Beyond the Library…The 18th Century Snapshot of Barnstaple

Beyond the Library…The 18th Century Snapshot of Barnstaple

One of our favourite items from across our collections is our 18th Century oil painting of Barnstaple which can be found taking pride of place in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

Hanging on the wall over looking the staircase in our old building, the painting is by an unknown artist and is believed to have been painted around 1730 or 1740. An artist’s impression of Barnstaple, Pilton and surrounding area of the time, not much else is known about the painting itself. However, there are paintings at Dunster Castle over the County border in Somerset which look similar in style to this painting which may have been done around the same time as ours.

Barnstaple (Colour)b

It must have been relatively expensive for whoever commissioned it and must have been carried out after 1723 when the Square the museum now stands in was created! Before the early eighteenth century the Square was little more than a marshy area which flooded with high tide – not the most picturesque entrance to the town if you were coming from the ancient bridge.

You can see two spires in the painting, one belongs to the Church of St. Peter’s (the artist clearly painted it without its characteristic twist) and the other belongs to St. Nicholas Chapel or Quay Hall. The Chapel stood at the corner of Cross Street and the Strand and was next to the town’s west gate. In th sixteenth century the chapel was purchased by the Mayor and Corporation and used as a warehouse for imported goods.

Oil Painting - Spires

The spires of St. Peter’s Church and St Nicholas Chapel

The seventeenth century had been a very prosperous time for Barnstaple and evidence of this can still be seen today in the stunning seventeenth century plaster ceiling in 62 The Bank – next door to the Royal and Fortescue Hotel in Boutport Street. Barnstaple made one of its fortunes in the wool trade and the manufacture of woollen goods. Barnstaple Baize was a well-known material.

Although the trade took a significant downward turn in later part of the eighteenth century (especially around the time of the American War of Independence in 1775) the beginning of the century saw Barnstaple become one of only eight ports in the country allowed to trade in Irish wool.

The painting conveys a sense of a compact and bustling town with lots going on, ships coming up and down the river, the drying racks in Pilton for the wool trade, the sheep on marshy Anchor Wood, the pack-horse making its way across the bridge.

 

 

 

The town today has spread far beyond its original confines of Boutport Street and the river a process which started roughly a century later. More land was reclaimed to create Taw Vale and Rock Park. New buildings were erected in the Square to provide a “fitting entrance” to Barnstaple from the ancient bridge which was also widened. The remaining gates and Quay Hall were demolished to make way for new buildings, the railway came and along with it an iron bridge across the river, parts of which can still be seen at low tide. The railway also lead to the expansion of the town on the other side of the river, in what was a part of Tawstock.

Barnstaple

If you were to paint a picture of the town today the fields in the foreground would show Barnstaple’ industrial heritage in the form of the Shapland buildings. The background of hills and fields would be partially covered with houses from the estates built in the 1950s and 60s and that is just the start.

It is a snapshot in time and well worth a second or third look…

…Barum Athena

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Discover H H Munro…On Our Shelves!

In a field in France, lie the remains of Hector Hugh Munro, author and playwright who was also known to many as Saki.

The youngest of three children, Munro was born in Burma on the 18th December 1870. In 1872 his life changed dramatically when his mother died after being charged by a cow in North Devon.

His father, Colonel Charles Augustus Munro, was an inspector-general of the Burma police and worked abroad. Charles rented Broadgate Villa in Pilton for his mother Lucy Eliza, and sisters Augusta and Charlotte so they could take are of the children while he was away. This was to prove a rich source of inspiration to Munro in his writings.

hh-munro

A selection of some of our Saki items, one of them contains an introduction by A.A. Milne

Our shelves hold several collections of the short stories which made his name in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1902 he teamed up with another Barumite, the political cartoonist, Sir Francis Carruthers Gould, to produce The Westminster Alice. A satirical look at the Politics of Westminster based on the Lewis Carroll stories. A copy of this was donated to the Athenaeum by Gould and sits alongside Munro’s other works including When William Came published in 1913. When William Came explored the idea of what it would be like if the German Emperor invaded and occupied Britain.

hh-munro-when-william-came

When William Came

With the out break of war in 1914, Munro was 43 years old and not expected to join up. However, he insisted on enlisting and refused a commission. In 1916 Munro was sent home after coming down with what his service records describe as influenza but which may have been a recurrence of malaria. In November, however Munro made his way back to the front to take part in the last big offensive in the Battle of the Somme.

Lance-Sergt. H.H. Munro was killed by a German sniper of 14th November 1916, during the last days of the Somme. He was 45 and his body was never found.

The news of his death was published in the local newspapers nearly a month later.

ndj-7th-december-1916-6d

North Devon Journal 7th December 1916 page 6 column d

The Square Egg was published in 1924 and contained a biography of him by his elder sister, Edith. Her recollections of life in North Devon differ from her brother’s.

Many have compared Munro to Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde and another writer with a North Devon connection, Rudyard Kipling. He is also considered to have influenced other writers such as A.A. Milne, Noel Coward and P.G. Wodehouse, whose uncle was vicar of Bratton Fleming for many years.

hh-munro-2

We also hold items about Munro and his work

Munro would often return to North Devon and his family. His father retired first to Heanton Punchardon and then Westward Ho! His grandmother and aunts remained in Pilton and Newport and the family are interred at Bishops Tawton, all expect Hector who lies in the fields of France, a corner of which will be forever, North Devon.

…Barum Athena