Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Oysters. Really? How much?

Treasure from St Vincent's
The most recent leg of the South West Coast Path led us to Padstow (from Port Isaac) – a beautiful fishing village in north Cornwall where a certain celebrity chef has a couple of eateries and a cookery school. The village is also nicknamed Padstein, to help with guessing the name of the chef. We walked past one of the venues, took a peak at the menu and spotted the price of an oyster (to be sold in pairs, fours or sixes). Really? How much???? (For the answer, please go to the end.)



Wind back two days earlier in Lynton when we were excavating under a wall in our garden at St Vincent Guest House. We discovered all sorts of treasures (bottles, jars, toothbrushes, broken pieces of china and pottery), and the deeper we dug, we were amazed to find lots and lots of oyster shells. This made us look into oysters and why there were so many shells up here away from the little harbour in Lynmouth and especially as they are so expensive these days. Well… Here goes.

The history of the oyster. Oysters have been enjoyed in Britain since Roman times (regarded by them as delicacies) and their shells have been found at many archaeological sites (including our own little one here in Lynton, probably not Roman, but Victorian). However, before the Romans came, the Britons regarded shellfish as something to eat when there was no fish or meat to be had. When the Romans withdrew and the Saxons invaded in the 5th century, oyster farming seemed to disappear and it took centuries for the oyster to become popular again when throughout the Medieval period the church imposed a number of days where you could only eat fish rather than meat.

Guinness and Stout
By the end of the 18th century the industry had become highly regulated and although oysters had been the delight of the rich for a very long time, industrialisation cheapened them, making oysters one of the staples of the diet of the poor. Oysters were to be typically found in in public houses, where they were most commonly served with a pint of stout. The claims of stout being a nutritious drink made the pairing with oysters the perfect cheap meal for the working class on their way home with their wages. Demand for oysters was high, with as many as 80 million oysters a year being transported from Whitstable’s nutrient-rich waters to London’s Billingsgate Market alone.

So looking at the position of the shells in St Vincent’s garden, quite a way down the debris strata, we think they may have been enjoyed by our Victorian servants when they were cheap and plentiful. But by the middle of the 19th century the natural oyster beds became exhausted in England and as the oyster beds further declined, what had previously been the food of the poor became a delicacy for the upper classes once again. There you go.

Answer £2.95 each.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Rhenish Tower, Lynmouth.

The tower today taken by Graham Young
One of the most iconic (and most photographed/painted/tapestried – we tried to get as many images in as possible here!) buildings in Lynmouth is the Rhenish Tower on the Esplanade. A curious shape, it certainly got our attention when we first moved here to St Vincent’s.

The tower pre-flood

Research told us that the Rhenish Tower was built by General Rawdon to store salt water to be pumped to the Bath Hotel / his own house, the reasons vary, for indoor salt baths. It was later fitted with an electric light for use as a beacon for mariners and fisherman.

With build dates varying between 1831 and 1860, it apparently imitates the look-out towers on the Rhine in Germany, although there is also some discussion that General Rawdon was supposed to have taken the design from a picture of a tower on the coast of modern Lebanon. Take your pick.

The tower swept away in 1952

Listed in 1950 as a grade II building, the tower stood untouched until the flood of 1952 when it was completely destroyed. It was rebuilt two years later along with the infrastructure of the rest of Lynmouth.

Another local B&B has made a lovely short film on the history of the tower and you can see it here.


By Graham Young
The tower pre-flood

A certain Mr Tugwell said in 1863 that the Rhenish is '... on the whole, of no great use...', Maybe, but it is a beautiful and original landmark!


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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What3words – really worth knowing! tortoises.sprouts.reinforce

While sitting in our local the Crown a couple of days ago and chatting to a coastguard rescue friend, we discovered what3words. One of us being a complete luddite technophobe (won’t tell you which one) nearly fell off his stool with the witchcraftery that is this new app. If you find yourself lost somewhere and don’t have co-ordinates info – you can use your 3 words to locate yourself and so you can be found, for example.

So, what it is it? Well, here goes – in their own words:

"Map pins aren’t accurate. Searching for the right entrance wastes time. Duplicate street names are confusing – there are 271 First Streets in California. Many places don’t have addresses – the start of a hiking trail, pop-ups and even homes. 3 word addresses are unique, more precise than postcodes and available in over 35 languages. To prevent mistakes, similar 3 word addresses are placed as far apart as possible. what3words is a really simple way to talk about location. We have assigned each 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address that will never change. For example ///filled.count.soap marks the exact entrance to what3words’ London headquarters. 3 word addresses are easy to say and share, and are as accurate as GPS coordinates. 51.520847, -0.19552100 ←→ /// filled.count.soap Our vision is to become a global standard for communicating location. People use what3words to find their tents at festivals, navigate to B&Bs, and to direct emergency services to the right place."

Needless to say, we have had hours of fun. Our guest lounge is twinkled.scrub.polices, the front door is elevated.entrusted.earlobes and the kitchen is kitchen tortoises.sprouts.reinforce. These all link to the google maps page too.

Get the app here!

The things you learn in a pub.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Blake Family in 1881 at St Vincent Villa and the Rise of Victorian Photography

The Victorian Family at St Vincent's

Since coming here and beginning research into our home, we have been delighted that three families
Sara Madeline Blake's birth certificate 1881
who have links with St Vincent’s have been in touch. One such relation, Mary, has got in contact with us from America. It was her maternal grandmother, Madeline Lynton Blake who was born here on 1 August 1881 and Mary kindly sent us some more information about Madeline Blake’s family and this rather beautiful photo of her siblings (below) before she was born in 1881.


