Welcome to the Dawlish Local History Group - Notes & Queries page.
A miscellany of information and queries about Dawlish
February 2022: update.
The first horse race meeting mentioned in local papers was in 1842 on Mr H. B. Pennell's land at the Warren. It was unusual in being a 2 day affair. Like most of the following meetings it was held in September and seems to have marked one of the last great social events of the season. The paper reported an 'immense concourse of spectators, many dashing equipages on the ground, and the stand filled with fashionables'. This attendance of the 'principal residents and visitors in the neighbourhood' was particularly noticed throughout the 1840s. However the working population were not forgotten with food and drink provided by the Swan, Red Lion and Lobster (1843) and other attractions quickly developed perhaps deliberately off the course with donkey racing on the Lawn or on the sands and other 'rustic sports'. However by 1849 a fairground effect had appeared on the course with a band, dancing, shooting galleries, thimbleing and petty gambling whilst the 1850 races included 'nut stands, swinging boats and merry go rounds.'
It was too good to last and there is no more mention of the races until 1866. It would seem to sum up the ad-hoc nature of the organising committee, only the name Lammacraft standing out as a regular. It is also clear that they didn't always find sufficient financial backers as in 1867 when the advertised meeting had to be cancelled. The committee's other problem was finding the grounds for the race as there was no ready-made site. They clearly found that the ideal situation was off the Exeter Road which is where the majority of races were held but the exact location varied: 1847 3 fields of Mr Anning; 1848 2 fields of Mr Midlane; 1890 land owned by Mr Pidgley and the adjoining athletic field of J.H.Somerset; 1894 the 'usual ground' lent by J. Bowerman & J. Cole. The latter might give a clue about the location as Bowerman owned a saw mill beside Sandy Lane. However, there were other locations for example in 1870 and 71 racing was held in fields opposite Secmaton House on Gatehouse Road; in 1878 at Black Down field lent by Mr Blackmore and in 1880 three quarters of a mile from town on the Teignmouth Road.
The coming of the railway in 1846 probably changed the nature of these meetings. One newspaper announced that in 1844 one of the races would be the Railway Stakes and joked 'which we hear will be run for upon the atmospheric principle'. Certainly from 1866 onwards the GWR always ran excursion trains in conjunction with the races. This changed the make-up of the spectators and from then onwards there were several mentions of bad behaviour such as 'pugilistic encounters were frequent, the police not being numerous enough to preserve order'. The jockeys too came in for criticism in 1895. The horses were neck and neck in the last round of the consolation prize when one of the riders slashed the face of his opponent and his horse with his whip. He won but had to bolt for it afterwards by jumping over a hedge.
The ad-hoc nature of the committee probably led to a number of criticisms over the years 'the committee seemed...ignorant of what horses were entered' ; it was a general scramble rather than a racing affair; being inside the course 'the spectators were prevented from seeing even halfway round' etc. The rules that the races were run under tended to change so that 1900 it was National Hunt rules; 1905 British Pony & Galloway Racing Association rules; 1923 National Pony Turf club rules. This latter was the last meeting reported and was possibly not repeated because of its low attendance. In all 29 meetings were reported on between 1842 and 1923.
Mount Maria or Moriah: What is it and where is it?
Old Dawlishians have identified it as the grassy area above the footpath to Coastguard Bridge. A footpath to the beach existed here before the railway was built and steps were cut into the cliff which finished just behind the original Coastguard's building when they were known as Preventives. During WW2 there was said to be a gun emplacement on this grassy area.
The origin of the name has been a complete mystery but a passing reference in a guidebook of 1803 may hold the clue. After describing the home of William Watson called Sea Grove (later Lanherne) above what later became the railway station it mentions that in the extensive grounds 'nearer the sea a whimsical mount, in imitation of the natural rock has been raised, formed into a cell on the inside'. Other descriptions talk of a folly and John Swete's contemporary description is not altogether flattering:
an artificial mound, the walls of which are formed of mud and straw consisting of a cell for an hermit in one part and of a dovehouse in another - this is placed on the verge of the cliff...and (what appears rather in the ridiculous), is intended to represent the rude and craggy cliffs which are seen on every part of the coast.
The drawing by Swete shows the folly at the cliff edge near where the cliffs come closest to the sea (nearly opposite Eastcliff Road). The idea of a hermit might suggest that it was intended to be spelt with biblical associations.
A location which solves a problem
Where was this description in the Western Times of 27th June 1846 referring to:
Besides the various approaches to the beach, instead of an awkward descent from the cliff, the Company [GWR] have constructed a safe and excellent path, communicating with the road below, and then crossing an arch of solid stone work above the railway after which descending a flight of steps, the architecture of which is in uniformity with the archway, you find yourself on the sea shore.
