BBC Radio Devon first went on the air in January 1983 under the name Devon County Radio.

The opening of Devon County Radio, 17 January 1983.

One of the station’s very early broadcasts was a 15-minute feature on Lapford village in which reporter Chris Smith talked to a selected group of villagers. Chris would go on to visit more than a hundred villages, and his weekly ‘Village Profiles’ became a popular feature of the station.

Lapford’s profile was recorded over forty years old, but a few of the reminiscences captured date back more than a century. Included is a rare recording of a true Lapford accent: that of 95-year-old Noah Rounsefell who was born in the village in 1887 — the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the patenting of Hovis bread and the laying of the foundations of the Eiffel tower! His recollection of Edwardian Lapford in the days of Poor Law is believed to be the oldest recorded memory of the village.

Below is a transcript of the recording, with Chris’s questions in bold.

Chris Smith

The Twinning Association

Marilyn Saunders

Bonds between Lapford and its twin village were particularly strong around the time of this interview, with frequent twinning visits. The interviewer quickly discovered that the two villages shared a common interest in apple-based drinks! Twinning activities continue today, albeit on a less frequent basis

Tell me a little about the village’s twinning with a French village.

It’s twinned with a village called Grainville-Langannerie in Calvados.

Well, I won’t attempt to repeat that! But I’ve heard of Calvados. That’s a drink, isn’t it?

That’s right. It’s a sort of liqueur made out of cider.

So, you take Devon cider over there and they bring Calvados over here, do they? Or what’s the idea?

Yes, that’s the idea, and also to promote friendship between the two countries, and also get to know how France lives as compared to us.

So, children from Lapford go over there, or adults as well, and they come over here, do they?

It’s normally a school visit from the primary school children. Our children go there once a year, and also there is a visit with adults and families.

The church of St. Etienne between the hamlets of Grainville and Langannerie, Calvados

The Railway, Lapford Shopping Facilities

Edgar Bragg

Edgar, I noticed as I came through the village that there is a British Rail Railway Station there. Is that open and working?

Yes, it does still exist for the benefit of the public, but the train service isn’t particularly frequent. All the trains, I think, only stop at the request of the perfected passengers

And that’s on the Exeter to Barnstaple line, is it?

Yes. That’s right, yes.

You seem very well catered for in terms of shops and shopping facilities here. Why is that?

I think that’s a matter of opinion really – whether it’s well catered for? A lot of people still go off to Crediton or to Exeter for their shopping facility, but I think that it is possible to get something, and almost everything, here in the village.

The Village Hall, Village Doctors

Marilyn Saunders

Marilyn, there’s some work going on in the village hall now, isn’t there?

Yes. There is at the moment. The hall itself is being extended to provide a new kitchen and also a surgery for the doctors.

What facility did he use before then?

Well, at the moment there’s a surgery two mornings a week in a private house. Well, obviously, this situation isn’t ideal, so the village set out to provide a special room for the doctors to use.

And he visits Lapford from where? From Credition?

It’s a group of doctors in Chulmleigh, from the Chulmleigh Health Centre.

Prior to 1982/3 doctors’ surgeries were held twice a week in a house in Park Street, before being moved to a dedicated room in Victory Hall.

Ambrosia Milk Factory

Edgar Bragg

Edgar, you mentioned the Milk Factory earlier on. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Well, yes, the Ambrosia Milk Factory used to be the centre of all local industry. Villages round and about Lapford grew up on the industry that was provided at the Ambrosia factory.

So it must have been a big employer as well

I think at its peak there were between two and three hundred personnel employed there.

You say at its peak. It no longer exists – no longer is open?

No, not as a factory. There are some activities going on. Nothing to do with milk collection or production.

So what happened?

In the early seventies Ambrosia Company, having another factory at Lifton, decided they would modernise and improve – rebuild I think – their factory at Lifton. Which they did. And then transferred all their manufacturing facilities from Lapford to Lifton with the consequence that the work was no longer available here at Lapford.

It must have been quite devastating for the village. What did people do?

It was actually. It was a shock to the village to hear that the factory was about to be closed. Some transferred their employment. Some travelled as far as Lifton. And I believe some have, right up until this present day, been travelling to Lifton to work.

And how far away is that?

Oh, about thirty miles, at least.

Ambrosia Milk Factory

Mabel Clarke

Mabel Clarke, you used to work at the milk factory here. What was your job?

Oh, I was supervisor of the female staff.

And how long ago was that? When did you start that?

I started here in June 1930.

And the factory must have been very different then?

Well, it was hardly a factory in those days. It was just a country creamery there was staff at that time of about two dozen girls and, of course, from then on it increased.

Living Conditions

Mabel Clarke

What were living conditions like when you first moved down here to work?

Oh, very different from what they are like today – quite spartan, in fact. Extremely cold. Ice in the water jug in the mornings.

Where did you get the water from? Did you have main?

No. Pumps — water from pumps. Lamps and candles. Generally, none of what would be termed modern conveniences. But one coped.

You told me that you liked reading and that towards the end of the day you liked to relax with a book in bed. How did you read that?

