POH records Sidmouth’s New Year events in 1800s

New Year through the eyes of a Sidmouth Victorian

HAPPY New Year to Nostalgia readers and more offerings from the diaries of Sidmouth antiquarian Peter Orlando Hutchinson, this week made on New Year’s Days between 1874 and 1894.

These extracts have been taken from Peter Butler’s new book, Diary of a Devon Antiquary, published by Halsgrove, priced �34.99.

POH is the focus for a three year project called In the Footsteps of Peter Orlando Hutchinson, hosted by the East Devon AONB Partnership and jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sid Vale Association’s Keith Owen Fund, Devon County Council, East Devon District Council and Natural England, to help improve access to the heritage assets of East Devon’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

New Year’s Day, 1874: “Being a Thursday, came in mildly, and suggested most of the commonplace reflections that occur on such occasions. This is the time of year when people make good resolutions, and all the rest of the year is the time when they forget them.”

New Year’s Day 1875: “The wind veered round to the south, a mild rain came on and a rapid thaw. All day long it never ceased.

“Dined again with the Floyds at Powys in the company of William Floyd, Major Henry Floyd, Benjamin Kennet Dawson (married to Miss Floyd) and Mr Walls.

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“The dinner was in the old English style, the joints being placed on the table and not carved at the sideboard and handed round, a continental practise introduced during the last twenty or thirty years on state occasions.

“There was roast saddle of mutton at one end of the table and boiled turkey at the other, Brussel sprouts, mashed potato etc. Half-moon shaped plates for salad to put beside the round plate is also a recent introduction and it is not now the fashion for port wine to be handed round at dinner. Claret, sherry and champagne are now the usual wines.”

At 10.30pm POH left the house to walk home and discovered streams of water running down lanes which joined forces to produce a flood of water.

“Whilst standing there [deciding what to do] a man came out of a neighbouring cottage with an umbrella over his head, and on my hailing him he waded up to where I stood.

“I told him I wished to get home but didn’t know how, and he told me that he had come out to see whether his house was going to be washed away before he went to bed.

He said I could not get down to Coburg Terrace for it was like a river all the way, but that if I could get across and go down to the church I might perhaps managed it by a circuit. So I made a dash across… and opposite the church where it was narrower I stepped once in and then over.

“Keeping to the side I at last got to Coburg Terrace... I took off my wet things and went to bed.”

Saturday, January 1, 1876: New Year’s Day. “Went to the morning service at St Mark’s Chapel, Dawlish, where the gas lights were all lighted to warm it, and in the afternoon went to the parish church.

“What remains of the old font stands outside the west door in the cold and there was some ice in the bottom of it.

“At the risk of being told to ‘mind my own business’, I ventured to plead in its favour, and inquired whether some corner under cover and within the walls of the church could not be found for a relic of antiquity.”

(Accompanying undated coloured sketch of the east end of St Mark’s Chapel, demolished 1975, probably done a few years earlier.)

In January 1878, POH writes about the cost of houses in Sidmouth, with 3 Coburg Terrace selling for �340 and No 4 next door fetching �355.

“A small house in New Town as they call it was bought for �130, rent �10. The corner house near the Wesleyan Chapel was bought for �600 by Clode, a baker, and the next along by Selkirk, a painter, for �395.”

New Year’s Day, 1879 and POH, aged 69, records: “Now then, what will 1879 bring?” By the end of the month he was trying to buy an 18 carat gold ring, with a garnet and two diamonds, found by a boy on the beach near Chit Rocks.

“He would not sell it. He also found a Japanese oval bronze coin, which he let me have. Many circular Chinese coins have been found there, but this is the first oval one I have seen.”

In January 1881 POH records the opening of a coffee tavern at the former Institution Reading Room opposite the London Hotel promoted by some of the gentry of the place for the good purpose of trying to get people to take tea and coffee instead of intoxicating drinks. There is a lamentable amount of drunkenness here no doubt and I hope this attempt may do good – but!”

Earlier on December 13, he writes of “a sad balloon accident” which took place on the Saturday evening.

“Mr Powell MP, Captain Templar and Mr Gardner went up at Bath. Wind to the east of north carried them to Bridport, where they descended. The car struck the ground and knocked the two last out, by Mr Powell was carried off to sea with darkness coming on.”

Despite extensive searches at sea, in France and eventually in Spain, nothing further was reported of him.

New Year’s Day, 1882: “Whatever hopes we may entertain for the New Year, it seems that every one that passes generally goes through pretty much the same routine of events as the preceding ones.”

New Year’s Day, 1884: “The first day began by ringing a peal of unruffled bells soon after midnight, and then all decent people went to bed.”

The following year, on January 6 he writes: “Great alarm about smallpox in the parish. The schools have been shut and the children are not to come for a month. There have only been one or two deaths, but it has aroused the community.

“They are vaccinating all round, purifying the dirty cottages and are now running up a temporary building a mile out of town at Lower Woolbrook under the name of a smallpox hospital, to which infected persons may be moved.

“I hear they are going to provide for six patients. The disease is said to prevail at Honiton, Ottery and in most parts of the county.”

January 1, 1893: POH thanks friends for their daily visits to him since November after being struck down with a severe influenza-like illness that kept him in bed for weeks.

By January he had recovered sufficiently to thank them for their company and composed a verse recording his progress and had 50 printed off.

One he sent to his friend Mr Keily, dated January 1, 1893: “The remembrance of kind sympathies and amiable attentions of many friends now outweighs the remembrance of the dismal ordeal of the sick-bed, and to take this opportunity of returning them my sincere and hearty thanks seems but a poor and paltry acknowledgement –

Good friends – good friends – though poor the offering be,

Accept my grateful thanks – accept I pray,

For all those kind attentions showered on me,

When on my dismal couch so long I lay,

Those happy courtesies administered just then,

Have brought me back to my good health again.”

His last entry for New Year’s Day was in 1894, the year Hutchinson stopped writing his diaries – three years before his death, aged 84.

“Like an old garment the late year has ceased to occupy our thoughts, so we will now see with some interest to the new one and how it will suit us.”

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