Lapford’s first pleasure outings

Devon: a county with a heritage for pleasure tripping. The beach scene is a late Victorian photomechanical print of Barricane Shell Beach, Mortehoe.

Devon has long been a county for leisurely exploration. When Tristram Risdon was compiling his Survey of the County of Devon in the early C17, he gave a lyrical nod to the sightseer:

The traveller, whose imagination kindles the view of scenes

In those days, travelling for pleasure was the preserve of gentry, for whom leisure time was regarded as a right that differentiated them from the labouring classes. It would be another two hundred years before pleasure trips became commonly enjoyed by all.

The Arrival of a Queen

At the time of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837, Lapford was still something of a backwater in “Devon’s river country”. There were limited options for journeying to or from the village. Then, in 1843, came the regular sound of a horn and four galloping horses as The Queen coach began passing through Lapford Cross. The coach’s late-morning arrival from Barnstaple and mid-afternoon arrival from Exeter, probably helped to mark the time of day for those without timepieces. The Exeter-Barnstaple run took just over 3 hours, affording passengers the possibility of onward journeys to Ilfracombe and Lynton by evening.

The Queen conveniently connected with trains on the new railway between Exeter to Bristol. Bradshaw’s Guide called it “the cheapest, most direct, and expeditious route to North Devon”.

Within months there was a rival: The Ruby. With identical timetables, the two coaches raced along the turnpike, competing fiercely for custom.

Amongst those to use the coaches were sightseershardy, adventurers harbingers of a fledging tourist industry. The wild grandeur of the North Devon coast embodied Victorian romanticism. Its very remoteness was a lure … now that it was just a little more accessible!

Sightseeing was not something that would have concerned many Lapford villagers. There was little appetite for such frivolity and expense; long working days were a necessity to bring food to the table. Most villagers worked six days a week, and were expected to rest on the seventh (when coaches didn’t run). Holy Days provided a short break from labours, but these were often times of community gathering; it wasn’t common, or even polite, to ‘go away on a holy-day’. For most villagers, journeying was rarely more ambitious than a visit to a neighbouring parish by foot or by horse.

Ogilvie’s Train Excursions

The first train arrived in Lapford in 1854. Far from being a backwater, Lapford was now one of the few villages in the southwest that could boast a turnpike road and an “iron road”! The railway was the marvel of the age and a station in Lapford was undoubtedly a boon. However, many local people didn’t view the railway as a route for leisurely escape, but rather a solution to practical needs.

Robert Ogilvie, the first manager of the new North Devon line, set about broadening the horizons of those living along the route. He went to great lengths to attract more people onto the line for pleasure, laying on regular “excursion trains”.

Robert was the brother of engineers Patrick and Alexander Ogilvie who had resided in Lapfordwood House during the building of the North Devon line. Alexander had managed the day to day construction of the line (although credit went to his less retiring partner, Thomas Brassey). He went on to complete numerous grand construction projects around the world.

Within days of the railway’s grand opening in August 1854, the Exeter Flying Post happily announced: “We are glad to perceive that North Devon is to have the benefit of Cheap Excursion Trains”

The first advertised excursion was to Bristol Fair, promising to “afford the public a ride to Bristol and back on the same day, for the moderate sum of seven shillings.”

Robert Ogilvie hoped for an enthusiastic local response: “It being Bristol Fair great numbers from this vicinity are expected to avail themselves of the liberal boon, which it is hoped will be followed by others to Exeter and the South of Devon.”

Robert arranged excursions for the next eight years. Typical trips available from Lapford were:

  • Grand Fete at Powderham Park
  • SS Great Britain sea trials at Portland (then, the biggest ship ever built)
  • Bath and South West Agricultural Show
  • Handel Music Festival at Crystal Palace
  • Totnes Races
  • Nautical Excursion to Torquay
  • Plymouth Grand Fancy Fair
  • Naval salutes, celebrating 20 yrs of Victoria’s reign
  • Ascot Races
  • Various day trips to London

Fares were often heavily discounted to attract those on low incomes. Unfortunately, most labourers still had insufficient time-off to participate, but those who had the luxury of leisure time came on the excursions in their hundreds.

In June 1856, some 1500 people crowded onto a train for an excursion to the North Coast. On offer was a trip to Northam Burrow’s “wonderous pebble beach and other freaks of nature”. There was picnicking to the sound of Sandford Band, and a visit to Tapley Park with “archery, cricket, quoits and dancing”.

