A few days ago, speaking with a resident who has been teaching languages to adults in Ottery for 15 years, first in the old council offices in Silver Street, then at the Old Convent and finally at Ottery Station until 2019, she explained to us how important and beneficial the location of the classes had been when looking for topics of conversation for the advanced groups.

“Many of my students had attended school in the Old Convent when it was run by the Marist Sisters and they were only too happy to entertain their classmates with tales of where they sat in their early school years, what went on in the huge kitchen, where they assembled at the beginning of the day and the secrets of the rooms above - including the presence of a ghost.

"The story of the Ottery Bell, formerly on the grounds of the council site on Silver Street, also fascinated everyone, but with students coming from as far as Exeter, Chard and the Blackdown Hills, attending classes at the Station - a thriving Community Hub since December 17th 2014 - and sitting in what used to be the Station Waiting Room, or walking around what was the Main Platform with its metal pillars and arches or having a class at the Station Master’s Office, would definitely give the students a lot to talk about. The numerous photos of the old station hung on the walls of the Waiting Room also helped to create a pleasant exchange of comments during the coffee break.”

Does this explain why we are all still secretly captivated by the magic of the steam age, the sound of the metal wheels racing over the railroad tracks or even the smell of burning coal? We don’t know, but what we do know is that future generations should be aware that Ottery St Mary once had a railway station that served the town since 1874 on the Sidmouth Railway, with traffic running down the Otter Valley from Sidmouth Junction to Ottery and Tipton. Although traffic was never heavy it remained steady and was sufficiently high for the Sidmouth Railway to retain its independence until 1923, with a total of seven trains running daily and reaching a peak of 24 services each way in 1930. Unfortunately due to the Beeching Axe it was closed in 1967.

But there was also an obscure tale about our station – presently known as the Community Hub - and we wonder how her students would have reacted if they had known that a few feet from where they were sitting, on 8 July 1889, an event that had caused considerable excitement in Ottery had taken place.

According to the Western Times, provided by our invaluable resource David Stevens, 'an individual whose appearance has given rise to suspicions whose name was John Faircloth, a mill-stone dresser from Cambridgeshire and who seemed to be wanted in London in the case of Elizabeth Jackson, whose body was found in the river Thames on 4 June 1889. Faircloth had been living with her at Millwall, London, which place he left on the 28th April last. Since that time his whereabouts were unknown to the police until he was watched by Sergt. Pope, of OSM, who being satisfied that he was the man wanted in London, wired to Scotland Yard on Friday morning. Inspector Tunbridge arrived at OSM by the 7pm train the same day, and with Sergt. Pope arrested Faircloth at the Railway Inn and took him to the police station. Inspector Tunbridge left Ottery on Saturday morning by the 9.44 train to London with Faircloth in custody'.

What makes this account exceptional, according to Debra Arif in her book The Murder of Elizabeth Jackson, is that although Faircloth was later acquitted due to a substantial alibi, he was the last person seen with her before her body was found, and during the investigation numerous reports of the way Elizabeth Jackson’s remains appeared scattered bore fairly obvious similarities to other Jack the Ripper related murders.

Ottery definitely never ceases to amaze us!