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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Modbury Part 1

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


Modbury is a bit different. Not knowing otherwise, I would have called it a town or a market town. In fact it is officially a village because it chose not to become a town. It is also an ecclesiastical parish, civil parish and former manor situated in the South Hams district of the county of Devon in England.


We know that a market has been held in Modbury since at least 1199 when the then Lord of the Manor held the right to hold regular markets. We know this because the right to hold a market was granted by the King, so someone wrote it down, because when the King granted things they generally got written down, probably on some piece of dead calf which must have survived to this day, or it wouldn't now be informing us of the fact today on Wikipedia. The rest of the calf probably went into some ornate little dainty veal dish for His Majesty, they didn't waste stuff back then. Somebody probably ground up the bones and sprinkled them on their carrot patch too.


The first thing you do before starting a photo walk is park the car. To do this I had to drive a hundred yards/metres down what I loosely call a High Street, this short length of which, is actually called Broad Street, which is more than can be said for Poundwell Street where the car park is, which is quite a lot less than broad. You take turns driving down Poundwell Street and he who gets in the gap goes first, there is no passing another car in Poundwell Street. In fact I risked my life taking this photo below, as there wasn't much room to pass me either.


As I drove down Broad Street, all one hundred yards/metres of it, I noticed in the corner of my eye a man inside a shop, standing in the window, wearing a Tricorn Hat. Now this is not something you see every day, and I thought that would make a great photo. Even though Broad Street is fairly broad, I still didn't think it was appropriate to grab my camera though and do what some would call a drive by shooting, as I quickly had to make a left into the niche in the wall that is Poundwell Street. I resigned myself in the usual photographer's way to having missed a great shot, and carried on.


Most things in Modbury date to about 1199, even it seems, the car parking spaces, which back then were the width of a donkey, as cars were thin on the ground, if not yet invented. So after a fifty three point turn in my newly acquired Devon lanes ready, Japanese micro car, I managed to get into a space where in true 1199 style I was able to pay for my parking by App. The App was called "Park my Donkey". It didn't help that the two cars parked either side were imitating badly behaved donkeys by parking at an angle, thereby encroaching on my valuable donkey space. The large blue sign indicates that there is room for eighty donkeys, which is useful, because there certainly isn't room for eighty cars.


This view also shows a Covid Priority Post Box for test samples and a piece of paper inside a plastic wallet, cable-tied to the down pipe. This is what is called a Planning Notice. There is a statutory requirement to inform people of any Planning Applications, so that if you don't want a twenty-four hour nightclub next door, you are able to lodge a protest and a complaint, before it gets built anyway. (Can you have a twenty four hour nightclub? Open during the day? That would be a dayclub wouldn't it?)


Handy hint here, if you want to build a twenty room hotel, put in permission to build a hundred room hotel, then when the whole town starts a campaign to have you hung, drawn, and quartered, you can scale it back to a more acceptable twenty rooms, and everyone will heave a sigh of relief, and book the first available rooms for their family when they come to visit. I mean you don't want them staying in your own house do you.


In my Modbury Taster Post I gave some hints about the man in the Tricorn hat, and guess what, he's still there, now he is outside the shop, how lucky is that? Can you see him on the left?


I was a little worried by this sign because it was verging on Totnes Style and we only need one Totnes, thank you very much.


This was a bijou residence in waiting below, just behind the "High Street", this bit of which is now called Church Street. Notice even the wooden sign above carries the words "High Street", which it is not. You have a choice of Broad Street in the East or Church Street in the West.


So what is going on below?


It is the new Modbury Pharmacy and they were waiting for me to appear with my camera. So I thought. In fact, the lady out of shot with her phone was about to photograph the Grand Opening, because this is the Town Crier of the village of Modbury, because there is no such thing as a Village Crier, work that one out.


I jokingly said to the lady with the phone that I had arrived just in time, whereupon she asked if I was "official"? I don't know who she was expecting, but whoever it was didn't show up. I said "you've got me and I am an accident". So I was co-opted as "official" photographer and audience member. There were seven of us plus the Town Crier for the village of Modbury. There was even a ribbon to cut.


