Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Crown Lynton

Line drawing of the Crown
As our local, we are very fond of the Crown. It is just 50 metres away from St Vincent Guest House and all downhill coming back. We knew it was very old and looking at the history of it, found first written reference to it in 1789, when John Swete wrote in his journal:

“There is a little public house at Linton called the Crown, where, though the accommodations are but indifferent, the people are civil and attentive.”

1841 tithe map
This was well before Lynton became a tourist destination, but was known more for its wool production, livestock and fishing. Starting its life as a coaching house in the 1760s, the Crown is one of the oldest buildings in Lynton (and now grade II listed) and it quickly found itself because of its position as the epicentre of the area, being the only point of travelling contact with the outside world. It featured in the first national mapping project in 1841 and on this tithe map, is marked as number 38 and has an area of 30 perches (apparently, as a unit of area, a square perch - the perch being standardized to equal 16 1⁄2 feet, or 5 1⁄2 yards, so the Crown was 30 of them!)

Painting by Mick Cawston

As well as being a hostelry, it became part of the recovery centre of the Lynmouth flood in 1952 and is also the place where the finest mural works of renowned, much-loved and much-missed artist Mick Cawston are on display. Rumour has it that he paid his bar bills by painting!

Rachel, Lee and their team run an excellent ship, and we have no hesitation in recommending them for their ales or their meals.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lorna Doone is 150! See the play, read the book, do the walk...

One of Exmoor’s most famous literary characters is Lorna Doone, who celebrates her 150th birthday this year and the whole of Exmoor will be celebrating with her – and nowhere more so than here in Lynton with the Pleasure Dome Theatre company revisiting their fantastic 2017 production which we at St Vincent Guest House enjoyed very much.

Written in 1869, Richard Doddridge Blackmore apparently experienced great difficulty in finding a publisher, and the novel was first published anonymously in 1869 in a limited three-volume edition of just 500 copies, of which only 300 sold. The following year it was republished in an inexpensive one-volume edition and became a huge critical and financial success. It has never been out of print.

2017 poster
The story is set in the 17th century in the Badgworthy Water region of Exmoor in Devon and Somerset, England. John (in West Country dialect, pronounced "Jan") Ridd is the son of a respectable farmer who was murdered in cold blood by one of the notorious Doone clan, a once noble family, now outlaws, in the isolated Doone Valley. Battling his desire for revenge, John also grows into a respectable farmer and takes good care of his mother and two sisters. He falls hopelessly in love with Lorna, a girl he meets by accident, who turns out to be not only (apparently) the granddaughter of Sir Ensor Doone (lord of the Doones), but destined to marry (against her will) the impetuous, menacing, and now jealous heir of the Doone Valley, Carver Doone.

What could possibly go wrong…

All you could ever want to know about Lorna Doone… 

You can see the excellent Pleasure Dome Theatre Company perform it in our beautiful Valley of Rocks from 20–31 August 2019. Details here.

AND, you can read the tome here for free!

AND do the walk!

Stay with us, we will provide rugs for drafty weather :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Groaning Cheese and Other Devon Folklore.

Delving into the past is so much easier now with the joys of the interweb. Gone (mostly) are the days of peering through card indexes or microfiche films and scouring newspapers, although that can also, of course, be fulfilling and productive. Here at St Vincent's we were looking through the impressive Devonshire Association website and came across the rather excellent Transactions which began in 1860. There are some articles online and others are available by looking at scanned pages. One which grabbed our attention is entitled ‘North Devon Customs and Superstitions’ written by JR Chanter and published in 1867. Here goes with some of our favourite ones with a brief introduction from the author which is as follows:

"DEVON in general, and North Devon in particular, has been very retentive of ancient customs, habits, and superstitions. Its folk-lore is especially interesting from its local form of fairy, the Devonshire pixy. But the most noticeable fact connected with North Devon is, not so much the variety or specially local character of its superstitions and vulgar customs, as of their being still generally interwoven with the daily life of the population. In most parts of the country it is necessary, in order to gather up local customs or legends, to seek out ancient crones or noted legend-tellers; but no one can live in this district, and mix much with the country folks, without finding a general belief in witchcraft still existing, and old customs and superstitions in full sway. A great many of these are, or were, common to all England, but having gradually died out in the more busy parts of the country, have continued here, most probably from the isolated nature of the district, and the stagnant character of the agricultural population."


Warts and swellings are removed by various charms, such as skeins of thread knotted with the number Of the warts to be removed, and struck across the warts as many times, and then buried; or striking with a witch elm wand, or a piece of stolen bacon; in each of which cases as the buried article decays so do the warts gradually decrease; or by depositing a given number of pebbles or peas in a bag, and losing it, but in this case the unfortunate finder gets the warts himself. But the most favourite remedy for warts, and indeed all swellings, is to have “words” said over them.


