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Devon, Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts

269 pages
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Devon, Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts, by Rosalind Northcote, Illustrated by Frederick J. Widgery
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online
Title: Devon, Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts
Author: Rosalind Northcote
Release Date: September 1, 2007 [eBook #22485]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by Dave Morgan, Janet Blenkinship, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (
The Guildhall, Exeter
Deep-wooded combes, clear-mounded hills of morn, Red sunset tides against a red sea-wall, High lonely barrows where the curlews call, Far moors that echo to the ringing horn,— Devon! thou spirit of all these beauties born, All these are thine, but thou art more than all: Speech can but tell thy name, praise can but fall Beneath the cold white sea-mist of thy scorn.
Yet, yet, O noble land, forbid us not Even now to join our faint memorial chime To the fierce chant wherewith their hearts were hot Who took the tide in thy Imperial prime; Whose glory's thine till Glory sleeps forgot With her ancestral phantoms, Pride and Time.
The first and one of the greatest difficulties to confront a writer who attempts any sort of description of a place or people is almost sure to be the answer to the question, How much must be left out? In the present case the problem has reappeared in every chapter, for Devon is 'a fair province,' as Prince says in his 'Worthies of Devon,' and 'the happy parent of ... a noble offspring.'
My position is that of a person who has been bidden to take from a great heap of precious stones as many as are needed to make on e chain; for however grasping that person may be, and however long the chain may be made, when all the stones have been chosen, the heap will look almost as great and delightful as before: only a few of the largest and brightest jewels will be gone.
The fact that I have been able to take only a small handful from the vast hoard that constitutes the history of Devon will explain, I hope, the many omissions that must strike every reader who has any knowledge of the county—omissions of which no one can be more conscious than myself. A separate volume might very well be written about the bit of country touched on in each chapter.
This book does not pretend to include every district. I have merely passed through agreatpart of the county, stoppinga t an old church with here
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interesting monuments, there at a small town whose share in local history—in some instances, in the country's history—is apt to be forgotten, or at a manor-house which should be remembered for its association with one of the many 'worthies' who, as Prince says—with the true impartiality of a West-countryman in regard to his own county—form 'an illustrious troop of heroes, as no other county in the kingdom, no other kingdom (in so small a tract) in Europe, in all respects, is able to match, much less excel.'
From the 'Tale of Two Swannes,' a view of the banks of the River Lea, published in 1590, I have ventured to borrow the verses that close an address 'To the Reader':
'To tell a Tale, and tell the Trueth withall, To write of waters, and with them of land, To tell of Rivers, where they rise and fall, To tell where Cities, Townes, and Castles stand, To tell their names, both old and newe, With other things that be most true,
'Argues a Tale that tendeth to some good, Argues a Tale that hath in it some reason, Argues a Tale, if it be understood, As looke the like, and you shall find it geason. If, when you reade, you find it so, Commend the worke and let it goe.'
 Sonnet by Henry Newbolt
 Preface Chap. Exeter I. II. The Exe III. The Otter and the Axe IV. Dartmoor V. The Teign VI. Torbay VII. The Dart Kingsbridge, Salcombe, and the VIII. South Hams IX. The Three Towns X. The Tamar and the Tavy XI. The Taw and the Torridge Lundy, Lynmouth, and the XII.
