Welcome to the Dawlish Local History Group - Notes & Queries page.

Notes & Queries - A miscellany of information and queries about Dawlish

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?

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

1: What was the purpose of Brown's Brook?
2: Why is it called Brown's Brook?
3: Did it link with the leat for the mills?

At the moment there is no clear answer to 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 can be seen on the 1787 map. What is not clear is what happens when it meets the Aller somewhere by Newhay Falls. All that we can say with certainty is that the main Aller stream proceeds over the Falls. There is however another waterway shown opposite Browns Brook which leads on to the mill pond. It is also worth noting that there is a second feeder to the mill pond that comes directly from the Aller and this enters the leat just before the mill pond. It is possible that another source of water was not needed until the second mill opened in the early 1700s.

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. The 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.

We know that Brown's Brook is man-made as tributaries flow into Dawlish Water not out of it. The tithe map does not show or enumerate a mill at Luscombe Home Farm although we know that one was installed a little later in the sawmill there but it is quite possible there may have been one at an earlier period. If in 1840 it had no useful purpose you would expect it to have fallen into disuse or be diverted as it has been subsequently 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.

There are at least two versions of the tithe map which ought to tell us what happens when Brown's Brook meets 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 close to the falls themselves. However whilst its accuracy can be called into question its intention of showing a link between Brown's Brook and the leat may be true.

What muddies the water still further is that sometime after the tithe map was drawn up a fishpond was created in Luscombe Castle grounds close to both Newhay Falls and the millpond. Probably at the same time it was realised that Newhay Falls could become a 'feature'. This involved some re-engineering and from then onwards it was the fishpond which provided the water for the mill leat and the fishpond was presumably topped up from the Aller, which begs the question what happened to Brown's Brook?

The majority 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 [DLHG Newsletter January 2020 page 4] and list the flows 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 that is the main flow. 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. It is possible that after the Falls became a 'feature' Brown's Brook may have been routed into the Aller above the falls to make the flow more spectacular.
For the moment we don't have the evidence to say categorically whether Brown's Brook led into the mill leat or not, if it did it was a sizeable undertaking when first constructed. Against that is why construct such a long leat when it was possible to take water from the much nearer Aller? It may 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.

Further information is welcome - please e-mail enquiries@dawlishhistory.org.uk