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Daniel Defoe

places mentioned

Letter 4, Part 1: North Cornwall and Devon

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SIR,---My last letter ended the account of my travels, where Nature ended her account, when she meeted out the island, and where she fix'd the utmost western bounds of Britain; and, being resolved to see the very extremity of it, I set my foot into the sea, as it were, beyond the farthest inch of dry land west, as I had done before near the town of Dover, at the foot of the rocks of the South-Foreland in Kent, which, I think, is the farthest point east in a line; And as I had done, also, at Leostoff in Suffolk, which is another promontory on the eastern coast, and is reckoned the farthest land eastward of the island in general: Likewise, I had used the same ceremony at Selsy near Chichester, which I take to be the farthest land south, except at Portland only, which, as it is not really an island, may be called, the farthest land south; so, in its place, I shall give you an account of the same curiosity at John a Grot's House in Caithness, the farthest piece of ground in Great Britain, north.

I had once, indeed, resolved to have coasted the whole circuit of Britain by sea, as 'tis said, Agricola the Roman general, did; and in this voyage I would have gone about every promontory, and into the bottom of every bay, and had provided myself a good yacht, and an able commander for that purpose; but I found it would be too hazardous an undertaking for any man to justify himself in the doing it upon the meer foundation of curiosity, and having no other business at all; so I gave it over.

There was another difficulty also, upon which my navigator, or commander, as I called him, who was an old experienced seaman, dissuaded me from the undertaking; and that was, the necessity of getting pilots to every part of the coast, and to every port, river, and creek, and the danger of not getting them: The necessity was plain; For that, as I proposed to keep all the way near, or under the shore, to enter into all the bays, and mouths of rivers, and creeks, as above; I. It would be impracticable to find any single man that knew so perfectly the whole coast, as to venture in without pilots. 2. Pilots would not always be found, especially on the north and west coasts of Scotland; so I laid it aside, I say, as a hopeless, and too dangerous adventure, and satisfied myself, to make the circuit very near as perfect by land, which I have done with much less hazard, though with much more pains and expence; the fruit of which, you have, in part, communicated in these letters.

I now turned about to the east, and as, when I went west, I kept to the southern coast of this long county of Cornwall, and of Devonshire also, so in going east, I shall keep the north-shore on board. The first place, of any note, we came to, is St. Ives, a pretty good town, and grown rich by the fishing-trade; it is situated on the west side of a deep bay, called St. Ives Bay, from the name of the town. This bay is opposite, on the land side, to Mount's Bay, which I spoke of in my last, in my account of Pensance.

It is a very pleasant view we have at Madern Hills, and the plain by them, in the way from the Land's-End to St. Ives, where, at one sight, there is a prospect of the ocean at the Land's-End west; of the British Channel at Mount's Bay south; and the Bristol Channel, or Severn Sea, north; At St. Ives, the land between the two bays being not above four or five miles over, is so situated, that upon the hill, neither of the two seas are above three miles off, and very plain to be seen; and also, in a clear day, the islands of Scilly, though above thirty miles off.

From this town and port of St. Ives, we have no town of any note on the coast; no, not a market town, except Redruth, which is of no consideration, 'till we come to Padstow-Haven, which is near thirty miles: The country is, indeed, both fruitful and pleasant, and several houses of gentlemen are seen as we pass; the sands, also, are very pleasant to the eye, and to travel upon; Among the gentlemens houses, is, Lanhidrock, the seat of the Earls of Radnor, who are Barons of Truro, and were so, long before they obtained the title of Radnor; also a good house belonging to the ancient family of Trefusis.

In viewing these things, we observ'd the hills fruitful of tin, copper, and lead, all the way on our right hand, the product of which, is carried all to the other shore; so that we shall have little to say of it here. The chief business on this shore, is in the herring fishing; the herrings, about October, come driving up the Severn Sea, and from the coast of Ireland, in prodigious shoals, and beat all upon this coast as high as Biddeford, and Barnstable, in Devonshire, and are caught in great quantities by the fishermen, chiefly on account of the merchants of Falmouth, Foy, and Plymouth, and other ports on the south.

