Monthly Archives: October 2017

Watermouth Castle & The Sugar King

The castle was built in 1825 by Arthur Davie Bassett for his bride Harriet. Arthur had inherited the Watermouth Estate and much of Berrynarbor, from his father Joseph Davie Bassett, who had died at the age of 82. The castle is a Grade II listed building, it had additions made in 1845 when Arthur instructed a Plymouth architect, George Wightwick to complete the interior of the castle. The family apartments, kitchen and dairy indicated that around 40 domestics were employed to run the estate.

Arthur, his wife Harriet, and their four children (2 girls, 2 boys), would live in the Castle, sadly Harriet for whom the castle had been built died in 1863, and Arthur not long after in 1870. Arthur’s fortune was inherited by his son Reverend Arthur Crowforth and his son-in-law Charles Henry Williams. It was custom for only the man to inherit, hence the fortune being left to Charles and not his daughter.

Watermouth Castle was vacated by the family in 1916 when it was used as a convalescent home for Army Officers wounded in the First World War. It was shortly after this time, that the family started to sell the estate, which had become to difficult and expensive to run.

During the Second World War it was used as the HQ for P.L.U.T.O (pipe line under the ocean). PLUTO, was designed to supply petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day. In 1942 a long term trial of PLUTO, with a prototype pipeline stretching from from Swansea oil refinery via the Bristol Channel to Watermouth Bay near Ilfracombe in North Devon.

This 27 mile long stretch of 2-inch cable delivered 125 tons a day or 38,000 gallons a day for three weeks. In 1942 most of the Castle contents were sold. When the last family member died in 1943 the Castle began to decline and was eventually sold. The sale was reported in the local press on Thursday 23rd September 1943:

“Competition was keen for the 1,800 lots offered at the sale of the contents of Watermouth Castle, near Ilfracombe, the property of Lorna, Countess Howe, conducted by Messrs. Skinner and Squire Ltd. Auctioneers, of Ilfracombe. There was a representative attendance of buyers from London and the provinces. Among prices realized were: Set of eight Sheraton elbow chairs, £96 William and Mary writing cabinent, £57 10s Sheraton dining table £47 10s Queen Anne tallboy chest £76 10s Queen Anne chest on stand £75 Oak bureau £70 Mahogany bookcase, £39 French hall wardrobe £30 Wiltshire carved oak chair £14 Queen Anne toilet mirror £23 French boudoir suite £37 Bedsteads with spring interior mattresses up to £42 Turkey and Persian carpets and rugs up to £62 Axminister carpet £51 Axminister stair carpet £2 9s per yard Nuremberg dinner service £42 Crystal glass bowl £31 Ironstone dinner service £50 Dresden teaset £41 Dresden decorated plates and dishes £7 each”

The last descendent of the Basset family moved from Watermouth Castle to Scotland around 1945 and the castle then had a number of different owners. During that time very little changed to the building and gardens and as a result they began to deteriorate. It was in 1977 the castle was bought by Richard Haines, who with a lot of hard work turned it into the attraction that we see today. Throughout its history the family would let the castle out to tenants. In 1924, one such tenant would be the infamous, Mr Ernest Dunbar Cairns, known by many as ‘The Sugar King’ or ‘The Baron’.


Mr Cairns lived a very colourful life, much of which was documented in later years by his wife in the Sunday Post. Ernest had conducted many large scale scams which lead many people to think, he was a millionaire eccentric, which he certainly was not. When Ernest and his wife moved to his ‘beloved Watermouth Castle’ he had many plans for his new home, after a short period of time living in the Castle, a warrant was soon out for his arrest. Following a great escape to Holland and many escapades he was soon found back in the United Kingdom, where still things lead a merry tale!

Ilfracombe Museum

Ilfracombe museum was founded in 1932 by professional museum collector Mervyn G Palmer, who spent many years in South America studying and collecting the wildlife and archaeology there. When he retired to Ilfracombe he discovered that the town lacked a museum, and so he formed a committee, and Ilfracombe museum was opened to the public on the 1st August 1932.

Thousands turned up that day and many of them brought objects to donate to the growing museum collection. Eighty-four years later and Ilfracombe museum is still amazing visitors with its unique and eclectic collections. It is a museum that reflects the Victorian passion for collecting, and also Ilfracombe’s importance in the history of British sea-side resorts. There are eight rooms filled with treasures including drawers of butterflies and insects from Britain and South America and artefacts from India, Africa and the ancient world. Two rooms are dedicated to local maritime history and Lundy island. Ilfracombe museum is unique and family-friendly. Children can explore the insect, bat and spider specimens, have a go at a dinosaur quiz, send Morse code messages, or have a go at brass rubbing.

