Today all the houses in the village have a piped water supply, but in the 1880's and 1890's all the water was pumped up from wells. Many of the houses had wells, which were often shared by neighbours. For those not so fortunate there were six parish pumps, situated at convenient sites in the village.
The most popular pump was situated near the Cross Tree and every day men, women and children came with their brown earthenware pitchers and joined the queue which gathered around the village pump.
Rain water for washing purposes was collected from the roofs and carefully stored in a disused cider barrel or paraffin cask. When this supply was exhausted water was obtained from the Mill Stream, near Caen bridge. A cask of water drawn from the Mill by a donkey, could be bought for 3d. Two of our young villagers did a considerable trade in this way, especially during a dry season. They also went to Saunton Sands and filled their donkey cart with sand which they hawked on Saturdays at a penny a bucket. The sand was used for spreading over the stone floors of the kitchens - the housewives preferred sweeping to scrubbing.
2. THE VILLAGE INNS AND CLUBS
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OF the ten houses of refreshment four were at Cross Tree and the others were scattered over the village. Some were fully licensed but others only retailed beer and cider. The beer was home-brewed and sold at 2d. a pint and the cider was also of local manufacture.
We could always tell when brewing operations were in progress. for the perfume of hops and malt pervaded the atmosphere. The next day the excise man paid his weekly visit to sample the new beer.
Most of the farms had large orchards and on many of the farms there was a Pound house. The boys of the village often helped in the cider making by turning the handle of the apple cutter. Apples of all kinds. ripe and rotten, were thrown into the machine and the pounded pulp was shovelled on to the floor of the press. previously covered with reed. Between each layer of pulp more reed was placed and when the cheese was complete a wooden press was screwed down upon it. The fresh juice soon began to flow into the butt placed for its reception. We boys then had our reward by being allowed to suck the sweet cider through a straw and we often went home with a bottleful of apple juice in our pockets.
Devonshire cider has ever been a favourite beverage of the Devon workers. The farmer kept sufficient for his own requirements and the surplus was sold to the inn keepers who always knew where to get a "drap of gude zider "
The inns not only provided liquid refreshment for customers. but they were also the gathering places where men got other pleasures. such as games of cards. dominoes and draughts. Today they have their clubs for skittles and shove ha'penny (and, of course, darts) but in the nineteenth century they had clubs which functioned very much like Friendly Societies. They received small weekly subscriptions from all families and sick and funeral benefits were doled out, as well as shareouts at Christmas time.
My grandfather, although not a customer, was a member of the Red Lion Club.
The coming of the Friendly Societies eventually led to the closing of these useful clubs of the village and by the beginning of the 20th century the Oddfellows Club had become the only club in the village, later to be followed by the National Deposit Friendly Society.
The New Inn Club, of which my great uncle was secretary, was the last of the old inn clubs to survive and I saw its last club walk.
The members, dressed in black clothes, with blue favours and bowler hats trimmed with light blue ribbon, lined up at their headquarters at the New Inn. Refreshments were handed around. the roll was called and then, led by the brass band. the members walked in procession through the village streets. They came back to the parish church where a service was conducted by the vicar. Afterwards sports were held in a nearby field.
Those were the days when the inns were open from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. There were men in the village who spent quite a lot of their time in visiting one pub after another and by turning out time they were in such a drunken state that they had to be taken to their homes. Often a donkey cart was used for this purpose. I knew of two well-known men who had to be taken home in wheel barrows.
The old Inn Clubs were swallowed up by the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, which met in the Oddfellows' Hall in Caen Street now No. 13. This Hall was formerly used as a Dame's School and was in all probability the first Independent Chapel in the village.
Every year the Oddfellows held a club walk and Fete. This was known all over North Devon as Braunton Revel. It was undoubtedly the liveliest day of the year. and crowds gathered from all parts of the neighbourhood.
The members of the Order. clad in their regalia, met at their headquarters and, headed by the local volunteer band. marched first to the Parish Church and then through the streets. In the front of the procession four members bore a huge banner. Then followed the officers in coloured aprons and gold braided sashes after whom came a long procession of members wearing lighter blue sashes.
The afternoon was given up to sports in a field which was crowded with men, women and children who enjoyed the pleasures of a village fair. One part of this field was roped off for sports. There were open as well as local events and the champions of North Devon were often competitors. Climbing a greasy pole for a leg of mutton, tied on the top, was an attractive event.
Street traders as well as the pubs did a roaring trade. The augmented police force was kept busy till the last train to Barnstaple took the merrymakers away.
3. SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
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IN the nineteenth century the people of the village organised most of their pleasures. The centres of various social activities were the churches, which were well attended. The Sunday schools of St. Brannock's, Congregational, Wesleyan and Plymouth Brethren were all filled.