By candlelight with gloves on!

Mabel Clarke pictured in 1971 shortly after her retirement from Ambrosia

Village Development, Community Spirit

Mabel Clarke

You were a parish councillor during that time. Have you noticed an increase in council houses or private house building?

Oh terrifically, in the years that I’ve been here.  Well, I counted them about fifteen years ago and they came to over two hundred extra houses in that time and I should say that there are between fifty and a hundred have been built since then. So, there must be between two and three hundred extra residences.

So, when you first came Lapford was a small old-world village, was it?

Oh yes, absolutely old-world. But now it’s not an old-world village. One person who came here to live (and then went away again) said they didn’t like it very much because they thought it was neither a village nor a town.

But do you think that that village spirit, if you like, still exists?

Oh yes, yes, because although it’s a much bigger place I think it’s amazing the really lovely social atmosphere that there is in this place. The church and the chapel and the gospel hall — they all unite together and there is no, sort of … oh, there is a much more united feeling about the whole place, I think.

Manning’s Milk Dairy (Lower Town Place)

Bill & Dorie Manning

Bill, you do a milk round don’t you?

Yes, that’s right and my sister does one as well.

You do one as well?

Oh yes. I do part of the village and a little bit of Morchard Bishop on the outskirts and around here.

And people can come to the dairy and collect milk as well can they?

Oh yes we leave the door so they can pick it if we are not around

So, Bill, how long have you been doing that?

I think we started as soon as we were big enough to carry a can! Somewhere about … well when we came to Lapford in 1925, and we’ve been selling milk ever since.

So you were farming before, producing your own milk, and now you are selling other people’s?

That’s right, yes.

So things must have changed a little bit since 1924-1925. I mean what’s the biggest change that you can remember?

In those days we used to deliver twice a day, and in the evening round in the winter time I used to take out a few cans of milk by the candle lantern. And, of course, now it’s all bottles and just one delivery a day.

Any memory from your time in Lapford from you?

Oh yes, I used to take the cans of milk too. I went to catch the train. I used to take a can of milk in my hand and drop them off as I went to school.

So you used to get the train to school?

Oh yes, the train to Crediton in those days, or the Exeter train, of course. But there’s one other thing that always intrigues me: years ago if a child was sickly they asked my dad to keep one can of milk for it. So, sure thing, we kept one calf’s milk separate for the sickly child, and it would be brought up one calf’s milk.

And was that a cure?

Oh sure! Nobody ever died! Of course, in those early days the great thing was to get the milk out to the customer while it was still warm, and then they knew it was fresh from the cow. They didn’t want milk from the previous milking.

Milk Bottle from the Manning Dairy at Lower Town Place

Lapford Revel

John Salter

John Salter – what is the Lapford Revel?

Basically, the Lapford Revel is an event for Lapford village people which we hold in July every year. It has been revived since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and it’s just a fun event really to keep the people of Lapford together as a community, and the same committee that ran the Silver Jubilee tend to have carried on. The final event of the Revel is on Sunday evening when the three churches in the locality get together in the parish church and have a Songs of Praise — the church being very full last year with school children taking part — and, I think, a very, very, good culmination to three days – three, four days – of good fun in the village, which we hope helps the community in Lapford.

Lapford Revel 1987

Origins of the name ‘Lapford’

Bill Manning

Bill, I think at school you were told why Lapford is called Lapford.

Well, the Reverend Bond, when he was vicar here, he came in and gave us a talk, and suggested how Lapford could have gained its name. He said, possibly a great big race of people used to live here …. and stepping stones across the river. Then, over the years, the stature of the people got smaller, and they had to leap from stone to stone. And so it became known as Leap-ford, later to become Lapford.

There are several theories on the derivation of the name ‘Lapford’. The struggles of short villagers in leaping across the river is one of the most amusing, but least likely! However, the name could derive from stepping stones (cf. Latin: Lappa), or from a stone river crossing — a Clapper bridge — derived from the same Latin root.

Lapford School Children Capture a Barrage Balloon

Edgar Bragg & Bill Manning

Edgar, tell me about the Lapford barrage balloon.

I do remember that, when I was at school – it was during the wartime, of course, and I think there had been a raid somewhere on a large town some distance away the night before — and, suddenly, someone saw a barrage balloon floating towards the school. And the headmaster then, he took us to have a look, and we could see a long wire rope trailing, and so we dashed off — a lot of the school children dashed off — and with the headmaster (and other teachers probably), and we all caught the rope and gradually captured the balloon. Tied the end of the rope to a tree.

What happened then, Bill? You were a member of the home guard – the Lapford Home Guard – I think?

Well, as far as I can remember there was a plane came over and shot it down after they captured it.

Narration: Well, after speaking to the assembled group, Chris’ last port of call in Lapford was on the village’s oldest resident — Noah

Listen, below, to a longer version of the story, recounted by Edgar Bragg to Noel Parry in 2000

Poor Law and the start of Old Age Pensions

Noah Rounsefell

A feature of the old Devon dialect is the frequent use of “yer zee” (you see). It can be heard in this recording of 95-year-old Noah Rounsefell, sometimes several times in a sentence. For ease of reading, the expression has been removed from the transcript below.

