Latest blog entries Fri, 29 May 2020 02:31:28 +0100 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb LOCAL CHARACTERS - REMINISCENCES OF NEWTON ABBOT 1905  

The following is a transcript of handwritten notes made by Mr. Frank Zealley in the 1940s; reminiscing about street life in Newton at the turn of the 20th Century




Many local characters and Hawkers of interest, were well known in the Town by their Nicknames.


Diana Ticktacks was a second- hand seller and rag dealer who carried her stock on her person and was known to wear numerous skirts, blouses, coats, petticoats et, on her rounds. She was a well-built woman and the additional garments made her look immense. She was the sport of the small boys who called out to her and she used to chase them for short distances, vowing vengeance. 


Screeching Jenny was a Fishmonger and sold her wares in no mean voice, hence her Nickname.

Her usual cry was ‘dry whiting’, ‘dry whiting’, ‘dry whiting’, in a loud and shrill voice. 


Irish Jacob visited all the streets, selling Watercress and his cry was ‘Spring Water’, ‘Spring Water’, ‘Spring Water’ all day in a loud, clear voice and carrying his wares in a large wicker basket. He could swear with such venom at the local folk that mocked him


Another character was an Italian who had a barrel organ, with a budgerigar in a cage who picked a small card with a fortune teller on it for a donation of 1p. He also had a small monkey dressed in clothes and wearing a pillbox hat and danced to the music of the Organ.


Albert Dymonds was a well-known character who slept out rough anywhere he could and used to earn money from local farmers by doing any odd jobs for a few pence. He also used to sing for a penny, usually ‘My Father had Two Little Piggies.’


The boys used to gather around him and ask him to sing and he would give another rendition of his song, before which the lads would run away and listen to his raging anger. After he had earned some money he would go for a drink, then go outside and want to fight someone. He would then be locked up, where he was well known regular visitor. His case usually ended with a fine of 10\- or 7 days. As he had no money he usually had to do prison service saying ‘Can’t do it Mister, I got to go and cut Chaff for Farmer X’, which would amuse the Court.






Johnny Lomax lived in a small shop in Wolborough Street and was a street vendor and in the winter, used to sweep Chimneys. On one occasion, he built a new Ice Cream Parlour in a room behind the shop and painted it up for the summer season. When he was ready to start, he found he could not get in through the door, so with much bad language, he had to dismantle it again.


Very often, when sweeping chimneys, he would forget how many rods he had used and when he went outside to see if his brush was out, he was greeted by the brush outside the front door, waving gently in the breeze or laying on the granite.




Many other street vendors were heard in the town and their calls varied with the season.


Torbay Mackerall -24 for a Shilling, Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday were very popular and many boys used to take a tray from the Baker to cry around the town in the early morning, Blackberries and Wortleberries were also peddled from door to door at so much a quart.




Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Fri, 13 Dec 2019 13:51:12 +0000
What was an ex- President of the transitional government of the USA, doing in Newton Abbot in 1780, three years before the American War of Independence was over?  



Henry Laurens was of Huguenot stock whose ancestors moved to the America in the late 1600’s, arriving in New York, then settling in Charlestown South Carolina. Laurens served in the Militia and rose to the rank of Lt Colonel in a campaign against the Cherokee Indians and later in the French and Indian Wars, that pitted the colonies of British America against those of French America.


He was very rich making his fortune from slavery, as a partner in the largest slave trading house in North America; in 1750 alone, his firm oversaw the sale of 8000 enslaved Africans. 

As the American Revolution neared, he was inclined to support reconciliation with the British side, probably to protect his business interests and because both he and his son were educated in England, but he later switched his allegiance to the American position. 

In 1775 the American Revolutionary War (later known as the American War of Independence) began and Carolina formed a revolutionary government in 1777, from which Laurens was elected to the Continental Congress[1], a provisional American government, where he served as President for one year until 1778. 

In 1779 he was appointed as a special envoy to the Netherlands, negotiating in 1780 their support for the revolution, but on his later return to Amsterdam his ship, the Mercury, was intercepted by the British Frigate Vestal off the coast of Newfoundland. There was an attempt to jettison incriminating documents, but they were recovered and were found to include a draft American-Dutch Treaty. 

When word reached the British authorities, they immediately declared war on the Netherlands, known as the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War[2].

On landing in Plymouth in 1780 Laurens was charged with Treason and was to be transported by Post Coach to the Admiralty in London. However, on an overnight stop in NEWTON ABBOT he advised the Admiralty that he could not undergo the fatigue of continuing the journey to London and begged a few days’ rest, which was immediately granted. However, soon after receiving the dispensation from the Admiralty he claimed to feel better and wished to continue to London.


There is no record where he stayed, but one possibility was the Turks Head, a major coaching station on the road from Plymouth to London, with stabling for 50 horses and room for 2 Stagecoaches. Perhaps he decided to recover early because staying at the Turks Head, located in in the old Market area, was not exactly salubrious. Better off in The Tower. 


He arrived at the Admiralty at 5.30 pm and was immediately interviewed about his dealings with the Dutch. He was sent to the Tower[3], awaiting a decision on his fate. 

At the time it was common practice to exchange prisoners and in 1781 Laurens was exchanged for General Lord Cornwallis, who had been captured by the American forces a few months earlier. He was the allowed to continue his journey to Amsterdam, where he raised funds for the American war effort. 

