There were two schools in the village, a board school built in 1878 and Cha1oner's School, founded in 1668 by the Rev. William Chaloner, who was the vicar of Braunton.
The Board School had separate departments for boys, girls and infants. I started my education in the Infant School when I was three years of age. The teachers were the Head Mistress, Mrs. Pike and a staff comprising of an assistant-mistress, two pupil teachers and a monitress. We were taught to read from large coloured sheets hung on the blackboard. We wrote on slates and were taught to add up with the aid of an abacus.
Knitting with two wooden needles was taught to boys as well as girls. I wall remember with what pride I took home the scarf I had knitted. This was presented to me on being promoted to the Boys' School at the;age of seven. When I went to the Boys' School the Head Master was Mr. Ingram, but he had to retire through illness, when I had been there two years. His successor was Richard Mellhuish Hayman, from St. Luke's College, Exeter. Dick came with a great reputation as a sportsman, for he was a great Rugby football player and during his college days had earned a place in the Devon County team as a forward. He even captained the Barnstaple Rugby team in its palmiest days, when theywere champions of the West, and had seven men in the CountyTeam.
We could always tell on Monday mornings whether Barum had won or lost. He was in the best of moods when he had led histeam to victory, but if they were beaten then the schoolboys had tosuffer. One could tell from his cauliflower ears that he was ascrummager. On Mondays, Dr. Lane, who was one of the members of the School Board, would come to the school and Dickwould retire to the cloakroom where the doctor would paint hisears with iodine. When he came back to his desk those twoorgans looked very much like tangerine oranges Dick Haymanwas a very thorough teacher and disciplinarian. He knew howto wield the rod, especially on the lazy boys. Outside the School he was a real sportsman and Rugby football in the winter andcricket in the summer kept him fit. He was also a keen follower of Izaak Walton. He knew the best places in our stream fortrout and could wield the outdoor rod as cleverly as the one he kept in his desk at school. Many of us had the pleasure of accompanying him on his fishing expeditions on summer evenings. We village boys of that time owe a deep debt of gratitude to our schoolmaster.
Those were the days of annual examinations by Her Majesty's Inspectors of schools when grants were made to the School Boardby the Board of Education on their results. We passed from onestandard to another, after the examination, if we were successful in the three Rs., reading, writing and arithmetic. We were also tested in English Grammar, Geography, History and Recitation. Our teachers took pains to ensure the maximum number of passes. Wealso had annual examinations in Religious Knowledge and Drawing. Old villagers to-day (1966) will recall the fear that crept into ourhearts when the two inspectors Mr. F. H. Codd and Mr. R. Matt came into the room, but our trembling ceased when the latter began to test us, for he was the kindest of men. Many years later,when I became a teacher, he showed me the same kindness as hedid when examining the pupils of the school.
There were several events that I particularly remember during those early schooldays. One day during the early 1890s, when we came out of school at 4 o'clock we saw that the London Inn, an old thatched building. opposite to the entrance of our playground.was on fire and the roof was well ablaze. The Fire Brigade had just arrived from Barnstaple. Seeing that the Fire Engine and Appliances were horse drawn and had to be brought five miles, it can easily be understood that the conflagration had spread all over the house before the Brigade arrived. The firemen were busy laying hosepipes from the engine to the Mill Stream, 150 yards away, when we came on the scene. With the aid of willing helpers the pump was soon got into action. On each side of the old-time engine there was a long handle with room for six men to pump. Soon twelve men began to pump and within an hour the flames were extinguished and the neighbouring houses saved, but the London Inn was a smouldering, gutted ruin. On the same site the present inn was rebuilt.
About the same time we had the Great Blizzard. The snow began to fall one afternoon. continuing without stop during the night. When we awoke in the morning we found that the snow was knee-deep in the streets and in some places there were drifts 6 feet deep. I remember men with spades and shovels clearing away snow from doorways to release those who were imprisoned inside. The neighbouring hamlets and farmhouses were entirely cut off from the village.
No work could be done outside, other than clearing snow to make the roads passable. On the morning of the blizzard very few of the boys attended school. but we. who were fortunate enough to get there, were commended by our Headmaster and told that we were real Englishmen. There were no lessons that morning and we had a holiday from school for several days until the blizzard had passed.
A few years later we had a great flood. Very heavy rain had filled the River Caen so that it overflowed into a meadow at the back of the school. The water soon rushed through the School playground into Caen Street below. The drains were soon choked with debris and within an hour the water was two feet deep in the street. Householders very quickly began to seal up their doors, but some were too late and their houses were soon flooded, so that the occupants had to live upstairs. 1 well remember being carried pick-a-back by one of the pupil teachers, Julian Huxtable, who waded almost knee deep through the water.
