Tall tales of local characters and Berry capers from the past.
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 4
Sid was a real wit and always had a smile on his face and a
joke on the tip of his tongue.
One morning when he and several of his colleagues were
waiting for the transport to pick them up from the village to take them to
work, down through the village came a stranger. With his brief case, umbrella and very smart
clothes, he looked completely out of place in Berrynarbor at that time. He knocked on the door of one of the
"T'is no good knocking on that door," piped up
Sid. "Theyem all out except for
the clock and even ee be gwain!"
At this remark, Sid and his fellow workers fell about
laughing - it's not what you say but the way that you say it! The poor man, thinking he had met all the
village idiots in one go, turned about and beat a hasty retreat.
and his Wife Flo
One lovely summer evening, the lads from the village
including Gerald and his cousin Frank Huxtable, known as 'Laddie', and any
visitors who wanted to join in, were playing a game of cricket in the field
opposite Middle Lee Farm. As was
usual, a small group gathered to watch and they were joined towards the end by
William Draper or 'Muxey' as he was known.
Muxey was a very good gardener and used to till the land up the lane
behind Middle Lee, now known as Thirkles Field. He used donkeys to do the ploughing.
On this occasion Muxey was carrying a basket in which he had
some of his produce and the vegetables were admired by everyone gathered.
A few days later Gerald met up with the very chipper Frank
who told him he had won first prize at Combe Martin Horticultural Show. Gerald was somewhat surprised, knowing that
Frank wasn't in to gardening let alone growing vegetables.
With a wink, Frank told Gerald that he had crept up to
Muxey's field at dusk and pinched some of his carrots, entering the best of
them in the Show, thus winning the first prize and pocketing some very welcome
ARTHUR [TIDDLY] EDWARDS
Although Tiddles was not the brightest lad, he commanded a
great respect from his peers for his sporting ability - he was simply the best
at football, cricket, darts, snooker and skittles. And he could also run very fast. Everyone wanted Tiddles on their team.
amazed his friends by throwing a stone at the church clock, stopping the hands
Once, when The Globe was being renovated and the builders had
some sand delivered, a large tipper lorry emptied a mountain of sand in the car
park at the rear of the pub. What a
wonderful playground for the village lads!
They put some planks up each side of the heap and on their old bikes
raced down from the Manor Hall and up and over the sand, Time and time again they raced until one of
the lads removed the plank. Unknown to
Tiddles, who was in front, he hit the pile of sand, the front wheel stuck fast
and he flew over the top, landing flat on his back, somewhat dazed, on the
There was another occasion when Tiddles ended up on his
back. Tiddles exercised Bebe, Ivor
Richards' pony. Like a lot of ponies,
Bebe had to be pushed to go anywhere, but once turned for home, quickened her
pace, especially with a novice rider on her back. Tiddles had ridden Bebe up through the
Valley, turning about mid-way to come back.
Bebe then gained pace until she was cantering through two rocks, the
noise from her hooves echoing and Tiddles shouting. Rosie Bray was in her garden, half way up
Jan Braggs Hill, and could hear the racket.
She went to the gate just in time to see the horse fly past, over the
brow of the hill it went and down through lower town, with the noise still
echoing around. A swift turn up Castle
Hill heading to her stable and food.
But alas for poor Tiddles, the wind had blown the top stable door shut -
no problem for Bebe but Tiddles came a cropper!
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 3
Bert lived at the far end of Goosewell, near Hole Farm. As were a lot of farm workers, Bert was usually
to be seen with a sack tied around him, especially in the winter. Bert owned a horse but the grazing in his
field was not very good. So, when it got dark, Bert would take his
horse and put it in with his neighbour's to get some good grazing. Before daylight, he would remove it again
and no one was ever the wiser! And they
say country folks are dim!
GEORGE, DR. HEAD AND WHISKERS
In the '50's, George and Dr. Head were gentlemen of the road,
or tramps as they were known before PC.
They lived at the start of the old coast road in what was part of the
old lime kiln, well hidden from the road.
Each had a bed of dried leaves under the over-hanging rocks and a stone
fire circle with a very black kettle, and some tree trunks on which they sat.
George never ventured far from the village, knowing where he
could call to get a welcome cup of tea, a meal or some left over food, even
some milk in his can for later. Dr.
