Devon – Tales of Charity, Temperance, Drunkenness and Arson.

The Market House Bampton

 

If a building could speak, you may be easily forgiven for concluding that the stories that this one would tell reveal our town as a national centre for pyromania and crapulence! An amble through the archived newspaper reports between 1818 and 1945 reveals the word fire listed 113 and drunk 157 times¹. For quite a while the struggles between the judiciary, church and Temperance Movement on one side and the work-hard-play-hard class on the other, raged, or perhaps tottered aggressively around the building. Incidences of fire, even arson, sometimes with explosively disastrous results, rattled around the square.   But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back the library and Manor Room.

 

In March 2017 our library in Bampton moved into what the Exeter Daily described as “its new, spacious and bright location within the Library and Resource Centre, Old Schoolroom” leaving its old premises in Newton Square. It was opened by MP Neil Parish and Julie Dent, Chair of the Board of trustees of Libraries Unlimited, the charity responsible for the running of Devon’s Library services, following years of determined work by Janet Crabtree and others. Naomi (Signpost editor) suggested that it may be of interest to explore the history of the old location in recognition of this milestone and so began some research into the Market House, whose upstairs is known as the Manor Room. This venerable old building has been at the centre of our town for centuries and could it speak, would surely tell some compelling tales of the history of Bampton. This is what I aimed to uncover, to trace the history of the building and put its many years into some local historical context. The Market House stands at the apex of the division of the one-way roads (Back Street and Fore Street) in the old market square (Newton Square) and has done so since 1798. So it predates by thirty years the time when in 1828 “Great praise” was given in the press “to the owners, occupiers of land, and inhabitants of Bampton, who, to forward the views of the post-office, and in expectation of a mail through Tiverton to that village, have subscribed handsomely to erect a bridge, of Bampton stone, over the Batherum”¹.   The Market House also bore witness the momentous event of 1884 when the railway came to town: “the streets were made gay with bunting … a public luncheon was held in a marquee in Fair Park, the Vicar (the Rev. O.C. Wright) presiding. Mr. T.R. Densham said that when the Act of Parliament was passed giving power to construct the line it was thought that it would never be carried into effect; but now it was completed it was for the tradespeople of Bampton to make it a benefit to the town.” ¹

 

Between times, namely 1828 and 1884, interestingly there are 29 reported prosecutions for drunkenness of one sort or another.   They range from Sergeant Rowsen’s arrest of fellow officer Constable Slee for neglect of duty (the latter being discovered drunk in the White Horse), through Robert Thomas, an elderly, “respectable-looking gentleman” who was charged with being “drunk and riotous”¹, through to the unfortunate William Copp. For the crime of drunkenness, Sergeant Crabb placed him in the stocks. It was April 1862 and they had not been used for years. “The poor wretch remained in them for six hours, during which time he was visited by nearly all the inhabitants of the town, it being many years since they were delighted by such a moral and enlightened scene.”¹ The very same stocks can still be seen in the church today. These vagabonds and others, like James Webber (1864 – being drunk and assaulting P.C. Ward), John Mortimore (1864 – drunk and disorderly), James Land (1864 – being drunk and riotous) started to bring about a backlash. 1864 was a bad year to be a drunk in around here. The judge had convicted Land before: “Drunken and riotous conduct had increased to such an extent in Bampton, that he wished the defendant to be made an example of, in order to put a stop to it. The bench said that as a fine seemed to have had no effect, they should send him to prison for seven days with hard labour.