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13 47 71 89 106 119
155 179 201
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XII. Borders of Exmoor XIII. Castles and Country-Houses  List of authorities consulted  Index
The Guildhall, Exeter Exeter from Exwick Exeter Cathedral The Exe: Tiverton Topsham Exmouth from Cockwood Ottery St. Mary Sidmouth Branscombe Beer Beach Seaton Headland The Windypost, or Beckamoor Cross Yes Tor: Dartmoor Lustleigh Cleave Wistman's Wood Widdecombe-in-the-Moor Sheepstor Lydford Bridge Hey Tor Fingle Bridge Chudleigh Glen Teignmouth and Shaldon Torquay from the Bay Berry Head Brixham Trawlers Postbridge Dartmeet Bridge Holne Bridge Fore Street, Totnes Sharpham Woods: River Dart Dartmouth Castle
272 315 317
Frontispiece 2 5 13 41 45 47 51 61 65 67
73 75 77 81 83 84 89 91 101 103 106 113 115 119 121 123 129 133 139
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Salcombe Bolt Head Slapton Lea The Tamar, near Saltash Drake's Island, Plymouth Sound Brent Tor. From Lvdford Moors
Tavy Cleave Brent Tor Bideford Appledore Clovelly Morthoe Bull Point: Morthoe Barnstaple Bridge Torrington Lantern Rock: Ilfracombe Countisbury Foreland Lynmouth Malmsmead Lorna's Bower Waterslide: Doone Valley Doone Valley Powderham Castle Berry Pomeroy Castle Compton Castle Okehampton Castle Sydenham House Bradfield Pynes, near Exeter
141 146 151 155 171 179 185 198 201 211 215 221 223 227 230 244 255 259 263 265 267 269 272 285 295 297 299 306 308
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'Richmond! When last I was at Exeter, The mayor in courtesy show'd me the castle, And call'd it Rougemont: at which name I started, Because a bard of Ireland told me once, I should not live long after I saw Richmond.'
King Richard III., Act IV, Sc. ii.
There are not many towns which stir the imagination as much as Exeter. To all West-Countrymen she is a Mother City ... and there is not one among them, however long absent from the West, who does not feel, when he sets foot in Exeter, that he is at home again, in touch with people of his own blood and kindred.... In Exeter all the history of the West is bound up—its love of liberty, its independence, its passionate resistance to foreign conquerors, its devotion to lost causes, its loyalty to the throne, its pride, its trade, its maritime adventure —all these many strands are twined together in that bond which links West-Countrymen to Exeter.' Mr Norway is a West-Countryman, and he sums up very justly the sentiment, more or less consciously realized, of the people for whom he speaks, and especially the feeling of the citizens.
Not only the Cathedral, the Castle, and Guildhall, bear legends for those who know how to read them, but here and again through all the streets an ancient house, a name, or a tower, will bring back the memory of one of the stirring events that have happened. One royal pageant after another has clattered and glittered through the streets, and the old carved gabled houses in the side-lanes must many a time have shaken to the heavy tra mp of armed men, gathered to defend the city or to march out against the enemy.
'Exeter,' says Professor Freeman, 'stands distingui shed as the one great English city which has, in a more marked way than any other, kept its unbroken being and its unbroken position throughout all ages. It is the one city in which we can feel sure that human habitation and city life have never ceased from the days of the early Cæsars to our own.... The city on the Exe, Caerwisc, or Isca Damnoniorum, has had a history which comes nearer than that of any other city of Britain to the history of the ancient local capitals of the kindred land of Gaul.... To this day, both in feeling and in truth, Exeter i s something more than an ordinary county town.'
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Exeter from Exwick
The city is very picturesquely placed, and before ruthless 'improvements' swept away the old gates and many ancient buildings, the general effect must have been particularly delightful. 'This City is pleasantly seated upon a Hill among Hills, saving towards the sea, where 'tis pendant in such sort as that the streets (be they never so foul) yet with one shower of rain are again cleansed ...,' wrote Izacke, in hisAntiquities of Exeter. 'Very beautiful is the same in building;' and he ends with some vagueness, 'for considerable Matters matchable to most Cities inEngland.' The earliest history can only be guessed at from what is known of the history of other places, and from the inferences to be drawn from a few scanty relics; but there is evidence that Exete r existed as a British settlement before the Romans found their way so far West. It is not known when they took the city, nor when they abandoned it, nor is there any date to mark the West Saxon occupation. Professor Freeman, however, points out a very interesting characteristic proving that the conquest cannot have taken place until after the Saxons had ceased to be heathens. 'It is the one great city of the Roman and the Briton which did not pass into English hands till the strife of races had ceased to be a strife of creeds, till English conquest had come to mean simply conquest, and no longer meant havoc and extermination. It is the one city of the present England in which we can see within recorded times the Briton and Englishman living side by side.' In the days of Athelstan, 'Exeter was not purely English; it was a city of two nations and two tongues.... This shows that ... its British inhabitants obtained very favo urable terms from the conquerors, and that, again, is much the same as saying that it was not taken till after the West Saxons had become Christians.'
