Dornat’s & the Bridewell

We received a slightly unusual item for our archive collection this week. It has, however,  a particular connection to the building we now occupy. In fact you could say the item has actually found its way home.

Soda Syphon

Dornat’s Soda Syphon dated 1942

The item in question was a soda water syphon from C.C. Dornat & Co. whose factory once stood on the site the library now stands. Dornat’s mineral waters company moved to the buildings which made up the factory in 1870 having been established in around 1860 in a smaller building on the corner if Holland Street and Paiges Lane a few hundred yards or so away. The buildings had originally been part of a much older institution, the Bridewell or Parish Poor House.

The Bridewell was established in the first half of the 17th Century and was designed to be a place to house the poor of the parish. It is believed there were just a few small buildings which served the purpose to begin with, but over the years these were added to.

The buildings housed spinning wheels and looms used by the inmates to produce serge which was sold on. Another of the buildings within the Bridewell was used to store and distribute coal to the poor who lived in the town paid for by the income from the poor rate.

By the early 19th Century a school run by Dr Bell was established within the complex of buildings which now made up the Bridewell. The school taught children from the poorer families in the town and could well have taught the children of the inmates. A master or caretaker of the Bridewell may also have lived in a building on site during this time.

BSPF-A3-02-061-Aerial View

Aerial View of Castle House with Dornat’s just behind and the Castle Mound to the right [BSPF-A3-02-061]

It also housed a small number of prisoners by this time was well. In 1824 there were references in the North Devon Journal to a number of prisoners being kept in one of the buildings which comprised a few small rooms with no way of isolating them from one and other. This practice ended in 1829 when a new prison opened on the Square.

Under the Poor Law Act of 1834 the old parish poor law system was replaced and in 1835 a new Barnstaple Poor Law Union was created who oversaw the building and running of a new workhouse in Alexandra Road.

There are several references in the Barnstaple Borough records (now held by the North Devon Record Office) to the Bridewell. Many of the references concern repairs to the buildings and the payment of money to those charged with running the Bridewell. After the poorhouse was closed it was leased to Messers. Hiscock and Maunder who were wool-combers and serge makers and it is possible they used any spinning wheels and looms left behind.

The business ran into trouble and in 1867 a bank in Bristol repossessed the property and tried to sell it an auction without success allowing Charles Camille Dornat to purchase it in 1870 for a bargain price.

Dornat was originally from France and moved to England sometime in the 1850s. He was a chemist and apothecary and could speak up to 7 European languages. Other business were also based on the site including a blacksmiths which caught fire in 1879 causing severe damage to the property. The insurance, however, allowed Dornat to make improvements to both the building and equipment used to create their drinks  and by the end of the 19th Century they were producing an estimated 1,000 bottles per day.

Birchall Bx04-015-(1)

Dornat’s from Castle Green [Birchall Bx04-015]

Charles Dornat died in 1883 leaving his daughter Annie and son-in-law Charles Youings in charge of the business. The family originally lived on-site before moving to Litchdon House, just off the Square, and turned it into the Imperial Hotel, which they later sold. Following their deaths in 1922 the business passed to two of their sons Charles Camille Dornat Youings and Horace Youings.

During the first part of the twentieth century electricity was installed, machinery upgraded more than once and motor vehicles replaced the horse-drawn carts used to transport their goods. The Second World War saw Dornat’s do its part for the war effort. They produced soda water and fruit drinks for the hospitals and nursing homes and started to bottle beer from some of the London Brewer’s whose bottling plants had been damaged in the bombing. They also bottled Pepsi for the American troops stationed in the area.

After the war the machines were in need of some serious repairs and in 1951 they were replaced completely. The factory continued under Charles’ son Richard after his death in 1965 until 1980 when Richard Youings decided it was time to retire.

A few years after the closure of Dornat’s the building was demolished and in 1988 the new library building which now stands in its footprint was opened to the public.