The tooth ache is cured, and, what is more, perfect exemption from it for the future is supposed to be attained, by biting out a tooth from a corpse or skull; and very recently, a skeleton having been discovered at Croyde, the jaws were quickly denuded of all their teeth by the number of persons who hastened to the spot to bite them out. Every old woman has her remedy for boils, some of them of a very ludicrous nature. I was favoured with a new and rather ghastly recipe this week only, which I copy in full.


“To cure a friend of Boils. – Go into a churchyard on a dark night, and to the grave of a person who has been interred the day previous; walk six times round the grave, and crawl across it three times. If the sufferer from boils is a man, this ceremony must be performed by a woman, and the contrary. The charm will not work unless the night is quite dark.” There is an appended note. “This remedy was tried by a young woman in Georgeham churchyard”, but with what result was not told; the inference was that it succeeded. I should add, that this recipe was given in full faith and belief of its efficacy.

Accidents to Cattle

Accidents, or any obscure ailments to cattle, are commonly attributed to their being witched, or “overlooked”, as the term is, and can only be cured by a white witch; and it is well known that more than one person in North Devon gains his livelihood by acting professionally as a white witch, that is, the country people call him the white witch, though he professes to be a cattle doctor.

The Groaning Cheese 

A great many old English customs also still linger, and are frequently practised here. The groaning cheese is cut on the birth of an infant...(FYI, the Groaning Cheese is a tradition that involves hollowing out a hole in a big wheel of cheese and then passing the baby through the remaining cheese-ring on the day of his or her christening. It’s meant to symbolize the birth of the baby “groaning” being sounds made during childbirth—and blesses the child with good luck and fortune. The cheese itself doesn’t go to waste. It is passed around to family and friends to eat to the newborn’s health.)

Other Random Superstitions

And finally. "A shoe is thrown after a bride for luck; and, in cases of death, the common superstition of opening every lock and bolt in the house is very generally observed, as is also another very curious local one. When the funeral procession leaves the house, all the doors are carefully set open, and not closed until after the procession returns, the superstition running, 'Shut one corpse out – three corpses in'. These last customs are continued simply because at these periods the arrangements are generally left in the hands of nurses and other persons about the sick house, who are a class for the most part strongly imbued with superstitious feelings."

There you go. Fascinating!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The High Brown Fritillary at Heddon Valley

When we first came to St Vincent Guest House in Lynton in 2016, we had no idea how interesting all of our guests would be. We can honestly say that we have probably learned more over the last three years about people, hobbies and life in general than over our entire life times!

One such guest is Peter Law who writes a beautiful blog
called Ramblings and Scribblings, described as a wildlife and travel diary of an Oxford naturalist. Peter arrived with a very impressive camera (a Nikon D3100 SLR camera with either a Nikkor 55-300mm telephoto lens or Tamron 90mm macro lens no less) and on the viewfinder he was sporting an image of an equally impressive looking butterfly. It turned out that Peter was looking for the High Brown Fritillary, an incredibly rare butterfly that can be found at Heddon Valley, just six miles from St Vincent’s.

The High Brown Fritillary (HBF) is known for being Great Britain's most threatened butterfly and is listed as a vulnerable species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Chatting to Peter, the HBF can only be recognised by looking underneath (the ventral view, not the upper dorsal) and obviously, this is no mean feat to achieve! Like other fritillaries (of which there are many types) it is dependent on warm climates with violet rich flora, with populations remaining in only four areas in Great Britain. The Morecambe Bay Limestone hills, the Glamorgan Brackenlands, Dartmoor and here in Exmoor. You can read more about his hunt on his blog page here. I am not going to spoil the story and tell you if he found it or not, but it is definitely worth a read.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Lynton to Watersmeet. The must-do walk of North Devon

Watersmeet sign
East Lyn
When guests to St Vincent’s visit and ask for a walk that is not too long, but is still beautiful with some slight inclines (honest!), stunning scenery and amazing flora and fauna, we always recommend the walk to Watersmeet.

A few days ago, we did the walk again and took some photos of the route. We hope you enjoy them.


Where the new Woodside Bridge will go
From St Vincent’s you can either walk down to Lynmouth or go on the Lynton and Lynmouth cliff railway (not exactly cheating, but rather experiencing the beauty of this Victorian water-powered genius), walk through the town and join the path to Watersmeet at the Lynmouth public car park just below Lyn Gorge. Walk out of the car park at the top left corner towards the white metal bridge that crosses the river just ahead of you, keeping the East Lyn River on your left. Cross the bridge and turn immediately right.

 Follow the signs and you will see all sorts of wildlife. You may see dippers, the odd heron, perhaps an otter and at certain times of the year, salmon. You end up at the National Trust Tea Rooms at Watersmeet for a cream tea. Job done.