In September 1783 representatives of George 3rd and the USA met in Paris to negotiate of the end of the American Revolutionary War. Laurens was part of the American Delegation. 

Laurens[4] died in retirement in 1792 and wished to be cremated. One of the first to be cremated in the USA.




[1] The President of the Continental Congress was largely a ceremonial position without much power, serving as a neutral moderator and unrelated to the office of the President of the United States. The Congress itself had no legislative powers but was formed to establish a perpetual union between the original 13 States no longer under British Rule.

[2] 1780-1784

[3] The only American ever imprisoned in the Tower.

[4] Although Laurens was a leading Slave Trader, a Town was named after him and to this day he is feted as a great American. His Slave Trading is referred to as a “Business”.


Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 04 Dec 2019 13:52:19 +0000
Eating and Drinking in Newton Abbot in the Swinging Sixties


I often hear the complaint that Newton Abbot shopping centre 'is all charity and coffee shops'. Obviously, charity shops are a relatively recent phenomenon, but wondered what was available in the “days of yore” say 1960, where you could get Tea, Coffee a cold drink or something stronger.

 Feel free to add, correct or a story.

Public Houses and Hotels and Clubs

The Drive Inn, Keyberry Hotel, Penguin, Railway Hotel, Queens Hotel, Saracens Head, Courtenay Arms, The Fox, Prince of Wales, Conservative Club, Globe Hotel, The Ship, Half Moon, Royal Oak, Turks Head, Wolborough Inn,  The Swan, Seven Stars, Heavitree Arms, Market House, The Bradley, Golden Lion, Cider Bar, Dartmouth Inn, Devon Arms, Locomotive Inn, Jolly Sailor, White Hart, The Union, Commercial Hotel, Liberal Club, Ford Hall, Newfoundland Inn.

Fish Café

Cobley’s Station, Jacksons, Oliver’s, Alec Wills, Bearnes, Torbay Fish and Chip.

Café and Restaurants  

Penn Inn Park, Station Café, Baileys and Keys, Milky Way, Bevans, Madge Mellor, Wimpy, Woolworths, Courtenay Restaurant, The Bunne Shoppe, Elliot’s, Ogwell Mill, Chicken Café, Black Cat, Mikes Café, Parkona, Bus Station Café, Chinese (Sherborne), The Rendezvous, Alexandra Café, Peter Davey’s Café.

Not bad – 32 Pubs, 21 Café and 6 Fish and Chips when we were all skint and the population of Newton Abbot was considerably less.

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 20 Nov 2019 12:08:07 +0000
Wycliffe Egginton - Water Colour Artist 1875-1951 Headmaster of the Newton Abbot College of Art 1908-1919

b2ap3_thumbnail_wycliffe-E-1.jpgThe above monochrome (copied from The Sphere 17th May 1913) is of a Watercolour that was displayed in Gallery 1 of the 145th Exhibition of The Royal Academy in May 1913.

The Art press described Egginton’s work as recalling the Masters of British Landscape, with his skilful use of lighting and composition.

Wycliffe Egginton (also spelt Eggington), was born at Kings Norton, Birmingham on 12 October 1875 and baptised at Birmingham on 7 September 1879, eldest child of John Wycliffe Egginton, a merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Sarah née Green, who married at Kings Norton in 1874. Wycliffe was educated at Birmingham and Wallasey. He married Edith Calder (26 April 1880-1957) at Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1902, and in 1911 was living at 15 Kingsteignton Road, Newton Abbot, Devon with his 30 year old wife Edith and four children, Douglas Wycliffe 6, Edith Lucy 3, Francis John 2, all born in  Wallasey, Cheshire and Elizabeth Mary who was born in  Newton Abbot.

He was Headmaster of Newton Abbot College of Art from 1908 until 1919 and elected as an Associate of The Royal Academy in 1912. As a landscape painter in oil and watercolour he specialised in Moorland scenes, both of Dartmoor and Scotland. He had many one-man shows at the Fine Art Society, the Paris Salon and in Glasgow. b2ap3_thumbnail_wycliffe-E-3.jpg


On retirement he moved to 3 South View Teignmouth where he exhibited at 5 Devon Terrace, but spent many summers painting and caravanning around Scotland. He died at Rosemont, Dawlish, on 15 June 1951. His son (Francis John) Frank Egginton (10 November 1908–7 April 1990) was also an artist, living and specialising in Irish Watercolour Landscapes.

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the Newton Watercolour is not known, but our Museum does have a painting of Keyberry Mill by Wycliffe Egginton.


The Watercolour below of The Teign is an example of his skilful use of lighting and colour


Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 09 Oct 2019 13:23:08 +0100
Floodlit Football-Newton Abbot hosted one of the first games.

b2ap3_thumbnail_floodlit-football.jpgThe first Association Football Game to be Floodlit was on the 14th October 1878 at Bramall Lane, when a crowd of 20,000 fans attended. Bramall Lane is now the home of Sheffield United, but at the time may have been the home ground of The Wednesday Football Club, as there was a change of ownership in the late 1870’s.

Just four months later, on the 17th January 1879, at 7.30 pm, the South Devon Football Ground hosted a Floodlit Match between Teignmouth and South Devon teams; the result was a draw, but Teignmouth was deemed as winning by three saves.