Defendant: ‘Thank’ee, Sir.’”¹

Richard Tackle was the last conviction for drunkenness in 1864. By August 1865 tensions between the police and local population came to a head when it was reported that: “The police force, those members thereof stationed at Bampton, seem to have drawn upon themselves the odium of the entire population of the place. This feeling of dislike and dissatisfaction has long been smouldering, receiving augmentation from time to time by various acts of indiscretion, officiousness, or unnecessary severity on the part of police officers, at the head and front of which Sergeant Lamacraft has figured, until the 25th of last month, when it came to an open and unequivocal demonstration. The occasion was, as our readers are aware, the dismissal of the summons against Mr. Bowden, of the Castle Inn, for keeping open after hours, taken out by the police. Something very much resembling a riot then took place, several of the windows of the police station being broken.” ¹ And so we continue until the emergence of the Temperance Movement in the town in 1868. In the first three months of that year over one hundred citizens signed the pledge. Lectures by noted temperance orators were attended, while at the trial of one offender (the aptly-named William Brewer), Justice Wald raged: “There is scarcely a session but there was a case from Bampton for drunken and disorderly conduct. It was always Bampton! Bampton! Drunk! Drunk!“ And in a letter to The Daily Western Times in 1876 a despairing correspondent wrote of Bampton to the editor: “There are nine public houses in it, and drunkenness and vice abound. The respectable inhabitants are continually annoyed by drunken rows, and then those who commit them are taken up by the police. The Tiverton magistrates let them off with a small fine, which they get paid at once though their wives and children complain of being nearly starved, beaten etc…Last week a notorious character who had been 13 times convicted was fined only £1, and these men defy the police as they do not care for a fine. Surely the magistrates can scarcely desire to encourage drunkenness, poaching &c., and yet, owing to their lenience, such things go on unchecked, and it is a disgrace to civilised society, calling itself Christian, that it should be so.”¹ In reply to this outburst, Richard Trapnell (1877 – drunk whilst in charge of a horse and cart), Harry Huxtable Attwater (1877 – a young man, respectably connected), George Tarr, Samuel Strong (shoemaker), John Wensley and eight others graced the pages of the press for their bibulous over-enthusiasm of one sort or another. Even an Archdeacon and three other respected ministers of the Established Church were challenged by a publican and accused of being drunken imposters dressed up in the garb of the Church of England who were responsible for pick-pocketing funds from him. There would be another fifteen cases before the magistrates by the turn of the 20th Century. Between 1828 and 1884 the windows of the Market House may easily have been red and bloodshot, just from the fumes on the breath of the townsfolk below! If it had ears, they would be ringing from riots, bawdiness, indignant moral outbursts, the drunken shushed ‘shwhisperings’ of wife-beating, children-starving poachers; or maybe even the screech of the tyres of William Surridge Bryant, summonsed in 1897 for “furious driving” in Newton Square, having been spotted by the sharp-eyed Constable P.S. King at the incredible breakneck speed of “ten or twelve miles and hour”. The case was dismissed. The Market House could almost have given an audible sigh of relief.

 

Originally the building was used as a booth for the Lord of the Manor or his steward to collect sales tax, tolls and fines related to the market and Charter Fair: a task somewhat eased by the complexity of rules which must have designed simply to supply a regular income to the Lord. Traders could be fined twice their daily takings if they sold anything after the fair had closed, or fined for collecting goods, which would later be offered for sale, on the way to the fair. The Lord of the Manor also presided over the Pieds Poudreux Court (“dusty feet” courts, known as ”Pie Powder Courts” due to the speed with which they dispensed justice in such cases). ² Imagine the Manor Room, sitting above an arched tollbooth open to the elements, like some gargantuan, loaded slot-machine, standing on its stone legs, where the wheels of justice spun and the winner was usually the Lord of the Manor. He pulled the lever. It was his machine, his courtroom, and he collected the fines.

 

A market house was in existence, near the church and with a garden attached, in 1673.  It is mentioned in the indenture concerning a nearby house sale. This then, could not have stood on the building’s current site.³   In 1777, a “malicious and evil disposed” ⁴ man, by the name of George Cockram, destroyed a house belonging to Henry Arthur Fellowes, whose action against him would have ruined his family had George not agreed to pay suit. A market house was rebuilt at his cost. But why did he do it? And how? By 1790 the market booth was moved to the Manor Room. This may, or may not have been the building with which we are concerned. If it was, then it must have been rebuilt some twenty years later in 1798, according to the plaque. In 1872 it was earmarked to become a reading room and library. The Public Library came into being in 1876. It came about as a result of the will of the Rev. Edward Langton who had been born in Bampton before emigrating to South Africa and consisted largely of his collection of theological texts. The Market House was used for the distribution of meat (later meat vouchers) to the poor around Christmas time.³ In 1885, “About six hundred pounds of beef was distributed to the poorer parishioners of this parish on Thursday. The Rev. O.C. Wright (vicar), Mr J.C. Rockett (church warden) and Dr. T.A. Guiness attended at the Market House distributing the tickets, and Mr. Richard Vicary supplied the beef in his usual satisfactory manner.”¹   You may still pay your respects to members of the Vicary family in the churchyard.

 

The School Board were holding meetings in the Market House up until 1886, when its use to them was rescinded as a result of them having decided no longer to pay the shilling fee to the vicar. The Chair of the School Board “asserted that all through the controversy there had been attempts to force the supremacy of the Church and the Lord of the Manor over the Local Board.”¹

 

The Manor Room was used for monthly meetings of the Bampton Urban District Council in 1915, when the Medical Officer of Health reported the prevalence of influenza in the parish – the beginnings of the worldwide pandemic which would kill an estimated 20 to 50 million victims by 1919.  In 1935, repairs to the building revealed the plaque, still to be seen there today.¹ PlaqueThis ascribes the building to the Hon. Fellowes, Lord of Ye Hundreds, and the builders themselves are listed as H. Spurway and John Foxford (Steward).