People who came by train from Barnstaple or Ilfracombe were cut off from the east side of the village. To overcome this difficulty some sailors and fishermen hurried to Vellator and brought a boat to the flooded street. They did a good trade ferrying marooned travellers backwards and forwards.
There was a humorous side. however. to this disaster. for at times the boat was overfilled and we saw more than one person get a ducking. One noted villager, the crier, was being ferried from the station and when the boat was almost at its destination the two boatmen deliberately caused the boat to upset. and J.Y.T. was precipitated into the water, much to the amusement of the onlookers. Next day the sinks and the drains were cleared and the floods subsided, but many houses suffered the loss of carpets and damage to furniture. Two similar floods have taken place since.
In 1896 I left the Board School and started as a pupil at Chaloner's School. This school was built in 1866 from investments left by a former vicar in 1668. The Rev. William Chaloner bequeathed a certain amount of money for the education of boys of the village. A school was conducted in an old room near the church and boys were admitted at the age of seven, but in 1866 it removed to a new building. There was an entrance examination for all small boys before they could get the benefit of Chaloner's endowment.
At the age of 5 or 6 a boy would go to a Dame School for which he would pay 2d. a week. At the age of seven he would one day appear before the Vicar and his two wardens. First of all he had to read a chapter from the Bible. Then he had to write a copy and add up several lines of figures. If successful in the test he became a pupil of Chaloner's. My father was a successful entrant at the age of seven. When the Board School was opened Chaloner's School became a secondary School and continued so until 1948. While I was a pupil of the school the Head Master was John L. Ralph, B.A., a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge. He was assisted by a French Master, M. Butler, a young man from Bordeaux and on Mondays Mr. W. L. Baron spent the whole afternoon in teaching Art. There were 36 boys in two forms A and B and Juniors between the ages of 8 and 12.
At Chaloner's we received a very sound education and at the end of each year sat for the examinations of the College of Preceptors. There were seldom any failures. On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons we had holidays for sport. Our games field was at Wrafton l miles away. After our Wednesday sports we all had tea at the house of our Head Master who went by the name of "Cave." He was a bachelor and lived with his sister at "The Laurels" in Wrafton Road. Among the boys at school were about half a dozen who were boarders and Miss Ralph superintended that department. After a football match we entertained the visiting team at the Laurels when Miss Ralph provided extra cakes for tea, in addition to the usual bread and butter and halfpenny buns.
Once a year we were taken on a school outing to Saunton Sands. After games on the beach and bathing in the surf we had a sumptuous tea at the Lorna Doone Hotel, when strawberries and cream were given first place on the menu.
John Ralph was a Scotsman with a keen sense of humour. He was most patient and painstaking and gave his pupils quite a lot of individual attention. He was a keen disciplinarian and woe betide the boy who came to school with unprepared homework. The boarders had prep every evening lasting an hour and a half and the same was expected of the boys who lived at home.
Every morning we were drawn up in front of the master's desk and tested in turn. If we missed a question a dot was put down in a square opposite our names. We earned ten marks if we got through without a fault, but if we got five dots we had to write our lesson out and bring it next morning. We had to do it even if it meant going without our meals.
In spite of his strict discipline he had the respect of us all. His pupils went into all walks of life, including engineers, bank managers, clergymen, schoolmasters civil servants, army officers, servants of the Eastern Telegraph Company, Ships' Officers. farmers and tradesmen. In the 1890's Chaloner's School obtained as good academic results as any secondary school in the district.
In my first year at Chaloner's a number of Frenchmen, from the shores of the Bay of Biscay, came to Saunton to plant pine trees in the sand hills. Our French master, M. Butler, went to Saunton every afternoon, after school, to act as interpreter. This work was never completed, for, after they had been working a few weeks trouble arose between England and France over the Fashoda question and the French workers were called home. They never returned and the tree planting ceased.
After five years attendance at Chaloner's School I left and commenced my life work as a teacher, but on Saturday mornings I spent the whole time at school where my old master coached me for further exams. Chaloner's boys are now in every quarter of the globe and they remember John Landon Ralph, not as a schoolmaster, but, as a friend and school mate. Chaloner's School played an important part in the education of the village boys for nearly three hundred years and the village was the sufferer when this valuable institution was forced to close.
While at Chaloner's, I learned to ride a bicycle which in those days was a luxury. Among the pupils at the school were the four Colman brothers who resided at Putsborough Manor House, 3 miles away. They were the great-grandsons of the Victorian philosopher, John Stuart Mill. The three elder brothers rode to school on their bicycles and the youngest, Alan, rode a long tailed pony. In the dinner hours we would hurry back to school and Harry Colman would give us rides on his cushioned tyred bike along the Ilfracombe Road. In that way many of us became proficient cyclists and were soon looking for our own machines.