The team members are not known, but the South Devon team probably included members from as far as Plymouth and Exeter.

The South Devon Football Ground was located at what is now The South Devon Cricket Club in Marsh Road. The ground was used for Cricket in the Summer and Football in the Winter, as were many of the early Football grounds. The Courtenay Arms had many adverts reminding punters that it was very near the South Devon Cricket and Football Ground: The Cricket Ground is shown on OS Maps of the time.

For the technically minded the lighting was provided by Messrs C W Provis & Co of Manchester and consisted of a “12 HP Power Engine, which produced four of Siemens’ lights by an electro-dynamic

Machine 700 to 1000 rpm - equal to 15000 Candles”. The light was said to be steady and satisfactory, resembling very bright moonlight, although there were occasional flickering and blackouts. Whilst the players could be seen in the centre of the ground with tolerable distinctness at the Corners they were enveloped in dense shadows.

The Siemens’ lights mentioned were possibly their invention of a “differential arc lamp” which avoided the need to continuously trim the carbon rods, that regularly burnt out. The new design allowed several arc lamps to be run from a single generator, where previously each lamp needed its own generator.

This was a major coup for the Newton club, as it wasn’t until 1883 that the fist floodlit international match took place, between Scotland and England.


Note: The location of the above image is not known.

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:56:30 +0100
The MacKrell Almshouses I’ve been guilty of it myself, calling these buildings the Mackerel Almshouses, but I’ve just found out the correct name is MacKrell Almshouses, I thought obviously named after a chap from Scotland, but I was wrong again. The Mackrell surname is French, introduced into Britain after 1066, meaning Fish Merchant, especially those dealing in Mackerel. So, I was correct after all!


Who was Mr MacKrell?

He was Thomas MacKrell, born in 1797 in Wolborough to Thomas and Sarah MacKrell (nee Downing). Thomas the elder was an Innkeeper, possibly the Landlord of The Bell Inn, Bridge Street (Now Bank Street). They had 10 children, many dying very young, but Thomas thrived and when he was about 17 left Wolborough to become an apprentice to MacKrell & Co a Chemist in Barnstaple; the familial connection is not known.

A John Mackrell began the business, around 1800 and it was probably transferred to Thomas around 1846, on the death of John. However, it was reported that he took over the business from a Mr Roberts, more detail is not known, but perhaps Thomas moved the Mackrell business to Roberts premises after the latter retired.

MacKrell & Co of Barnstaple are described as Chemists in the early 19th Century and Chemists & Druggists later. The merging of Chemists (dealers in chemicals) and Druggists (dealers in drugs of animal and vegetable origin) was a gradual process, given licence by later Acts of Parliament.  They both sold chemicals, patent medicines, herbal cures etc, but also provided medical advice and prescriptions mainly to the poor who could not afford the services of a Physician.  The company expanded its business interests into non- medical products, such as Coal Tar Paints (creosote), for which they had many adverts.

Thomas a lifelong bachelor lived most of his life with his spinster sister Sophia in Barnstaple, later joined by their two other spinster sisters.

 He had two brothers who were also chemists, John who died in 1846 and William who died in 1868; it is known William left Thomas a large fortune he made from shares in the Railway.

Thomas retired in his mid-fifties and seems to have devoted himself to local community and charitable works.

Thomas was Vice President of The Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institution, being responsible for recording and submitting meteorological data to the Registrar General on the climate in Barnstaple. His submissions were the only such information received from the County of Devon. He was a board member of the North Devon Infirmary, acting as Auditor in the early 1850’s, and a Trustee of various local charities.

Local gossip said that he was annoyed with the “authorities” in Barnstaple and as a consequence “resolved to record by some act of beneficence his childhood association with Newton Abbot”. The annoyance may have been related to a public lighting project that he financed, but was turned down by the Barnstaple Local Board, or another dispute with the Local Board[1]  concerning their inappropriate use of Charity Funds for a Grammar School.

Some years before his death he employed Mr Rowell, a local Architect who had built many properties in Newton, to design and build the Almshouses in Wolborough Street, at an expense of £5000, plus £500 for the land, together with an endowment of £5000. The plans were approved by Wolborough Local Board and the Almshouses were completed in 1877. His original objective was to provide a home for “decayed” tradespeople of the Town, but this was later amended to the poor, who were over 50.

In addition, Thomas paid for the building of a property in the Forde Park area for “fallen girls”, which housed single mothers fallen on hard times, together with a contribution to a fund for improvements to St. Leonard’s Church.

Thomas died, in Barnstaple on the 9th November 1883, aged 86.

As a memorial to Thomas Mackrell’s largesse, the Rector of Wolborough, Rev H. Tudor, suggested that three coloured glass windows should be placed in the east end of the new chancel of St Leonard’s Church. The windows were to be designed and made by Mr F Drake of Exeter and would represent the Nativity, Crucifixion and Ascension.

Sophia Mackrell, Thomas’s sister was of a similar charitable disposition to her brother. In her lifetime she made donations to various causes, including Newton Cottage Hospital. On her death in 1893 she left half her fortune to Barnstable Infirmary and the Emmanuel Church and the remainder to add a further eight dwellings to the Almshouses.

As Sophia was last surviving member of her immediate family, she directed in her Will that a monument should be erected in Wolborough Churchyard with twelve side panels recording each of her 9 siblings and her mother and father. It was designed by J Rowle & Son, in the early English style, in Bristol Blue Pennant stone.  