 

It was also noted that two butchers, Mr. Gibbings and Mr. Sayer had formerly sold meat from the arches (by this time bricked-up). The library upstairs now, below it the arches had been converted to a room and a chimney added. So, up until that time, it would seem, the bottom was open to the outside via arches, rather than being a room as such.

 

By the late 1950’s there was a fish and chip shop downstairs which closed in 1991, when the library moved downstairs. As far as we know, there was never a serious fire at this chip shop, which leaves the Market House unusually un-scarred for a building in the centre of Bampton. But if this building had lungs, then they would surely be smoke-damaged. Let us forget for a moment ominous phrases like, ”is supposed to be the work of an incendiary” or “ the property had been insured about a fortnight,”¹ as well as the other conflagrations of some twenty other houses, shops, farms and “valuable hay ricks” and so forth around Bampton from the archives and concentrate on the blazes within Newton Square itself, right under the nose, as it were, of the Market house. In September 1851 the nearby churchyard was ablaze, “which entirely consumed five dwelling-houses and outbuildings.”¹ The state of the thatch made the fire hard to control. The premises next to the Angel Inn, the building which is now the Chemist’s and Rex Serenger’s old ironmongery, was destroyed along with the stables for the Inn, where it began, in 1887. The stables were reported to be frequented by customers and a careless throw away of a fuzee (large-headed match which stayed alight in the wind) was suspected.

 

The explosion took place in 1903. On a quiet Sunday it destroyed a shop and stores as well as a coach house, scattering skywards stones, glass and timber, and being heard two and a half miles away. It shattered windows at a distance of 100 yards. Stores of explosives were kept in the wheelwright’s to which the fire had spread. Just two years later Back Street was witness to yet another fire, in the stables. The owner had left a lighted lamp in there. He was burnt trying to rescue his two horses, both of which died.   In the same year, 1905, the Co-Operative Stores were completely destroyed by fire along with its Christmas stock. Then in the winter of 1946-7 the bakery caught fire. The Book of Bampton tells the harrowing tale of the author’s own experience when in 1988 the Spar Stores in Newton Square became the latest victim of fire. Caroline Seward recounts how the family business was destroyed and a friend arriving the next day for a visit declared “You always give me a warm welcome, but don’t you think you’ve gone a bit far this time?”² The Market House had a good chuckle at that one.

 

The Manor Room was used as an office for management consultants Anstey Barton between 2000 and 2008. An Employment Land Survey by Mid-Devon Council lamented the loss of employment land in 2011-12. It was to be used as a residential property. Anstey Barton director, Colin Sainsbury, tells of the locals’ assertion that it had formerly been used as a sewing room as well as for the storage of animal feed.⁵ He also recounts tales of a lorry having gone out of control and running into the fish and chip shop downstairs. No record of this can be traced, although this may have been a half-memory of an event which did occur in 1903; a traction engine became detached from its tender which ran down the hill, smashing into a shop in Newton Square, and “stones were sent rolling for a considerable distance”.¹ It is possible that some of these could have struck the market house. Mr Sainsbury rented the premises from Rex Serenger, who ran the village shop and petrol pump. This is now the chemist/laundry. Rex actually ran the petrol pump at a loss because he believed it was a service to the local community. Serenger’s grandfather, Ernest, had set up the ironmongery in 1880 and his father was killed at the Somme in 1916. Please take a look at the War Memorial. Out of a population of 1600 people, 300 men from Bampton went to fight in the Great War. Anstey Barton moved out when, with no children to pass it on to, Rex Serenger passed away in 2008.

 

In 2015, The Manor Room was home to convicted paedophile Joseph McCogan. This notoriously cruel man was jailed for 238 years, longer than the lifetime of the Market House, for his horrific crimes and was placed here after being released early, only to be discovered and forced to move away. A Facebook post which revealed his identity and address was shared over 3000 times leading to angry confrontations in the street.⁶

 

In March 2017, the library left The Market House. Both floors now left empty, the building stands still for once, perhaps to take a breather from the hurly-burly follies of events unfolding all around and spend a few quiet moments contemplating its long past. Perhaps even wondering what events will unfold during the next two centuries of its existence.

 

References:

  1. http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/Bampton/News1818
  2. The Book of Bampton, Caroline Seward, Halsgrove 1998
  3. Personal correspondence with (and thanks to) Tom McManamon and Humphrey Berridge http://www.bampton.org.uk/index.html
  4. Sherborne & Yeovil Mercury, 29th December 1777
  5. Personal correspondence with (and thanks to) Colin Sainsbury CMC FIC, director of Anstey Barton Ltd
  6. Mail Online, 15th December 2015
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