Padstow is a large town, and stands on a very good harbour for such shipping as use that coast, that is to say, for the Irish trade: The harbour is the mouth of the river Camel, or Carnal, which rising at Camelford, runs down by Bodmyn to Wodbridge, or Wardbridge, a large stone bridge of eight arches, or thereabouts, built by the general good will of the country gentlemen; but at the motion of a religious man, named Lovibond, moved in mere charity; the passage over the river there, before, being very dangerous, and having been the loss of some lives, as well as goods. The passage from this town of Padstow to Ireland, is called, by writers, to be no more than twenty-four hours, but not justly: It is true, that Padstow being the first, and best, if not the only haven on this shore, the trade from Ireland settled here of course, and a great many ships in this harbour, are imploy'd in the commerce; but to say, they make the voyage in four-and-twenty hours, is to say, It has been so, or, on extraordinary gales of fair wind, it may be done; but not one in twenty-four ships makes its voyage in twenty-four hours; and, I believe, it may be said, they are oftener five or six days in the passage.

A little way within the land S.W. from Padstow, lies St. Columb, eminent for nothing but its being the antient estate of the famous Arundel of Trerice, of late years made noble by King Charles II., being still famous in the present Lord Arundel of Trerice; also between them, is a very antient seat of a family of the name of Prideaux who, in Queen Elizabeth's time, built a very noble seat there, which remains to this day, tho' time makes the architect of it look a little out of fashion.

Higher within the land, lies the town of Bodmyn, once one of the coining towns for tin, but lost it to Lestwithyel: However, this town enjoys several privileges, some of which are also tokens of its antiquity.

The coinage towns were, in Queen Elizabeth's time, four; namely,

Leskard, Truro,

Lestwithyel, Helston.

Since that, in King James's time, was added,


Tintagel Castle lies upon this coast a little farther, a mark of great antiquity, and every writer has mentioned it; but as antiquity is not my work, I leave the ruins of Tintagel to those that search into antiquity; little or nothing, that I could hear, is to be seen at it; and as for the story of King Arthur being both born and killed there, 'tis a piece of tradition, only on oral history, and not any authority to be produced for it.

We have nothing more of note in this county, that I could see, or hear of, but a set of monumental stones, found standing not far from Bodmyn, called The Hurlers, of which the country, nor all the writers of the country, can give us no good account; so I must leave them as I found them.

The game called the Hurlers, is a thing the Cornish men value themselves much upon; I confess, I see nothing in it, but that it is a rude violent play among the boors, or country people; brutish and furious, and a sort of an evidence, that they were, once, a kind of barbarians: It seems, to me, something to resemble the old way of play, as it was then called, with whirle-bats, with which Hercules slew the gyant, when he undertook to clean the Augean stable.

The wrestling in Cornwall, is, indeed, a much more manly and generous exercise, and that closure, which they call the Cornish Hug, has made them eminent in the wrestling rings all over England, as the Norfolk, and Suffolk men, are for their dexterity at the hand and foot, and throwing up the heels of their adversary, without taking hold of him.

I came out of Cornwall by passing the river Tamar at Launceston, the last, or rather, the first, town in the county, the town shewing little else, but marks of its antiquity; for great part of it is so old, as it may, in a manner, pass for an old, ragged, decay'd place, in general. It stands at a distance, almost two miles from the river, over which, there is a very good bridge; the town is eminent, however, for being, as we call it, the county town, where the assizes are always kept.

In the time when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, had the absolute government of this county, and was, we might say, king of the country, it was a frontier town, walled about, and well fortified, and had, also, a strong castle to defend it; but these are seen, now, only in their old cloaths, and lie all in ruins and heaps of rubbish.

It is a principal gain to the people of this town, that they let lodgings to the gentlemen, who attend here in the time of the assizes, and other publick meetings; as particularly, that of electing knights of the shire, and at the county sessions, which are held here; for which purposes, the town's people have their rooms better furnished than in other places of this country, though their houses are but low; nor do they fail to make a good price to their lodgers, for the conveniences they afford them.

The town sends two members to Parliament, and so does Newport, a little village adjoining, and which, indeed, is but a part of Launceston itself; so that the town may be said, almost, to choose four Members of Parliament. There is a fine image, or figure of Mary Magdalen, upon the tower of the church, which the Catholicks fail not to pay their reverences to, as they pass by. There is no tin, or copper, or lead, found hereabouts, as I could find, nor any manufacture in the place; there are a pretty many attorneys here, who manage business for the rest of their fraternity at the assizes: As to trade, it has not much to boast of, and yet there are people enough in it to excuse those who call it a populous place: There is a long nook of the county, runs north from this place, which is called the Hundred of Stratton, and in which there is one market town, and no more, the name of which, is Stratton; but has nothing in, or about it, worth our making any remarks. Passing the river Tamar, as above, about two miles from Launceston, we enter the great county of Devon, and as we enter Devonshire, in the most wild and barren part of the county, and where, formerly, tin mines were found, though now they are either quite exhausted, or not to be found without more charge than the purchase, if found, would be worth; so we must expect it a little to resemble its neighbour country for a while.