Head would travel farther afield and would sometimes be seen at Berrydown,
Combe Martin or even West down, but he always returned after a few days. They seemed to get along together very well
and being given hand-me-down blankets, coats, boots, socks and shoes made their
chosen way of life a little more comfortable.
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
One day, when George arrived back at their 'camp' there was a
stranger on the scene - Whiskers, as he later became known. All hell broke loose and when Dr. Head
arrived back and joined in things got worse!
They were shouting and throwing large stones at each other and making
such a commotion that a passer-by went in to the Sawmills and phoned the
police, who arrived in force and calmed the situation down. George and Dr. Head grudgingly allowed
Whiskers to stay. Like Dr. Head, Whiskers
also tended to travel further afield.
George and Dr. Head were an accepted part of the community
and most people, including the children, would pass the time of day with
them. Whiskers never seemed to fit in
and the children would run away if they saw him coming.
In his later years, George moved in to Ilfracombe but he was
not forgotten by some of the villagers who when they went in to Ilfracombe
would look out for him and give him some money for a cup of tea or a packet of
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 2
DAN AND LIZZIE TOMS
Photo reproduced from
Newsletter No. 22.
Dan and his wife lived in Dormer House from where he used to
keep a sharp eye on the young village lads, often 'phoning the police if he
thought they were up to mischief.
One winter, after it had snowed heavily and the lads were
having a grand time, Dan thought things were getting out of hand and decided to
ring the police. As his home phone
wasn't working, he had to use the public one, which at that time was sited
where the bus shelter is now. Puffing
on his pipe and muttering 'I'll put a stop to this', Dan made his way across to
the 'phone box, dodging a few snowballs as he went. But, while he was making his call, the lads
built up a large supply of snowballs and were waiting patiently for him to
emerge; one even went up to the church
and got on the roof of the 'phone box.
His call finished, Dan opened the door, when an avalanche of snow was
pushed off the box and a volley of snowballs came from the front. Dan hastily went back, shutting the door,
and was now trapped inside by the lads.
His pipe had got wet and gone out and there he had to stay until the
lads decided to go and find some other sport!
Dan's wife Lizzie took in visitors and ran the cafe, so there
was always washing to be done. She used
to hang her lovely white table cloths, bed linen and towels on the grass area
between the garage by The Globe and Tower Cottage. Often the village children would be playing
football on the Manor Hall grass and many a time the muddy ball would hit the
washing, and poor Lizzie would have to wash it all again!
In his article 'Old Berrynarbor - View No. 21' in February
1993, Tom wrote about Dan and Lizzie Toms and their children Reg and Vi, and
included a photographic postcard of the family outside their home Woodvale in
the Valley (see on left).
From Woodvale, the
family moved to Middle Lee, where Lizzie sold full Devonshire Cream Teas to
visitors who would arrive by Royal Red coach from Ilfracombe. When ill health forced Dan to give up
farming, he and Lizzie moved into Dormer House, now Miss Muffet's and Dormer
In October 2001, in his 'View No. 73', Tom showed a postcard
from his collection entitled 'Tom's Tea
Room, Steerage Valley', showing Dan Toms standing in the doorway of Middle
Lee Farm, reproduced here (see on right).
SOME LOCAL CHARACTERS - 1
characters all contributed to the fabric of the village and the fact that they
are remembered many years later is a tribute to them.
Leworthy was known to most of the village children in the 1950's as 'Uncle
George Geen and Frank Meluish
worked for the Council, trimming hedges, clearing ditches and gutters and
keeping the verges and the parish very tidy.
The children were always pleased to see them working in the village as
Alfie would save the
day the three had just sat down to have their lunch in the field at the bottom
of Ridge Hill, when several children descended on them, one of whom was Larry
White. Now Larry loved the beautiful
grey horse which belonged to Sheila Jones.
Alfie told him he had a plan which was for Larry to go and find some
black paint and then he would help him paint the horse black so that he could
take it home! Off went Larry and his
friends in search of black paint.
However, when the grown-ups found out why they wanted the paint, they
were sent off with a flea in their ears!
Larry went to Miss Cooper's to see if he could buy some. No luck!
By the time he got
back to the field, Alfie, George and Frank had had a quiet lunch and the
horse a lucky escape!
