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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Eastern Backway

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas APRIL. 27, 2021

Back in October 2020 I made a series of posts about Kingsbridge my nearest large town. In it and also in a separate smaller post I featured Western Backway, well this is Eastern Backway.

Kingsbridge is very old and largely unspoilt by modernity. It's street layout is still visible, unchanged, as it evolved hundreds of years ago. The main street, Fore Street is on a steep hill rising up from the harbour. This was the main trading area of town where the markets and shops were laid out in burgage plots.

Burgage plots were the property owned by a burgess in a medieval town. As burgesses congregated around the marketplace (which is in Fore Street) and main streets generally, space at the front of the street was at a premium, therefore plots were not very wide. Burgage plots were therefore characteristically long, with a row of outbuildings stretching to the rear of the house and shop. A burgess was a freeman of a Borough or Burgage.

Consequently, down the slopes either side of Fore Street two parallel pedestrian ways ran along the backs of the burgage plots. Western and Eastern Backways. Off these were various alleys and paths joining up with Fore Street.

This post is a short walk down Eastern Backway to the harbour showing the views and various side alleyways leading back up hill to Fore Street.

At one time it is thought that most if not all the shops on Fore Street had passageways down to the Backways. Both Backways were also the routes of leats. The leat along Eastern Backway has now gone and the one along Western Backway is still present. These leats were artificial waterways ostensibly to feed water mills at the bottom of the town but also used as fresh water supplies.

Leat- an open watercourse conducting water to a mill. From Old English ġelǣte (“a going out, ending, meeting”), as in Old English wæterġelǣt (“watercourse, aquaduct”), from Proto-Germanic *lētą, *galētą (“a letting, a letting out”).

This is a typical stone wall below, on Eastern Backway, this example with a beautiful curve.

Kings Arms Passage formerly called Church House Lane because The Abbot of Buckfast had a banqueting house (according to Hawkins) towards the top of Fore Street. The Church House stood on part of the site of the present Kings Arms Hotel.

Apart from that Church House there are two others locally both also pubs. Church House Inn being a fairly common pub name. It is interesting given modern religious antipathy to alcohol to think that in ancient times not only was brewing approved by the church it usually had a monopoly on it. There are still strong links today in Europe between monasteries and well known beer brands particularly in Belgium. In Britain that modern link is less strong, probably as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Although Eastern Backway is lower down the hill than Fore Street it still looks over the valley between Fore Street and Dodbrooke, originally a separate town, and now the eastern part of Kingsbridge.

Dodbrooke is more ancient than Kingsbridge; and belonged to the widow of Edward the Confessor. Dodbrooke was granted its own market in 1257 and had become a borough by 1319. While Dodbrooke was originally considered to be the dominant of the two, Kingsbridge later expanded to include it.

Duncombe Park sits in the valley bottom.

Where the passageways meet Fore Street they are covered by the buildings above. Here are two shots, the first of some very old wooden panelling lining one of them and the next shot a more modern looking corridor lined with service conduits.

Although Eastern Backway is a fairly quiet route and not at all glamourous today, it offers hints of former better days, with wrought iron railings and gateways, some overgrown and some no longer accessible.

This alley is Kellands Row. Many of the alley ways were named for the shops or businesses they served.

Surname of Mr Kelland, ran a brewery. Same name in 1839. 1881, 8 households, 1934, 10 households, 1975, 6 households as some houses demolished.

Strictly speaking, these two photos are outside Eastern Backway but adjoining the entrance to it, so as they fitted well with the set I have kept them together.

Leigham Passage. In the 17th century, Joseph Leigh left land for the church and the poor. Possibly Leigh Cottage on Fore St. It leads to Leigham Terrace built 1902. Former printer’s shop now the Quaker Meeting House since 1997.

This is unusual. At the end of Wistaria Place is a disused structure of an old storage room or workshop. There is no roof and the wall along Eastern Backway has gone so the old interior has been made into a garden.

(Addendum 05/04/2023. I have since discovered that this formerly covered outbuilding was in fact a piggery. Many larger properties contained a piggery even in villages and towns. Inside there are the remains of pigsties set into the walls and a fireplace where pig swill was boiled before being fed to the pigs.)

Riverview Place formerly Independence Lane/ Higher Meeting House Lane (Baptist Lane. then known as Lower Meeting House Lane) Bombed in 1943 and Chapel Mews commemorates the site of the Congregational Church, some remains of walls still visible.

Kingsbridge Gazette January 9th 1981 “Skull find, but no foul play”

A skull and other human remains were uncovered beneath the floor of a fire damaged shop, thought to be well over 100 years old. The shop was built on the site of the Congregational Chapel which was completely destroyed during a German bombing raid on January 2nd 1943. There has been a chapel on the site since 1799 when it was used by the Presbyterian community of Kingsbridge. In 1858 it was re-built and used as a congregational chapel. Also here were Stidworthy’s Tenements and Eastman’s Tenements, also bombed and their shops in Fore St.

Eastern Backway below.

At the end of Eastern Backway the valley has fallen away below so there are several flights of steps down to street level with a good view across to Dodbrooke.

This is a detail of the picture above, showing the rows of houses with steep gardens edged with fences, on the opposite hillside.

When you emerge at the bottom of the steps of Eastern Backway you are only about 100 metres from the quayside.

There is a separate post for the first part of this Kingsbridge Spring Walk.

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