The Town Crier of the village of Modbury gave an impressive speech, bigging up all the great products and services that would now be available at said new pharmacy, considering this was a small "High Street", Broad Street pharmacy. He has dressed up and he was not doing things by halves.


If you say that someone never does things by halves, you mean that they always do things very thoroughly, like two halves. Bigging up is a newish expression from across the pond which we seem to have adopted. Expressions tend to get adopted into English if they are popular, say something in a new way, or say it better, so he was bigging it up. The bell was rung and the proclamation was made in grand fashion.


Town Criers - or Bellmen as they were sometimes called - were the original news anchors. Prior to widespread literacy, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.


It was considered best back then if the general populace stayed illiterate because otherwise they might get uppity and forget their place in the scheme of things and expect new fangled concepts like democracy. There was a brief experiment with creating a literate underclass which started in about 1880 and after the literate underclass started to have their own ideas and thoughts, the bigwigs decided we ought to go back to the illiterate situation we knew and loved, so in about the mid 1960's we started to throw education to the wall in favour of people finding themselves, and forgetting about the difficult stuff like tying shoelaces and reading.


Today barely anyone with a University Degree can write at all and many can only read in picture form. Where they used to have church pre-1880 with explanatory diagrams in the form of stained glass, we now have the BBC and CNN to occupy people. Being largely illiterate now, there has been a resurgence in Town Criers. No doubt our shopping malls will soon be decked out with diagrammatic stained glass panels showing how you can drink something without burning your tongue, or maybe recycling instructions.


But I digress. This is the rest of the audience below and the two lads, never having seen a Town Crier of a village before are certainly watching closely, if not really sure what to make of it.


And the ribbon is cut. Actually it was cut as a car went by, so you can't have everything, and in this case you do not have everything. You very nearly have everything, because consider this, I have been planning this photo walk to Modbury for about two weeks and this was my first opportunity, so it's actually a real miracle that I bring you today, the Town Crier of a village, opening a small pharmacy in a town that has had a market since 1199, because if I had come last Tuesday you would have had almost nothing. Just some boring old photos of buildings on a hill. Those are still to come.


Just to whet your appetite though, there is also an interesting clock and a cockerel, in future parts of Modbury-the photo walk.


Oh, and thousands of soldiers.


And camels.


So stay tuned.


To follow up on the Town Crier of a village thing, I offered the lady you haven't seen because she was standing next to me being shy, copies of the photos by email if she would like them, which she was thrilled about. So I dutifully winged them on their way by high speed Devon broadband after I got home.


The three pharmacy ladies are Josie, Harriet & Carolyn and the Town Crier of the village is

David Scott RN (Retd) - Modbury Town Crier


Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason. Announcements are always announced by the traditional "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" (which is "Listen!" in French) and conclude with "God save the Queen".


You will appreciate how long we have had Town Criers knowing as you do now that they cry out in French. The French arrived in large numbers in 1066 and pretty much took over the show, drenching everything in garlic and speaking French all the time, which is a habit of theirs.


After all that excitement we return to the rest of Modbury, which has many small architectural features dotted around denoting it's history and evolution over the centuries, like this remnant of a granite pillar on the front of an otherwise plain looking cottage.


This is also a remnant, below, as the Co-operative Society has since become the Co-op having dropped the "erative". It has also moved premises.


And here it is below.


The Co-op Group has its origins in the co-operative consumer societies started by the Rochdale Pioneers. In 1863, independent co-op societies formed The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS). They provided Co-op products to sell in hundreds of Co-op stores. Over the next century, CWS went through many changes and eventually became The Co-operative Group.


The Plymouth and South West Co-operative Society Limited, known locally as Plymco, was founded in 1859 by ten tradesmen. The society grew from 18 members, as recorded on 3 January 1860, to a membership of over 130,000. Members approved a merger with the larger Co-operative Group (of which the society was a corporate member) at a series of members' meetings during 2009. The merger occurred on 6 September 2009.


All of this is the type of thing that happens when the common folk start to read and write, hence the need to put a stop to it.



This is the quieter end of Poundwell Street below.


The town of Modbury ascends three steep hills from a hollow in the Poundwell area.


