THE village of today is really a small suburban town with shops to supply most needs, areas with new council houses and some fine residences on the hillsides and environs.
Previous to the beginning of this century it consisted mainly of the original streets which are mentioned in an old book, " The Customs and Manors of Braunton " written in 1535 by William Wyott at the instigation of Abbot Dovell of the Abbey of Clive. who was lord of the Manor of Braunton Abbots.
Some of the houses mentioned in that book can still be seen. The houses in the village were the homes of farmers, sailors, tradesmen and land workers. There were 7 provision shops, 5 shoemakers, 3 butchers, 2 bakers, an ironmongery store, a chemist's shop and a tobacco and confectionery store. from which the villagers could get their stores. There were also the following inns : Abbot's Inn, New Inn, The Black Horse, The Red Lion, The White Lion, The London Inn, the Barnstaple Inn. the Mariners' Arms and the Agricultural Inn. at that time termed The Spirit Vaults.
At night the streets were dark, especially in winter time and people who had occasion to be out at night carried horn windowed lanterns in their hands. The common illuminant was a tallow candle, or as it was called, a " dip." The only other lights were those which came from the paraffin lamps in the houses and from the few shops which kept open till 9 or 10 p.m.
When the Parish Council came into being street lighting was introduced and oil lamps were placed in certain parts of the village. These were kept going by a part-time lamplighter and during the winter he could be seen walking through the streets, carrying a ladder on his shoulder which he climbed to Iight the lamps. At 10 o'clock he went around with a hook attached to a pole with which he extinguished the lights.
The cottages in the streets were built either of cob or of stone and generally had a living room, a back house and two or three bedrooms. The larger houses often had parlours and were double-fronted. I have a vivid memory of my grandfather's home. There was a large kitchen which was the living room a parlour, a narrow larder, a back house and three bedrooms. In the front there was a flower garden where roses bloomed over a trellis and there was generally a fine show of peonies, stocks, pansies lilies, dahlias, chrysanthemums and other flowers in season. At the back was a yard with a poultry run, pig sties and store room and a large kitchen garden. Adjoining the dwelling house was a large carpenter's shop. Outside the back door was a pump which drew water from a deep well.
Right up to the end of the nineteenth century there was a predominance of very old houses built of cob, coated with whitewash and thatched with reed. These had large square stone chimneys and many of the old buildings had small leaded windows. Many of the modernised buildings in all the streets. are built of cob with oak beams for the roofs. Although 1ow ceilinged and with stone floors they were very commodious. One large house in Church Street. recently modernised, has cob walls two feet thick. During alterations three fine old l6th century hearths were discovered behind layers of plaster and wallpaper. They have now been restored to their original state. In the same row, is an old house dated 1579, with a strong chimney, fireplace and front window protruding into the street.
One old house in South Street had an outside wooden staircase and when I was a boy I often ran up the stairs to take a peep at old Granfer Coles who lay bedridden in the room at the top.
A great number of these houses were really farm tenements and at the back of the dwelling houses there were stables, shippens and other necessary farm buildings.
In the 1890s there were ten such farm houses in South Street. Today there are only two, but many of the cob-built sheds remain.
At the top of Heanton Street there is a very fine old house " The Locks," with sheds. surrounding a large yard. a fine example of a medieval homestead.
In the nineties there were over 40 farm houses in the village itself. Today there are less than a dozen and nearly all these are on the West side.
In East Street there were three old farm houses with pigeon cotes in the gabled walls.
Almost opposite to the entrance to the Churchyard is an interesting farmhouse. Chapel Hill Farm, "The Bowers." It was rebuilt at the beginning of the l9th century and has a row of interesting stones, with Tudor carving along the front wall, between the ground floor and the first storey. They were probably taken from St. Michael's Chapel on the hill which was dismantled at the end of the l9th century.
The stone-floored kitchen was well supplied with cupboards and against the wall opposite the window was a large dresser lined with tea and dinner services. My grandfather's armchair stood at the side of the fireplace, which had an open grate and ovens on both sides. The largest piece of furniture was a settle which, when drawn near to the fire provided a comfortable seat for two or three - free from draughts.
Four hooks driven into the ceiling supported a large rack similar to those found in many homes at that time. On that rack were hams and shoulders of pork in calico bags, as well as large pieces of bacon which were salted and placed there after the two pigs had been killed. thus providing food for the winter.
My grandfather was a great herbalist and would provide remedies for all sorts of ailments. Wrapped in brown paper bags were supplies of horehound, yarrow, comfrey, black alder, mugwort, liquorice root and peppermint. Some of these herbs he grew in his garden and others he gathered from the wayside.
