Some of you may be familiar with the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, with a population now of approximately 2000 people during the Winter months but swelling to over 15,000 during the holiday season. Situated on the North Devon coast where Exmoor’s rolling hills drop sharply into the sea, Lynmouth relies solely on it’s souvenir and ice-cream shops. In years gone by it was a hamlet consisting of three or four tiny, thatched cottages where lived whole families engaged in the herring curing industry. All engaged in servicing the small fishing boat fleet that sailed from the small harbour in search of the large shoals in the Bristol Channel.
There have been many reasons given for the decline of the fish stocks but one which was prevalent at the time I shall endeavour to relate here. Like me you may read into it a reflection of the religious or political situation at that time.
Our story begins in the aftermath of the Monmouth uprising after the defeat at Sedgemoor. Support for Monmouth was strong in the area so one of his generals, named Wade, escaped by boat hoping to get to Ilfracombe but the boat was wrecked on the rocks near the villages. Wade and a couple of others managed to scramble ashore and took refuge in one of the many wooded glens. A local landowner, hoping to curry favour with the King armed his servants and ordered them to find the rebels. Documents from the time confirm that Wade was of course discovered while running away and shot by a senior servant called John Babb. Less well known though, another rebel was captured, executed and quartered nearby at a crossroads as a warning to traitors.
Other local gentry of the surrounding area were more Puritan in aspect and were disgusted by the landowner’s behaviour. He lost favour and having to sell his estate, moved away soon after. The blame was placed on his servant Babb who was reported to have incited his master to his harsh actions. Babb’s family never prospered from then on. He was dismissed and began to rent a cottage in Lynmouth with his family to try their hand in the curing industry. From that time the shoals of fish left the area and their fortunes went from bad to worse along with all the other cottagers.
The curse of the Babbs continued until eventually the sole surviving Babb was the grand-daughter, she was said to have had, the “evil eye,” and the townsfolk were frightened of her wherever she went around the village. Her troubles continued when she married a Dutch boat owner who within a month of the marriage drowned on a sea trip to Ilfracombe carrying a cargo of wood, leaving her with a son who later fell overboard from the ship he was working on and was never seen again.
This is just one of the many reasons people gave for the disappearance of the fish stocks, quite often concerning the Devil or a local priest, each story having passed into folk memory.
From Bobby Fairfield, part time blogger and son of Devon
About the author
Originally from North Devon I moved to a place I was not even aware of located in the Heart of England. I found, to my surprise a beautiful county where all the things in which I was interested were within easy reach thus giving me inspiration to indulge my numerous hobbies and provide nutritious fodder for my writing attempts. Notes and ideas picked up and jotted down whilst walking to and around our wonderful panoply of sacred sites, places of beauty and country pubs provide ample inspiration. My camera, notebook and pen my constant companions. I have an eclectic taste in music and literature and each day is charted for me by a daily personal Tarot spread. Every week I read and enjoy the posts of my followed writers and one day hope to emulate their fascinating works of the word-conjuror’s art.
How did your granny predict the weather? What did your great uncle Albert tell you about the little green men he saw in the woods that night? What strange creature stalks the woods in your area?
So many of these old stories are slipping away for want of being recorded. legendary creatures, odd bits of folklore, folk remedies and charms, and all the old stories that brought our landscape to life…
Tell me a story, share memories of the old ways that are being forgotten, share the folklore of your home. I am not looking for fiction with this feature, but for genuine bits of folklore, old wives tales, folk magic and local legends. Why not share what you know and preserve it for the future?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put ‘Living Lore’ in the subject line. All I need is your article, bio and links, along with any of your own images you would like me to include and I’ll do the rest.