North Devon in 1822

The following post has been written by our current Chairman and is part of a series of posts contected to our extensive North Devon Journal Archive. Barum Athena.

The North Devon Journal was founded in July 1824 and for nearly 30 years remained the only continuously published weekly paper in North Devon. Before 1824 newspaper readers in North Devon were limited to just two titles – the Exeter Flying Post and the Sherborne Mercury both of which carried snippets of news from this area. A good run of the latter is held on microfilm at the North Devon Athenaeum where it is open to public access. Taking the latter as our source what therefore was happening in pre-Journal North Devon?

Barnstaple Bridge c1821 [BSPF-A4-01-0019]
Barnstaple Bridge c1821 [BSPF-A4-01-0019]
The year 1822 is a fairly typical one. Barnstaple was undergoing something of a boom or as the journalist put it ‘Barnstaple promises a resuscitation to its decayed splendour as a manufacturing town.’ The mills and factory buildings at Rawleigh which had lain derelict for 20 years were being reopened as a lace factory ‘by some gentlemen who belong to the lace manufactory at Tiverton’ and the hope was that ‘more than £40,000 a year’ would be added to the area’s economy. In addition Joseph Gribble announced plans to open a new iron foundry in the town.

This development could have been helped by a plan to make Barnstaple a ‘free port’ without local tax duties but it was decided that the Taw was too dangerous for navigation to follow this idea up. Further shipping news was more dispiriting than this. The Hebe of Bideford had sunk off the Glamorgan coast with the loss of 7 crew 3 passengers, its Captain Thomas Carder and a cargo of flour and butter from Ireland. Other casualties included the brig Martha from Bideford and the sloops Kitty and Venus of the same place – not a good year for Bideford!

One item of good news for shipping could have been disastrous for Lundy. It appeared in April and is worth quoting in full,   A report is in circulation, that in consequence of the damages lately awarded against one of the great copper smelting houses at Swansea the owners have or are about to purchase Lundy Island, in Bideford Bay, for the purpose of carrying on their vast concerns there. If this plan be carried into effect, the benefits arising from it will be considerable to the towns in the neighbourhood.’

Luckily the island was bought not long after by the Heaven family and Lundy was spared industrial scarring.

River Yeo, Pilton [BSPF-A4-01-0031]
River Yeo, Pilton [BSPF-A4-01-0031]
Some ships did bring more welcome cargoes. In July it was noted that Ilfracombe was full of visitors many of whom arrived in those pre-railway days by means of the new fangled steamships. This source of income was badly needed as in April the Mercury noted that there was a fairly severe agricultural depression in North Devon – so much so that Earl Fortescue one of the principal landowners had reduced his rents by 25-30% to ease pressure on his tenants. In September some 300 Devon oxen were driven up to London from South Molton but found no buyers and had to be herded all the way back again!

As always human misery made good copy and so we shouldn’t be surprised to read in July that Wiliam Rew landlord of the Nag’s Head pub in Barnstaple had committed suicide by hanging – though the fact that he was the ninth suicide in the town in just 3 months might raise eyebrows.

In October a fire completely destroyed the Blue Boy pub at ‘Uppercott’ half way between Bideford and Barnstaple. The landlord ‘who had by his own industry accumulated sufficient to purchase this house and a few fields, was rendered penniless – along with his wife and 9 children.

Criminals were fairly active in 1822 with the Rev W.Walters held up by a ‘footpad’ at Annery near Bideford – though his dog attacked the man. Mr.Brooks, a Bideford hairdresser was robbed of everything except a ‘wig block’ and three young Bideford potters were gaoled for trying to steal some hardware goods.

The worst crime of the year was a murder at Torrington when Philip Chappell drowned Mary Stevens. Philip was a 20 year old apprentice glovemaker who had got Mary pregnant. He denied murdering her saying ‘I loved her too well to murder her’ but all the evidence pointed to him. He was executed at Exeter and ‘After hanging the usual time, the body was cut down, and taken to the Devon and Exeter Hospital for dissection.’

On this macabre note we can leave 1822 – next time I will cover 1823.

Peter Christie

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