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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 1, Ashburton, Ironmongers

I recently bought a small second hand book for £3 called, "South Devon and Dartmoor Car Tours".

Get it while you can. Books promoting driving cars will probably soon be illegal. This small book was published in 1995. Often when you are given books like this they prove to be disappointing but in this instance it proved to be a great little find.

Our first chosen route was a circular route starting in Ashburton. On this occasion I am only featuring photos from half of the route as the second half took in some routes we had already explored and which I have already posted blogs about.

So for the purposes of new posts this series will include Ashburton itself and the route up and over the moors coming out at Postgate via Widecombe. I have decided on a new format of interesting small nibbles rather than a large overly sweet and stodgy cake consumed all in one go.

So post number one only features the Ironmongers in Ashburton. My first impression? Church's Ironmongers seems to be a magnet for everyone outside on a sunny day to meet everyone else. In this case every man and his dog seemed to be there.

Every Man and his Dog - An idiom meaning 'extremely crowded' or 'A lot of people' . Mainly used in past or future tense to describe how busy a place will be and/or was.

Apparently the opposite meaning is implied if one says "One Man and his Dog". Which would imply virtually nobody turned up.

.......and this is the rather characterful bench they gather to sit on. An unusual triple seat concoction. I immediately thought, splinters, so be careful. In the main photo above you can make out a small stone arch on the right and a plaque on the wall next to it. To find out what that is read on.

It is interesting to note that there is much plastic on display and not much iron so maybe we need to adapt the word for modern times. What about Plasticmonger?

It turns out that there is a lot of history associated with Ashburton some of it centred on the Ironmongers, albeit this was originally a pub called The Mermaid. General Fairfax was probably very short by today's standards along with everyone else, as the top of this doorway is about level with my nose.

An article about Ashburton in 1851 said that the former Mermaid Inn still had its arched entrance and 'spacious hall, now a commodious kitchen, which might cook in its oven any General's dinner... '

Exeter Flying Post 28 August 1851, p3 col1

The South West of England was a Royalist stronghold and Fairfax was sent to subdue it which he partly achieved here at Ashburton.

Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, also known as Sir Thomas Fairfax, was an English politician, general and Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War. An adept and talented commander, Fairfax led Parliament to many victories, becoming effectively military ruler of England, but was eventually overshadowed by his subordinate Oliver Cromwell, who was more politically adept and radical in action against Charles I.

Fairfax became unhappy with Cromwell's policy and publicly refused to take part in Charles's show trial and execution. Eventually he resigned, leaving Cromwell to control the country. Because of this, and also his honourable battlefield conduct and his active role in the Restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell's death, he was exempted from the retribution exacted on many other leaders of the revolution.

As a soldier he was exact and methodical in planning, in the heat of battle "so highly transported that scarce any one durst speak a word to him", chivalrous and punctilious in his dealings with his own men and the enemy. Honour and conscientiousness were equally the characteristics of his private and public character. But his modesty and distrust of his powers made him less effectual as a statesman than as a soldier, and above all he is placed at a disadvantage by being both in war and peace overshadowed by his associate Cromwell, who was politically talented and able to manipulate public antipathy against Charles to lead to his execution, something Fairfax never wanted. (Wikipedia)

At one time Ashburton had 16 pubs which was a useful ratio of one pub to every 155 people in the town. This was not uncommon for small market towns or even villages as the rural population was huge, with thousands working on the land. This meant the potential customer base was drawn from a wide area and drew many customers from outlying farms, particularly on market day.

An old drinkers toast of the time was " The plough, the loom and the sail", which would probably have covered pretty much every man's daily occupation.

I think it is unusual for a pub so far inland to be called The Mermaid. It is a name more associated with ports where many myths were told about sailing the seven seas.

Today, maybe these small fishing nets could serve to try and catch yourself a mermaid although you would have to get nearer to the coast first.

In folklore, a mermaid is an aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same traditions), they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.