The Colmans were all keen on football and cricket and each in turn captained the school teams. They were also keen naturalists, especially in bird life, and during the weekends in spring and early summer they would explore Baggy Cliffs for sea birds to augment their collection of birds' eggs.
All four brothers became civil engineers. Harry Colman was an officer with a South African regiment in the Second World War and saw much service in North Africa. He was one of the inventors of the flailing machine for destroying land mines.
7. MILITARY MATTERS
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The men of Braunton were, from earliest times, ready to defend their country and fight both on land and sea. In the Middle Ages, the Butts, near the Church was the place where the straw targets were stationed for archery practice.
The old records tell us that in Elizabethan days there was a defensive fort at Castle Hill just above Knowle. In the 1890's there were six old guns resting on the fortress walls and some of them still exist.
During the Civil War, Braunton men, under the command of Colonel John Luttrell of Saunton Court, fought on the side of Parliament.
Braunton men also helped to man the ships that went from North Devon to fight the Spanish Armada. They were also to be found in ships at the British fleet that fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and in the Devonshire Regiment, "The Bloody Eleventh" fighting in the Peninsular Wars.
At the end of the nineteenth century there were Volunteer Battallions of the 6th Devon Artillery in various parts of North Devon. including Braunton, where Major Ferguson was in command. Their Drill Hall was in East Street and they had open air drill in different grounds. Whenever they paraded in Scarlet tunic, blue trousers and blue helmet they were led by their brass band, which was also in evidence in club walks and gala occasions. There was also a detachment of the North Devon Yeomanry, consisting mainly of farmers and landworkers. They had special drills just before going to their annual camp and the boys of the village found great pleasure on summer evenings watching cutlass drill in a field on the farm of Sergeant-Major Tom Ashton. Among the North Devon men who volunteered for service with our Yeomanry Regiment was Tom Perryman. He served right through the South African campaign and on his return was given a royal welcome by the parishioners who met him at the Railway Station and dragged him through the streets in a wagonette.
During those war years we had to rely on our newspapers and bulletins issued by the local news-agencies at Barnstaple for news from South Afrtca. Local ladies formed committees and instituted working parties to make comforts for the Tommies. Concerts were held to provide funds for this purpose and an important item on the programme was the singing of Rudyard Kipling's "Absent Minded Beggars," the chorus of which ended with " Pay, pay, pay ! "
A collection was always taken after that was sung. We became very excited when we heard of the reliefs of Ladysmith and Mafeking. Many old villagers still remember the night of May l7th, 1900, "Mafeking Night." The news of the relief of that small town, which, under Colonel Baden Powell, withstood a siege for many months. came to us early in the evening. We soon began to celebrate by marching through the streets, singing patriotic songs and finished up by going up to the top of East Hill where we sent up rockets and used up quite a lot of ammunition in firing a couple of horse pistols.
8. TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION
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TODAY it is an easy matter to travel from the village by car or National bus, but in the l9th century it was not so. The only convenient means of travel was by train on the London and South Western Railway, and then only to places on the line. To reach neighbouring villages people either had to walk or hire a horse-drawn vehicle.
When I was a boy quite a number of the villagers had never been further than Ilfracombe or Barnstaple and knew nothing of the many beauty spots of the neighbouring countryside.
Trains certainly ran frequently and we could get excursion tickets for 6d. return to Barnstaple and one shilling return to Ilfracombe. Often excursions to London were run at ten shillings return, covering 14 days.
There were no motor cars and the only bicycles were "penny farthings," " bone shakers," and "solid tyred" bikes. I remember two of the villagers who had "penny fathing" bikes. Captains Gould and Harry Clarke were expert riders on these machines. There were also a few locally ridden wooden wheeled "bone shakers." They had iron tyres and hanging on the handle bar was a tongued bell which kept ringing. The solid tyred and cushioned bicycles were still used at the end of the 1890's, but they were most uncomfortable.
We had to rely a great deal on horse drawn vehicles and sometimes on a donkey and cart. Goods were brought from Barnstaple by carriers' carts.
There were still a few people who preferred travelling to town in the four-wheeled carrier's wagon rather than by train. This was a tedious journey and took quite an hour to complete.
Often in the summer time four-horsed coaches loaded with visitors from Ilfracombe, driveri by Sam Colwill or Tom Copp, would pass through Church Street and up over Abbot's Hill to New Road on their way to Barnstaple, Bideford and Clovelly. We would hear the merry tones of the coach horn and would run to the top of Heanton Street to see the galloping horses pass by.
The occupiers of some of the country houses kept many horses in their stables for driving and riding purposes. It was not uncommon to see a pair-horsed landau or carriage driven through the streets by a coachman with a footman by his side. The stables are now empty, the coach houses have been turned into garages, while the coachmen and grooms have sought fresh occupations.