How old are you, Noah?

95 really but I’m halfway’s on to 96.  I shall be 96 if I live to July 5th
[Note: He did live to see his 96th birthday but died later that year]

And you’ve lived in Lapford all your life

All my life, aye.

What changes have you seen in Lapford?

To the old age pensioner [it]  made a lot of difference because we got the old Board of Guardians and used to deal out half-a-crowns to the old people. And then, when they had ten shillings (the old age pensions), the Conservative farmers kicked them around and then they were turned out of their cottages.

What happened: our MP, he was on the Board of Guardians for Okehampton, and what all a’sudden most of all the old people coming in there (there were bigger families then), they couldn’t take the old people. And then they were separated like sheep from the goats. The women went one way, and the men went the other and that was the beginning of the Old Age Pension Act. And then that made a vast difference it did.

Noah Rounsefell, taken during army leave in 1915

Noah’s recollection of a weekly half-a-crown payment to some of Lapford’s elderly residents probably dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, perhaps even to the end of the Victorian period, when such financial support was still under the ancient ‘Poor Law’ system and administered by a local Board of Guardians. Membership of the board was a powerful position, and it is not surprising that Noah remembered the participation of the Liberal MP George Lambert who was a staunch supporter of rural agricultural workers. George was the local MP for 49 years and was succeeded by his son, George jr, who was MP for a further 13 years.

The Poor Law Act of 1834 had intended to withdraw outdoor relief (support given outside a workhouse) except in carefully assessed cases of absolute destitution. However, by the turn of the century, it was clearly not uncommon for elderly persons with limited means to receive outdoor support of half a crown.

Noah describes the coin being ‘dealt out’, perhaps a little too freely for the liking of the local government board inspector who, in 1900, reported that some areas of Devon were supporting 50% more paupers than the national average1. His view was that Devon was not a particularly poverty-stricken county and that the high number of beneficiaries was down to inadequate checks by local administrators. He considered that the Boards of Guardians was being too generous!

Half-a-crown was the equivalent of £18 today. It was not enough to pay the rent for a room, let alone provide food and heating. Nevertheless, the inspector was concerned that the payment might “discourage thrift and independence”. He recommended that it should not be given to elderly men and women who might find a way of avoiding destitution; rather, payments should only be given to those shown to be destitute.

In reality, Devon’s agriculture was in decline and once-wealthy yeomen (referred to by Noah as ‘Conservative farmers’) became less able to be charitable in giving the elderly employment or cheap accommodation. As Noah points out, the amount of farm accommodation had become restricted as a result of an increase in the birth rate. These factors contributed to an increase in the number of elderly entering the workhouse and couples, some married for decades, could find themselves separated “like sheep from goats”.

When asked to name the biggest change that he had seen in Lapford, it is not surprising that Noah chooses the introduction of the 1908 Old Age Pensions Act which raised support from half-a-crown a week (2 shillings) to 5 shillings, and by 1919 to 10 shillings.

Before the National Health Service

Noah Rounsefell

And then they went on, before 1945, when Aneurin Bevan bought in the National — whatever you call it — Health, and that made a lot of difference.  We were finding the farm laborers paying the doctor’s bills –terrible. Very often they’d stay home and they didn’t have the doctor because they’d have got a bill

But now its quite different. If you feel not very well you go to the doctor and he lets you have some pills, and that saves pneumonia and all the rest of the diseases.  My mother mainly was ill. I used to take it on and then I’d become the [cattleman]?

This excerpt highlights the difficulties farm laborers faced in getting affordable medical help.

Farm Work

Noah Rounsefell

I used to work on the farm where we used to turn out. Every penny left the farm — that’s bullocks, sheep and pigs. Horse, he come home that he was sent down to the [see note]. They were never sold to nobody else you see.

Now they were fairly well paid in they days,  the farmers was. They used to … where I worked they used to have all their food in the dining room, but I never lived in the farmhouse. I used to come home to mother – ent too far.

Then, in about 1921, I was married — about 24. I used to start work half past six onwards til half-past five and there was no half a day after Saturday night – half-past five – and I carried home seven and sixpence to my mother. In the first few weeks… [inaudible/laughter] … half a crown.

Noah is recollecting his time working at Kelland Farm (before his marriage to Edith Peach) and Bury Farm (after his marriage). He grew up at Kelland Cottages (Labour-In-Vain), by the bridge into Lapford, then moved to nearby Bury Cottages, now Watersmeet Cottage, after his marriage.

Records show he was actually married in 1911, not 1921 as he remembered.

Noah describes selling horses to, what sounds like, “Porcupines”. Perhaps a colloquial name for the village slaughterhouse?

His final comment is unfortunately inaudible (due to laughter). The joke might, perhaps, be related to his pocketing the difference between half-crown, passed to his mother, and his actual wage of seven shillings and sixpence.

  1. North Devon Journal, Thursday 21 June 1900 []