In the mid-C18, Lapford was a remote community reliant on riverways and the Crediton-Barnstaple packhorse route for the transportation of goods. Out of necessity, it was largely self-sufficient.
The packhorse route passed through the northern part of the parish, a mile from the village centre, but it originally fell outside the jurisdiction of either the Barnstaple or Exeter Turnpike Trusts and in 1769 was described as “ruinous”. Some improvements came enabling the passage of wheeled vehicles to the village, but only with great difficulty in wet conditions.
Then, in 1830, came a major change! A new turnpike road through the flat Taw valley vastly improved Lapford’s connections with the towns of Crediton, Barnstaple and, South Molton, as well as the ports of Exeter and Bideford. Less than a hundred years later, Chevrolet lorries were bringing 1500 gallons of milk a day to the village’s creamery and The Yeo Vale Inn was a popular stop-off venue for those enjoying pleasure trips to Devon’s north coast.
Changes in the use of Lapford’s roads between 1830-1930 were rapid and not without incident. The following 25 tales—some amusing, some tragic—capture something of the impact of the ‘road revolution’ on the lives of Lapford villagers from the days of pack horses to the halcyon days of motoring.
The Carter & the Baronet
Was a Lapford carter unfairly fined for driving without reigns?
Irreverent Road Rage
Rev John Radford’s attempted stabbing of a toll-house keeper + four other turnpike tales involving Lapford’s notorious parson.
A Birthday Invitation
The river crossing to Lapford was once notoriously dangerous. The low sides left many users nervous of a fall to the River Yeo below. The bridge became the scene of the village’s first reported road fatality.
The final days of Lapford’s lamentable bridge.
A Meals on Wheels Misfortune
Lapford’s earliest recorded vehicle accident occurred during a food delivery to harvest workers.
The Perjure of a Fallen Jockey
Was alleged damage to a prize racehorse Lapford’s first false road accident claim?
A Case of Fowl Play?
A play-time fatality shocks the village. Was it Lapford’s first hit and run incident?
Now You See It!
The showman who provided many with their first magical memory of a motor-car.
Eggesford Estate: Driven to Failure
The Red Earl, his motoring and the demise of his Devon Estate.
Catching the Road Hog
Before radar, speedometers and police cars how did the village constable stop speeding motorists .. and who was the first?
Rule of the Road
Lapford’s first collision between two vehicles. Before car insurance, how was it decided who should pay?
The Sound of Progress
Lapford’s first reported motorcycle incident.
A Hand in Her Own Death
Mrs Densham’s tragic fall onto the river bed at Lapford Mill bridge.
Horse v Car
The amusing court hearing between the owner of a Daimler and a Lapford carter.
A Complete Pig’s Ear
The merry labourer’s wife who made an unfortunate error after bringing her pig to Lapford.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
A runaway car in the village centre shocks parents.
The first taxi service arrives in Lapford. Driver Jack Brayley offered service with a smile despite a sad past. In Lapford, he struck up a friendship with The Honorable Norah McGarel-Groves, a Baron’s daughter going through her own troubled time.
Plague of The Saints
A charabanc accident in Lapford compounded a football team’s miserable season.
As the number of motor vehicles increases, a number of blackspots emerge in the village.
The annual harvest involved many families. It was not without danger.
Caught by a Pocket Watch
Lapford’s new telephone system enables the village constable to make a novel arrest.