The male equivalent of the mermaid is the merman, also a familiar figure in folklore and heraldry. Although traditions about and sightings of mermen are less common than those of mermaids, they are generally assumed to co-exist with their female counterparts. The male and the female collectively are sometimes referred to as merfolk or merpeople.

In 1848 a churchwarden, Mr Cockey, took John Luscombe, a beer retailer, to court for selling liquor during the hours of Divine Service. 11 men had been found drinking beer and cider in the defendant's kitchen at 11.30 am on a Sunday. The chairman, fining Luscombe 10s with costs, said that other churchwardens should be as vigilant.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 September 1848,

Ten shillings is about £40 in today's money which would have been two days income for a skilled man back then.

"Pubs and Inns of Ashburton" by Pete Webb

Ironmonger - "dealer in iron-ware," mid-14c. (mid-12c. as a surname), from iron (n.) + monger (n.). Early forms also include ismongere, irenmanger, iremonger. A street named Ysmongeres lane is attested in London from c. 1215.

Monger is a very interesting word with much history and subtle changes to it's meaning over the centuries.

Monger - Old English mangere "merchant, trader, broker," agent noun from mangian "to traffic, trade," from Proto-Germanic *mangojan (source also of Old Saxon mangon, Old Norse mangari "monger, higgler"), from Latin mango (genitive mangonis) "dealer, trader," which is related to mangonium "displaying of wares."

Buck (with Tucker) describes it as "one who adorns his wares to give them an appearance of greater value" and writes it is probably a loan-word based on Greek manganon "means of charming or bewitching."

Used in combinations in English at least since 12c. (fishmonger, cheesemonger, etc.); since 16c. chiefly with overtones of petty and disreputable (for example ballad-monger "inferior poet," 1590s; scandal-monger).

It is interesting that the meaning of the word has degraded and almost reversed over time from a merchant associated with good repute and trust in trade to someone dealing with only petty wares and trivial matters.

One of the most interesting mongers is the Costermonger now rarely referred to. The term is a corruption of a type of apple, the Costard. Originally Costardemongers only sold apples as itinerant street traders, from hand carts or even just a basket. They filled the gap where there were no permanent market places or shops and served a hugely useful function in latterly providing all fruit and vegetables out into urban areas of rapidly growing cities to feed the labourer classes. The practice mostly died out by the middle of the twentieth century.

Although the term 'costermonger' was used to describe any hawker of fresh produce, it became strongly associated with London-based street vendors following a surge in their numbers in the 18th and 19th-centuries. They were most numerous during the Victorian era, when Mayhew estimated their London numbers at between 30,000 and 45,000 in the late 1840s.

The Costard was a variety of apple popular in medieval England, and the second apple variety (after the pearmain) introduced by the Normans. It was grown widely as a commercial crop by the 13th century and was supplied to the household of Edward I in 1292. It remained widespread for several hundred years, until other apple varieties gained popularity during the 17th century. It is thought to have been a cooking apple.

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David Nurse
David Nurse
Mar 30, 2022

Fined ten bob for drinking / buying beer and cider on Sunday, a hideous crime 😂

Took a long time to change actually, it was not so long ago that you could only buy alcohol in supermarkets during opening hours on a Sunday (then noon till 2pm), and even more recently changed for Good Friday which kept this rule.

Of course in our youth, or mine at least, Pubs on a Sunday only opened noon till 2pm and then opened again at 7pm till 10 pm, if you were lucky, no Sunday opening in many parts of "Dry" Wales of course!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 30, 2022
Replying to

Yes I remember some very dry bits of Wales.🙂


Unknown member
Mar 19, 2022

I scrolled up and scrolled down a couple of times, (did read the entire post as well) but I of course, enjoyedm, doubly, the photos. Love the perspective you took for each and the colors combined with the texture of the building, stood out. To be honest I kept wanting to pull the photo ( like you do on Google maps street view) to see inside of the shop. What a melange of mechandize. Looks like I am going to be in for a treat with you using the book as your guide to travel around. 😉

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 19, 2022
Replying to

This route was a revelation and there are some treats to come. It was a great day out.😊

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