One odd fact concerning the family is that none appeared to have married, and no offspring are recorded.


The Almshouses now consist of 38 flats and cottages, a studio, one- and two-bedroom dwellings. It has 24-hour resident management staff, a Careline alarm service, a lounge and Garden, catering for residents of Teignbridge District Council.


The right-hand entrance has an inscription in the tympanum over a shouldered-arched opening which reads "By the grace of God the Mackrell alms-houses built and endowed by Thomas and Sophia Mackrell, natives of Wolborough were extended by the erection of eight additional dwellings in the year of Our Lord 1894." A similar inscription on the left-hand entrance is dated 1874.


[1] Local boards or local boards of health were local authorities in urban areas of England and Wales from 1848 to 1894. They were formed in response to cholera epidemics and were given powers to control sewers, clean the streets, regulate environmental health risks including slaughterhouses and ensure the proper supply of water to their districts. Local boards were eventually merged with the corporations of municipal boroughs in 1873, or became urban districts in 1894

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 11 Sep 2019 12:16:13 +0100
A bizarre accident involving The Duke of Edinburgh, an Old Soldier, an Elephant, Newton Abbot Station and Wolborough Churchyard b2ap3_thumbnail_hms.jpg

When I say the Duke of Edinburgh, I don’t mean the present incumbent, although he had an accident recently, I am referring to Prince Alfred the second son of Queen Victoria. At the age of 12 he joined the Royal Navy and qualified in 1858 as a Midshipman, rapidly rising to be Captain of the HMS Galatea in 1866 (obviously nothing to do his parentage). In 1867 while still in command of the Galatea he began a world tour, visiting Gibraltar, South Africa, India, Australia (where he was wounded in an assassination attempt), New Zealand and Japan.


Whilst visiting India William Rogerson Paton helped the Duke capture an Elephant known as Tommy, at Sir Jung Bahadoor’s private jungle and Paton was rewarded for his bravery, by being bought his discharge from the Royal Marine Artillery to be appointed keeper of Tommy. Paton signed articles to become keeper for a period of 5 years at £75/year and two suits of clothes. Tommy was immediately put to good use in India, loading 300 tonnes of Coal onto the Galatea, saving the work of 30 men.



HMS Galatea arrived back in Plymouth in June 1871 where the Duke, Tommy and Paton proceeded through the City in a Carnival Procession to catch the Mail Train. To assist Paton two Keepers from the Zoological Gardens met the Duke, to oversee the loading of Tommy into a Horse Box for the onward Journey to London.

There were reports that Tommy and Paton were inebriated before loading onto the Train, but this was disproven at the inquest. But, somewhere between Plymouth and Plympton Tommy became very restless and smashed the wall of the Horse Box; Paton attempted to calm him, entering what remained of the Box, but his endeavours resulted in him being pushed to the floor behind the animal. At each stop there was contradictory evidence given at the Inquest by the Keepers and the Station staff; at Kingsbridge Road the Station Goods Clerk suggested that the box should be opened, but one of the Keepers panicked and said “don’t open the box because he will kill us all”. Consequently, Paton was left injured until the Train arrived at Newton, where Tommy was removed from the train onto the Platform and Paton was found dead. 

The Duke was informed of the accident and was much concerned and immediately agreed to pay all the funeral costs, including a suitable monument to remember William Rogerson Paton. He was interred at St Mary’s Wolborough, with the grand headstone inscribed:


“Erected by HRH Duke of Edinburgh in memory of Gunner W. R. Paton RMA, Age 31. Born Torthowald, Scotland, killed on the Railway 1871. Thy will be done.”


Fast forward to 1891, when the Churchyard was expanded and the wall that separated the old churchyard from the new was removed and it was found that the grave had been neglected and time had defaced the inscription. An old Seaman named Thomas Smith of St Leonard’s Terrace, who served under Admiral Sir Robert Stockford and Commodore Sir Charles Napier at the storming of St. Jean d’Arce but had long since left the service, often visited the grave of Paton, whom he regarded as a comrade and noticed the gradual decay.


But a thought struck him that The Duke would be travelling to Plymouth very soon and may stop at Newton Abbot for a few minutes. He decided to go and meet the train and attempt to tell the Duke of the decay of the grave. He donned his best toggery and medals and did indeed meet the Duke. The Duke was much concerned regarding the grave and instructed his Secretary to write to Rev A. H. Simms Rector of Wolborough Church to commence a thorough renovation of the grave, including re-cutting the Inscriptions and the letters being leaded. The work was soon completed.




1.      Two photographs of the restored grave were taken by Mr Mudford at the suggestion of the Rector. It is not known if these still exist.


2.      Tommy joined the Duke’s other five Elephants at Sandringham.


3.      Paton had several Siblings, two at least were renown Churchmen and Missionaries.  One Rev James Paton of Glasgow presented Thomas Smith with a handsomely bound biography of Rev John Paton’s (William’s brother) missionary work in the South Seas. Thomas Smith always said it was his most treasured possession.


4.      The reports at the time kept referring to William R Paton as an old soldier, in fact he was at most about 40, whilst descendants say 32. Perhaps they meant veteran.