For more details, you can follow this route, or rather half of it as this one continues on to Countisbury if your knees are feeling particularly strong. (All photos by Liam Cousins.)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

These Boots Were Made for Walking ...

Photo Liam Cousins
If you walk up from Lynmouth to Watersmeet (one of the most beautiful and popular walks for our guests here at St Vincent Guest House), you will see an amazing spectacle. A string of walking boots tied to each side of the bank! You may wonder what this is for. Well, it is part of a fundraiser to get the new Woodside Bridge in place. The project is not fully funded by the National Park Authority, so people from all over are raising funds to reach the £65,000 needed.

There has been a crossing here for over 100 years with the original bridge being lost in the Lynmouth Flood of 1952. It was replaced later in the 1950s, and again in 1993 due to wear and tear, but unfortunately, this bridge had to be removed December 2016 for safety reasons.
Photo Liam Cousins

The new bridge in the East Lyn Valley will mean that thousands of walkers can enjoy the beautiful countryside and see the Middleham Memorial Gardens created after the flood. So, if you would like to join the many people in raising the money – sign up here!

If you were wondering who put up the boots, they were all hand-painted by the children of West Exmoor Federation and heaved into place across the East Lyn Valley by the Lynmouth Coastguard Search and Rescue. What a team!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Below Stairs at St Vincent’s

Cartoon from Punch
When we began looking at the history of St Vincent’s, we quickly became aware that a house of this size and standing would have had staff. We thought it might be interesting to look at the censuses (they are available from 1841 to 1911) and to see who was inhabiting the house as well the occupations of those living here. The first census in 1841 gave very little information, but as the information collectors realised the importance of such a survey, more details were gradually introduced over the next few censuses. Additionally, if you weren’t present on the particular day of the census, you wouldn’t get a mention, so some accuracy as to occupancy was missing. This did not deter us!

With regards to staff, social standing, types of work undertaken by servants as well as pay, all changed from late regency to the Victorian era. The census of 1851 showed the presence of over a million domestic servants in Britain, which made this occupation the second most common after agricultural labour. The number rose to 1.5 million by 1891 partly as a result of population growth and partly because of the growth of the middle classes who aspired to at least one maid-of-all-work.

Servants at St Vincent’s 

The first mention of staff at St Vincent Villa was in 1861 when Mary Ann Escott was cited as “housekeeper”. This merits further investigation (another blog!), as she actually became Thomas Geen’s wife in 1846, a few years after his first wife, Jane (also the name of their daughter, but who never lived in Lynton), died in Bristol.

A housekeeper in early Victorian times was, according to the servant hierarchy, the undisputed head of the female staff and known as ‘Mrs’ regardless of marital status. Such a role demanded a huge array of responsibility and the best character was dependable, prudent, sensible, and honest.

In 1881, it appears that St Vincent Villa became a lodging house with one lodger living with the Blake family. There is no mention on the census for that year about servants, but it is quite likely there were staff present. Ten years later in 1891, under the Ley family (another blog due on the importance of this family in Lynton and the Church coming up), there was a general servant, Ellen Richards, and cook, Auguste Page.

The cook crucially, had immense power over the reputation of her mistress when it came to entertaining and feeding guests whereas the general servant was the cleaner of the house, and her duties were endless with the less attractive duty being emptying of the chamber pot into a slop bucket. The housemaids rose earliest, to clean the grates and light the fires ready for the family. The day was very long for them.

Ten years later in 1901, the same year as the death of Queen Victoria, there was a cook, housemaid and also a lodger, with everyone else noted as “living on their own means”. In 1911, St Vincent Villa came into the ownership of the Huish family and became a lodging house with two “boarders”, Mary Vere Constable and Gertrude Smithson, also with “private means”.

Accommodation for Servants at St Vincent’s 

General accommodation for staff was described as: “In the absence of electric or gas lighting, the servants’ rooms and kitchens of this period were dark, dismal, often damp and badly ventilated places. The only advantage of Neoclassical architecture from the servants’ point of view, was that houses once again began to have pitched roofs, which could contain servant's bedrooms with gabled windows, albeit often hidden behind a stone balustrade or parapet.”

An Edwardian Maid
So, we can assume that the staff lived in the top two rooms of St Vincent’s and the main cooking was done in the basement where there are two fireplaces and in what is now our kitchen, four original meat hooks in the ceiling. One can only imagine the basement and the servants’ rooms (no fireplaces anywhere in sight) would have been permanently cold with the downstairs rarely being free of damp because of the semi-subterranean nature of St Vincent’s.

We sincerely hope the servants' rooms upstairs are much cosier as there is now central heating AND running water!