Friday, 15 September 2017

Echoes of Poldark in Budleigh's past

Just to prove that I'm not totally gripped by Raleighmania, and that I do occasionally do other things like watching TV soaps, here’s an informative piece about a Budleigh character who raised a few hackles in his time and who might even catch the eye of a producer one day. 

Budleigh’s latest Blue Plaque, a tribute to 18th century bookseller James Lackington, has appeared at the town’s Temple Methodist Church on Fore Street.  The plaque was unveiled by the Councillor for Exmouth and Budleigh Coastal Ward, Cllr Christine Channon, at the invitation of the Minister, the Reverend Jonathan Froggatt. 

An element of the story behind the project, initiated by Fairlynch Museum and supported by a Devon County Council grant, is very much part of the plotline of a BBC popular historical drama series. Except that the Budleigh hero honoured at today’s event was never as likely to set hearts a flutter as Poldark stars Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson. But he was wealthy.

Lackington's portrait from A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New (1873)

The plaque honours James Lackington, a self-educated cobbler who became a successful London bookseller in the 1780s. It was the age of Methodism, the movement founded by John Wesley as a revival within the 18th century Church of England which became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. It was thanks to a loan of five pounds from Wesley that Lackington set up in business as a second-hand bookseller in London.

John Wesley  1703-91 
Image credit:

For the Establishment, the movement represented a threat: Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by the clergy and magistrates for various reasons. When forbidden from preaching from the pulpits of parish churches, Wesley began open-air preaching.  

James Lackington was born in 1746 in Wellington, Somerset, the son of a shoemaker. He showed early initiative by selling pies and cakes in the street when aged 10 and teaching himself to read. By the age of 14 he was an apprentice shoemaker and found work in Bristol. His passion for reading developed, and he started to buy books. 

After his first marriage, to Nancy Smith, he arrived in London in August 1773 with half a crown (12.5p) in his pocket. He set up a combined bookstall and shoemaker's shop in Featherstone Street, just north of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. His stock was a sack of old theological books for which he gave a guinea (£1.05) and some scraps of leather. But the loan from the Wesleyan fund – for much of his life he remained a practising Methodist – his own hard work and his wife's thrift enabled him to build up a stock worth £25 and to give up shoemaking.

The Lackingtons moved to Chiswell Street, a little nearer the City, where in 1776 they both caught fever. Dorcas Turton, the young woman who was the couple’s landlady nursed them both, and fell ill herself. Nancy died, but Lackington and Dorcas survived, and shortly afterwards, as Lackington put it in his memoirs, this ‘charming young woman’ became the second Mrs Lackington. ‘Having drawn another prize in the lottery of wedlock’, he wrote, ‘I repaired the loss of one very valuable woman by the acquisition of another still more valuable’. He was right; Dorcas loved books and proved most helpful in the business. The first printed catalogue of his stock listed 12,000 titles.

He firmly believed, as Jonathan Froggatt put it in his address, that books were the key to knowledge, reason and happiness and that everyone, no matter what their economic background, social class or gender, had the right to access books at cheap prices. Jonathan quoted the tale which exemplifies Lackington’s love of books. ‘On arriving in London with his wife, he spent their last half-crown on a book of poems. His explanation? “For had I bought a dinner, we should have eaten it to-morrow, and the pleasure would have been soon over, but should we live fifty years longer, we shall have these poems to feast upon.”’

A 1794 half-penny token from Lackington, Allen & Co booksellers. This sort of token was the period equivalent of a gift certificate; it was good for the amount shown, but only at the specified location.   

By 1780 Lackington had developed the trading policies that were to bring him both fame and financial success. His terms became – unusually for the time – cash only; he sold at rock-bottom prices, and he was a pioneer dealer in large quantities of publishers' 'remainders', which he sold at cut price.  He also bought up whole libraries, and was soon issuing catalogues of 30,000 volumes and more. 

James Lackington’s bookshop The Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square, London, by William Wallis (fl.1816-1855) after Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793-1864), published in London: Jones & Co., 1828. Etching and aquatint with added hand-colouring.  

