Nostalgia: History of Otterton tradesmen

OTTERTON has always been a village of trade and business, from the success of its mill, which is still going strong, to the manufacture of serge cloth which was at its peak across Devon from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.

Thousands of sheep were kept in the county for serge cloth. In fact, in Otterton alone it was indicated in The Subsidy Roll of 1524 that “there were well over 1,000”, write Gerald Millington and Robert H Jones in their book All about Otterton.

When Richard Duke purchased Otterton Manor 16 years later, the wool was processed using the mill wheel that came with the house, before being spread out to dry on wooden fences in the Rack Green land.

Other tradesmen around this time included blacksmiths such as John Rugg in 1689. Johns’ descendent William took over working at the forge before the Northcotts in 1830.

They then sold it in 1929 to the Carters of Budleigh Salterton, who used the land to build Otterton Garage. The last blacksmith was Don Elliot in 1990.

Many cottages in Otterton were built by the Hollets, who began their carpenters business in the early 18th century. It is likely the thatchers of these buildings are the Caseley family, who worked on the rooftops from the 1790’s to the 1950’s.

During the 19th century, there were two bakers in Otterton; the Roberts and the Bridles. After James Bridle died in 1882, his widow continued trading. Her son, Walter, would deliver the bread to people including Mrs Skinner, the licensee of the Barley Mow beerhouse.

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Mrs Skinner paid Walter in liquor, and he moved in with her after his mother evicted him.

“The Estate Land Agent was livid and proceeded to evict Mrs Skinner from the Barley Mow, succeeding and closing it down as a beerhouse in 1891,” write Millington and Jones. Women in Otterton, by 1800 were dedicated to making lace, which provided an additional and necessary source of income. Mr and Mrs Lawrence opened a lace shop in Otterton in 1823, and another later in Sidmouth. By 1841 there were at least 240 females “engaged in this delicate work”.

The butcher of the village at this time was the Drake family, who became butchers after the Hardings business closed. They set up their business in a cottage near Sunnyside Terrace before finally moving to a “purpose built” butchery opposite the Kings Arms. Frank Payne took over the business in 1951 and opened a slaughter house in the Mill buildings.

Many of these trades are no longer present in Otterton, but the remains of them can still be seen all around the village.