Category Archives: Local News & Features

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 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.