At the peak of his career Lackington became the proprietor of a shop with a frontage of 43 metres (140 feet) at the southwest corner of Finsbury Square. Crowned with a dome from which flew a flag, it was called 'The Temple of the Muses', and was one of the capital's tourist attractions. 

Within was an immense circular counter, round which it was said was room enough to drive a coach-and-six. 'Lounging rooms' were reached by way of a broad staircase, and there was a succession of Galleries, where the stock was cheaper and shabbier the higher one climbed. The Finsbury Square bookstore sold over 100,000 books a year – no mean feat back then.  

By 1791, when his annual profits were £4,000 (approximately £250K in today’s money), and he wrote the first version of his Memoirs, he had installed himself with Dorcas in a country house in Merton and set up his own carriage.

This was Spring House, the early 18th-century house in Kingston Road, which was demolished in the 1930s and replaced by the Spring House flats. As was quite usual at the time, the Lackingtons leased rather than bought their house, although they could have easily afforded to purchase.



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Perhaps remembering his debt to the founder of Methodism James Lackington used his wealth to build churches for the movement's followers. He gave the name Temple to all three of the churches that he built, the two others being at Sandown in the Isle of Wight , pictured above, and Taunton. 

The Taunton Temple Methodist Church on Upper High Street, rebuilt in 1868. Image credit: Derek Harper 

So where does Poldark come in? The BBC’s most recent adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels started in 2015 with Aidan Turner in the title role of Ross Poldark and Eleanor Tomlinson as his wife Demelza.

Aidan Turner, who plays Ross Poldark.  As a mere blogger I probably don't have the right to reproduce actual BBC Poldark images to publicise  the series, which is what I seem to be doing in this article.  Stern warnings about copyright are a bit off-putting. Hence these images of the actors which seem to be in the public domain thanks to Wikipedia.  Bit of a shame really, but the lawyers probably insist.    

Eleanor Tomlinson plays Demelza

Betrayal, thwarted love, family feuds, economic hardship, Ross’s bare chest and Demelza’s gorgeous hair kept audiences gripped, and then Season 3 introduced Demelza’s brothers Sam and Drake Carne. Keen Methodists, they inevitably antagonized the dastardly George Warleggan, Ross’s sworn enemy. 

Desperate to be accepted by aristocratic society, Warleggan is keen to be seen as a supporter of the established Church of England. Like John Wesley's persecutors he bans the Methodists from the parish church. When Sam and Drake and their followers arrive for a church service they stand outside the fence, singing in defiance. Later, George hears that they have taken possession of the village’s derelict meeting house. He appoints a special constable to guard his house and find out the Methodists’ names.

The stone image of Lord John Rolle at Bicton Church, a few miles from Budleigh Salterton  

When James Lackington settled in retirement at Budleigh Salterton in 1807 and built a chapel for local Methodists it was apparently because he was so struck by the ‘spiritual Destitution of the place’.  But he faced determined opposition in the shape of the local landowner Lord Rolle, whose tenants were told not to help with the project. Lackington was obliged to bring workers and building materials from Exeter. His arrival in Budleigh had clearly presented a challenge to adherents to the established Church of England and antagonized local dignitaries like George Warleggan, the villain of ‘Poldark’.

The original Temple Methodist Church, with Ash Villa (left) which was demolished to make room for the car parking area
Image credit: Fairlynch Museum

The chapel built by Lackington was sadly demolished in 1905 to make way for a larger building. All traces of Ash Villa, the adjacent house that Lackington built for himself, disappeared in the 1950s to be replaced by a car park.

The new Temple Church on Budleigh's Fore Street, now at last displaying a Blue Plaque in honour of a celebrated former resident  

Not too many Budleigh Salterton people realise how appropriate the use of the Temple Methodist Church is for the town’s Literary Festival. But this former Budleigh resident who revolutionised the world of bookselling with the radical changes that he introduced some 200 years ago, would be delighted that the Fore Street church will be hosting some of the events being staged over this mid-September weekend.