The Library Building from Castle Green [BSPF-A4-07-0423]

Further Reading:

Rosemary Akers and Owen Friend: The Barnstaple Bridewell and Dornat’s Mineral Water Factory: North Devon Community Publications (Barnstaple, 1991) DP362/BAR/AKE

B.D. Pidgeon: Dornat’s Mineral Water Maunfacturers & Beer Bottlers: B D Pidgeon (Bideford, 2008) D663/BAR/PID

Thomas Wainwright & John Roberts Chanter: Reprint of the Barnstaple Records vols 1 & 2: JR Chanter & Thos Wainwright: (Barnstaple, 1900) D900/BAR/WAI

…Barum Athena


Discover Capability Brown…On Our Shelves!

Today marks the 300th Anniversary of Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s baptism on 30th August 1716 in Kirkhale, Northumberland. His ability, or capability, for creating natural looking landscapes for many of Britain’s stately homes is what he is most well-known for today. There are over 250 gardens or landscapes credited to him, some of which he over saw the construction of and others he submitted plans for.


There are at least four gardens in Devon alone directly or indirectly credited to him, details of which can be found on our shelves. In Todd Grey’s book The Garden History of Devon there are references to gardens at Escot, Talaton; Mamhead, Kenton; Ugbrooke, Chudleigh and Widdicombe, Stokeham.

In the wider Southwest Brown also worked on estates such as Highcliffe Castle, Milton Abbey and Sherbourne Castle in Dorset as well as Kelston, Burton Pynset, Newton Park, and Prior Park in Somerset. Histories and guides of many of these places can be found in our Local Collection of library items.


Further afield and more notably are the estates and gardens of Cardiff Castle, Battle Abbey in Sussex, Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, Blenhiem Palace in Oxfordshire, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, and Chatsworth in Derbyshire. All of these places can be found in items on our shelves in our General Collection. Guides to and histories of these buildings and their gardens can be found as well as book on the history of gardening and the methods used in gardening and cultivation over the centuries. There are also a few items which Brown himself may well have been familiar with A General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening by Bradley published in 1726 and The Gardeners Kalendar by Philip Miller published in 1760.


…Barum Athena


Discover the War of the Roses…On Our Shelves!

St. Albans; From The Beauties of England and Wales [914.2/ENG/BEA Vol VII]

St. Albans; From The Beauties of England and Wales [914.2/ENG/BEA Vol VII]

Today marks the 560th Anniversary of the start of the War of the Roses which saw the country descend into civil war until, the recently reinterred, Richard III lost his life at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The first battle was fought on this day in 1455 in the town of St. Albans, Hertfordshire. However, as the books from our shelves show this was one of two battles fought there. In William Camden’s Chronicle of Britain published in 1637 (D900/CAM o/s) he describes how St. Albans was

… the very plot of bloudie battaile; For, to let other particulars goe by, when England under the two houses of Lancaster and York bereft, as it were, of vitall breath was ready through Civill Warre to sinke downe and fall in a sound, the chiefe Captaines of both sides joyned battaile twise with reciprocall variety of fortune in the very Towne. First, Richard Duke of Yorke gave the Lancastrians heere a sore overthrow, tooke King Henry the Sixth captive, and slew many honourable personages. Foure yeeres after the Lancastrians under the conduct of Queene Margaret wonne heere the field, put the house of Yorke to flight, and restored the King to his former liberty.

Camden's Chronicle 1637

Camden’s Chronicle 1637

There is also another account of the battle on our shelves in the 6th Volume of The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Wedlake Blake published in 1808 (914.2/ENG/BEA)

The first battle of St. Alban’s was fought on the twenty-third [actually the 22nd] of May, 1455: the King himself, the meek-spirited Henry the Sixth, being present. This ill-fated Prince, who, from the recesses of his heart, could exclaim, ‘that he had fallen upon evil days,’ had set out from the Metropolis with about 2000 men, apparently with the design of impeding the progress of the Duke of York, who was marching from the north, accompanied by the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, and a body of about 3000 hardy soldiers. The Duke, who had not yet advanced his claim to the Throne, encamped on the east side of the town, in Key-field; while the King occupied the town itself, and fixed his standard at a spot called Goselow, in St. Peter’s Street. The avowed purpose of the Yorkists, was to seize, and bring to trial, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who had been impeached of treason by the House of Commons, and committed to the Tower, but was afterwards released in despite of the impeachment, by the influence of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou.