Visitors with disabilities will find the museum is accessible to wheelchairs (except for one small room). For researchers there are extensive photographic and family history resources for Ilfracombe, including original town newspapers The museum is a perfect all-weather attraction and can be found next to the Landmark theatre on Ilfracombe sea-front. It is an independently funded charity. Children under 16 FREE, £3 for adults, £2.50 concessions. Annual ticket £5.00. Open everyday April – Oct 10am – 5pm.

The Museum of British Surfing

Museum of British Surfing The Museum of British Surfing is located in Braunton. It won a national museum’s award and had more than 3,000 visitors through its doors in just the first three months of opening. Surfing has taken place on the area’s beaches since the early 1900s,

The bulk of the Museum of British Surfing’s collection was purchased between 1997 and 2012 by Pete Robinson, and donated to the charity as his founding gift. In the last few years it has been boosted by many public donations of surfing and beach items, and now has the most extensive and historically significant collection of vintage surfboards, literature and memorabilia on public display and for academic research in Europe.

It has developed as a flexible and innovative museum – each year you’ll see a new themed exhibition at the venue which will then go on tour around the UK.

Alongside this we have smaller outreach displays and regular events at The Yard and other locations in North Devon and beyond, featuring music, film, art and culture. There is a special focus on young people and those who might never have been to the coast – the museum plan to take them to beach and the collection ‘on the road’!

The Yard Caen Street Braunton North Devon EX33 1AA 01271 815155

The Changing Face of Appledore

By Joan Dixon of the Appledore History Soceity The Appledore Historical Society was formed in 1995 by a group of Born-and-Bred Appledorians concerned that their village had changed so much in the previous twenty years that memories of their childhood and their parents’ and grandparents’ would soon be forgotten. 

Growing up in Appledore was a wonderful experience for myself and many others. As children we had great freedom and wandered where we chose. It was a very secure childhood, as we knew practically everyone that we met and they knew us and the family to whom we belonged. We played on the beach at a place called Badstep and on the breakwater where we played in amongst the large stones with all sorts of imaginary games. We had been told at a very young age that we must always be aware of the tide and what it was doing, so the breakwater was an ideal area as it had an iron ladder going up to the quay, so if the tide was rattling in rather fast as some tides do, then we could jump on the ladder and climb up to safety. Our social life was mainly through the church and as soon as we were old enough we would start Sunday School then on to Bible Class and Youth Club. Sunday School Summer Outings were usually to Ilfracombe but we didn’t mind going there year after year as it was so different from Appledore, and something which gave us much excitement and pleasure

The other highlights of our year would be The Regatta always held Bank Holiday Monday, the Carnival with many floats and walking characters which seemed to go on for ever, and of course Christmas Parties, always returning home with a small present off the tree plus an orange. Another thing that we took for granted at the time was that not many of our mothers’ worked so we always found them at home after School or when we came home from playing, we never gave it a second thought that one day many mothers would be forced to go out to work to subsidise the family income. Our parents never had much money, but as a family we were quite content with our lifestyle, holidays were few and far between and if taken would usually be spent with relatives who had moved elsewhere, going abroad was never even considered. “There were 45 shops in Appledore thus making us completely self sufficient” I know readers will find it difficult to believe but back in the forties and fifties there were 45 Shops in Appledore thus making us completely self sufficient, many were just front room shops selling a small number of groceries or sweets, but there were also larger one or two selling clothes and shoes also a very posh hat shop.

There were also vans that would call at our houses one selling bread and cakes, another one with meat, plus a local farmer selling vegetables and fruit, and I mustn’t forget to mention the Clovelly Herring man, there was great excitement amongst the ladies when he arrived, there was always a long queue to his van waiting to be served, everyone here seemed to enjoy their herrings and more importantly they made a very cheap meal. I think they were about 6d each. “Appledore has always been known as a working Town” Appledore has always been known as a working Town mainly because of our Shipyard plus 3 or 4 smaller boatbuilding yards in Irsha Street also our Glove Factory which employed approximately 200 ladies. In its hay day our dockyard employed about 500 men, not all from Appledore but also the surrounding area.

The wonderful skills that these men possessed were passed on from father to son over many generations and a few years ago when there was talk that the Shipyard may close for good, sadness was felt by everyone that if this happened these skills would eventually be lost for ever. I remember just a few years ago watching HMS Scott going off on her maiden voyage, many like me had a lump in their throat or a tear in their eye knowing that she was built by local men, husbands fathers, brothers and sons. She certainly looked a wonderful site as she made her way down the river. Thankfully at present things are looking good for our Yard we have just completed a contract for the Irish Navy and are hopeful for an order to build a Polar Research Vessel. Of course we must not forget Appledore’s oldest occupation that of Salmon fishing, when I was young there were numerous boats licensed to fish for Salmon, it was great to see them all setting off to their various points, and later when in bed to hear the swish of the salmon tails as they were pulled up the hill past my house, but now sadly there is just one license being issued, and in time even that will go as licenses cannot be transfered.

