Lapford, was, in many respects a self sufficient village in the early 19001s. Solidly based on agriculture, the many services needed to maintain a rural economy were available. The spiritual needs were taken care of by the Rector and the Minister. Medical care was by visiting doctors; Doctors Tucker and Hanson from Chulmleigh and Doctor Pratt from Morchard Bishop. All the Doctors used horse transport on their weekly visits and I have often seen a roadside consultation in progress, with the Doctor sitting on the saddle and his patient holding on to a stirrup. Such home nursing as was needed would be taken care of within the family or by a friendly neighbour.
The services of the veterinary surgeon were only called for infrequently, as farmers could usually care for their own animals. The call for the services of solicitors architects, accountants and of other professional men was also limited, and Crediton or Exeter could supply any such need. The general shop, near the Church supplied general groceries and foodstuffs, drapery, haberdashery, boots and shoes, end ironmongery. Burning oil for use in reading lamps – the main method of illumination – plus candles. At Christmas time Mr. Sanders would arrange a special display of toys and seasonal goods. The shop changed ownership over the years, those I remember were John Davy – Charles Sanders and Richard Goddard. Supply of butchers products by John Horwell – boot and shoe making, also saddlery Messrs. Northcott and Gibbings. George Moore for haulage and “Jimmy” Lee with his steam wagon. “Tom” Coneybeer for tailoring and dressmaking by the two Miss Martins. Rabbit trapping was almost the monopoly of the Rooks family of Chenson. Thatching of course by Northcott and my own family – Challice – for blacksmithing, farriery, agricultural machinery repairs, etc.
Ladies hairdressing as we know it today (1985) did not exist and men and boys were often attended to by someone in the family handy with the scissors. Abram Beale, a plough man, was one who would oblige on the payment of a few pence.
While Mr. Coneybeer was available for bespoke tailoring, it is, however true to say that the main supply of clothing for men and boys was the “ready made” purchased, often on credit, from the packman from Exeter or Crediton. Much of the clothing worn by small children was made, for economic reasons, by the mother or women of the family.
Hawkers, pedlars and other regular salesmen were welcome and useful parts of village life. One pedlar offered for sale such items as needles in packets, pins in sheets, buttons, hook and eyes and other similar merchandise. He also sold metal framed, oval lens spectacles at sixpence a pair. My grandparents always purchased their spectacles from this source, selection being by trial, and they were able, usually, to find a suitable pair.
Another regular salesman was an elderly blind man from Exeter selling packets of tea. He was accompanied by a boy who led him through the village, calling door to door. He found a ready sale for his tea. The blind salesman carried his stock in two large gladstone bags, partly supported by leather straps across his shoulder. A hard way to earn a living.
For supply of fish the village depended on fish-merchants from Exeter and at times of glut such fish as herring, mackerel and spratts could be bought quite cheaply. Such fruit as was not grown locally was supplied by hawkers, and as with fish, when such fruits as plums, cherries or strawberries were plentiful, prices were more attractive.
Most itinerant traders were welcomed, but not so the gipsy. Apart from the gipsy made clothes pegs, most gipsy wares were not good value or of much use.
The colporteur selling religious books, tracts, text cards was welcomed, as his reading material was relatively cheap and in many homes, apart from the newspaper, was the only reading matter that was available. There were no free public library services provided, and the few magazines and books that were passed on by the more affluent members of the local community were much read and appreciated.
No country village was without its regular tramps or wayfarers. These men – very rarely women – became well known and tolerated. The tramp lived up to his name and tramped over large areas of the county and indeed over the whole country, and would arrive fairly regularly, perhaps once or twice a year. The first one knew of the “gentleman’s” arrival would be a knock on the door, the production of a smoke blackened can, complete with a wire carrying handle and a request for hot water. A can of tea complete with milk and sugar and probably bread and cheese or meat. As it is said “It’s the poor who help the poor”, and no one was sent away empty handed
Another regular, the horse breaker, a specialist in horse training and control, could often be seen on the village roads, practising his somewhat risky profession. All horses are not naturally docile and will violently object to the saddle and harness. Training on the public highway being necessary, the horse breaker used a specially constructed trap, a strongly built vehicle with extra high wheels and a high seat for the breaker. From this high position a greater control of the horse by the use of the reins is possible, and should the animal in training “kick back”, the breaker was high enough on his seat to be clear of contact with the dangerous hooves.
Lapford Mill at Labour-In-Vain, a Grist Mill, was one of many such mina in the countryside. There were indeed similar grist mills at Bugford and at Nymet Bridge. The milling machinery was driven by water power, the mill wheel being rotated by the flow of water along the mill leat which obtains such water from ‘the weir pool at Bugford. The flow of water to and along the leat is controlled by a number of fenders across the leat channel. Lapford Mill was then a busy one, milling locally, grain, and producing animal feed and also flour for domestic use. The bulk of the grain processed was grown on local farms and after milling, used locally. The mill building Is of a much better design and Quality than of many village mills, however, the mill wheel aa3 gearing driving the rotating mill stones is of a traditional design. The mill wheel and gearing are largely constructed of wood and I have often assisted my father fit new wooden teeth to the gearing. The part of the mill in which the gearing is housed was to me a little frightening, dark and wet and with the noise of the water rushing by in the mill wheel well. I have often looked on when the mill stones were being “dressed” by re-cutting the grinding grooves to the correct depth, to compensate for wear. A special tool with a hardened steel cutting blade was used to chip away the granite of which the grinding millstones are made.