James Lackington’s grave at All Saints Church in East Budleigh  

James Lackington died in 1815, and was buried at the then parish church for Budleigh Salterton at All Saints' Church, East Budleigh. 

The inscription on Lackington's grave

In an edition of his autobiography published in 2004 by the Merton Historical Society he tells his own story with relish and candour, and it is an entertaining read. The original edition of his autobiography merited the following comment from his editor in 1827:  ‘It is easy to find more important autobiographies than that of this pertinacious bookseller, sceptic and methodist, but few are more lively, curious, or characteristic.’

Who knows? Maybe Budleigh Salterton will provide the setting for a future TV heart-throb series centered around such historical issues and social conflict. Could a bare-chested Lackington compete with Aidan Turner’s Ross Poldark?  

An abridged edition by Merton Historical Society of James Lackington’s autobiography is available at the price of £2.95 plus £1.00 postage from:

The Publications Secretary
Merton Historical Society
57 Templecombe Way
Surrey SM4 4JF

Cheques should be made payable to Merton Historical Society.

The full programme of Budleigh Salterton’s Literary Festival can be seen on the website at

Text credit: Judith Goodman and Merton Historical Society
Photo credits: James Lackington coins reproduced courtesy; The Temple of the Muses reproduced courtesy of Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Curator, Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University, NJ

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Cheers, Sir Walter! My pub crawl in the great Elizabethan's footsteps (2)

Carrying on from Cheers, Sir Walter! (Part 1)

So, across the Irish Sea we go, to land at Youghal, a seaside resort at the mouth of the River Blackwater in Ireland’s County Cork. 

It’s where Raleigh made his home for short periods during the 17 years in which he held land in Ireland. 

The habour in modern day Youghal
Image credit: Will McGoldrick - McGoldrick Art & Photography

He was elected Mayor of Youghal in 1588 and 1589 and features prominently on the town’s website 

Indeed they go so far as to say that his name is synonymous with Youghal, and they actually have what they call a Raleigh Quarter. 

This year’s Youghal Festival, from 19-20 August, has a medieval theme. And next year, to mark the 400th anniversary of Raleigh’s death? Naturally I’ve written to enquire. 

A smoking Sir Walter and that bucket of water could well feature, since it seems that the story told at The Virginia Ash pub in Henstridge - mentioned in my previous post - is also told in Ireland. 

Myrtle Grove, Raleigh's home in Ireland. Always interested in plants and herbs, he is reputed to have introduced myrtle into England from Spain  Image credit: Will McGoldrick - McGoldrick Art & Photography

As the Youghal website puts it in a ‘Little Gems’ section: ‘Legend recalls how, having introduced tobacco to Ireland, Raleigh was smoking in the garden of his home at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, when his servant, never having seen tobacco before, threw water over him believing that her master had been set alight.’

The monument commemorating the Smerwick Harbour massacre Monument at the Field of the Heads (Gort na gCrann) near Dun an Oir commemorating the massacre of around 600 Irish, Spanish and Italian men and women by English troops commanded by Lord Grey of Wilton in 1580. It is said that the victims were decapitated and their heads buried here. The monument dates from 1980; the seaward side bears a cross and a Gaelic inscription 'igcuimhne dhun an oir samhain 1580'

‘The history of Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth is a maze of hatreds, betrayals, rivalries and atrocities,’ writes Raleigh Trevelyan in the 2002 biography of his ancestor. In view of Raleigh’s involvement in Irish affairs as ‘a perpetrator of some of the worst horrors’ of that period I am surprised that he is remembered in Youghal with such apparent affection.  

The Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal, pictured above,  seems nonetheless equally proud of its link with our great Devonian. The website includes his biography and one of its three restaurants is called ‘The Walter’. But they might well raise an eyebrow at being included in my humble pub crawl. 

Spectacularly located on the town’s sea front this 18th century Georgian pile seems a superior kind of place, although it’s worth noting that, as Irish Times journalist Mark Paul points out, Raleigh’s British title as a knight of the realm doesn’t appear in the name of the Youghal hotel. ‘Cork is the Rebel county, after all,’ is his explanation.