5.      Thomas Smith was quite a local celebrity in his own right, an ex Navy man, possibly the first Postman in Newton and the only one at the time. He gained long term mail contracts between Brixham, Torquay, Newton Abbot and Buckfastleigh and became the leading Cab Proprietor in the Town. He was a lifelong advocate of abstinence and was seen as the father of the abstinence movement in Newton, in fact his body was taken to the Temperance Hall, before being interred in Wolborough churchyard. His funeral was attended by many dignitaries of the Town.  



Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Fri, 02 Aug 2019 12:07:01 +0100
The Missing St Leonard’s Tower Model

b2ap3_thumbnail_lost-model_20190722-145351_1.jpgThis low-resolution photograph taken from a Newspaper article in 1908, shows Mr Roberts aged 91, former Wolborough Parish Clerk, with a model of St Leonards Tower and Chapel. Mr Roberts said that he had been baptised in the chapel in 1817/18.

The question is what happen to the model?

Three models of the Tower are currently in the possession of the Museum:

1.       A Matchstick model of the Tower and Chapel made by Leonard Ball, is in The Tower.


2.       A wooden model of the Tower without the Chapel, given by Mid Devon Motors is in The Tower.


3.       A model of the Tower without the Chapel made from Blue and White Crockery is in the Museum and was made by Harry Hodges in the 1920’s.


However, the original model, shown above, has not been seen for over 40 years.

It is not known who made the original or when, but it was probably after the current St Leonard’s had been built, but before the Chapel had been demolished in 1836.  There are only four records of its existence.

1.       A model of the St Leonards Chapel as it appeared in 1688, on the invasion of William of Orange, was displayed during the Newton Abbot Carnival, Torch Light Procession on December 16th, 1884.


2.       The Mr Roberts photo 1908 at the top if the page.


3.      Hello, I’m Sandra Wilson (nee Purchase & sister to retired Town Crier & Mayor of Newton Abbot) & now reside in Adelaide Australia.


A couple of years ago I saw a post on Facebook of the mosaic model of St Leonard’s Clock Tower which triggered the memory of a project I did for School (Highweek Secondary Modern School for Girls) when I was 13 or 14 – 60 years ago.  The project was to do with St Leonards as far as I can recall.  I believe a model of the Tower and Chapel was in St Leonard’s Church vestry & was lent to me probably by Reverend Scott to support the project which went on display at the Congregational Church (opposite Bearne’s Primary School).  I Thought the model had been returned to St Leonard’s Church.  If it wasn’t, I was probably one of the last people to see this model.  I sincerely hope this can be located & placed in the new Newton Abbot Museum.


(I have checked with Sandra and she is 99% certain that the model she used for the project was the Tower and Chapel version as shown in the 1908 photo.)


4.       A drawing of the original Tower and Chapel model is reproduced in the 1973 Booklet, ‘The Ancient Tower of St Leonard Newton Abbot S. Devon – A History’. (The drawing was copied from the original by Abbot Litho Press, but cannot be reproduced here due to Copyright).


If anybody knows what happened to the model or correct any of the above, your comments would be welcomed

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Mon, 22 Jul 2019 15:41:05 +0100
William Fuller & Sons Courtenay Nurseries - Queen Street b2ap3_thumbnail_Fuller-and-son1.jpg

W. Fuller & Sons – Courtenay Nurseries –Queen Street – 1927



W. Fuller & Sons – Courtenay Nurseries – Queen Street - c1900

(The Street Numbering changed sometime between 1870 and 1900, probably due to additional properties being built at the Railway end of Queen Street. It was later 150 Queen Street) 

 A pleasant hour may be passed in a home of sweet-scented flowers like the Courtenay Nurseries at any time. To visit such a place now, when the flowers are in bloom, filling the air with their perfume is delightful. It enables one to forget one’s cares, small or trivial though they be, to banish the fears of pessimism and to rejoice that after all there are more charming spots within easy access than we are sometimes inclined to imagine”.

This described a visit by a local Journalist to William Fuller’s, Courtenay Nurseries, opposite the Railway Station on the 1st August 1896.

(I wonder how many bedding plants he got for his fulsome praise.)


William Fuller the father of the 1896 proprietor, started the business in the 1840’s selling seed potatoes from his home at Whitehill Cottage, Whitehills. He is listed in the 1851 Census as a Gardener/Servant, so presumably not a wealthy man, yet he was able in the 1850’s to start his first Nursery in Bank Gardens, not far from Bank Street, before moving to Courtenay Park. 

At that time Courtenay Park was just a common field devoted to the cultivation of turnips[ii]; Queen Street was a narrow lane; the houses that fringed Courtenay Park had not been built and the nearest properties were at Devon Square. 

William Fuller by 1861 had enclosed two acres of the former turnip field, built his house shown above and relocated his Nursery. The journalist records that at the time there were two Railway Stations,[iii] the approach to the up line was where the Railway Inn is now located. 

By the 1870’s the Nursery had developed the whole of the bottom of Courtenay Park and was chiefly devoted to the growing of flowers, herbaceous, other plants and shrubs. Thirteen greenhouses and two workshops occupied about half the plot. There were some interesting pot plants rarely seen, including Eucalyptus Corridor which had come into prominence at this time as a healing remedy. Many other plants were offered, often newer hybrids of Fuchsias, Hydrangeas, Ivy Pelargoniums, Gloxinias, Heliotropes, Gladioli and Dahlias. A Fern House housed a wide variety of unusual, curious palms and ferns. 