It can be safely stated that most of the families in the village were connected with one or other of the places of worship. Those were the days of the Bands of Hope. That of the Parish Church was organised by the lay reader Mr. Page, and a well-known lady Miss Robinson, in a room at the back of the Temperance Hotel. Children of all denominations were encouraged to attend and invited to take some part. It was at one of these meetings that I first heard a blind man, Fred Lovering, read from his Braille Bible - a wonderful performance at that time.
The Wesleyan Band of Hope was held on the first Tuesday of the month. The programme consisted of musical items, recitations dialogues and sketches. Halfway through the programme an address would be given by a well-known temperance orator. Among the chief speakers was Archibald Bencraft, Town Clerk of Barnstaple. He was brimful of dry humour and kept the audience in roars of laughter. His presence would always draw a crowd. At the end of each meeting new members would be enrolled and the badge of a piece of blue ribbon pinned on a coat lapel or blouse. In those days, when there were no cinemas, magic lantern entertainments were always popular and the largest halls in the village would always be filled to see the pictures.
There was much musical talent in the village and in the 1890's a Choral Society was formed. The members were drawn from the three churches and they met for their weekly practices in Chaloner's School under the baton of Mr. Heap who was master of the school and organist of the Parish Church. When he left the village the training of the choir was undertaken by Mr. A. E. Wilshire of Ilfracombe. I remember being taken when quite young to one of the Choral Society's concerts. The first part was a rendering of Haydn's "Creation" and the second part miscellaneous.
The star turn of the evening was the rendering of the duet "Love Divine" by Mr. Sydney Harper and one of his boy choristers at Barnstaple Parish Church, Alfred Long. Both of them, after that time. gave life long service in musical circles of North Devon. The Barnstaple Male Voice Choir, conducted by Mr. Alfred Long, has broadcast on many occasions. The orchestra generally consisted of members of the Ilfracombe Band, led by two clever violinists. Herrs Kopsel and Hahn. Braunton Choral Society. without doubt, played its part in the musical life of North Devon in those days.
Some time in the middle 1890s an orchestra. under the leadership of Mr. John Reed, was started by local instrumentalists. They held their practices in a room in Merryfield Lane. formerly a meeting place of the Brethren. This band became very popular and gave frequent concerts in the Congregational schoolroom and in summer time entertained the villagers under Cross Tree. There was never a lack of musical talent in Braunton.
We were also entertained in other ways, especially when a travelling company came and stayed in the village for a week. A convenient room in North Street was furnished as a theatre and plays were staged. with a different programme each evening. Sometimes a troupe of "black" minstrels would come from Barnstaple and give a show in the Oddfellows' Hall.
Large crowds gathered when Bostock and Wombwell's Circus and Menagerie came and pitched in a field now the Recreation Ground. The afternoon performance was immediately after school and we schoolboys were allowed in at half price. We had a great thrill when we mounted the platform and passed into the menagerie. We were in another world ! I went to Bostock's on more than one occasion. but the first visit is the one that is most vivid in my memory. Elephants. bears, camels. lions, tigers and apes of every description were all wonders to boys whose only idea of a wild animal was a fox or badger. occasionally seen around the countryside. or a monkey perched on an Italian barrel organ. The performances with wild animals were thrilling and often frightening, especially when the roars of the snarling and growling lions seemed to rock the cages.
I shall always remember the half naked Zulus standing on a platform and throwing their assegais at a wooden target and never missing their aim. There were also a tattooed man and a bearded lady. We fed the monkeys with nuts and the elephants with buns and finished our afternoon's entertainment with a ride on Jumbo's back. This show gave us a topic of conversation for many a day.
We were up early next morning watching the menagerie depart, with the hope that it would visit us again some time. There were occasions when a travelling conjurer would come to our school and give an exhibition of the magic art, when school lessons were over. For many days we would wonder how he managed to pass a ball from one glass case to another, through the tape connecting them, and many of us would try to pass as amateur magicians.
Once, in 1895 an entertainer brought the new Edison invention - a phonograph. The records were on discs and the machine was kept going by power from a wet battery.
We sang a school song into the trumpet and soon after heard a reproduction of our own voices. All the wonders of those days have become commonplace, but to boys of the l9th century their impressions have been lasting.
There was one night in the year when the boys of the village observed an old custom long since forgotten. This was on Lent Sherd night, the night of Shrove Tuesday. Armed with sherds and broken pottery they would stop outside a house singing, "Tibby, tibby toe ! Give me a bit of pancake and then I'll go." Of course we never got any pancake. but we pelted the door of the house and then ran off, sometimes chased by the policeman.
To evade the officer of the law we would jump over walls into back gardens and get back to our homes without returning to the street.
4. ELECTION TIMES
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Parliamentary General Elections came every three years and the villagers took a lively interest in politics. The hoardings and barn doors were plastered with pictures. slogans and cartoons dealing with the policy of the two parties. Meetings were held in Chaloner's School and were addressed by candidates, members of Parliament from other constituencies and local politicians. Open air meetings under Cross Tree, conducted by peripatetic speakers, were often held and there was great fun, especially at question time. One crowded meeting in the 1890's was most lively. The Liberal candidate, Mr. E. J. Soares, later Sir Ernest, was supported by Dr. Macnamara, M.P. for Camberwell and an ex President of the National Union of Teachers.