The earliest reliable records of the city begin abo ut 876, when the Danes overwhelmed the city and were put to flight by King Alfred. A few years later they again besieged Exeter, but this time it held out against them until the King, for the second time, came to the rescue, and the en emy retreated. Alfred, careful of the city and its means of defence, built a stronghold—very possibly in the interval between these two invasions—upon the high ground that the Briton had chosen for his fastness, and on which the Castle rose in after-days. Rather
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more than a hundred years later Athelstan strengthened the city by repairing the Roman walls. But it is with an event of greater importance that Athelstan's name is usually associated, for it was he who made the city a purely English one by driving out all the Britons into the country beyond the Tamar. It is probable that there was already a monastery in Exeter in the seventh century, and that it was broken up during the storms that ra ged later. In any case, Athelstan founded or refounded a monastery, and in 968 Edgar, who had married the beautiful daughter of Ordgar, Earl of D evon, settled a colony of monks in Exeter. About thirty years afterwards the Danes, under Pallig, sailed up the Exe and laid siege to the town, but were repulsed with great courage by the citizens. Beaten off the city, they fell upon the country round, and a frightful battle was fought at Pinhoe. A curious memorial of it survives to this day. During the furious struggle the Saxons' ammunition began to run low, and the priest of Pinhoe rode back to Exeter for a fresh supply of arrows. In recognition of his service, the perpetual pension of a mark (13s. 4d.) was granted him, and this sum the Vicar of the parish still receives. Two years later the Danes made a successful assault upon the city, and seized much plunder, but made no stay.
Edward the Confessor visited Exeter, and assisted at the installation of Leofric as first Bishop of Exeter, when the see was transfe rred from Crediton. The Queen also played a prominent part in the ceremony, for Exeter and the royal revenues within it made part of her 'morning gift.' Leofric instituted several reforms, added to the wealth of his cathedral, and left it a legacy of lands and books. The most interesting of the manuscripts is the celebratedExeter Book, a large collection of Anglo-Saxon poems on very different subjects. To give some idea of their variety, it may be mentioned that, amongst other poems of an entirely distinct character, there are religious pieces, many riddles, the legends of two saints, the Scald's or Ancient Minstrel's tale of his travels, and a poem on the 'Various Fortunes of Men.'
Seventeen years after King Edward's visit, William the Conqueror's messengers came before the chief men of Exeter demanding their submission. But the citizens sent back the lofty answer that 'they would acknowledge William as Emperor of Britain; they would not recei ve him as their immediate King. They would pay him the tribute which they had been used to pay to Kings of the English, but that should be all. They would swear no oaths to him; they would not receive him within their walls.' William naturally would not listen to conditions, and arrived to direct the siege in person. For eighteen days the repeated attacks of the Normans were sturdily resisted; then the enemy dug a mine, which caused the walls to crumble, and surrender was inevitable. 'The Red Mount of Exeter had been the stronghold of Brit on, Roman, and Englishman;' under the hands of the Norman here ros e the Castle of Rougemont, of which a tower, a gateway, and part of the walls, stand to this day. In proportion to the size and strength of that castle, however, the remains are inconsiderable, but it fell into decay very long ago, and as early as 1681 Izacke writes of 'the Fragments of the ancient Buildings ruinated, whereon time ... hath too much Tyrannized.'
In the year after King Stephen began to reign, Bald win de Redvers, Earl of Devon and keeper of the Castle, declared for the Empress Maud, and held the Castle for three months against the citizens, headed by two hundred knights who had been sent bythe King. At the end of this time the wells ran dry, so that
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the besieged were driven to use wine for their cookery, and even to throw over their 'engines,' set on fire by the enemy.
Henry II granted to the citizens of Exeter the first of their many charters of privileges, and in the reigns of King John and Henry III the municipal system was very much developed, and the city first had a Mayor. Under Edward I a beginning was made towards the almost entire reconstruction of the Cathedral. Bishop Warelwast, the nephew of William I, had raised the transeptal towers —a feature that no other English cathedral possesses—and since his time the Lady Chapel had been added, but the design of the C athedral as a whole was evolved by Bishop Quivil. He planned what was practically a new church, and his intentions were faithfully carried out. Before his day the towers were merely 'external castles,' but Bishop Quivil broke down their inner walls, and filled the space with lofty arches, and the towers became transepts. Bishop Stapledon spent huge sums in collecting materials, but before much progress with the work had been made he was murdered by a London mob, in the troubled reign of Edward II; and the actual existence of much of the building is due to Bishop Grandisson, who, sparing himself in no matter, lavished treasure and devotion on his Cathedral. Writing to Pope John XXII, the Bishop said 'that if the church should be worthily completed, it would be admired for its beauty above every other of its kind within the realms of England or France.'