Having ruled out various other contenders researchers have identified this as the cliff path from Lea Mount. The arch is the stone built U shaped tunnel entrance and the steps are those in the underpass near Boat Cove. It has long been assumed that the path was created in the 1840s but it was unknown who had it built and why. Now we know that the railway company built it we can deduce that it was a means of sending workers quickly from one tunnel entrance to another during the building of the railway. It would also enable messages to be quickly passed from the office at Great Cliff House at the bottom of the path to worksites in the Teignmouth direction without first having to head back towards town thus saving considerable time.
What we don't know is whether there was true public access at this time and whether that changed when the GWR sold Great Cliff House and Lea Mount to a private individual.
Poetry about Dawlish
Not a lot has come to light except for two well known poems, one by John Betjeman just entitled Dawlish which describes the town as the 'queen of lodgings' in the south west and the other by Alan Ginsberg called 'To the punks of Dawlish'. It is not clear that he ever visited Dawlish but he did meet, on a train journey, some young punks who lived here. Eden Phillpots was schooled in Plymouth and died at Broadclyst and much of his prose and poetry has a Devonshire theme so it is no surprise that he wrote a poem entitled On Dawlish Warren which includes the lines
Among the yellow whins the linnets call
The wrack and shells he loved still drift along the shore
Of course we shouldn't forget the famous poem about the murderous events at Lidwell Chapel as recorded by R.H.D.Barham in his poem The Monk of Haldon.
Surely there must be others?
One more has come to light entitled Dawlish Fair by the romantic poet John Keats. He describes meeting Rantipole Betty on the cliffs and ends
O who would not rumple the daisies there
And make the wild fern for a bed do!
The poem was written in Easter week 1818 when he had walked from Teignmouth to Dawlish. At that period Dawlish's main celebratory entertainments were held at Easter not in the summer as now.
A bridge with two commemorative stones
This is the bridge in Church Street otherwise known as Carpenters Bridge. On the seaward side the stone reads: The widening of this bridge at the expense of the county and town was designed and carried out by John Carpenter of Gatehouse, Surveyor to the local board. A.D.1864
On the other side of the bridge the inscription reads: Previous bridge destroyed by flood October 19 1875. This arch built 1876. H.W.Farley, County Surveyor, James Hawkins builder.
Lady Martha Elizabeth Douglas
Lady Martha Elizabeth Douglas had two distinguished husbands firstly Sir Francis G.A.F.E. Drake related to the well known seafarer who like his predecessor lived at Buckland Abbey and Sir Robert Andrews Mackenzie Douglas. Sometime after the death of her second husband she moved back to Devon and by 1861 had set up home at Burlesdon, Dawlish where she is believed to be the first occupant. It was on an impressive site, being the first house on the right after turning into Eastcliff Road with views out to the bay and a large garden.
She lived here for nearly forty years, dying in 1899 at the age of 87. We are grateful to a correspondent who unearthed this description of her. 'She is different from anyone I have ever known, with great ability, learning and wonderful powers of conversation. She has given up the world and society, and seems to maintain over herself a rigid discipline and watchfulness. She is devoted to the church. Exeter Cathedral is her especial delight; and she has rendered important service in deciphering and explaining the old inscriptions and bosses on the arches. She has given money for the restoration of the building and some years ago she contributed a beautiful chalice-veil to St Paul's in London at the convocation there. She is very religious, and I cannot but respect the self-denial to which she subjects herself.'
She left her mark on Dawlish as in 1885 she supplied a drinking fountain which was installed in the wall of her grounds and can still be seen as you climb up Exeter Road.
Where to take a body for the inquest
The Coroner said it was not compulsory to take a corpse to the nearest public house , but if taken to a victualler's house, they must not refuse to take it in. He, however, preferred a body being taken to its home when practical and convenient so to do. [Comments made when John Radford's body was taken to the Royal Albert Hotel. Dawlish Times 21 Oct 1875]
Brown's Brook and the leat for the mills: 3 Queries
(following the discovery of some notes by Jim Holman and Bob Thompson this article has been revised. June 2021)
. What was the purpose of Brown's Brook?
. Why is it called Brown's Brook?
. Did it link with the leat for the mills?
At the moment we can only answer one of these questions. Maps can help us but they do not provide the definitive answer. The earliest detailed map is that of Charles Law in 1787 depicting Dawlish Manor as owned by the church. This is not the same as Dawlish parish and this becomes clear when looking for the starting point of Brown's Brook as it does not appear on the map. The earliest map with it on is the Tithe map of 1840 and the position remains the same on later maps. So we know that it was diverted from Dawlish Water before what became Luscombe Home Farm and was routed on the other side of the buildings to the Brook. It then crossed a field to exit at the crossroads by Brown's Brook cottage. It went diagonally across the crossroads and entered what is now a copse. It's route from the crossroads onwards can be seen on the 1787 map. It then meets the Aller at the top of Newhay Falls. (The detail is shown better on maps after 1840). The main Aller stream proceeds over the Falls but there is however another waterway shown opposite Browns Brook which leads on to the mill pond. We now know based on information from Jim Holman and Bob Thompson that Brown's Brook was used to top up the millpond via this other waterway at Newhay Falls. How it was managed we don't know but probably by sluice gate.