Dr. Macnamara was a racy speaker and was quite an expert at dealing with hecklers. On this occasion two or three noted rowdies, well filled with liquor, started interrupting the speaker and were pitched out by the stewards. Then two local members of the Tory party started heckling and questioning Dr. Mac. Time and time again he shut them up, with quick retorts, but they still persisted in their efforts to upset the meeting.
They were both shouting at the same time when Dr. Mac. interjected with " Steady on ! Two donkeys can't bray at once." They immediately stopped and one of them replied, "All right ! You carry on." Mac. was for the moment nonplussed and crestfallen, but he retaliated by telling a number of funny stories aimed at his opponents. They had no reply and the tables were so greatly turned against them that they had to retire in disgust to the nearest local and talk about that "School Master fellow" who could cap everything that they said with a funny story.
In those days the pubs kept open all day and a good deal of free beer was ftowing on both sides. Not only on polling day but throughout the election favours were worn and, when father was not afraid to disclose his colours, the children paraded the streets bedecked with election cards and party colours. Yes ! The villagers were more interested in political matters than today.
5. SUNDAY OBSERVANCE
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All places of worship were well attended and there were few empty pews. The sight of a whole family making their way to church was not uncommon. Families had their own pews and filled them. Children first of all went to morning Sunday School and afterwards joined their parents in public worship. They often had to sit under a sermon lasting 40 minutes and yet were ready after dinner for Sunday School lasting an hour. After Sunday School they would probably meet their parents and go for a country walk and after tea attend evening service which lasted an hour or more.
After the evening services in the summer time there would be a Sunday parade for the teenagers and courting couples.
Sunday was a day when tradesmen, sailors, farmers and other workers were able to join in worship as a community and they were all the better for it. Quite a number of farmers came with their workers to the village church or chapels from the neighbouring farms, in horse drawn vehicles. The Wesleyans had a stable and yard for their conveyances. The farmers from Luscott, Ash, Heanton Court, Chivenor, Wrafton, Saunton. Boode, Nethercott, Winsham, Halsinger and the outlying districts always drove to Braunton to attend morning service.
In most homes, Sunday was a different day from those of the rest of the week and particular attention was paid beforehand to ensure it.
Boots and shoes were given an extra polish and the best clothes were set ready. Male adults had black suits with bowler hats and many had frock coats and silk toppers. Their wives wore black silk and satin dresses and beaded mantles. Their heads were generally adorned with high peaked bonnets, tied with black ribbons.
Teenagers and young men wore white straw hats, with coloured bands in the summer, but these were exchanged for bowlers in the winter. White starched collars and cuffs were also much in evidence and to smarten their appearance the young bloods took care that the choicest blooms in the flower garden would adorn their buttonholes when they went to church.
Among the old people of both sexes elastic sided boots adorned their feet and on wet days it was usual to add a pair of pattens to the footwear. These pattens were like wooden and leather sandals fixed on iron frameworks and they made quite a clatter on the stone pavements. There were churchwardens at the Parish Church. deacons in the Independent Chapel and stewards and local preachers in the Wesleyan Chapel not forgetting the leaders in the Brethren.
It was always the custom for the servants to accompany the farmer and his family to church. In those days there might 5e three or four servants living in. One farmer who was churchwarden insisted on his servants keeping awake during the sermon and to ensure this called upon them in turn, when seated at dinner. to repeat the text of the sermon. One Sunday he called on Dick, an illiterate cow boy. "Now Dick, my boy, what was passen's text this morning ?"
"Aw, maister, I coulden' catch it proper, but 'twas from the Bible, I knaw. I think Passen zed, ` In the days of Snatch-a-crab there was a boar salmon in the land ' (In the days of Sennacherib there was a sore famine in the land). Dick was evidently dreaming about fish.
There were red letter days in connection with the Sunday Schools. St. Brannock's treat and festival was in June, and on the great day the children with their teachers. led by the Volunteer Band, 'would parade the village bearing large banners and then march to a field near the Church. After a tea in Chaloner'a School thcy would repair to the field and keep up their festivities, including dancing, until it was dark.
The great day for the Noncomformists was in the week following the Sunday School Anniversary and there would be parades similar to those of St. Brannocks, minus the band.
Although only a small boy then, I well remember the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The churches united in a special service of thanksgiving in St.. Brannock's Church, conducted by the Vicar, the Rev. W. G. Morcom and the Rev. D. R. Davies, the Congregational Minister. Led by the band, the children of the united Sunday Schools, all bearing their banners, had a grand parade through the streets to the Church. After the service all went to a tea and the adults attended a luncheon. We were all presented with Jubilee medals and then went to a field for sports and games.
That was a great day in the history of the old village. The religious lifc of the Victorian days helped us to be friends and neighbours and the village benefited by it.
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