As I wrote earlier Appledore has always been a working town – but sadly we are now losing that title and are rapidly becoming a huge tourist attraction – a real honey pot for those looking for a different kind of break, I feel in a very short time we could easily become another Padstow or St Ives. Having lived here all my life I am not sure how I feel about this change but at present as they say I am just going with the flow.

Tarka Trail

The Tarka Trail is a delightful pedestrian and cycle way which runs through the stunning North Devon countryside.

The entire Trail is a 290km figure-of-eight travelling through landscapes little changed from those described by Henry Williamson in his classic 1927 novel Tarka the Otter. It is an invigorating and sustainable way to explore some of our stunning coastline, through deeply incised river valleys with ancient tangled woodland to the productive farmland and moorland higher up the catchments. Some sections of the Trail are also part of the South West Coast Path, the Two Moors Way and the Dartmoor Way.

It is part of the National Cycle Network (routes 27, Devon Coast to Coast and 3, West Country Way) and the shared-use section between Braunton and Meeth is totally traffic free. Along this stretch, many interpretation boards and other information will help you discover the wildlife, heritage, culture and natural features along the route. To the south of Petrockstowe Halt, Devon Wildlife Trust have now opened Meeth Quarry Nature Reserve. This exciting nature reserve can be accessed directly from the Tarka Trail.

The Tarka Trail Guide


The Tarka Trail is a traffic-free pedestrian and cycle route running through Devon for 290km. This new and comprehensive guide to the 48km shared-use section between Braunton and Meeth has been written and designed by Bideford couple Carl and Gigha Klinkenborg and includes everything needed to make your experience of the Tarka Trail and adventure.

The guide covers the route from Braunton, through Barnstaple, Fremington, Instow, Bideford, Torrington and ending at Meeth. It has easy to use coloured icons detailing access points, parking, toilet facilities, nature and wildlife, cycle hire, pubs and much more. “We realised there was a need for an all-inclusive guide that caters for walkers, cyclists, families, horse-riders, and those with mobility issues” said co-author Gigha. “My children loved cycling on the Tarka Trail when they were small, and as a parent I knew they were safe from any road traffic. Now my little granddaughter is the newest generation to benefit.” Carl said “When we began this project I thought I knew the Trail, having walked and cycled on it hundreds of times over many years, but our research has helped even me to see it afresh.”

Braunton -Barnstaple map

The Charms of the North Devon Coast – 1921


Harold tells of the charm and beauty of Lynton and Lynmouth, Clovelly, Ilfracombe, Bideford and Westward Ho a region which has been called “The Switzerland of England,” and is at present attracting large numbers of visitors. Lynton and Lynmouth and that section of the north coast of Devon have frequently been called the “Switzerland of England.” The Exmoor hills, the steep cliffs, the massive and jagged rocks, hills and vales, streams and brooklets, and the villages and resorts nestling amid crags and verdure- clothed slopes, bespeak the charms of the Alpine land across the Channel. Lynton is perched upon the rocks some hundreds of feet above the sea. You can reach it by means of a remarkable cliff railway from Lynmouth, or climb the zigzag path that winds its way up slopes and crags, passing a picturesque house here and there, till it gains a shelf about large enough for it to expand into a straggling street like an Alpine village. Lynmouth, on the other hand, nestles in a valley at its feet. If it is not as deep as most Swiss valleys are, the effect is similar. In one respect Lynmouth and this applies to other North Devonshire resorts has an advantage over most Swiss villages, for there is a much brighter glow of colour over everything. The red sandstone crops out everywhere along the great stretches of cliff on either side, the newly turned soil is deep red instead of brown and black, the crimson heath outvies the paler ling on the moors, the bracken begins to assume in early June the glorious hues associated with the late autumn in our northern regions, the stone walls and banks are thickly draped from top to bottom with that most beautiful of all flowering trailers, the ivy-leaf toad-flox, rarely found even in Derbyshire, and from walls and rocks and garden hedges alike spring giant clusters of red, pink and white valerian. The evening prim rose is a comparative rarity in northern gardens in Devonshire its large flowers give a golden glow to the hedges and sweet scent to many of the field paths. The white and pink foxgloves flourish equally with the common red, and there are places where even Canterbury bells and sweet-williams rear their flowers in wild luxuriance over the waving grasses.