At the time of the 1881 census, Madeline’s mother Elizabeth Blake was living in St Vincent Villa with her three children: Michal Adams Blake, William Reuben Blake (born in the Globe at the back of St Vincent’s where they lived before they moved here), and Elizabeth Mary Blake (who died in 1883). William Reuben is recorded in the 1881 census with his paternal grandparents, William Blake and Elizabeth Bulled in Morebath. Also living at St Vincent Villa was Elizabeth’s brother, William Hill. Elizabeth, Michal Adams, William Reuben and Madeline left England for the US in 1884 to join husband/father, William Bulled Blake, who arrived in New York in April 1881.



The Rise of Victorian Photography

Elizabeth with William Reuben 
and Elizabeth Mary
Seeing these beautiful photographs, especially the one of the three children by local photographer J D Vickery (above) in his studio in Barnstaple (and you can see many more of his images here) made us think about the rise of photography in the Victorian era. The invention of photography can be credited to Louis Daguerre, who first introduced the concept to the French Academy of Sciences in 1839. That same year, Robert Cornelius produced what is considered the first photographic self-portrait (who new selfies were such an old fashioned concept!). Portrait studios then started springing up the next year but at that time cameras were expensive and ordinary people couldn't afford to buy them. The relatively low cost of the Daguerreotype developed a few years later and the reduced sitting time for the subject, though still much longer than now, led to a general rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture.


Taken from life: The Unsettling Art of Death Photography

It is the youngest child here who was no longer alive
As well as taking images of live people, the Victorians also took photos of loved ones after they had died. We came across this BBC article which explains “Photographs of loved ones taken after they died may seem morbid to modern sensibilities. But in Victorian England, they became a way of commemorating the dead and blunting the sharpness of grief”. You can read the full, slightly macabre, article here.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Devon Flag

Cream first, Lynton and Lynmouth (of course) Ambrosia rice pudding, beautiful countryside and the Devon flag – all symbols of this wonderful county. Curious to know about the flag’s background, we thought it was an archaic and historic design. Well, on reflection, if you are lucky enough to be a millennial, it is. 2003 is the birth year of the Devon flag.

The subject of a Devonian flag was raised by the county's contingent of scouts to the 20th World Scout Jamboree in an interview on BBC Radio Devon in 2002. The scouts were unaware of a Devon flag and wondered if any of the listeners knew of a flag for the county. BBC Radio Devon took up the mantle and the search for a flag for Devon began with the public asked to send in designs. Here are the whittled down candidates:


And the first round of voting...


14%, 21%, 4.8%

21.3%, 1.5%,4.1%

2.3%, 0.3%, 11.9%

4.6%, 11.9%, 1.5%

After a couple of rounds of voting (not too sure about the bottom right flag as being symbolic of Devon however, except for the fact that St Petroc may have been born in Wales), the winning flag designed by student Ryan Sealey was chosen. Not without controversy, the creation of the flag drew criticism from Cornish nationalists, who accused it of being an attempt to "hijack" their culture. The decision to dedicate the flag to St Petroc was also not without controversy as the saint is equally popular in neighbouring Cornwall. But it was decided that as Devon's 27 church dedications to Saint Petroc far outweighs the 6 dedications in Cornwall, also the Devon villages named after him such as Petrockstowe and Newton St Petroc, that the county had a strong claim to the saint and Cornwall had already selected Saint Piran as their patron saint many years previously.

Anyway, off to buy our bumper sticker.

The winning flag design by Ryan Sealey

Thursday, September 5, 2019

St Vincent's Mrs Ley and the St Mary the Virgin Chancel (1903)

Searching through the censuses for your home can be very satisfying and it has been really interesting searching through the names on the records for St Vincent and then looking at the stories behind the names. One such story is about Ann Elizabeth Ley. In 1891, Mrs Ley moved to Lynton from London to set up home. Looking at the census for that year, she was widowed and “living on her own means” and was “head” of St Vincent Villa (as it was named then) with her daughter, two nieces and two servants. Ten years later in 1901, Mrs Ley had her daughter, two sons, one niece and two servants with her. Proof that it was quite normal even then for adult children to live with their parents. Plus ca change!

The reason for this blog is the very important contribution Mrs Ley made to the Lynton Parish Church, St Mary the Virgin. After her death in 1903 when according to the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, she “recently contracted a chill, which brought on a relapse [from a serious illness earlier in the year] from which she expired after a short illness, at her residence, St Vincent’s Villa”, the family of Mrs Ley left a vast sum to the church to “defray the entire cost of rebuilding the chancel of the parish church as a memorial". The newspaper goes on to mention that she was “greatly beloved by all with whom she came in contact, rich or poor, and from the earliest moment of her residence at Lynton – now some twelve years since – took a great interest in all local charities, to which she was a generous donor”. The London Daily News in 1904 explained that “the alterations will include an extension of the present nave so as to accommodate the large and constantly increasing summer congregation…, the building of a new organ chamber and vestry and rebuilding and restoring the present organ”. The total estimated cost of all this was estimated to be about £2,500, of which “£1,500 – the cost of an entirely new chancel – will be defrayed by the Ley family”.

So, if you do pop in to visit the church, take a look at the marvellous chancel on the left-hand side, along with the plaque and you will see the contribution one of the former inhabitants of St Vincent’s made to Lynton. And if you want to visit Ann Elizabeth Ley's grave, she is buried in Lynton Old Cemetery near Valley of Rocks.

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.
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