Exeter Cathedral
One of the most beautiful features of the Cathedral is the unbroken length of roof at the same height through nave and choir, the effect intensified by the exquisite richness and grace of the vaulting. And the spreading fans gain an added grace, springing as they do from that 'distinctive group of shafts' which, says Canon Edmonds, 'makes the Exeter pillar the very type of the union of beauty and strength.' In the central bay of the nave, on the north side, is the Minstrels' Gallery, one of the few to be found in E ngland. It is delicately and elaborately sculptured, and each of the twelve angels in the niches holds a musical instrument—a flageolet, a trumpet and two w ind instruments, a tambour, a violin, an organ, a harp, bagpipes, the cymbals, and guitars.
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The choir is unusually long, and from the north and south aisles open chapels and chantries, in some of which the carving is very rich and fine. The Bishop's throne is elaborately carved, and more than sixty feet high, and yet there is not one nail in it. During the Commonwealth a brick wall was built across the west end of the choir, completely dividing the Cathedral. This was done to satisfy the Presbyterians and Independents, each of whom wished to hold their services here, and the two churches formed by this division were called Peter the East and Peter the West. The screen in the west front was added after the Cathedral was finished; it is covered with statues in niches, figures of 'kings, warriors, saints, and apostles, guardians as it were of the e ntrance to the sanctuary.' High above them, in the gable niche, is the statue of St Peter, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated.
King Edward and Queen Eleanor kept Christmas at Exeter in 1285, and here the King held the Parliament which passed the Statute of Coroners that is still law. During this visit the King gave leave to the Bishop and Chapter to surround the close with a wall and gates, for at this time i t was used to heap rubbish upon, and 'the rendezvous of all the bad characters of the place.' Edward III granted his eldest son the Duchy of Cornwall—a grant that carried with it the Castle of Exeter, and to the King's eldest son it has always since belonged.
Henry VI in 1482 visited the city in peace and splendour. Margaret, his Queen, came about eighteen years later, while Warwick's plans were ripening, and the event is marked in the Receiver's accounts by the entry: 'Two bottles of wine given to John Fortescue, before the coming of Margaret, formerly Queen.' Not long afterwards Warwick and the Duke of Clarence fled to Exeter, which had to stand a siege on their behalf; but the effort to take the city was half-hearted, and in twelve days the attempt was abandoned. Edward IV arrived in pursuit, but too late, for 'the byrdes were flown and gone away,' and a quaint farce was solemnly played out. The city had just shown openly that its real sympathies were Lancastrian, but neither King nor citizens could afford to quarrel. 'Both sides put the best face on matters; the city was loyal; the King was gracious ... the citizens gave him a full purse, and he gave them a sword, and all parted friends.'
Richard III's visit was more eventful. The allegiance yielded him by the West was of the flimsiest character, and in the autumn of 1483 a conspiracy was formed, and Henry, Earl of Richmond, was proclaimed King in Exeter. Here Richard hastened at the head of a strong force, to find that nearly all the leaders had fled, and there remained only his brother-in-law, Sir John St Leger, and Sir John's Esquire, Thomas Rame. So the King 'provided for himself a characteristic entertainment,' and both knight and squire were beheaded opposite the Guildhall. Before he left, Richard went to look at the Castle, and asked its name. The Mayor answered, 'Rougemont'—a word misunderstood by the King, who became 'suddenly fallen into a great dump, and as it were a man amazed.' Shakespeare's lines give the explanation o f his discomfiture. 'It seems,' comments Fuller, 'Sathan either spoke this oracle low or lisping.'
The next siege of Exeter was when the followers of Perkin Warbeck surged in thousands round the city. Their assault was vigorous and determined; they tried to undermine the walls, burned the north gate, and, repulsed at this point, broke through the defences at the eastgate. After a sharpstruggle in the streets, the
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