Category Archives: Local History


Bideford  has one claim to fame that some may find discomforting, namely that it was the last place in England where the hanging of witches took place. This happened in August 1682, when three women went to the gallows after being found guilty of witchcraft. 

WitchplaqueTemperance Lloyd, 

Mary Trembles,  

and Susanna Edwards 

were put to death on the strength 

of little more than gossip. 

Their execution highlighting a tragic period in the countries history. It was a time when women who lived on their own, or were old and perhaps a little eccentric, were vulnerable. It was a time when an insect bite could be taken as a mark of the devil and where a cat or magpie seen at someone’s house would be taken as the sign of the diabolical at work.

From the late 15th Century through to the mid eighteenth century, 200,000 people were put to death across Europe on the grounds of witchcraft. 

Witch-hunting in England saw about 500 people put to death and reached it’s heights in the 1640s with figures such as Matthew Hopkins gained national notoriety.  He claimed to hold the office of Witch Finder General, though no such title was ever bestowed by Parliament. 

For anyone familiar with Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, the way innocent people could be branded by others during the witchcraft craze is clear.  But by the late seventeenth century, that craze had faded in England and most trials ended in acquittal, which made the Bideford Trials all the more unusual in that they ended in execution.

The misfortunes of those three women from Bideford began in July 1682, when one of the town’s shopkeeper’s, Thomas Eastchurch, reported to some of the town’s constables that Temperance Lloyd had been practising witchcraft. Temperance was subsequently arrested and locked up in an old chapel before being taken before the justices to answer for her crimes.

The actual charges she faced were listed as ‘suspicion of having used some magical art, sorcery or witchcraft upon the body of Grace Thomas, and to have had discourse or familiarity with the devil in the likeness or shape of a black man.’  The evidence against Temperance was thin in the extreme. For example, Grace Thomas was convinced that Lloyd was responsible for her illness simply because she had been so relieved when Thomas had regained her health. 

Other ‘evidence’ included that fact that a magpie had flown to Thomas’s window. The evidence may have been thin, but when Lloyd was questioned by the justices on July 3rd, she confessed to the charges and effectively sealed her fate. She stated that she had in fact killed three people and blinded another. 

The case against the other two women, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, was triggered after a local women, Grace Barnes, blamed Trembles for her illness. She was subsequently arrested, as was Edwards, who had been begging for food along with Trembles. 

Once again the evidence against the two women was little more than gossip, over-heard conversations and marks on their bodies. But once again the women did not put up a strong defence of themselves. Trembles blamed Edwards for luring her into witchcraft and eventually Lloyd was drawn into the case, being blamed by Edwards. Public opinion at the time also saw Lloyd as the one who had effectively debauched the other two. 

The actual trial of the three women took place in Exeter on 19th August 1682, with the dubious evidence arrayed against the women. That evidence may have been limited, but hysteria of the times gave it added credence and the women’s appointment with the hangman was ensured when they readily admitted their own guilt.

The executions took place on 25th August at Heavitree, which is just outside Exeter.

It was a public event, with children sitting on the shoulder of their parents to get a better view and clergyman loudly berating the women for their crimes. The gravity of their situation must have suddenly hit home to the women, as they stated their innocence and denied the charges against them. But it was too late and their sentence was carried out. 

Temperance Lloyd was the last to be executed. The Sherif asked whether she believed in Jesus Christ and Lloyd replied: “Yes, and I pray Jesus Christ to pardon my sins.” And then the noose was placed around her neck and she left this world, taking with her the reasons why she had confessed to a crime she could not possibly have committed. 

Why did  women not declare their innocence before and why had they so readily admitted to their crimes in the first place? Were they incapable of grasping what was happening, did they revel in their notoriety, or were they simply unable to deal rationally with the irrational situation they had to deal with? 

The witch-trial period was a dark chapter in our history. It was a time when women, and it was overwhelmingly women, could face the death penalty for being different, old, foolish or eccentric. It was a time when the power of gossip, hearsay and jealousy could be enough to leave you facing the death penalty.  

A plaque commemorating the deaths of the three women can be viewed on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter.

Reports of a Ghost at Chambercombe Manor – 1922


A ghost, of the smuggling days in Devon, has again made its appearance at a haunted manor house, writes an Ilfracombe correspondent of The South Wales Daily News.

‘Chambercombe Manor Farm lies in a valley only a few miles from Combe Martin, close to the little hamlet of Hele. It is here the ” ghost” has again been but it causes no alarm, guests at the farm, occupying a bedroom once used by Lady Jane Grey, was the one to see her (for it is a woman ghost), but the apparition did no harm, and caused no particular excitement. To tell the story of the ghost one has to go a long way back history. Hele —quite a holiday haunt now—was then the home of bold bad men whose least crime was smuggling. One night a ship was driven or lured ashore. The crew were drowned or murdered, and a beautiful Spanish woman of distinction on board was made a prisoner. She was taken by the smugglers through an underground passage which then connected Chambercombe Manor with Hele Beach to the house. There she was placed in a secret room and allowed starve to death. It was as recently 1865 that the tragedy was discovered according to rumour. Entry into the room was made during the progress of alterations to the house, and the skeleton of a woman was found lying on a bed, surrounded and partly covered by mildew and decayed tapestry hanging. This is the ghost “which is now reported to walk ” occasionally, but which harms no one. I’ve never seen the ghost,” I was told by the man who conducts visitors to the haunted room ; but who knows. There are a lot of things we couldn’t understand, and one of our guests says she saw her’ standing on the stairs a few nights ago ” The haunted room stands as it did when skeleton and furniture were removed in 1865. The roof of the Manor Farm forms the ceiling, a small hatchway in a wooden wall affords a view of the interior la the courtyard of the farm there are traces of the old subterranean passage. Some little distance has been cleared, and at the foot of the cliffs at Hele is a small cave, said to be the entry to this tunnel. It is impossible to force a way through.