Alfie and his wife Vera
FARMER WILL LERWILL
Farmer Will lived at Lower Rowes
Farm and was a familiar sight riding up and down the Valley on his pony.
One day he decided he needed a pig, so he and
a friend managed to hitch a lift to Blackmoor Gate
market, where they purchased a fine looking one. Now to get the pig home they had to walk,
and all was going well when they reached the London Inn in Combe Martin. Will and his friend were thirsty, so they
made a sort of harness from a rope and tied the pig to the drain pipe. They were just downing their second welcome pint
when there was a commotion and someone shouted, "Anyone in 'ere got a pig,
'cos ee's just run down
road dragging a drain pipe."
two friends dashed out and down the street, looking for the pig. When they got to the Pack O' Cards, they
just had to go in and see if anyone had seen the pig and grab another drink -
it was thirsty work chasing a pig! By
this time, the pig and drain pipe were causing some excitement in the street
and were well on their way to the beach where watched by quite a crowd, farmer
Will caught up with it. The rest of
the journey back to Berrynarbor was uneventful, but they didn't stop at The
Globe, just in case!
Will would also ride his pony to Hele for a drink. After a number of occasions when being
helped up on one side of the pony he fell off the other, he decided to leave
the pony in Higher Oaklands and catch the bus or
hitch a lift in to Hele. In the early
'60's, Dave Yeo had a Lambretta
scooter and he would pick up Farmer Will from Hele. They were quite a sight with Will waving his
crop and calling to people as he passed by on the back of the scooter.
Will was a regular at The Globe, always sitting under the frying pan clock and
amusing both locals and visitors with his tales.
Ivor Richards, who lived at Moules Farm, kept a fine
cockerel. It had large spurs on its
legs and strutted on the road outside the farm as though it owned it! Woe betide anyone who got in his way. The cockerel would charge at their legs and
had even been known to draw blood.
the farm was a field, called Hospital Field [local legend has it that it was
the burial ground many years before for donkeys and horses]. Being very flat, it was ideal for playing
cricket and many a visitor was challenged to a game up there.
One day, the boys were walking home
after such a game, and as they got close to the farm they spied the dreaded
cockerel. One lad picked up a stone and
threw it quite close to it to scare it, but to no avail, it kept coming towards
them. Arthur [who we met in the Ghost
story in the April issue], was with the boys and he picked up a stone and threw
it, hitting the cockerel on the leg, which broke.
the noise and commotion brought Ivor on the scene, at
which the lads all began denying that they had thrown the stone, but Arthur
said: "All right, I'll pay for the bu**er, it was worth
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
boys had gathered at Billy Smith's to decide how to spend the day. It was decided that bird nesting would be
the order of the day and so they set off to the glen between Glen Lee and Hill
Barton, going the long way round which took them up the lane behind Middle Lee.
the fields below
Morna's family ran a market garden from Glen Lee and the
strawberries would be put in punnets before being
sent to market or Morna would sit outside Woolworth's
strawberries looked large, red and delicious.
How the boys' mouths watered!
They signalled to each other to keep quiet and went on their way. Once out of earshot they agreed that a visit to the garden was a
it was time to go home after their day of fun up in the glen, they returned the
same way, pushing through the hedge and in to the garden. The smell of the ripe strawberries . . . oh,
how delicious they were. There was also
a row of peas, all plump and ready for picking, just waiting to be eaten. They, too, went down a treat!
full and contented, the boys made their way home, agreeing that a return visit
would be a wonderful experience. So, at
dusk, a few days later, they made their way up the lane and through the hedge
again. They had only picked a few
strawberries when one of the boys let out an almighty scream. He had put his hand down to pick a
strawberry and had caught it in a gin trap which been tilled to catch thieving
varmints, both two or four legged! It was very lucky that the boy's father was
a trapper and had taught him how to deal with traps because his accomplices
fled the scene leaving him to fend for himself.