For those who needed to travel, the London and South Western Railway provided passenger services locally and nationally. During our childhood many of us only travelled by rail when being taken to the seaside for our annual Sunday School outing. A regular service of goods trains was also available, and many hundreds of cattle on the hoof as well as in carcase form were transported by these trains. Exeter on its Friday Market Day could expect an influx of country folk by rail as a cheap day return fare was available. However, to protect the public from high fares an Act of Parliament required the railway company to provide one passenger train each day on which the fare did not exceed one penny (old money) per mile. This train passed through Lapford Station at 2 p.m. and many villagers checked their clocks by the “Parly”.
Another dependable time check was obtained from the sound of the hooter at the North Tawton Woolen Mill at the start of the working day. For the carriage of passengers and bulk goods the railway was the main source, but as there was a need for the collection and delivery of smaller items between villages and also, say, Crediton and Exeter, the services of the country carrier were used. To meet this need, Mark Thomas, the Witheridge Carrier, every Friday morning, passed through’Iapford with his large covered waggon, hauled along by a pair of horses, harnessed abreast collecting parcels and goods for delivery at Exeter. Mr. Thomas as well as collecting and delivering, was also willing to shop and carry out errands. Written notes were often handed to him detailing the clients requirements. Mr. Thomas, on arrival at Lapford Station, packed the goods for Exeter into large wicker hampers to travel in the guards van of the train, and Mr. Thomas travelled with them. Meanwhile the horses and waggon were stabled at the Yeo Yale Hotel. At Exeter deliveries, collections and other commiss ions were being carried out. Returning to Lapford on the 6 p.m. train, deliveries were made and fees collected as Mark Thomas made his way home to Witheridge. All other communities on the route were also served. A weekly carrier operated a similar service to and from Crediton using a horse and trap, this was a useful service but not quite up to the Mark Thomas standard.
Lapford, like many country villages, with an economy based on agriculture, was a low wage area and living standards were generally depressed and simple. Many families were on or near the poverty line, and but for the fact that much of the food consumed was home grown, the feeding of the family would have been more difficult. Cash payments from the small wages received were, of course necessary when purchasing from the baker, butcher; grocer and other tradesmen. Rent, as far as the farm worker was concerned was not a problem, as most of their cottages were owned by the employing farmer and were “Tied”. The cottage rent was usually a part of the worker’s wage. Where a cottage was “Tied”, the worker had no security of tenure, and should he leave the employment of his employer – landlord, he had to vacate the cottage. Most villagers had good-sized gardens where vegetable and fruit was grown, and sometimes a pig as well as poultry was kept. Where a suitable piece of land was available, bee hives could often be seen. The honey and bees wax produced was more often sold to raise cash. Pork, bacon, rabbit, poultry, eggs and such wild birds as pigeons and rooks were often the meat content of the midday meal. Blackberries, nuts, herbs and, of course, the mushroom were a welcome bonus from mother nature. Home made wine from sloes, rhubarb, dandelion, parsnip and many other common fruits was often produced for home consumption. Farm produced cider was available locally, and many farm workers received a daily supply either as a part of the wage or as a bonus.
The clothing worn by ordinary men, women and children at this period is well illustrated in pictures and photographs of contemporary publications, and no words of mine are necessary. Working families did not, as a rule, resort to the bespoke tailor, but rather to the Exeter and Crediton shops supplying “ready mades” from the clothing factories. Representatives from the Exeter and Crediton Clothiers called, periodically, at village homes and with pattern books and tape measure in hand would canvass for and obtain orders. The measurements taken however, were not used for the making of the suit or costume, but just as a guide to the nearest size “off the peg” ready made. Any necessary alterations would be made to suit the individual person. Payment for the goods was often by credit, and the “tally man” would collect the cash instalment on a subsequent visit, usually monthly.
The footwear factories at Crediton and Okehampton supplemented the output of the local bootmaker by producing specialised boots of real leather for farm and country use. The boots from Okehampton were known as “Oakies” and were much in demand, even being more costly did not affect their popularity. The foregoing comments apply chiefly to mens and boys footwear but those womenfolk who were working on or around the farms found a substantial boot necessary. If for reasons of style – fashion – appearance other footwear was desired, then the shops of Exeter or Crediton were patronised.
Very few men or boys were to be seen not wearing some form of head gear and for work and general wear the cloth cap was mostly favoured. Some men, however, favoured the “bowler hat” for general wear, but this type of head gear was more often seen on formal occasions. Horsemen and women often wore the “bowler” as a form of head protection should they be thrown from the saddle. Elderly men often wore the “box hat”. This hat is a cross between the bowler and the top hat. Winston Churchill favoured this type of head gear as did my own grandfather – William Challice. The top hat once worn by both men and boys in, say, the time of Charles Dickens, was by now only seen on special or society occasions. The straw boater was essentially for dry and hot summer casual and sporting (games) occasions. Being of light weight a safety cord was often used, fixed to the rim of the hat and to the coat lapel. Close fitting bonnets were to be seen being worn by elderly ladies, trimmed with either sequins, beads, feathers, flowers or ribbons. Ribbon ties under the chin were used to secure. The description of ladies head dress in general; is, I think better left to available illustrations and descriptions of the times under review.
In our family it was at Whitsuntide that any necessary new clothing considered to be required was purchased, the casual renewal of apparel, except in an emergency was prohibited by the state of the family budget.
One exception would be the death of a member of the family. In this event to “go into mourning” and wear black clothing was considered essential and proper. The local tailor and dressmaker and Exeter and Crediton clothiers could be relied on to very quickly produce the required black garments.