What is interesting to know is how William Fuller managed in relatively short time to grow his business from being a Gardener/Servant selling seed potatoes from a cottage, to building a large house, with a two-acre Nursery in a prime spot opposite the Railway Station. 

Much is speculation, but we do know that William Fuller married Albenia Watkins in 1832, at St. George’s Parish, Hanover Square. William was born in Westerham, Kent and Albenia was from Isleworth and we know they lived in Isleworth until at least the early 1840’s. Hanover Square, Westerham and Isleworth were all affluent areas at this time, so it is possible that they inherited money or assets to start their business. 

William and Albenia displayed their plants at Horticultural Shows all over South Devon, following the fashion of the time of propagating and showing exotic plants and new hybrids. They were also regarded as premier florists, providing cut flowers for local society weddings and charity events. 

William died in 1892 and Albenia in 1904, passing their business onto sons and grandsons. It is not known when the business finally finished, but a Frank Fuller was still listed as a Seedsman in 1937, but as a retired Nurseryman aged 80 in the 1939 Population Survey. Members of the family still lived in the house until at least the early 1950’s.[iv] 


[ii] Difficult to imagine Courtenay Park as a Turnip patch.

[iii] In the 1850’s the Railway had two and later three separate train sheds covering the separate lines. It was rebuilt in 1861 as a single station with a larger train shed covering all three platforms

[iv] On the front of the house today can still be seen a square projection, where the Conservatory was in the photos above.


Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Mon, 08 Jul 2019 13:57:49 +0100
Opportunity to take part in People's Museum

The People's Museum.

b2ap3_thumbnail_chrislis.jpgThe new museum will be brimming full of objects that share the stories of the town over decades. Each object on display is special and holds its own tale. We want to find out what objects the local community treasure and what stories can be shared through them. The People's Museum will be the first exhibition in the 'Your Space' community area in the museum when it opens. A collection of highly decorated boxes will each contain a special object belonging to somebody in the town and surrounding villages. Sound recordings will accompany the boxes so that stories can be told. Each group will work for three sessions of approx 2 hours. People can bring along their treasured object and create a decorated box. Using fabric, ribbons, craft paper and decorations from sequins to steam punk cogs, people will be able to make highly adorned shrines to celebrate and show off their possession. 


When? Monday Morning 24th June

Where? In a brand new mobile art space that will be parked in the town centre

Call Kate Green on

07976 712849

 for full details and to book your place!

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Fri, 21 Jun 2019 10:04:10 +0100
Baby Farming in Newton

In the Victorian era infant mortality was very high; of the 800,000 births recorded in England in 1880, about 120,000 died before their first Birthday. Of these deaths about 60,000 were due to inadequate starch based diets, cornflower and water etc. 20,000 from diseases, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, about 10,000 premature births, 10,000 violent deaths, and a variety of causes is recorded for the deaths of the remaining 20,000. 

Most of the violent deaths were accidental, recorded as “overlaying” and frequently occurring on Saturday Nights. The Dictionary of Hygiene and Public Heath (1876) ascribes this to mother’s drinking on Saturday evenings and whilst in a stupor lying on top of their child. Obviously the author had no concept of the working and living conditions of families living in poverty, often sleeping five to a bed.

It was known that many infants’ illnesses were treated with cordials, spirits and even narcotics to an alarming degree. Many of the deaths recorded as convulsions, were really cases of poisoning. 

But perhaps the most abhorrent practice was Baby Farming, which is the way of accepting custody of a child or infant in exchange for cash, which often resulted in child abuse or worse. This often occurred when the child was illegitimate, the birth mother was a Workhouse resident, or already had multiple children. The child was given to a “Nurse” with a weekly payment, but in some cases a one off payment was made, especially if the child was weak or illegitimate. The latter was often done on the understanding that the “Nurse” would do what was necessary to make the problem go away by nursing then adoption, but sometimes by unscrupulous “Nurses” by starving, drowning or suffocation. The most horrific cases occurred in London and a number of women were executed for serial killings of infants. Perhaps the worst was Amelia Dyer who was executed in 1896 for strangling and dumping the bodies of 400 infants in the 20 years she had been practicing her trade. 


                                                                             Amelia Dyer


In an attempt to curtail the practice, which had become prevalent, Parliament introduced the “Infant Life Protection Act 1872” that had good intentions, but no teeth.

As a consequence of the lack of inspections Baby Farming continued even in Newton. 

Two Newton women were charged with Baby Farming and causing the death of two infants, a Betsy Binmore of No 4 Court, Wolborough Street and  a Mrs Wills of No 10 Court, East Street. Mrs Wills was found not guilty, but Betsy Binmore was tried for Murder, but was reduced to Manslaughter at her trial and sentenced to 12 Years in Knaphill Female Prison-Woking.


Betsy Binmore (43) was charged with the wilful murder of five month old Margaret Phillips in January 1875. Mrs Binmore had been made a widow some years earlier and her daughter claimed she began her Baby Farming business to support herself and her family. But in contravention of the 1872 Act she did not register her activity and as a consequence was not inspected, although the Inspection regime was almost non-existent. 


A Mary Phillips had Margaret the previous August in the Newton Abbot Workhouse; she cared for it for a while then gave it to a number of “Nurses” in Wolborough Street so she could work. Finally being taken in by Mrs Binmore at No 4 Court who was paid 2s 6d a week by Mary and 1s 6d by the Board of Guardians for Margaret’s care. 