Charlie Floyd decided they would go to visit Kate Diamond who lived at Rowes Farm. Kate's
white cat took a liking to Gerald, purring and rubbing itself against him. Kate asked Gerald if he would like the cat,
and as Gerald's cat had died just a few weeks earlier, he said he would. Kate found a box and the cat was placed in it and the boys went on their way home with
their precious load. Charlie lived at
Blind Will's, which is only a stone's throw from Rowes
Farm and as they were going past his house, he decided he needed to go in and
get something, So
up the steep steps they went but as they reached the house it began to
rain. Charlie suggested it would be a
good idea to wait for the rain to stop before they walked on to Gerald's home
in the village.
was making a lot of noise at being shut in the box and Gerald wondered what to
do about it. Charlie told him to let it
out as there was nowhere it could go in the kitchen, and it would be quite
Well, when the box was opened the cat sprang out in a
flash and frantically dashed for the window leapt up
the curtains and pulled them down. This scared it even more, and it chased
around the room before racing to the fireplace and disappearing up the chimney
in a cloud of soot which billowed out in to the room.
point Charlie's father Jim, home from work, arrived on the scene and as it was
skittles night, he needed to be quick with his
meal to be ready when George Diamond called to give him a lift to Ilfracombe,
and decided he would have a quick fry
up in the pan on the fire for his meal.
At this, Gerald and Charlie didn't know whether to own up or keep quiet
- keeping quiet was the easy answer. Jim
put the pan on the fire which must have made the frightened cat move further up
the chimney, and down came another cloud of soot, filling the pan! Jim began cursing the birds that must be up
the chimney, whilst Gerald and Charlie raced outside, trying hard not to laugh,
or even worse, cry! Just at that
moment, the cat emerged from the chimney and it definitely was not white any
more! It climbed down the roof, jumped
in to the trees and headed back towards Rowes Farm.
moment there was a hooting of a car horn, George in his Austin Seven was at the
bottom of the steps, so poor old Jim had to rush off without any supper.
Illustration by: Paul Swailes
day was huge excitement for the boys and on this particular Guy Fawkes Day
Gerald was about 8. The boys met in the village and together let
off their penny [1d] bangers. When
they had no more, they made their way to Billy Smith's house at Middle Lee
Farm. Billy loved fireworks so much
that he saved all his pocket money, and did odd jobs to get more money to buy
year, the boys had built a bonfire up on Lee hills above the farm. The old gorse had been cut down and a
monster of a bonfire had been built.
Billy's father grew potatoes, so there were plenty to put in the fire to
arrived at Billy's to find a great big hamper filled with fireworks - all
shapes and sizes,
more fireworks than they had ever seen before! It took two of them to carry it up the lane
towards the bonfire, and they couldn't resist letting a few off on the
way. Then disaster struck! A spark got in the hamper and all the fireworks blew up. There were rockets, jumping jacks and
Catherine wheels whizzing everywhere; bangers echoing in the night air, Roman
candles intensely bright, lighting up the night sky and children diving for
cover. It was all over in just a few
minutes, leaving a very crestfallen Billy.
On another firework night Tilly Delbridge had put her milk can out ready for Lester Bowden
to fill it with milk in the morning.
The can had a saucer on the top.
One of the boys put a jumping jack in the can and replaced the saucer
which jumped up and down, much to the amusement of the other boys.
One winter, the boys built themselves a
wooden sledge. It was a beauty, about 8
feet long, and Norman [Richards] obtained the steel for the runners - the rims
of old cart wheels. Four boys could
ride on the sledge at one time.
day, after a very heavy snow fall, Mr. Sid Dummett,
who lived at South Lee, couldn't get his horse and cart up Ridge Hill to
collect the mangolds with which to feed the stock he
kept at South Lee.
he asked the boys if they would go up to the mangold
cave [pit], which was half way up Ridge Hill, and fill some 'West of England'
sacks with mangolds and bring them down on the
sledge. Always up for a challenge, the
boys were quick to respond.
a hard pull up the hill, they filled the first couple of sacks and loaded them
on the sledge. With a good hard shove,
off they set, down the hill like a rocket!
A sharp left turn at the Rectory into Jan Braggs Hill, with snow
spraying from the boys' boots as they tried to slow the sledge down a little,
and with a right turn into Blind Lane, the sledge flew out of the end of Blind
Lane and came to a halt very close to South Lee.
older residents of the area were aghast!