The river Tamar, here, is so full of fresh salmon, and those so exceeding fat, and good, that they are esteemed, in both counties, above the fish, of the same kind, found in other places; and the quantity is so great, as supplies the country in abundance, which is occasioned by the mouth of the river being so very large, and the water so deep for two leagues before it opens into Plymouth Sound, so that the fish have a secure retreat in the salt water for their harbour and shelter, and from thence they shoot up into the fresh water, in such vast numbers to cast their spawn, that the country people cannot take too many.

It is observed of Cornwall, as of one or two counties more in England, that all the rivers that are in the county, rise within the bounds of the same county; and this must needs be because this river Tamar, which parts the two counties, rises in the upper edge, within a little more than two miles of the North, or Severn Sea, and runs into the South, or British Channel, cross the whole limits, so that no river out of Devonshire, can enter Cornwall, that little piece in the north excepted; unless we should suppose it to run cross the Tamar, which is not to be thought of.

As we are just entered Devonshire, as I said above, it seems, at first sight, a wild, barren, poor country; but we ride but a few miles, 'till we find an alteration in several things: i. More people; 2. Larger towns; 3. The people all busy, and in full employ upon their manufactures.

At the uppermost, and extreme part of the county, N.W. there runs a huge promontory, a mountain like proboscis, into the sea, beyond all the land on either side, whether of Devonshire, or of Cornwall. This they would fain have called Hercules's Promontory, and Mr. Cambden, in his writing, and his mapmaker also, calls it Herculis Promontorium; but the honest sailers, and after them, the plain country people, call it, in down-right modern English, Hartland Point, or, Hearty Point, from the town of Hartland, which stands just within the shore, and is on the very utmost edge of the county of Devon: It is a market town, though so remote, and of good resort too, the people coming to it out of Cornwall, as well as out of Devonshire; and particularly the fisher-boats of Barnstaple, Bidiford, and other towns on the coast, lying often under the lee, as they call it, of these rocks, for shelter from the S.W. or S.E. winds; the seamen go on shore here, and supply themselves with provisions; nor is the town unconcerned in that gainful fishing trade, which is carried on for the herrings on this coast, many seamen and fishing vessels belonging to the town.

From this point or promontory, the land, falling away for some miles, makes a gulph or bay, which, reaching to the head land, or point of Barnstable River or Haven, is called from thence, Barnstable Bay; into this bay, or at the W. end of this bay, the rivers Taw and Tower empty themselves at one mouth, that is to say, in one channel; and it is very particular, that as two rivers join in one channel, so here are two great trading towns in one port, a thing which as it is not usual, so I cannot say 'tis any advantage to either of them; for it naturally follows, that they rival one another, and lessen both; whereas, had they been join'd together in one town, or were it possible to join them, they would make the most considerable town, or city rather, in all this part of England.

These are the towns of Barnstable and Biddiford, or, as some write it, Bediford; the first of these is the most antient, the last the most flourishing; the harbour or river is in its entrance the same to both, and when they part, the Tower turning to the right, or south west, and the Taw to the S.E. yet they seem to be both so safe, so easy in the channel, so equally good with respect to shipping, so equi-distant from the sea, and so equally advantageous, that neither town complains of the bounty of the sea to them, or their situation by land; and yet, of late years, the town of Biddiford has flourished, and the town of Barnstable rather declin'd.

Biddiford is a pleasant, clean, well-built town; the more antient street which lies next the river, is very pleasant, where is the bridge, a very noble key, and the custom-house; this part also is very well built and populous, and fronts the river for above three quarters of a mile: But besides this, there is a new spacious street, which runs N. and S. or rather N.W. and S.E. a great length, broad as the High Street of Excester, well-built, and, which is more than all, well inhabited, with considerable and wealthy merchants, who trade to most parts of the trading world.

Here, as is to be seen in almost all the market towns of Devonshire, is a very large, well-built, and well-finish'd meeting-house, and, by the multitude of people which I saw come out of it, and the appearance of them, I thought all the town had gone thither, and began to enquire for the church: But when I came to the church, I found that also, large, spacious, and well filled too, and that with people of the best fashion. The person who officiates at the meeting-house in this town, I happened to have some conversation with, and found him to be not only a learned man, and master of good reading; but a most acceptable gentlemanly person, and one, who, contrary to our received opinion of those people, had not only good learning, and good sense, but abundance of good manners, and good humour; nothing soure, cynical, or morose in him, and, in a word, a very valuable man: And as such a character always recommends a man to men of sense and good breeding, so I found this gentleman was very well received in the place, even by those who he differ'd from in matters of religion, and those differences did not, as is usual, make any breach in their conversing with him: His name, as I remember, was Bartlet. But this is a digression: I wish I could say the like of all the rest of his brethren.