In late December 1874 Mrs Binmore called on a Dr Haydon to attend the sickly Margaret, but after much discussion he said he would not attend to her unless he was paid. He then left. The following day she requested that Dr Drake and Dr Jane should attend Margaret, both refused unless they were paid. She then took Margaret to Mr Ponsford, Chemist Wolborough Street, he said the child was emaciated and he gave Mrs Binmore two Powders, but the Margaret became worse.

Sergeant Nicholls said Mrs Binmore came to him and said “one of the children is dead”; he visited her house and found two other children in an emaciated state. He weighed these two infants and they were just under 8lbs. Mrs Binmore claimed that her Bread Book showed she had fed the children, but as Dr Haydon belated said such young children needed milk. It was a very common practice for a substitute milk concoction to be made from Cornflower and Water, obviously of zero nutritional value. It was revealed at the trial that three other children had died in Mrs Binmore’s care.

Mrs Binmore Murder conviction was reduced to Manslaughter and she was sentenced to 12 years.


The Magistrates and others severely criticised the Doctors, Authorities and the Community. 


  1. Doctors- were criticised for putting payment before care. “Surely out of common humanity they should attend”. Considerable applause followed.
  2. Registration-even though Mrs Binmore did not seem to know that her business should be regulated, the Police and Local Board made no attempt to check her credentials. Even though three children had previously died.
  3. The Board of Guardians - were asked if their payment of 1s 6d a week was sufficient to feed a Baby. They made excuses.
  4. Relieving Officer - Mr Roberts (of reminisces fame)  apparently was unavailable to pay for the Doctor
  5. Community – letters in the Newspapers made the point that certain Ladies who took it upon themselves to visit the Poor, should have been aware of Mrs Binmore business.
  6. Mothers – although they were in dire straits themselves, often in the Workhouse, they should have made more effort to check on their child.
  7. Infant Life Protection Act 1972 – in spite of the abuses the Act was not toughen until the turn of the Century.


It was not raised at the Trial, but her motive was unclear. If she intended to kill the children in her care, it would have been more profitable to take a one off payment, rather than weekly payments. But perhaps Workhouse mothers had no way of raising such sums, so she took the longer view or perhaps Mrs Binmore was neglectful or unable to manage looking after six children, which included her own. Perhaps the murder charge was reduced to manslaughter, because she made a number of attempts to seek help.

Mrs Binmore served her full sentence and is recorded in 1901 and 1911 as a Charwomen living with her daughter Sarah in Ilsington. She died in 1912 aged 80. 


Although Mrs Binmore was not the worst of the Baby Farmers, her case was reported throughout the Land, which did not improve the reputation of Newton Abbot.

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Fri, 07 Jun 2019 11:56:46 +0100
1858 The year of the Great Stink - Newton Style

The Great Stink was the elegant name given to terrible smell that pervaded central London, during   July and August 1858. It had been a particularly hot summer, which exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent present on the banks of the Thames. This wasn’t a new problem; it had been getting worse for years and was due to an inadequate sewage system that emptied directly into the Thames. As the newly built Houses of Parliament were getting the full impact of the smell, they acted quickly to agree plans for a new sewage system.






                  "The Silent Highwayman" (1858). Death rows on the Thames. 


It is not known if the outcry in London triggered a letter that appeared in the Western Times 23rd October 1858 from a Mr C.B. Hall of Lansdowne Villa but it certainly sparked a reaction in Newton Abbot. The letter’s title made it a must read-“The Nuisances and Abomination of Newton Abbot”; especially as Newton had previously been lauded as one of the healthiest towns in England  


But C.B. certainly had a point. 


He noted that the River Lemon was partially diverted to provide water for the Corn Mill and the Tanning Works; the latter then dumped their stinking detritus back into the Lemon, which was made worse in the summer months, when the only water in the Lemon came from the Tanning Works. In addition about 30 sewers and drains also dumped raw sewage, including blood and waste from slaughter houses, into the Lemon. “Leaving filth streaming down the walls and great heaps of abomination on the bed of the Lemon, poisoning the atmosphere of the most populous part of the Town and rendering the passage of public thoroughfare very offensive”. 


He goes on to say that these “nuisances should be enough for a population of 5000, but no this is far from the case. The Baptist Chapel in East Street are interring bodies near the street, there are three tallow melting establishments, which stink most awfully, a Tripe and Trotter Boiling House adjoining the Chapel, giving forth its savoury perfume for the edification of the Chapel goers. There was also the immense volumes of smoke, vapour and gas of the most offensive and sickening nature, issuing constantly from the chimney of Refuse Tan consuming furnace in Newton Bushel, spreading its disgusting effluvia through the streets, shops and houses in this Town and extending its influences to at least 3/4 of a mile. The drinking water supply is deficient in both quantity and quality.” 


C. B. had a personal nuisance gripe, with one of his neighbours, who happened to be an Inspector of Taxes, who began making bricks in his back garden, which included firing the bricks and generating vast volumes of black coal smoke.


Some of this may have been overstated, but the criticisms of his letter came from those who had a vested interest in the polluting businesses, or who lived well away from the river in the smarter parts of town. 