Oliver Cromwell, a portrait by Samuel Cooper (d.1672) in the National Portrait Gallery: NPG 514.   

And maybe the Walter Raleigh Hotel is acknowledging in its name the supposed republican sentiments which Raleigh had expressed in his 1614 edition of the History of the World. They would impress important later17th century people like the poet John Milton and the revolutionary Oliver Cromwell. 

Both Cromwell and Milton were  'deeply influenced by the accounts of the consequences of tyranny in Ralegh's History of the World' as Dr Robert Lawson-Peebles wrote in a 1998 History Today article. According to historian Christopher Hill The History of the World is the only book known to have been recommended by Cromwell. 

Cromwell, however, is definitely not a name to be remembered with affection in Ireland.

I think we’ll move on quickly, crossing yet more water to the land where Raleigh’s republican views are definitely recognized. 

A model of the USS Raleigh in the U.S. Navy Museum
Image credit: Sturmvogel66

In 1776, a year after the start of the Revolutionary War when 13 colonies declared independence as the United States of America, the Americans even named one of their warships after him. I imagine the Royal Navy felt a bit miffed about this. The USS Raleigh had a full-length figure of Sir Walter as figurehead.        

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In the American state of Maryland, north of Virginia, I found the Sir Walter Raleigh Inn, seen above, and described as an old fashioned restaurant known for its prime rib and salad bar.   Serving the Washington County area since 1970, it’s located in Berwyn Heights, across Greenbelt Road from Greenbelt Middle School. It has a website at

There were once several Sir Walter Raleigh Inns in the Washington area, such as Bethesda, Gaithersburg, and Alexandria. ‘The Sir Walter Raleigh Inns strive to take you back over 200 years in history when hospitality, good service and quality were of the utmost importance,’ was their proud boast. 

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Now only the Greenbelt location remains, but it offers a range of food and beverages to suit any taste. No mention of any favourite dish or drink of Sir Walter however.  I emailed owner Jerry Cosker, shown above, to offer some suggestions!

The Inn has a Facebook page at 

In West Virginia I was excited to find Sir Walter’s Tavern, just below The Raleigh Playhouse
in the town of Beckley, with an estimated population of almost 17,000 in 2016.  It’s apparently the only spot in Beckley where you’ll find ‘a genuine speakeasy atmosphere and where you can sip on a tasty cocktail while viewing the ever-rotating showings of talented, local artists.’

I wondered whether they serve the Sir Walter Raleigh cocktail as described at (More about Raleigh-associated drinks in my next blog post). I’ve emailed Sir Walter’s Tavern to ask whether they know about the 400th anniversary.

Beckley's Raleigh Playhouse itself is described as ‘an arthouse cinema’ which hosts play productions and musical performances as well as films. ‘Our desire is to showcase the films you always wanted to see on the big screen, along with indie films we think you’ll love, including those of West Virginia filmmakers,’ reads the website. ‘We are always on the lookout for up-and-coming local playwrights, and our intimate stage setting allows you to immerse yourself in the stories we work so hard to tell you.’

But why Raleigh Playhouse? In Beckley, West Virginia? Is there a connection with Sir Walter? Naturally I’ve emailed to ask.

The statue of Sir Walter Raleigh at the Raleigh Convention Center in North Carolina  Image credit: Alexisrael 

Moving south to the city of Raleigh, state capital of North Carolina, it’s obvious that there are links to Sir Walter. It was named, as Wikipedia tells me, ‘after Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the lost Roanoke Colony in present-day Dare County’.

The date of its charter, in December 1792, is perhaps as significant as was the naming of the USS Raleigh in 1776. By the summer of 1792, the monarchy in France had been overthrown: republicanism was at its most strident. And Sir Walter would continue to be seen by many as its defender, standing against the tyranny of those who believed in the outdated and thoroughly ridiculous Divine Right of Kings. 

Sadly though, my pub crawl is slowing down. No thatched Sir Walter Raleigh pubs in the USA. Perhaps there should be, as he stood in the eyes of many Americans for all that they hold dear.

