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!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Lynmouth Flood Disaster. Bananas and Other Surprising Gifts

As well as for its extraordinary beauty, Lynmouth is known for the flood disaster on the night of 15–16 August 1952 in which over 100 buildings were destroyed and the final death toll reached 34.

Much of the tragedy has been catalogued and indeed many of our guests who come to stay with us at St Vincent Guest House are those who were here at the time, or those who have studied the flood in their Geography lessons.

We were given a book by a guest called The Lynmouth Flood Disaster by Eric D Delderfield (1953) and were fascinated by the stories of hope and goodwill that emerged from the tragedy. One thing that stood out was the amount of support and gifts that arrived within days of the flood happening. Within six weeks, more than 12,000 parcels and some 21,500 letters of sympathy arrived, all delivered by the British Railways and Post Office free of charge.

The wide range of gifts sent to Lynton Town Hall from all over the world varied from caravans to
A child with her dog at the rest centre
carpet-cleaning soap and from paints to toys and sweets. Toys from America, tinned food from New Zealand and currant bushes, strawberry plants, daffodil and iris bulbs from various parts of Britain. Some of the most touching gifts came from people had no money, but who sent their wedding and engagement rings as part of the relief aid.

People power was also volunteered. The American Airforce offered to fly any items required, the Norwegian Chamber of Trade river technicians and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company engineers.

W A Bustamante
One of the most striking donations came from Jamaica – five tons of bananas, five tons of sugar and half a ton of coffee! This gift came from W A Bustamante, the sixty-eight year old Chief Minister of the Jamaican Legislature who later became the first Jamaican Prime Minister following the country’s independence in 1962. When he arrived in Lynmouth, he met with those who had lost their homes and expressed his sorrow and that he was here reciprocating the help that Britain had given to Jamaica following the hurricane that almost destroyed the country twelve months before.

During his address, hands of bananas were given out as he said:

“Poor children, you shall long remember the terrible experience through which you have passed. You shall have your lovely homes rebuilt. You shall be happy. You shall forget. You shall grow up lovely, strong people like your mummies and daddies. You shall have bananas. One ton, two ton, three ton, four ton, five tons of bananas.”

If you know of any photographs of this event, we would love to see them!

Jackie King being given a banana from Bustamante. She says it was possibly the first banana she had ever seen!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tithe Maps and How We Discovered Who Built St Vincent's

St Vincent’s Guest House really is quite a unique late Georgian building in Lynton and we were very keen to find out who built it, how it came to be built and why it was positioned in the way that it is (it is the only building that faces in this direction). Sadly, there were no deeds or original information available so we had to think of other alternatives. A visit to Devon Archives and Local Studies Services in Barnstaple unearthed Tithe Maps. All new to us.

St Vincent Guest House is number 44
We gleaned that the tithe maps and apportionments are an important source of information about the history and topography of a parish, providing details of land ownership and occupation, and the type of cultivation of the land, and are often the earliest complete maps of parishes. They were produced in order to assess the tithe payable in cash to the parish church for the support of the church and its clergy. This tithe had been paid in kind until The Commutation Act was passed in 1836, when it was agreed that this should be converted to a monetary payment. A survey of the whole of England and Wales was undertaken in the decade or so after 1836, to establish the boundaries of each parish, and assess the amount of tithe due for each parcel of land within it. This resulted in the survey of all tithe-able land in each parish, the production of a map covering the whole parish and a reference book (apportionment) identifying each plot of land.

So, we looked into Lynton and Lynmouth’s tithe maps. Lynton’s tithe map was drawn up in 1840 by Bland Hood Garland, C. E. and D. Vaughan and they produced an amazing hand drawn and coloured document, beautifully accurate with perfect calligraphy. We downloaded the map online and zoomed into the area where St Vincent’s is, saw the numbering of the property as 44 and then looked at the document detailing Landowner and Occupier. To our surprise, we discovered that both these positions were take by a certain Thomas Geen, and not the Reverend Thomas Roe who seemed to have pretty much all of the land in the area (as to be expected, being a man of the cloth at the time). The building is listed thus:

URN Parish Township/Tithing/ Hamlet Landowner Occupier Plot No Estate Plot Name Cultivation Acres Roods Perches Notes 268 Lynton Lynton Thomas Geen Thomas Geen 44 House and Plot Garden 0 0 23

So, at last we had a name and we could find out more about the owner, which we did via a book on shipbuilding in Bristol, the censuses and a marriage certificate. More of that and about Thomas Geen to come…!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

St Vincent’s Day Out. The Big Sheep

Bob, no guesses as to why.
Whoever would have thought that such a great day out to be had is only just under an hour away from us – and called, bizarrely, The Big Sheep. Cue film noir thoughts of Raymond Chandler, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

My sister and niece were staying with us at St Vincent’s for a few days, and along with their Tesco vouchers, I gate-crashed their little excursion to just beyond Bideford, With just a little trepidation to be fair. A day out with the theme of sheep. Hmmmm.

However, none of us was disappointed.

Parking was smooth as was the getting into the park. Lots of space for kids and grown ups to move around and plenty to see. And I mean plenty – and all ovine themed. Who would have known? Pens with expectant mothers, baby lambs who had recently made an appearance and areas where we could feed the sheep.

Beauty pageant
The highlights for us had to be the sheep trial demo with Craig (dog) and Chris (farmer). I can remember One Man and His Dog from the 1970s and all the trials and tribulations on a Sunday afternoon, but this was special seeing it all live. And then the sheep shearing demo, with Britney Shears no less having a haircut, followed by the sheep beauty pageant with all the various breeds. Lots and lots of laughs to be had here and as they paraded in front of us, we discovered all manner of detail about them, whether they were for meat, wool, milk, grass-cutting or simply stud. We had Bob (with fantastic dreads), Bruce (from Australia) and Tom (from the Welsh valleys) to name just three and each came onto the stage to their own music.

Britney Shears getting a haircut
But perhaps one of the most memorable events for my niece was going on the rollercoaster. At seven, she felt brave enough to try it now and as we climbed on, she whispered into my ear: “This is a very big moment for me, Auntie Emma. This is the first time I have ever been on a rollercoaster”. So, we were strapped in, and off we went. Her eyes were closed for the entire trip and the fear was palpable. At the end, we were asked if we would like to go again. Half expecting a massive rejection, the reply was “yes, please”. As we got off for the second time, I whispered to her: “This was a very big moment for me too, Freya. It was my first time too”…