With time, more Lapford villagers were able to make use of the railway for pleasure. In 1871 came the introduction of four Bank Holidays enabling labourers to participate in day trips. In the 1890s workers gained a half-day holiday on a Saturday and the weekend was born! It would be another 40 years before the law required employers to offer a week’s paid holiday.

Robert Ogilvie (1815-1875) managed the North Devon line from its opening in 1854 until 1863 when he took charge of the construction of Portugal’s South Eastern Railway. He later became manager of a large section of the Central Argentine Railway from Rosario to Córdoba (pictured above in 18651). After leaving Lapford, his brother Alexander had constructed hundreds of miles of railway line across the Argentine, as well as in Britain. Robert retired to Pitts Farm, Chittlehampton, Devon close to the railway he helped to pioneer, and died there, aged 60. He is buried in Chittlehampton churchyard.

1Credit: G H Alfeld, Colección Museo Dr Julio Marc

Westward Ho!

In the same summer that Lapford got it railway, Charles Kingsley was in Bideford penning the opening lines to his new book, Westward Ho!, in which he describes “the delicious scenery of North Devon”

the hills close in, cushioned with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of fern-fringed slate; below they lower, and open more and more in softly rounded knolls, and fertile squares of red and green, till they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt-marshes, and rolling sand-hills, where Torridge joins her sister Taw, and both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell.

The swashbuckling book was an instant success and this opening lyrical description of North Devon did much to increase the number of visitors to the area.

Keen to cash in on this bonanza were a consortium of local gentry, chaired by the Earl of Portsmouth, who raised capital for a hotel near Northam Burrow’s pebble ridge. The Westward Ho!-tel was built in 1864 and the new tourist town of Westward Ho! followed, much to the disgust of Kingsley for whom the natural ridge had been a place of solitude. The sudden appeal of the North Devon coast brought train line extensions and branches, giving Lapford villagers easy access to a variety of North Devon towns. This was in addition to an array of southern towns and villages, via Exeter.

The following table provides a selection of Devon stations that could be accessed relatively easily from Lapford.

Train StationFromTo
Barnstaple, Exeter1854Current
Dawlish, Plymouth1854Current
Instow, Bideford
1855 1965
Torquay, Paignton1859Current
Woolacombe & Morthoe
Buddleigh Salterton18971967
Bude (Cornwall)18981966
Westward Ho!19011917

*Line fully reopening 2021

Table: expansion of the Devonshire railway network, showing popular stations that became accessible from Lapford.

The Charabanc

The french term char-à-banc meant, simply, ‘a coach with benches’. Horse-drawn charabancs were being used in Devon as early as the 1880’s for excursions to the county’s beauty spots.

By the early C20, the first motorised charabanc excursions were being advertised. A few passed through Lapford en route to Devon’s north coast. A beneficiary was the Yeo Vale Inn, near Lapford Cross, which became a stop-off point for light refreshments.

Before pneumatic tyres and tarmacadam, long trips were uncomfortable and relatively expensive. They were also slow with a 12mph speed limit (raised to 20mph in 1903). In the 1920’s, a return excursion from Exeter to Westward Ho! cost 8/6 for a 12 hour trip. Many preferred to travel by train to Barnstaple and there pick up a local charabanc.

Lapford train station offered villagers convenience, but go-anywhere charabancs became increasingly popular from the 1920s for group outings from the village, mirroring the new-found freedom and spirit of the time. Mr Leach of Morchard Bishop was one of the first in the area to have a charabanc for hire.

By way of example, the summer of 1927 saw at least four large outings from Lapford by charabancs: the annual outing of the Parish Church choir went to Lynton; members of the Girls Friendly Society spent a day Torquay and Paignton; the Congregational Sunday School travelled to Exmouth; and two charabanc were needed for the bellringers’ ringers outing to Torquay.

A Devon charabanc excursion, probably dating from the 1880’s. Charabancs were yet to be seen in Lapford but were easily assessable for those villagers able to afford it.
The Yeo Vale Hotel, Lapford ca.1925

Lapford Group Outings

Lapford Church Choir

The choir made occasional excursions to other churches and to competitions. In 1908 they sang a competition piece in Exeter Cathedral. Their earliest known pleasure excursion was a 1912 outing to Teignmouth (pictured above with organist, Mr Bishop, in the centre). The only annual outing for which a record exists is a charabanc excursion to Lynton in 1927.

