Gwynneth Arscott, writing in 1971, recalls her early years growing up in Lapford in the late 1910’s at the Temperance Hotel and Lower Town farm. The family occasionally performed as a singing group.
I was born in Lapford in 1912. This village, mid-way between Exeter and Barnstaple, straggles for about 2 miles from the main road to 600 feet above sea level. My father farmed there, and our home, which was right in the village, was also “The Temperance Hotel”, although with father, mother, three or four children and a resident nursemaid, there was little “Hotel” about it. However we had the occasional traveller, who by law had to be accommodated, provided he was a teetotaller.
The next establishment along was “The Malt Scoop”, a licensed house. Strangers in the village were rare birds, however. The strangest I remember as a small girl were some soldiers billeted on us during The Great War. We also had to find room for their horses, and although our stables were adequate for our farm horses and dad’s ponies, the Army horses were enormous, and had to duck their heads to get in. I was told with awe by my sister that they were stallions. The soldiers seemed like foreigners to us, but only because they didn’t talk “Deb’n”, I think.
The farm buildings and orchards were across the road, and at cider-making time from the windows we could watch a horse tethered to a huge wheel, walking round and round, working the cider press. We were a “teetotal” household but dad always had cider on tap for the farm men if they wanted it. Because it was forbidden, I was determined to try it, so I sneaked into the barn one day, dragging a young brother for company and camouflage, and released some cider from a huge barrel. Then, horror of horrors, I couldn’t get the bung back. I do not know how much I wasted, because whenever in trouble I took to my heels. I was no match for my six foot father, however, and I didn’t repeat that particular misdemeanour.
Around the Piano
Mother was a good accurate pianist, and had a rich contralto voice. Woe betide any of her brood who dared sing out of tune or time. No unison singing for us either, that was much to easy. We used to assist our “sister” Chapel in the next village on special occasions. Whilst dad was alive we travelled by carriage and two lovely black horses, but he died when I was seven. The farm had to be sold, but we still lived in the village, and usually walked to places within three or four miles, did our singing and walked home again, having been royally fed and looked after by member s of the congregation.
Our farm adjoined Eggesford woods, which, stretched for miles. We had a field in the woods, where dad grew corn and potatoes. Occasionally we saw deer there, and if the Hunt chased the deer through cornfields, doing a lot of damage of course, we were compensated with a piece of venison. Not a fair return, but the Hunt was part of country life and accepted as such. In the woods we picked passes of bluebells and provided you knew where to go it was also possible to pick wild strawberries in abundance.
Our evening entertainment as children consisted mostly if singing around the piano or American organ, or playing Snap or Happy Families, whilst apples roasted on the open hearth fire. Sometimes dad played Happy Families with us. He would let us win until mother gave him a private signal, then he’d have every card out of our hands, and in no time at all we were tucked up in bed, at the end of another day.