The Lure of North Devon – 1929


Let the tourist who happens to be a stranger to Devon choose Barnstaple as his stepping-off board. For it is a pleasant town to visit for itself, and in its vicinity are many places good to look upon. There is the breezy road to Instow, through Fremington, by the side of the wide Taw estuary, where we enjoy a peep of Appledore on the opposite shore.  

It brings the traveller into Bideford, picturesquely situated on the River Torridge, and at full tide the Torridge is counted among Devon’s glories. Bideford and its surroundings offer everything to an outdoor enthusiast. The town is well kept; it is clean and sweet, and the shops are of a kind that appeal to the women. It is the gateway to the heart of Devon. And what shall the choice be. A good deal depends of course on individual taste. If I were a man in love with quaint old villages, whose cobbled streets wind up and down and where the atmosphere is full of fishy smells, I would tramp at once to Appledore, a mile or two away, there to enjoy the gorgeous views of both the Torridge and Taw valleys. Had I a cycle I should see that the front wheel turned towards the Torridge valley. I should be pedalling down to Weir Gifford, with its interesting church, and Torrington. Lovely spots for cycling. Had I a car available, the choice would be Clovelly, as I regard the run from Bideford as one of the prettiest in North Devon, through the tiny villages of Ford, Bucks Cross, Fairy Cross, and Clovelly Cross. An hour at Bucks Mills is recommended; it is a perfect gem of a fishing village set amid wooded combe. Surely here is no need to elaborate the beauties of Clovelly. How often have they been portrayed in so many forms of art Not only do the old cottages look sweeter, the creepers more beautiful, and all the colours of hill and wood and sky and sea deepened by the mellowed influences of time, but the air that blows up the  street is as delicious as it was in Ivingsley’s day.

But why dwell on a village so crowded with England charms, rather, than retrace the steps already covered from Bideford, it is a good plan to take the boat to Ilfracombe and sail from Clovelly across Bideford Bay. Ilfracombe never fails to attract; all through the years it has increased its popularity without bordering on the profanum vulgus. Dignity and self-respect blend well in Ilfracombe. The town has many excellent shops, a little theatre, picture houses, a first-class orchestra in the corporation gardens, tennis, cricket, and golf on the fine links above Hele Bay. Ilfracombe is essentially a holiday centre, you pick out your tweed coat and old flannels and spend your days scrounging over the rocks only to return in the evening with a few rips in your trousers. I am very fond of Ilfracombe, the town of quaint, irregular confusion. with its twisting paths and rocks so peculiarly- shaped, its delightful walks and breezy heights. Happy days on the old Lantern Hill, on the Capstone, up on Hillsborough, and way on the Torrs Walks. Oh for a swim in the morning tide and the cool green water in September and early morning and the joy of a tramp out of Ilfracombe, by the Torrs, and across Lee Downs, where the smell of earth and sea is delicious. Bull Point lighthouse can he seen a few miles distant. The views are wonderful and the rocky coast and an incomparable sea, sweet I scented lanes and a valley lit up by the bright lamps of fuchsia. What more could you wish for? And in sleepy Lee are old cottages, old people, old by-ways still unspoiled, and a very old peace which the modern world has not yet felt, understood, or even sought.

Moving along the coast we come to Woolacombe, where the sands are long and golden, and pools of sea water are mirrors of the sky’s perfect blue, where there are miniature ravines and carpets of heather ablaze on the moors, close-clipped grass for the tired limb, fields of ripened corn crowning the summit of the hills, and, at one’s feet, a million dancing, quivering waves. There is no station at Woolacombe, the nearest being Morthoe, about two miles away. If we return to Ilfracombe and proceed to Lynton there is some of the finest coast scenery to be found anywhere in the British Isles. A splendid road service is available during the season. Combe Martin does not attract like Ilfracombe, although I would always suggest a tour round the Watermouth caves and a climb to Hangman Point overlooking Combe Martin Bay. Also Berrynarbor village, a mile inland, is well worth a visit. On Trentishoe Downs blow the fresh winds of Devon, and then we drop into Hunter’s Inn with its indescribable woodland scenery. Now we take the precipitous road from Hunter’s Inn to Heddon Mouth the coast is wild and rocky, magnificent, impressive. Higher and higher one climbs until one looks over the wide and steep hillside and sees the immense foliage in the beautiful Woody Bay. Finally, beyond the Valley of Rocks there is Lyn- mouth, the loveliest of all English villages, which can be approached not only by road from Ilfracombe, some seventeen miles, but also by Great Western coach from Minehead, twenty miles, by way of Porlock, and there is a rail service from South Molton to Lynton. The steamer goes to Swansea, and Lynmouth affords an excellent opportunity of sailing to the Bristol Channel. And so we bid farewell to North Devon, with Lynmouth as our parting friend. Quaint cottages nod in the soft light of day, the rich creepers are quivering in the wind that steals over the old harbour, the trees are dancing in their millions on the wide hillsides, the purple heather lies smouldering on the spacious heights, and the Lyn comes a-prancing like a roaring torrent from the wild wastes of Exmoor.


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!

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