Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”

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The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.

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Appledore, North Devon.

Earlier this month (7th) I posted a short item about the Old Tower at Lynmouth and quoted from a book called The North Devon Coast by Edwardian travel writer Charles G. Harper. This is such an interesting book, written in a comparatively ‘modern’ style for the period, that I’ll dip into it from time to time as matching images are added to ‘the collection’.

Appledore

Appledore, situated on rising and woody ground on the banks of the Torridge, is a pretty and picturesque old hamlet, with a considerable coasting trade of its own. Salmon-fishing is to be had here from May to September, and plenty of barges are still built in the old shipyards at the water’s edge.
[Tuck’s Oilette postcard c.1906. From a painting by H.B. Wimbush]

Harper wasn’t in the business of selling postcards, or picturesque old hamlets, so he told it as he saw it.

Appledore (whose name has really nothing to do with apples, but derives from two words meaning “water-pool”) stands at the very entrance to the Torridge estuary. On the opposite side is Instow.
Appledore is a decayed port; a fishing village long past its prime. Time was when its ship-owners waxed rich in what the natives still call the “Noofunlan’ Trade,” but that was long ago, and it is scarce possible even the hoariest inhabitant recollects those times. But the buildings, the quays are reminiscent; the whole place mumbles, quite plainly in the imaginative ear, “Has Been.”
This is, however, by no means to hint that Appledore is poor, or moribund. Vessels are repaired in its docks, a quarry is in full blast on the hillside, and the fishermen fare out to sea in pursuit of the salmon and cod. The less adventurous gather the edible seaweed known to epicures as “laver,” or at low water ravish the tenacious cockle and mussel from their lairs.
But, in general, Appledore has resignedly stood still since the “Noofunlan'” trade ceased, and remains very much what it was at the time of its ceasing: only something the worse for wear. Bideford may exchange cobbles for macadam, and even, in choice spots, wood pavement, but Appledore’s lanes, which are of the dirtiest, the steepest and most rugged description, still retain their ancient knobbly character. In short Appledore is a curiosity, and one not in any immediate likelihood of being reformed out of that status, for it is at the very end of things. So its white-washed cottages will long, no doubt, continue to give a specious and illusory character for cleanliness to it, as seen across the river from Instow; and “Factory Ope,” “Drang,” and other queerly named lanes will survive for generations yet to come.
‘The North Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1908.

Here’s a link to modern Appledore.