreme poverty, of great inequality and cruel injustice.
Pamela Reynolds' new book, Clayhidon – a Devon Parish in the Nineteenth 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. 
One census showed 845 people living here – 30 farmers, many of them called Blackmore, it seems, 89 agricultural labourers, 82 servants – and only one “gentleman”. There were four blacksmiths and carpenters, two thatchers, seven shoemakers, three butchers, two shopkeepers, a charcoal burner and although there must have been numerous innkeepers only one admitted it to the census takers.
This book is crammed with detail. Local readers will recognise many of the names – the Redwoods and Hutchings and Sparks are here, and the houses and farms and lanes
Above: Pam Reynolds signing copies at her book launch on 20 November 2015.  Left: The late Mike Baker, former BBC education correspondent, who inspired her to write it.
where occasionally dramatic and sometimes terrible things happened are still recognisable.
This is the product of four years’ research not only in the parish and county records, but in personal diaries and books about transport, farming and emigration. And all this reading has enabled her to put the local stories into a wider context. Much of the highly colourful and readable material, by the way, has come from local newspapers.
There aren’t many dates in this book, but there are countless stories of ordinary people, told with an acute eye for the kind of details that make a reader sit up and say “wow!”
The News of the World used to boast that, “all human life is here”. We can apply the slogan to this book, much of which is heart-rending.
Here we find Betty, starved to death in bed with the only food in the house a tiny piece of hard bread. We read of gory accidents involving overturned wagons, runaway carts and, women and boys catching their clothes in machinery. You can see why we need Health and Safety regulations.
Some things haven’t changed. They were complaining about the state of Clayhidon’s roads 130 years ago and they are still a source of aggro between the county council and the parish.

The parish was viewed from outside as a wild and lawless place. It had its own
policeman, who was variously shot at, attacked with a hand saw and punched by drunks. 
There was an infamous murder - William Blackmore beaten and robbed by George Sparks, described in the book in fascinating detail, including the fact that the judge wept with grief as he sentenced Sparks to be hanged.
There was another suspicious death, written off as manslaughter at the time but which some jurymen thought should have been murder. The victim was a wandering umbrella repairer, fatally beaten in front of his young daughter at the Merry Harriers by two youths, who convinced the court it was self-defence.
It wasn’t all robbery and violence. Clayhidon’s policeman spent much of his time investigating petty thefts committed by the desperately poor – a pair of scissors, food and fence posts for firewood. The punishments were wildly inconsistent – sometimes lenient, sometimes extremely cruel.
For stealing four fowls Henry Webber was sentenced to 15 years transportation. That was in 1847. In the same year James Baker got 14 years transportation for a similar offence. Could he have been any relation to the late Mike Baker, to whom the book is dedicated and whose family roots are not far from Clayhidon?
 As a former BBC education correspondent, Mike would have been especially interested in the chapter on the beginnings of education in the parish and the conflict between the government and the parish’s Scriptural Knowledge School, which was eventually forced to close. 
Twice winner of the Education Journalist of the Year award, he covered the upheavals in schools and universities for the BBC from 1989 to 2007 - from the days of Margaret Thatcher through to Tony Blair. And, like Pam, he was a teacher for a while.
He and his wife Chrissie bought a second home here, the Parlour at Cordwents, in 2008. 
In persuading Pam that she should write this book, then convincing her that she could do it and helping with advice he has done Clayhidon a huge favour.
Mike died three years ago. Three pounds from every copy sold – the surplus after the printer’s costs have been paid ­– will go to the Mike Baker Memorial Fund at the Villiers Park Educational Trust in Cambridge. Its mission is to inspire under-achieving children from underprivileged backgrounds to succeed.