Sunday School Outings

Separate annual outings were held for the Sunday Schools of St. Thomas’ Church, the Congregational Chapel and the Gospel Chapel. These outings had their origin in the tradition of “annual treats”gatherings, held by each Sunday School, typically with gifts of oranges and nuts, comical readings, games and singing. These continued until the early 1880s when the event was replaced by seaside trips (still known as the ‘annual treat’ until the word ‘outing’ came into common usage).

The earliest description of an outing by any Lapford group, was the visit by St. Thomas’ Sunday School to Exmouth on 14 July 1887, led by Rev. & Mrs Wilson and Mrs Croote. Lunch on the beach consisted of chicken and ham, veal pie, beef sandwiches, plum pudding, milk, and fruit.

Lunch was served at 2 o’clock on the beach, and at 5.30 the party partook of an excellent tea in the gardens adjoining the Coffee Tavern. An hour’s sail gave delight to the youngsters. The party returned to Lapford by the 7.45 train in excellent spirits.

Western Times – Friday 22 July 1887

By 1903, the party size had grown to 110, including parents and helpers. That year, the party dined at Thorn’s Hotel followed by sailing, rowing and games arranged by Lapford baker and grocer, Mr Barnes. Tea was served at the Exmouth Pleasure Grounds, probably in the tea room in the picture below.

Exmouth Pleasure Beach with swingboats, 1897

It is difficult to imagine just how magical simple seaside pleasures must have been for Lapford children at the time.

The Congregational Church Sunday School ‘treats’ were also large affairs. An outing to Teignmouth on 15 July 1913 involved about 100 children, teachers and friends. They joined a specially chartered train together with 400 others from Chulmleigh, Morchard Bishop, and Copplestone.

The earliest known Gospel Hall Sunday School Outing was to Teignmouth in 1939, although earlier outings are likely.

Each year the Sunday School outings of the three churches, together, involved a large percentage of the village and were eagerly anticipated events supported by village fund-raising.

The following is a list of known Sunday School outings from 1880-1940. These were annual events so there are clearly many gaps!

Congregational Church Sunday School
Exmouth1914, 1916, 1927, 1937
Teignmouth1928, 1939
St Thomas’ Church Sunday School
Exmouth1887, 1903, 1914, 1916
Gospel Hall Sunday School
Charabanc Outing from Lapford, 1927

Women’s Groups

The Girl’s Friendly Society
The “GFS” was established in 1875. It encouraged young women to follow a moral code and to provide mutual support. It was one of the first organisations to tackle the issues of women’s domestic abuse and homelessness. The organisation continues today.

Regular meetings are known to have taken place in Lapford from the 1890s to 1940s with regular trips out to meet members in other villages.

The Lapford GFS held annual outings. Two charabanc outings were reported in The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette:

  • Minehead (July 1929)
  • Wells Cathedral / Cheddar Gorge Caves (2 June 1937)

Women’s Unionist Association
Membership of this Conservative Party organisation for women surged in the 1920’s, including the formation of a Lapford branch c.1927. Roads had much improved by this time and the group’s annual outings explored further afield than had previously been possible. In 1932, a party of 19 went on a 225 mile day trip. They travelled via Bridport to Swanage for lunch; took tea in Weymouth; then, journeyed home via Lyme Regis. In 1937, their outing went further east to Bournemouth.

Mothers’ Union
Although Lapford had an active branch of the Mothers Union, the only recorded outing is a charabanc outing to Cornwall in 1932. Lunch was taken in Looe and tea in Plymouth.

1930s Swanage, Dorset. The outing of Lapford women may have made use of Linnington’s Hygienic Tents to enable some bathing in the sea.

Lapford Bellringers

The walls of Lapford’s ringing chamber are still lined from top to bottom with the historical record of the bellringing team’s competition successes around the county, dating from the 1920s to more modern times.

‘Call-change’ competition ringing is a Devon tradition initially made possible by the charabanc. In the 1920s call-change ringing was practiced in some 300 Devon Churches and the Lapford band were amongst the best. Prizes were seriously competed for and rivalries sometimes intense. The usual Devon test piece was “60 on thirds” and judged together with the raising and the lowering of the bells. Early ringing competitions, or ‘festivals’, were amongst the biggest Devon events of the day.