Exterior of The Velvet Cloak Hotel in Raleigh NC
Image credit: David O’Docherty

There is of course in the city of Raleigh the former hotel known as the Velvet Cloak Inn, its name a subtle link to Queen Elizabeth’s favourite courtier and that legend of the ‘Greenwich’ puddle. It opened in 1962 at 1505 Hillsborough Street.

Interior of The Velvet Cloak Hotel. You can just make out what looks like a portrait of Sir Walter with a Molyneux globe, similar to the one at Petworth. 
Image credit: David O’Docherty

And a new legend was created. I learnt that the Velvet Cloak will live forever as ‘a stars' hotel’: Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Rolling Stones, Ethel Merman, Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, and Rod Stewart being just some of the names from showbiz royalty who enjoyed its champagne lifestyle during its 40-year existence as a hotel.  

Rod Stewart, one of The Velvet Cloak Hotel's many celebrated guests, performing at a concert in 1976  
Image credit: Helge Øverås 

Sadly the legend is over. The Velvet Cloak has been demolished, to be replaced by student accommodation, much to the disgust of many who have fond memories of the place in its heyday. ‘The city of Raleigh is going through a growth spurt unlike anything we've seen before,’ so I’m told by the very helpful North Carolina Real Estate Agent David O’Docherty

What else? For people back in Raleigh’s homeland the obvious links are two districts in the American city named with him in mind: one called Budleigh and the other called Hayes Barton! They’re both located in NW Raleigh and in the property market both are classed as charming and desirable historic neighbourhoods. Not quite as historic as Sir Walter’s home village of course.  

Both were planned in the early 20th century. The Hayes Barton district was designed by the landscape architect Earle Sumner Draper (1893-1994) – echoes here of Budleigh Salterton’s own William Hatchard-Smith (1887-1987), recently honoured with a blue plaque in his home town.  – Clearly Earle had the ‘old country’ in mind.

Named after Sir Walter Raleigh's English homeplace, the developers appealed to the Anglophile fashion of the times, reads the informative document published by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission. ‘Politicians and professionals - plentiful group in the state’s capital city - chose Hayes Barton as home in the 1920s, buying into the developers’ promise of exclusivity and separation from the urban ills of the center city.’  

Hayes Barton was ‘the first real nice suburb that Raleigh had developed,’ as Draper himself stated according to a 2002 record in the National Register of Historic Places, published by the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service. ‘Therefore the neighborhood was complete with covenants protecting the racial and social values of its residents.’

Fascinating stuff.  I learn also from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission that the Tudor Revival Myrtle Underwood School, built in 1923, served the rapidly growing neighbourhood. Another echo of Sir Walter’s Myrtle Grove, his home at Youghal in Ireland? 

But still no pubs, thatched or otherwise. 

At the Hayes Barton Café & Dessertery in Raleigh NC

The Hayes Barton Dessertery at 2000 Fairview Road in an area of Raleigh NC called Five Points has a great choice of food and drink including wines and cocktails, and is renowned for its cakes. But there are no Elizabethan dishes on the menu and no mention of a Sir Walter bar. 

Owner Frank Ballard and his wife Marget launched their business in 1998, having discovered that they both had a love for the 1940s. ‘We opened the restaurant with the hope to recapture some of the romance and innocence of that time,’ they explain at

I’m hoping that the people at Raleigh NC’s ‘Walter’ magazine – ‘the life of the party and the soul of the city’ as they call themselves –  will help me discover further Raleigh-related gems in the community named after him.

And finally to Roanoke Island, three hours’ drive east of Raleigh NC. It’s a name forever associated with Sir Walter and made famous because of the mysterious disappearance of the 117 English settlers whom he sent in 1587 to establish a base in the New World. 

An image of Virginia Dare on a commemorative stamp of 1937, published by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing:  U.S. Post Office; Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The settlers included Ananias Dare and his wife Eleanor White, the daughter of John White, the artist and expedition’s mapmaker who was appointed by Raleigh as the colony’s governor. Eleanor would give birth on 18 August 1587 to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in a New World English overseas possession.  