The trade of this town being very much in fish, as it is also of all the towns on this coast, I observed here, that several ships were employ'd to go to Leverpool, and up the river Mersey to Warrington, to fetch the rock salt, which is found in that county, (and of which I shall say more in my remarks on those parts) which rock salt they bring to Biddiford and Barnstable, and here they dissolve it into brine in the sea water, joyning the strength of two bodies into one, and then boil it up again into a new salt, as the Dutch do by the French and Portuguese salt: This is justly call'd salt upon salt, and with this they cure their herrings; and as this is a trade which can be but of a few years standing, because the rock itself has not been discovered in England much above twenty years; so the difference in curing the fish has been such, and it has so recommended their herrings in foreign markets, that the demand for them has considerably increased, and consequently the trade.

There is indeed, a very fine stone bridge over the river here, but the passage over it is so narrow, and they are so chary of it, that few carriages go over it; but as the water ebbs quite out of the river every low water, the carts and waggons go over the sand with great ease and safety; the arches of the bridge are beautiful and stately; but as for saying one of them is so big, that a ship of 60 tons may sail under it, &c. as a late author asserts, I leave that where I find it, for the people of Bidiford to laugh at: If it had been said the hull of such a ship might pass under the bridge, it might have been let go; But, as he says, It may SAIL under it, which must suppose some or one of its masts standing too; this puts it past all possibility of belief, at least to those who judge of such things by rules of mechanism, or by what is to be seen in other parts of the world, no such thing being practicable either at London Bridge, Rochester Bridge, or even at York, where the largest arch in England is supposed to be.

Bidiford was antiently the inheritance of the family of Granville, or Greenfield, as formerly call'd, and the Earl of Bath, who is the heir and chief of the family, is now Baron of Bidiford, Viscount Lansdown, and Earl of Bath.

As Biddiford has a fine bridge over the Tower or Towridge, so Barnstable has a very noble bridge over the Taw, and though not longer, is counted larger and stronger than the other. These two rival towns are really very considerable; both of them have a large share in the trade to Ireland, and in the herring fishery, and in a trade to the British colonies in America; if Biddiford cures more fish, Barnstable imports more wine, and other merchandizes; they are both established ports for landing wooll from Ireland; of which by itself.

If Biddiford has a greater number of merchants, Barnstable has a greater commerce within land, by its great market for Irish wooll and yarn, &c. with the serge-makers of Tiverton and Excester, who come up hither to buy. So that, in a word, Barnstable, though it has lost ground to Biddiford, yet, take it in all its trade compleatly, is full as considerable as Biddiford; only, that perhaps, it was formerly far superior to it, and the other has risen up to be a match to it.

Barnstable is a large, spacious, well built town, more populous than Biddiford, but not better built, and stands lower; insomuch, that at high water in spring tides, it is, as it were, surrounded with water; the bridge here, was built by the generous gift of one Stamford, a citizen and merchant of London, who, it seems, was not a native of this place, but by trading here to his gain, had kindness enough for the town, to offer such a benefaction to them as they enjoy the benefit of to this day.

The bridge at Biddiford as above, was likewise a gift; but was, as they say, done by collections among the clergy, by grant of indulgences and the like church management: But be it how it will, both the towns are infinitely obliged to the benefactors.

Behind Biddiford, that is as we come from Launceston, are several good towns, though I observed that the country was wild and barren; as Tavistock, belonging to the house of Bedford, and giving the title of marquis, to the eldest son of that illustrious ducal family; the town of Torrington, on the same river Towridge that Biddiford stands on; the title of Earl of Torrington, was first given to the late General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, in honour, and for a reward of his loyalty, in restoring King Charles II. and the line being extinct in his son, it was given by King William III. to Admiral Herbert, who came over with him, and was immediately made admiral of the British fleet, to defend the possession of the crown in the person of that prince; and since that to Sir George Bing, one of our present admirals, and one who asserted the authority and power of the British navy against the Spaniards, at the late sea fight near Cape Passaro in Sicily: So that the town of Torrington, seems to be appropriated to the honour of the defenders of the British sovereignty at sea.