When the King, as appears from Hollinshed [another item available on our shelves] heard of the Dukes’s approach, he sent the Duke of Buckingham, with some other noblemen, to inquire the reason of his coming in that hostile manner. The Duke answered that, ‘he and his army were the King’s faithful liege subjects, and intended no harm to his Majesty; but only desired that he would deliver up the Duke of Somerset, who had lost Normandy, taken up no care to preserve Gascoigne, and had brought the realm into its present miserable condition: they would then return to their countries, without trouble or breach of peace; otherwise they would rather die in the field, than suffer a continuance of this grievance.’

As the Duke of Somerset was then with the King, and was himself at the head of the Royal councils, this demand was not acceded to; and both parties prepared to try their strength in battle. The barriers of the town were well defended by the Royalists; and the assault made on the side next St.Peter’s Street, by the Duke of York, proved unsuccessful; till the Earl of Warwick, with a chosen band, forced an entrance on the garden side, in Holywell Street; and, by the terror of his name, his soldiers shouting, ‘A Warwick! a Warwick!’ and the vigor of his onset, obliged his opponents to give way. Thus aided, the Duke was enabled to overpower the force opposed to him at the barriers; and, after a short, but sanguinary, conflict in the streets of the town, the Royal army was defeated. The King himself, being entirely deserted, and wounded in the neck with an arrow, took refuge in a small house, or cottage, where he was afterwards discovered by the Duke of York, and by him conducted to the Abbey. The slain on the King’s part amounted to about 800: among them were the Duke of Somerset, the Earls of Stafford and Northumberland…[among others]. About 600 of the Yorkists were killed: not any person of distinction, however, is recorded to have fallen on this side. The bodies of the slain were mostly interred at St. Peter’s; but those of the principal nobles were, at the intercession of Whethampstead[the Abbot of St. Albans Abbey], received into the Abbey Church; and, after their obsequies had been solemnly performed, they were interred in the Chapel of the Virgin.

Rock Image of Clock House

The Clock Tower, St. Albans by Rock and Co from England Under Victoria

These items and other gems can be found in our Library Collection for more details about the collections visit the Library Collection page on our website and search our Library CatalogueBarum Athena

Behind The Scenes….Stocktaking 2014

Each February we close to the public for a fortnight for stocktaking. This gives us a chance to check our collections and carry out important work we can’t do while we are open to the public.

This year we focused on accessioning and cataloguing a large donation of library items, checking our pamphlet collections and checking our transcript of the 1901 Census for North Devon.

Accessioned items ready for Cataloguing

Accessioned items ready for Cataloguing

The largest of the projects (accessioning and cataloguing over 130 library items) was started about a week before our closure period. As cataloguing an item takes less time than accessioning it we got a head start on the accessioning and accessioned 36 items ready for cataloguing during the closure period. We spent four days in total accessioning and cataloguing library items and put 138 items onto our catalogue in total. Amongst the items we processed were two books by the Barnstaple born political caricaturist Francis Carruthers Gould. We also discovered a rather interesting article written by General Goering in 1936 for the West Country Magazine entitled Knights of the Air.

Article from the West-Country Magazine 1936

Article from the West-Country Magazine 1936

We also processed some more recent donations and purchases including books on textile mills, letters to the local paper and life in Devon during World War One.

Over 70 pamphlet boxes were checked and tidied including hundreds of local history pamphlets and guides. The transcript of 1901 Census for North Devon was also checked to ensure all the pages were in order and nothing was missing. The transcript covers over 160 North Devon Parishes in 17 volumes.

Title page from one of the two F C Gould items accessioned and catalouged during stocktaking

Title page from one of the two F C Gould items accessioned and catalouged during stocktaking

Discover more about our Library Collection visit our website