The boys returned up the hill to
collect more mangolds. But, in the meantime, the delivery men from
Cleaves, the baker from Combe Martin, couldn't get beyond Sandy Cove with their
van to deliver the bread and cakes, and had decided to walk into the village
carrying their wares in big wicker baskets to sell to their customers. At the same time, the concerned locals
decided it was time to halt the boys and their sledge.
Blackmore, who lived at Little
Sanctuary, unfortunately had a stutter, heard the sledge and the boys coming
down Ridge Hill again, and said,
"I'll stop the b b b------!"
and threw a shovel of hot cinders and ashes on the road. However, on went the sledge undeterred,
only to scatter the poor men who had walked from Sandy Cove with the
bread. Cakes and bread spilled all over
the place, and the rolls rolled down Jan Braggs hill
almost a fast as the sledge!
the boys took the route down Blind lane but someone had shovelled up the snow
at the bottom to block the exit and to try and stop them. All to no avail - the loose snow scattered
everywhere and the sledge again came to rest at South Lee.
got his stock fed; the boys got some extra pocket money from Sid and the locals
talked about the escapade for days!
else to encounter the sledge was Les Toms.
Les lived on the corner of
Hill runs down from
Edwards, or Tiddly Edwards as he was known locally,
lived on Castle Hill.
evening he had been in to Ilfracombe to play bingo, at which he won some money,
and after catching the bus back to Berrynarbor with his pockets full of his
winnings, he decided to go to the pub for a drink.
were the usual lads in the bar and, like the beer, the banter was soon
flowing. One of the lads told Arthur
that he'd seen a ghost up in the churchyard, but Arthur was having none of
it. He said he didn't believe in
the lad told Arthur that if he went up into the churchyard and touched seven
grave stones then he would see a ghost.
Still protesting that there was no such thing, Arthur reluctantly agreed
to go and touch the seven grave stones.
he went with the lads following but they remained at the lych gate, trying not
to laugh. When Arthur got to the
seventh grave, he hitched his toe and fell over, his winnings spilled out of
his pocket but that was enough for Arthur, he took off out of the churchyard
and up Castle Hill like a bat out of hell.
He returned next day to retrieve his money!
Illustrations by: Paul Swailes
George Irwin of Hill Barton had a sow that kept eating her young and so he
decided she would have to go.
day arrived and George, Gerald and a friend prepared a trailer for the sow and
hitched it up behind the Landrover. Whilst George went off to get dressed ready
for going to Barnstaple Market, the boys were left coaxing the sow
into the trailer. Suddenly she took it
into her head to make a run for it just as George was coming along in his best
suit. He tried to stop her but she ran
straight at him as he stood with his arms and legs spread wide. George ended up sitting backwards on her
back as she charged through a small pond where he was deposited. His suit was filthy, his temper frayed and
the air blue!
changed his suit, the sow was loaded and off to market she did go!
George has an evacuee boy called Peter Allen living at the farm, and he and
Gerald became friends.
has a horse that had just foaled and she was in a field the boys used to take
as a short cut. They were warned not to
go through the field, but Peter had to go to Miss Cooper's - the village stores
- on an errand and on the way back he told Gerald he was going to take the
short cut. Gerald was a bit scared and
wanted to go the long way round, but Peter was having none of it and so Gerald
gave in. They were just going through
the hunter gate into the field when the horse, which was at the top of the
hill, spotted them and came galloping down, ears back, nostrils flared and what
looked to Gerald huge teeth bared. She
kicked out with her hind legs and sent poor Peter over the
to death, Gerald fled the scene, and Peter got the beating of his live from
have some fun, the local lads decided that a scrambler was called for. The local paper was scoured and a likely
sounding bike was to be had at Filleigh.
All the boys put forward their share of the cost and Roderick Long went
to collect the bike.
anticipation and excitement abounded when they took the bike up to Leonard
Bowden's farm at Ruggaton. There they
took it in turns to ride the bike in one of the fields.
was Billy Toms turn when the throttle stuck fast. Billy thought the only thing to do was to
ride it until it ran out of petrol.
But, as the tank was nearly full, this was going to take some time. Riding at quite a speed, he lost complete
control and ended up in Leonard's potato field which was ready for digging. With potatoes shooting everywhere, like
bullets from a gun, Billy clung on for dear life, much to the amazement of the
Illustrations by Paul Swailes