My aunt, who was his housekeeper, knew how to brew the dried leaves and produce effective medicines for coughs, colds and stomach troubles, but they had to be well sugared. Nothing gave me greater pleasure when a boy than to be told that I could go down to my grandfather's cottage and stay the night.
My aunt would provide a special tea. I was sent up to Mrs. Tucker's shop to buy a penny loaf and also given some money to provide treacle, which was drawn from a canister in our own shop. At the dairy further down the street a quarter pound of real " Demshur Craim" was bought for 3d. When my grandfather came in from his carpenter's shop we sat down to a sumptuous tea of Bread and Cream spread with treacle, "Demshur tetty cake" and well curranted yeast cake. straight out of the oven. After tea the curtains were drawn. the oil lamp lit and the settle drawn closer to the fireside. Whilst my grandfather sat in his armchair, smoking his twist tobacco from a clay pipe, my aunt would entertain me with stories and often with songs. Sometimes my grandfather, when working on the farms would bring home a large piece of Devonshire farmhouse cheese - "Blue vinney " we called it. This would either be a generous present from the farmer's wife or be bought at from 4d. to 6d. a pound. This cheese was made from skimmed milk in the farm dairy. and we preferred it to the American Cheddar bought in the shops. By the end of l9th century this local product was a thing of the past and we are reminded of it when we sometimes see an old cheese press lying in a corner and gradually rusting and rotting away.
The shopkeepers all had their regular customers. The shops were open from 6 a.m. till 9 p.m. and sometimes 10 p.m. on Saturdays, which was the busiest day of the week for the workmen received their wages on that day. Farm workers and casual labourers earned from twelve to fifteen shillings a week. Those were the days when meat was from 4d. to 6d. a pound, a four-pound loaf 4d., loaf sugar 2d. a pound, tea from 1 / 6 to 2 / 6 a pound, fat bacon 3d. a pound and interlean from 4d. to 6d. a pound. A favourite meal was boiled tea fish, and every grocer's shop had a stock of this dried cod, or what the sailors called " Newfoundland turkey." They always took on a good supply before starting on a voyage. One grocer, Mrs. Tucker, generally had a large dish of baked herrings in vinegar, on her counter and villagers often spent a penny for a baked herring when busily engaged. especially on washing day.
All of the shops catered for the children, and for a ha'penny we could get a stick of rock, a chocolate bar, two squares of chocolate, a slab of Slap-Jack or some liquorice laces. For a penny we could buy a well-filled lucky bag, a bar of chocolate cream, a turnover, which sometimes contained a three-penny bit, or a pocketful of hazelnuts. At Christmas time the shops were full of oranges, dates. broad figs and coconuts. We often put our halfpennies together to buy a threepenny coconut and took turns to drink its contents. Oranges were two a penny but Oh ! they were as sour as vinegar !
At the beginning of February the windows and walls of one of the shops at Cross Tree would be decorated with Valentines in preparation for February l4th. Valentine's day was the time when old and young paid off old scores or when first approaches were made by boy and girl friend. The Valentines of those days were highly coloured pictures and cartoons which caricatured males and females of every description, especially those with peculiarities of face, feature and gait.
Each one had an appropriate title and a doggerel rhyme. There were dark eyed damsels with dainty feet, young straw-hatted fops with cane in hand, older men with strawberry noses and cauliflower ears and old bespectacled ladies with atrocious headgear. These would be sent to unfriendly and self-opinionated neighbours or to anyone who was disliked.
For young lovers there were highly scented cards, in small cardboard boxes, bearing verses of a very amatory nature.
At the end of the nineteenth century public bake houses were still patronised. Loaves of bread, cakes and tarts made in the homes were taken to the bake house for baking. There were four such bake houses in Braunton. The oven was a large stone-lined chamber built into the wall of the room. The heat was generated by burning faggots of wood in the oven and on the red hot embers were placed iron plates containing the carefully marked loaves. An iron cover was placed over the opening and after an hour the brown, crusty loaves were taken out and placed on tables to cool. These loaves would keep for a long time and there was seldom any stale bread in the home. On Sundays the ovens were in great demand. It was a common sight on returning home from Church or Chapel to see villagers, hurrying along, with hot and steaming meals of roast pork and baked potatoes, flavoured with sage and onion stuffing, straight from the local bake house. We knew what our neighbours were having for dinner that day !
THANK YOU for visiting, and please mail me with your comments,
or link to 'A Story of Braunton' Page
or link to Devon History Selection.
Return to top of page.