From Lynton the great moorland rolls away westward towards Ilfracombe; it is for the most part now furrowed by the plough, fenced by hedge or bank, and forest no longer, though here and there tracts still remain open upon the uplands. R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone has made this part of North Devon famous no one who has read that enchanting romance should fail to visit Bredon, within walking distance of Lynton, where the remains of the houses of the Doones may still be seen. Ilfracombe, the best known of the North Devon resorts, has been aggrandised and modernised. It is built on the slopes of the hills over looking the water, to which many of the shorter streets descend very steeply. The coast line is very rocky, there being no stretches of sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Yet Ilfracombe can boast of what is described as the largest covered swimming-bath in England, as well as a great rock-guarded pool for ladies, access to which is gained from the promenade gardens by tunnels. In one of the caves hard by, according to tradition, Sir William Tracy, one of the murderers of Archbishop Becket, concealed himself for a fortnight, before he made his escape from England.

A mile due west from here is Morthoe Point, a crawling, rocky promontory from which there is a fine view. Journeying along the rock-bound coast we come to the little white town of Bideford, made famous by Kingsley. On the very first page of Westward Ho he gives us a charming picture of the town, standing at the mouth of a river, enclosed with hills and knolls beneath a soft Italian sky, fanned day and night by the fresh ocean breeze, which forbids alike the keen winter frosts and the fierce thunder heats of the Midland.” It is an interesting circumstance that these words were actually written in Bideford, and the Royal Hotel contains a hand some apartment that is pointed out as Kingsley’s room.

Three miles from Bideford is the popular resort of Westward Ho, which, of course, takes its name from Kingsley’s famous work. Unlike the other North Devon coast towns it has a fine stretch of smooth sand, two miles in length, and of considerable width at low tide. The United Service College, where Rudyard Kipling was educated, and which he celebrates in Stalky Co.” is situated here. The coast in both directions comprises some of the very finest scenery in North Devon.

Thirteen miles away is Clovelly, the most beautiful village in all Britain.” Hung, as it were, in a narrow and umbrageous combe, it consists of one street running down to the sea. The cliff is so steep that the road is made like a staircase, paved with round stones or cobbles.” With their white walls, unequal levels, and hetero generous shapes, the houses are decidedly quaint. The picturesque balconies, gables, bay windows, relieved here and there by climbing fuchsias and wisteria make up one of the strangest and prettiest pictures imaginable.




Bampton Fair – 1954

Neville Barnett – Reported 24th November 1954

One-Day Fair At Bampton an ancient occasion in North Devon

The people of Bampton proudly claim that theirs is the oldest one-day fair in England. There is a record of it being held in 1258, and it is more than probable that it was in existence many years earlier. At that time it was the biggest sheep fair in the West Country; now, although sheep still play an important part, it is famous for the annual sale of Exmoor ponies and suckers. In the seventeenth century, when cloth was sent to Exeter from almost every town and village in the county, Bampton played its part, and later in its history the place became a distribution centre for lime. The first of the pony sales took place in 1853, and each year a transformation takes place in this quiet North Devon village. People, horses and hucksters fill the street and traffic has to contend with the muddle as best it can. At one end of the town, in the orchard and grounds of the Tiverton Hotel, the ponies from eight different areas Tiverton, Hawkridge, Simonsbath, Doone Country, Porlock, Withypool, Dartmoor and Winsford are corralled and sold. And by the railway- station, at the further end of the town, some 3,000 sheep and a few cattle are auctioned. The main street joining these two points is lined, on both sides, with traders’ stalls and fair-ground sideshows. Here you can buy a waffle iron and learn to make a Waffle, as a solid cattle brand, and a little way along is the ‘Health Centre,’ the physique and steam roller tactics of whose proprietor goes a long way in selling his tonics and chest expanders. Across the way a seedy Father Christmas competes with powerful aroma of sausages and fried onions. Sweet stalls, with candy stripe awnings decorate either side of the portico to the White Horse Hotel. The speciality is crisp ginger-snaps, and the Huish family have had their stand for over fifty years.

Along this corridor the people mill all day, and late into the evening. They have come from near by, from over the Somerset border, and by trains, coaches and private cars from all over Devon. There are, two visitors from abroad, a family from Nothern Rhodesia, sampling, for the first time this very English fair.
For Bampton Fair still retains the essential spirit of the old fair days. It is a day for business, and a day for simple amusement: the more strident fair ground rides of the jet age are only tolerated on the outskirts of the town. It is the countryman’s day a family day, an occasion to meet old friends. And, if the weather is good, as it was this year, and business favorable, there’ll be no difficulty in persuading the good natured crowd to by a comic hat, or a tipper wagon for the farm