On Friday, which was market day at Barnstaple, the roads showed great activity, for the farmers and their wives travelled in their spring carts loaded with dairy and vegetable produce, to market. Cattle, sheep and pigs, now carried in motor cattle trucks, were driven on foot to the cattle markets. There were quite a lot of carts drawn by donkeys and it was not uncommon to see men riding to work on the back of the humble ass. I have a vivid memory of seeing Dan Chugg riding to market on his donkey mare with a load of vegetables slung on its back. Doctors travelled long distances on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages to visit their patients. All business vehicles were horse-drawn.
During the summer season Saunton Sands was a favourite holiday resort and Croyde Bay was also very popular. Holiday makers came to Braunton by train and were then conveyed to one or other of these resorts. There would often be a dozen or more carriages, including wagonettes, landaus, bassinets, and even a donkey drawn bath-chair, on the stand at the station plying for hire. On arrival at the station passengers would be greeted with "Cab, sir ?" "Cab, Ma'am ?", from the bowler hatted cabbies who crowded around them. A trip to Saunton could be had for a shilling return.
The cab owners had some fine, well-bred horses and some of them were very speedy. One of the horses on Braunton cab-stand, "Tommy," belonging to Mr. George Staddon of the Railway Hotel, was the best of his breed in North Devon. One day a gentleman from South Wales missed his train to Ilfracombe, which would have connected with the passenger steamer leaving for Cardiff. He was in a dilemma, as he had just over an hour to catch the boat. He offered George Staddon, Junior, a sovereign if he could get him to Ilfracombe just before the boat left. Tommy was harnessed to a light trap and they quickly set off. They covered the distance, just over 6 miles, in less than an hour. Mr. Staddon was paid a sovereign and Tommy was rewarded with a long drink of a bucket of beer.
Even the farmer's long tailed cart, furnished with a bundle of straw on each side, was often requisitioned to carry passengers. It was not a very comfortable mode of travel on the rough roads of those days, but we often travelled with as many as six on each side when we went on Sunday School picnics. I was not as comfortable as the present day motor travel, especially when the wheels stuck in the deep ruts, but it was far more enjoyable.
There were a few donkeys with carts let out on hire. As many as three adults and the same number of children could be bundled into a donkey cart and conveyed in this way to Saunton Sands and back. Two old ladies of Knowle, Mrs. Windsor and Mrs. Hancock, were well-known figures riding in their donkey-cart on their way to Broadsands to gather laver.
The wheelbarrow was a vehicle much in evidence, especially on Saturdays. Each of the three coal merchants had two or three wheelbarrows for the use of their customers.
Boys of the village would be sent to the coal cellars for a hundredweight of coal which would cost a shilling and this included the use of the wheelbarrow for its conveyance to the home. It was not uncommon to see half a dozen wheelbarrows, loaded with coal, being pushed along the street. taking the weekly supply of fuel to the workers' cottages.
9. LOCAL GOVERNMENT
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PREVIOUS to 1894 local affairs were under the control of and administered by the Vestry Board who also elected overseers of the Poor.
In the early l9th century the destitute and workless were cared for locally and there was a Hospital for the Poor in a building next to the Church.
When this ended they were sent to the Workhouse at Barnstaple. Parish Relief was paid weekly by the District Relieving Officer at the pay table which was in a room under the Old Parish Room, adjoining the Churchyard. On Saturdays we could see a number of old and disabled parishioners of both sexes, wending their way to the pay table to receive their weekly Parish Relief, which ranged from 2/6 to 7/6. Those who were sick and too crippled received their pay from the officer who visited their homes.
In those days little was done to relieve existing conditions. The streets were dirty and full of wheel ruts. They were repaired by being coated with small stones which were worn down by the traffic. The stones used for road repairing were large boulders brought from local quarries or pebbles from the Pebble Ridge at Westward Ho! and broken to a suitable size by men who had pitches by the roadside. With the invention of the steamroller there came better roads. but they were poor compared with the modern tarred roads.
There was no regular water supply and the drainage was bad. After heavy rains the streets would often be flooded and we could play with our toy boats in the gutters by the pavements.The Parish Councils Act of 1894 gave the parishioners the right to control water supply, sanitary matters and lighting and when the first council met. it soon became clear that they would deal with all three. Public parish meetings were called to discuss progressive measures and they were sometimes lively and amusing. When the question of water supply was being discussed one opponent said, "Whaat do us want wi'a rezivoy ? Us got plenty of watter as us be, an' if it goes short us can go tu straim an' vetch 'it," He was followed by another parishioner who said, "Watter us waants and watter us'll hev," and they weren't long before an adequate supply of piped water was obtained from a reservoir constructed in Buttercombe Lane, and new drainage and public lighting soon followed.
Those early Parish Councils were elected by a show of hands, but candidates came forward in such large numbers that a poll was demanded and it was not an easy job to get on the Parish Council.
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