Modbury’s origins date back to Saxon times when it was known as ‘Moot Burgh’ probably the meeting place of a parish or district. During the century following the Norman Conquest, 1066, the population increased considerably, to four or five hundred. Two centuries later, however, the Black Death accounted for a considerable decline in numbers of at least a third to about three hundred, leading to a general recession. Towards the end of the fifteenth century Modbury moved into a period of great prosperity. Extensive building of houses and farms took place, with large estates changing hands.


This is the old stagecoach entrance of the White Hart Inn, below, round the back of the pub. Modbury "High Street" was the main road between Plymouth and Exeter and therefore a coach route. Over the road is the Exeter Inn. Another popular name is the London Inn, these names denoted which coach stopped the night here. The Exeter Inn is over the road, as we drive on the left in Britain, which means that coaches coming into Modbury from the West are on that side of the road and would have been going to Exeter.


The reason we drive on the left is a sinister tale. Most people are right handed and those that were not were considered bad news, unlucky, and possibly even evil. Right is dexter in Latin and left is sinister or the work of the devil. That is why dodgy types are deemed to be very sinister even to this day. If you were naturally left handed and wanted to make something of yourself back then you had to learn quickly how to use your right hand.


Nobody who went around, travelling the dangerous roads of Britain on horseback went anywhere without a sword. If someone was coming the other way they were also carrying a sword. This is what we now call mutually assured destruction or a steely deterrent. If you needed to defend yourself, you needed your attacker to be on your right side so you could draw your sword with your right hand. That is still why we drive a Tesla down a four lane highway today on the left hand side. Just in case the other Tesla driver has a sword.


This tiny door below is the access to the beer cellar. The drayman would open that door and slide the wooden beer crates down a chute. A dray, is a low, flat-bed wagon without sides, pulled generally by horses or mules that were used to transport all kinds of goods, but generally it referred to a brewery delivery vehicle.


I like the random layout of doors and windows normally found in really old properties, either added or bricked up over the ages.




I believe that this would have been the main road going east out of the village to Exeter. It is no longer a major route, as a dual carriageway now runs between Plymouth and Exeter, north of Modbury. The right turn here to Kingsbridge is now the main route through Modbury.



Tucked in the middle on the right, below, is the Exeter Inn, opposite The White Hart.


During the seventeenth century the merchants of the town grew in importance, wielding considerable influence, clothiers featuring prominently among their number. Modbury reached a further peak of prosperity in the late eighteenth century with the development of the serge industry. A domestic system of production has left little evidence today of the industrial era, except insofar as the Georgian and Regency houses in the main streets are more visibly the dwellings of a commercial prosperity than those of a modest market town.


If you have heard the term "Cottage Industry", this home production system mentioned above is what it refers to. Before the invention of the factory, all industry took place in the home, possibly as a widely organised system of specialised workers, but none the less at home.


As a town or village developed, financial considerations demanded that even in a small place there was a hub of commerce and everyone wanted to be as close to that hub as possible, no matter how much empty land was available further afield. Think of those skyscrapers in Manhattan, they are Modbury writ large.


Shops would have opened at the bottom of the hill and not at the top, because what customer wants to walk up a hill? However, latecomers would congregate as close as possible and buildings would slowly creep up those hills out of necessity. Even today in Modbury, all the shops are in the same small stretch of street at the bottom of the hill.




When I see a sight like this one below, my only thought is that someone has to bring all that stuff out every morning and carry it all back inside at night.


Houses, much like today, were a statement of status and wealth. Tiles were expensive, thatch was cheap, tiling the whole house, even the walls, was a real statement. Having pretty patterns cut into those tiles was yet more status. Tiling the exterior walls seems to be a particular fashion in these parts and I am not sure why, but I have noticed that sometimes it is only the wall facing the prevailing weather so it obviously has some practical purpose of weather proofing.


Ironically, today it is thatch that is expensive not tiles. Thatch is far more labour intensive, short lived and expensive to insure, due to fire risk. Thatch was often banned in towns, where many buildings close together also carried a risk that the whole town could burn down.


This frontage below, to my untrained eye looks positively French in style, Oyez, Oyez Oyez. I am now leaving the shops behind and heading up the hill towards the church, so there are some interesting houses and architectural features on the way, most of them at a very steep angle. That is where I will end part one.



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