When the county competition came to Lapford in 1932, the normally quite street was awash with charabanc. The Malt Scoop staff served 250 luncheons and 400 teas in the Victory Hall.

Each piece lasted 18 mins and with 21 teams the competition was an all day affair with the last team not finishing until 9.30pm. Prizes were awarded about 10pm after which some teams faced a 5hr /60mile journey home.

It was the largest event staged within the village within memory at the time. Lapford’s highest ranking villager, Major-General Sir Arthur Gay, gave a speech before the competition began and many villagers were involved as helpers or came a spectators. William Partridge, of The Old Malt Scoop Inn, acted as competition timekeeper.

The Lapford team made regular trips by charabanc to competitions. On 16 June 1928, the omens were not looking good when one member of the team nearly missed the charabanc to South Tawton, and the ringer’s captain, William Snell, drew 13th in the competition order. However, it was to be one of teams greatest successes with Lapford lifting the £50 County Shield so large that there was only just enough room in the charabanc to transport it home.

Photograph above: Lapford Bellringers, 1927 with the ringers shield and winner’s certificate which still hangs in the ringing chamber today (Back row, left to right: Percy Westcott, Jim Stoneman, Frank Howard, Tom Westcott. Front row, left to right: Fred Spear, William Partridge, William Snell, Albie Castle)

The Lapford band had a well attended outing each year, often requiring more than one charabanc as villagers in general were invited for the ride. The 1927 outing went to Torquay “for boating, bathing and sea trips” with ringing enroute at Bovey Tracey and Moretonhampstead.

A Mass Gathering

On 30 June 1928, 3000 people from across the West Country went on pilgrimage to Glastonbury’s ruined abbey. The charabanc had made organisation of large events possible and a sea of them converged on the small Somerset town. Amongst the pilgrims was a party of 19 from Lapford, who reached the town in time for morning service after “a delightful ride”. The afternoon was spent seeing the town’s ancient sites, with Lapford’s rector, Rev. Altham Altham, 77, acting as “tor” guide!

At the time, Lapford was a High Church and Rev. Altham a life-long Anglo-Catholic campaigner. He had been one of a small group of rebel clergymen summoned to account in person to the Archbishop of Canterbury for giving communion to the sick in their own homes (a Catholic practice not allowed by the Anglican church). The Glastonbury pilgrimage was very much an Anglo-Catholic gathering and speakers called for unification of the Church of England and Catholic Churches.

After a 1s/6d tea in the Assembly Rooms, thousands lined the streets as a procession made its way to the ruins for an open air service. The charabanc ride home reached Lapford at 11pm.

They came in their thousands from the towns and remote village, of the West Country … although the days of sack-cloth and bare-footed austerity have given way to the comparative luxury of cars and charabanc.

Shepton Mallet Journal – Friday 06 July

Lapford School

Before WW2, children in the village rarely got to visit places out of the county. A city visit to London was as, then, a momentous experience and a complete change from the green rolling hills of home! Lapford School organised a number of well organised trips to London in the 1930s. The report below describes the outing of 1934.

The Holiday

By the 1930s, there was no longer a reliance on organised excursions to get away. It was more commonplace for families and individuals to get away under their own arrangements.

This article from the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette describes the Whitsuntide getaway from Exeter in 1930. It includes train ticket sales. For whatever reason, Lapford appears to have been a place to escape TO!

Record Whitsuntide for the Railways

EXETER – There was a general exodus from the city. Between noon and 5 o’clock the streets were almost deserted. The majority of citizens betook themselves to the seaside resorts, for which the Railway Companies provided ample facilities, while buses and motor cars and cycles conveyed thousands preferring the open road method of travel. Whitsuntide rail bookings established a record. Altogether over 16,000 people availed themselves of these services.

Details the bookings:

From Exeter Queen Street
(now Exeter Central)
Exmouth, 6149
Barnstaple, 18
Bideford, 11
Bridestowe, 44
Bude, 8
Budleigh Salterton, 150
Ilfracombe, 53
Lapford, 424
Lynton, 11
Okehampton. 42
Tavistock, 8
and Bournemouth, 424

From Exeter St. David’s
Dawlish, 600
The Warren, 900
Teignmouth, 1,400
Torquay & Paignton, 500
Plymouth, 70
Newton Abbot, 50
Bristol, 26
Weston, 80
Burnham, 15
Taunton, 100
Teign Valley, 56
River Dart, 49
Buckfastleigh, 60

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