In the 1920s, as the number of cars on roads increased, a number of locations emerged where accidents appeared to be occurring frequently. These were initially termed “dangerous corners”, the term “blackspot” coming into common usage sometime later. Junctions, that had long been used by horse drawn vehicles without incident, were no longer safe for faster motor vehicles. Devon’s high hedges were a particular local issue.
Making these emerging blackspots safer was not a straight forward matter. There was little money available for road maintenance, let alone safety improvement schemes. Local, district and county councils regularly argued as to who should pay for safety works.
Several places in Lapford parish were labelled as ‘dangerous corners’ in the local press.
In 1925, The Western Times reported:
There have been many mishaps on this crossing and something should be done to open out the entrances.
This followed Lapford’s first reported multicar accident on 18 March 1925. A car travelling at speed down Kelland hill failed to stop, hitting the car of Dr Wilson who was travelling on the A377 towards Exeter. In trying to avoid the collision, Dr Wilson hit the car of Hetty and Hester Clarke who had pulled out from Lapford onto the main road. The sisters were daughters of William Clarke, former head of Lapford Collegiate School. They lived with their retired father in one of the old school buildings, Laburnums (now Bromstone Cottage). Hester was thrown from the car into a hedge, whilst Hetty escaped with a torn cuff to her coat. The Western Times reporter considered it “a miracle that no one was hurt”.
Four months later, there was another accident at the cross. Herbert Molland and his young family were returning from Lapford to Westcott, Coldridge, when their car collided with a van driven by Mr. C. H. Davy of Chittlehampton. The van had to be towed away. The Western Times again expressed concerns about the safety of the Lapford Cross junction
Fears are often expressed that a fatality will occur at this crossway at some time. The road out the village is an absolutely blind entrance.
Later that year, the safety of the junction finally came up for discussion at a District Council meeting. It was agreed to fund just £25 towards improvements with the Ministry of Transport and/or District Council having to agree to fund the rest. The junction at nearby Bury Cross was also discussed. The AA had lobbied for a warning sign and this was agreed to, but the council refused to fund any improvement believing this was “largely” the affair of the County Council.
At Forches Cross, the highest point in Lapford parish, stood a 15 foot high hedge. It was a windy spot, and the hedge provided a windbreak to an orchard (this was probably the orchard in grounds of the former Barnstaple Inn at Lower Forches).
In 1926, Rev Henry Hodgson of Worlington, wrote to the District Council requesting the removal of the “highly-dangerous obstruction”. The rector had good reason to be safety conscious, having been crippled for life in 1913 by a Boer Artillery Shell that exploded in his own home. For years he had been using the shell as a door stop.
The District Council had previously ordered the hedge to be cut, but had dropped the request after the owner threatened to exercise their right to compensation. (At the time, Lower Forches was owned by Samuel Butt, a retired policeman).
Following Rev Hodgson’s complaint, the matter was discussed again by the council. They considered it to be “safe enough if people take reasonable care”. One council member commented: “we can’t make our roads as safe as Brooklands track” (then, the only motor racing track in Britain).
At the top of Mill Hill, the main road to the village takes a sharp right turn in front of Barris House. The 90° turn on an incline had never been easy but, in the age of motoring, it aquired the label of a ‘dangerous corner’.
The first recorded accident here was on the afternoon of 22 June 1928. Frank Hutchings was travelling downhill from Court Barton in a horse and trap when he collided with a motor-cyclist going to the Victory Hall. Somewhat unusually for the time, the motorcyclist was female: Miss Crispen of Sandford. She badly injured her face, loosing several teeth.
From a stationary position, horse-drawn vehicles could be slow to get moving. Extreme caution was therefore needed at crossroads to avoid collisions with motor-vehicles. A particular accident blackspot was Stopgate Cross just outside the parish at the intersection of the Lapford-Zeal Monochorum and Exeter-Torrington Roads. Here, a tall hedge made it impossible for vehicles travelling from Zeal Monochorum to see traffic approaching from the left. Horses had to be edged into the junction in the hope of being seen.
On the evening of Saturday, 25 May 1929, Harry Clift was motorcycling from Bideford to Exeter at nightfall. He worked as a chemist’s dispenser in the Boots store in Bideford, but at weekends he often made the journey passed Stopgate Cross to his parents in Exeter. On this particular journey, a pony and trap travelling from Zeal Monochorum to Lapford, came out into his path from behind the hedge. It had no lights. Harry saw the obstacle in his path too late and hit the pony. He was thrown forward and suffered severe head wounds. 24-year-old Harry died the following day.
The trap was being driven by 18-year old Sydney Rice, a labourer, from Lapford. Mr Partridge, who owned the trap, was a passenger and broke his wrist as the trap rolled over. (This may have been William Partridge of The Malt Scoop Inn)
At a hearing into the accident, the jury were told that Sydney had not seen or heard the motorcycle until the moment his pony was struck. Court cases still tended to be biased against motor vehicles. In this particular case there was a view that Harry should have heard the cart over the noise of his engine because the road was old causing the cart to rattle! It was judged that Harry’s death was accidental, but a recommendation was made that the hedge owner should take steps to make the spot less dangerous.
Old School Corner
Another location labelled as a ‘dangerous corner’ was Old School Corner, in the village centre.
On 07 June 1930, a farmer, James Turner, of Parsonage Farm, was carrying milk down through the village to the Ambrosia factory in the valley. As his horse and trap approached Homeleigh (now The Old School House), he swung to the right into Old School Corner just as a car, driven by Mrs Phillips of Coldridge, was approaching in the opposite direction.
James’ horse bolted on seeing the sudden appearance of a car, and James was thrown forward onto the shafts of his trap. The horse dashed down the hill and jumped the hedge at Barris Corner. Fortunately, the trap had been left behind but poor James had suffered a fractured leg.
First Aid was given by Sid Boatfield of Vine Cottage and by the rector, Rev Altham of Highfield House. Dr Bush attended and James was taken to Exeter Hospital in a van belonging to Harry Sanders.