Three years earlier, on 25 March 1584, Queen Elizabeth had granted Raleigh a charter allowing him to ‘discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories (...) to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy.’ When English ships returned to bring supplies, they found the island deserted with no sign of the colonists.  After nearly 450 years, the mystery of what happened to the colonists, including little Virginia Dare, remains unsolved.

There’s a lot going on in Roanoke Island to inform visitors about its history, like the Roanoke Island Festival Park along with names like Budleigh, Devon, Queen Elizabeth and of course Sir Walter Raleigh on the street map.  

The most celebrated of the area’s attractions is the outdoor drama The Lost Colony produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA).

The drama has been performed since 1937 in an outdoor amphitheatre located on the site of the original Roanoke Colony in the Outer Banks, near the present-day town of Manteo, North Carolina. More than four million people have seen it since that year. It runs nightly except Sundays, from May to August, and seems to be run by enthusiastic and energetic volunteers.  The same kind of thing as the Puy du Fou spectacle which started off as a small-scale enterprise in deepest France and has developed massively since I first saw it.

Do we have anything like this in South West England?

The story of the outdoor or ‘symphonic’ drama of The Lost Colony is fascinating in itself, as I found via Wikipedia

Well before 1937, annual celebrations of Virginia Dare's birthday had been celebrated by the Roanoke Colony Memorial Association since its founding in 1894. The early events were primarily picnic meetings, featuring hymn singing and commemorative speeches. Mabel Evans Jones, a Roanoke Island native and Dare County School Superintendent, wrote and produced a 1921 silent film of the historic events and starred in it. The finished film toured across North Carolina. It was the first silent film produced in the state.

The Waterside Theatre on Roanoke Island, where The Lost Colony production takes place

In 1923, the festivities were expanded to include dramatic sketches. By 1925 local residents performed a full-scale pageant of the story, using pantomime, music, and narration. The 1926 pageant attracted the largest crowd to that point, and organizers sought to build on their achievement in their preparations for the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth. They approached North Carolina playwright Paul Green about developing a new pageant script.

The 2008 cast of The Lost Colony

Having visited the island on several occasions, Green had already considered writing a piece about ‘those tragic first settlers’ as he called them. He joined with Saunders and Bradford Fearing, president of the Roanoke Historical Society, to develop a vehicle to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth. 

'The Baptism of Virginia Dare', a 19th century lithograph by Henry Howe, in William A. Crafts (1876) Pioneers in the settlement of America: from Florida in 1510 to California in 1849. Published by Samuel Walker and Company, Boston 

Initially, the team thought that the plot would be based on the story of Virginia Dare.  According to legend, she had fallen in love with the son of Chief Manteo, head of the local tribe of Native American Croatan Indians who had befriended the English, and had given birth to a new race that has since vanished. 

However Paul Green’s masterpiece developed into a combination of music, dialogue, and dance, which he called ‘symphonic drama, expressing common ideals of freedom, struggle and perseverance — guiding themes for a nation in the grips of the Great Depression.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the production on 18 August, 1937, he said, ‘We do not know the fate of Virginia Dare or the First Colony. We do know, however, that the story of America is largely a record of that spirit of adventure.’

The Lost Colony website has a link to its Wine and Culinary Festival
a fund-raising event for the drama production which takes place in September. North Carolina breweries taking part in the 2017 Festival include the Outer Banks Brewing Station  the Lost Colony Brewery  and the wonderfully named Weeping Radish Farm Brewery
I emailed all three to ask if they were planning to launch a beer in honour of Sir Walter.

My ‘pub crawl’ continues in Part 3 with a survey of the drinks associated with Sir Walter, including the Raleigh 2015 Quality Sparkling Wine recently released by Lily Farm Vineyards at Knowle near Budleigh Salterton to mark the 400th anniversary.  

You can read all about this highly successful East Devon vineyard, located in its beautiful setting just over the hill from Raleigh’s birthplace at