The millpond is situated just before the churchyard boundary and the widening of the leat can still be seen today by peering through the trees. Up until some time after the tithe map was produced the main water supply came from a diversion of some of the Aller water which left the main stream at the ford at the bottom of Aller Hill. The 1787 map shows an overflow from the millpond heading across the Newhay and entering Dawlish Water by the boundary to Bridge House garden. The leat itself skirts Church House and heads across the road to the wheel behind the town mill and then goes straight towards the Brook. In earlier times it would have finished here but as the map shows a dogleg was created when the Strand Mill was built and so the leat was extended around the edge of the Manor House grounds, in front of the museum, across the road to Coryton Close and then turns 90 degrees towards Plantation Terrace and straight on until by a sort of viaduct it was able to fall onto the mill wheel and escape by a channel which didn't join up with Dawlish Water until somewhere beyond the position of Jubilee bridge. This separate channel was changed after the canalisation of Dawlish Water and the water was fed more directly into the stream.
There are at least two versions of the tithe map which ought to tell us exactly what happened when Brown's Brook met the Aller. One version is useless as the area is a blank. The other, on the Devon County website, shows it following the footpath beneath Newhay Falls and continuing to the millpond. Alas that can't be right as the gradients are wrong and every other map before and after 1840 shows it heading toward the falls. However whilst its accuracy can be called into question its intention of showing a link between Brown's Brook and the leat is useful.
Some major engineering was undertaken sometime after the tithe map was drawn up when a fishpond was created in Luscombe Castle grounds close to both Newhay Falls and the millpond. It was probably built at the same time as it was realised that Newhay Falls could become a 'feature'. From then onwards it was the fishpond which provided the water for the mill leat. The fishpond itself was filled by diverting the Aller water that used to go directly to the mill pond. This was fed into the fishpond at the church end whilst the waterway that connected with Brown's Brook was still available at the other end.
After the second world war Brown's Brook ceased to supplement water to the mill pond, this may have been after Strand Mill closed in 1958, it was then truncated so that now it only partly crosses the field before Brown's Brook Cottage and falls down the bank opposite the garden at Stonelands into Dawlish Water.
For the moment we don't have the evidence to say categorically when Brown's Brook was built and what its original purpose was but it was certainly a sizeable undertaking when first constructed. We know that Brown's Brook is man-made as tributaries flow into Dawlish Water not out of it. Was its original purpose to power a nearby mill lost in the mists of time or was it built specifically to bring water to the town mills? The 1840 tithe map does not show or enumerate a mill at Luscombe Home Farm however we know that the water drove a sawmill there a little later and according to Bob Thompson it also drove a grist wheel to grind the corn.
Why would anyone construct such a long leat to help power the town mills when the water from the much nearer Aller was already being used ? It is possible that another source of water was only needed when the second mill (Strand Mill) opened in the early 1700s. It may also be that a constant supply from the Aller couldn't be guaranteed because of Aller mill nearby.
Where does the name Brown's Brook come from is an unanswerable question at present. It did not appear on either the 1787 or 1840 maps and so we only know of it from later Victorian times. Was it the name of the owner of the field or the contractor who dug the leat? There were people called Brown in the town but none that we can tie in so far. Alternatively some have suggested that the name is corrupted and originally went under the imaginative name of brown brook, describing the colour of the water.
Photographs can often prove helpful in working out what is going on but have merely added confusion in the case of Newhay Falls. One popular view is that Brown's Brook provided a separate flow into the Newhay Falls. For corroboration they cite the photo of Newhay Falls taken in 1910 with three flows and list them from left to right as from the fishpond, the Aller and Brown's Brook. There is no argument about the fishpond but to say that Brown's Brook is on the right can't be correct as if you peer through the leaves today at that position you can see the main flow coming from the Aller. The middle one is currently obscured but if it still exists it can only be a trickle and we know that Brown's Brook has been diverted. One guess about the middle spill is that it is an overflow from the feeder to the fishpond. It is noticeable that it is at a slightly higher level than the flow on the right. When not supplying extra water to the mills it is likely that the water from Browns Brook joined the Aller flow and made the falls much more spectacular.
The difficulties increase with another photograph taken about 1916 which shows 4 separate water spills with an extra one between the fishpond flow and what was the middle one.
We are looking for information concerning a missing plaque to Major Arthur Robertson Browning, 4th Punjab Infantry, formerly in St Mark's, Dawlish. This was in place at St Mark's in circa 1901/02, sadly St Mark's was demolished in circa 1976 - If you know anything about this please let the History Group know.
In May 2021:
This might sound strange, but has there ever been a wooden merry-go-round that was worked by turning a large wheel. It would have been near the walk way down to the beach.....I have had a memory of a beautiful merry-go-round, in bright colours I can remember the old man who used to turn the wheel."
Does anyone have more information about this or perhaps a fairground probably 1900-1950 era? Please let us know if you do.
Further information is welcome - please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org