A certain W.L. (Name not given) posted a long letter the following week lambasting C.B. Hall with a mixture of derision and scorn. He dubbed C.B. Hall as “Carl Bamboozle all” and included in his letter the script of a poster that had been displayed around the town, earlier in the week. (Some of the wording in the poster is no longer acceptable, but the following is its gist)


'Hollo, Hollo. Carl Bamboozle all, the Great Panjandrum (a know-all) will make his first appearance before a Newton audience on 5th November by the Tower. 

He will eat a donkey, but as he doesn’t own a donkey he will grab the first one he comes across.'


News spread quickly and a large crowd assembled at the Tower, when it was reported that the unpopular Carl Bamboozle was to be burnt as an effigy. The proceedings began with the Town Band starting from the top of Wolborough Street playing “Oh dear what can the matter be”, followed by torch Bearers, then two donkeys in mourning for their departed friends. The procession continued around the streets of both Newton Bushel and Abbot, proceeding to C.B. Hall’s home were they halted, until C.B. came out and he shouted “Newton for ever”. 

C.B’s effigy was burnt and the donkeys were returned to their stables. 


The following day C.B. went around the two towns removing “The Great Panjandrum” posters. 



In 1858 the Tanning process was a “noxious and odiferous” trade. Chemicals were not available, so urine and dog poo or animal brains were used. The raw hides, which were bloodied and wet with animal remains that still clung to them, were cleaned by soaking in water. They were then transferred to tanks of urine, to make the hides pliable enough for men to scape the hides clean. Finally to achieve the sheen of fine leather, the hides were soaked in a dog poo or sometimes animal brain solutions, and then washed with clean water. 

All this waste water was then discharged into the Lemon. 

It was argued by some who criticised C.B. that in the summer months when the Lemon was at low ebb, the washings from the Tannery cleared the “abominations” from the river bed.  Trouble was the “abominations” were being cleared with urine and dog poo solutions.

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Wed, 29 May 2019 10:51:24 +0100
Reminiscences of Old Newton Abbot

Info for this article taken from East and South Devon Advertiser 3rd October 1896

In August 1896 a certain Mr W Roberts on his retirement as an Assistant Overseer[1], was invited to relate his memories of Newton Abbot. He was especially interesting, due to having all his faculties at such a great age; and remembering stories just a few years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

“I was born on the 3rd July 1817 in Wolborough Street. The population of Wolborough was 1700, Highweek 850 and Torquay 1000, Torquay being about one third the size of Newton. Friends who lived in Torquay used to come to Newton for the latest fashions and costumes. At that time the principle streets were East Street, Bank Street-then called Bridge Street because of the bridge over the Lemon, which flowed down as an open water-way where Market Street now stands and was the Cess-Pit of the Town – and Wolborough Street. The Chapel attached to St Leonards Tower was still standing; it was a small building. Newton Market was then held in Wolborough Street at the end of St Leonards Chapel.”

“Education was not what it is now. I went to Bell[2] School over the Shambles[3] in Wolborough Street, and may be looked upon as the predecessor of the current National School; I am bound to say we were not taught very much. We read out of The New Testament, leant the collect for the week and on Sundays walked to Church, mornings and afternoons. On Sunday evenings the Rev John Bradford would come and give us a lesson in Scripture. There was also Chudleigh’s School called after its Master, situated behind where Stitson’s Hay and Corn Stores are now in East Street. My school master was a broken down cabinet maker, his wife looked after the girls. Between them they received an annual salary of £50.The school was conducted on the voluntary principle.”

“I remember that between Bearne’s Lane and the Garden of the Globe Hotel was a grove of trees, in which there was an extensive rookery. Many Rooks I have shot there. The row of small houses at the back of Courtenay Street no doubt got their name[4] from the trees that once stood there. “

“I remember the Rev D M Stirling[5] who produced a small history of Newton in 1830. I recollect an amusing incident in connection with him. He once made a wooden bicycle, which he tried out on Milber Hill, but it was so clumsily constructed that it was more trouble coming down than going up.”

“I recollect the construction of St Leonard’s Church in 1836. A fatal accident almost occurred at the laying of the foundation stone. The stone was laid by Mr Thomas Knight Sweetman, the oldest Feoffee and churchwarden of his day. Just as he had finished laying the mortar with his trowel and raised his head, the hook snapped and the huge stone fell, covering Mr Sweetman’s best Sunday clothes all over with splashed mortar. ‘Drat it’, he said. ‘I’ve spoilt my best waistcoat’. My connection with the church extended over a long period. Before organs became general we had a small orchestra to lead the singing My mother’s family the Hannaford’s at one time formed nearly the whole choir, her father who live until he was 92, played the bass Viol or double bass; his son James also played and his son Samuel remained in the choir his whole life.“

To be continued.

[1] Assistant Overseer= was an official who administered poor relief such as money, food and clothing. They were replaced in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 with Boards of Guardians, although they remained in some places as a method of collecting the Poor Rate. 

[2] Wolborough School in East Street was formerly known as Bell School, but is not at the same location referred to by Mr Roberts.

[3] Shambles is an obsolete term for and open air slaughterhouse and meat market.

[4] The Grove

[5] A History of Newton Abbot and Newton Bushel. (Available on Google Books) l

Read More]]> (Museum) Uncategorized Fri, 24 May 2019 10:07:56 +0100
The Miner’s Lamp[1]