Another town in this part of the country is Okehampton, vulgarly Okington, a good market town, which gave title of baron to the Lord Mohun, and sends two members to the Parliament; it is a manufacturing town, as all the towns this way now are, and pretty rich; and having said this, I have said all, unless it be, that in the records of antiquity, it appears to have been much more considerable than it is now, having 92 knights fees belonging to it. But as I studiously avoid medling with antiquity in these accounts, studying to give you the present state of the countries and towns through which I travel, rather than what they have been; so I say no more of those things than needs must.

A little above Barnstable, N.E. upon the coast, stands a good market and port town, call'd Ilfar-Comb, a town of good trade, populous and rich, all which is owing to its having a very good harbour and road for ships, and where ships from Ireland often put in, when, in bad weather, they cannot, without the extremest hazard, run into the mouth of the Taw, which they call Barnstable Water; and this is one reason, which causes the merchants at Barnstable, to do much of their business at this port of Ilfar-Comb.

Antiquity tells us long stories, of the Danes landing on this coast; of Hubba, the Danish king, being slain here, that is at Kennith Castle, between this place and the mouth of the Taw and Towridge, and that the place was call'd Hubbestow ever after, from the burying of this prince there; All this may be true, for ought we know, but I could neither find or hear of this castle of Kennith, or burial place, Hubbestow, or any thing of the ruins or remains of them in the country; so I shall trouble you no farther about them.

The sea coast in this county, runs a little farther east by north, but I found there was nothing of moment to be seen there, except fishing towns, and small creeks, on which are two small market towns, such as Combemerton, and Porlock, 'till we came to Minehead.

Leaving the coast, we came, in our going southward, to the great river Ex, or Isca, which rises in the hills on this north side of the county, and that so far, as, like the Tamar, it begins within four or five miles of the Severn Sea; the country it rises in, is called Exmore, Cambden calls it a filthy, barren, ground, and, indeed, so it is; but as soon as the Ex comes off from the moors, and hilly country, and descends into the lower grounds, we found the alteration; for then we saw Devonshire in its other countenance, viz. cultivated, populous, and fruitful; and continuing so 'till we came to Tiverton, a town which I mentioned before, but did not fully describe.

Next to Excester, this is the greatest manufacturing town in the county, and, of all the inland towns, is next to it in wealth, and in numbers of people; it stands on the river Ex, and has over it, a very fine bridge, with another over the little river Loman, which, immediately after, falls into the Ex just below the town: Antiquity says, before those bridges were built, there were two fords here, one through each river, and that the town was from thence called Twyford-ton, that is, the town upon the two fords, and so by abbreviating the sounds Twy-for-ton, then Tiverton; but that I leave to the learned searchers into antient things.

But the beauty of Tiverton is the Free-School, at the east entrance into the town, a noble building, but a much nobler foundation; it was erected by one Peter Blundel, a clothier, and a lover of learning, who used the saying of William of Wickham to the king when he founded the royal school at Winchester, viz. That if he was not himself a scholar, he would be the occasion of making more scholars, than any scholar in England; to which end he founded this school: He has endowed it with so liberal a maintenance, that, as I was informed, the school-master has, at least, sixty pounds per annum, besides a very good house to live in, and the advantage of scholars not on the foundation, and the usher in proportion; and to this he added two fellowships, and two scholarships, which he gave the maintenance for to Sydney-College in Cambridge, and one fellowship, and two scholarships, to Baliol-College in Oxford, all which are appointed for the scholars bred up in this school, and the present reverend master, was a scholar upon the foundation in the same school.

As this is a manufacturing country, as above, we found the people, here, all fully employed, and very few, if any, out of work, except such as need not be unemployed, but were so from mere sloth and idleness, of which, some will be found every where.

From this town, there is little belonging to Devonshire, but what has been spoken of, except what lies in the road to Taunton, which we took next, where we meet with the river Columb, a river rising also in the utmost limits of the shire towards Somersetshire, and giving name to so many towns on its banks, as leaves no room to doubt of its own name being right, such as Columb David's, Ufcolumbe, Columstock, and Columbton; the last is a market town, and they are all full of manufacturers, depending much on the master manufacturers of Tiverton.

With this town, we leave the county of Devon, and entering Somersetshire, have really a taste of a different country from Devonshire; for entering Wellington, the first town we came at in Somersetshire, though partly employ'd in manufacturing too, we were immediately surrounded with beggars, to such a degree, that we had some difficulty to keep them from under our horse heels.

It was our misfortune at first, that we threw some farthings, and halfpence, such as we had, among them; for thinking by this to be rid of them, on the contrary, it brought out such a croud of them, as if the whole town was come out into the street, and they ran in this manner after us through the whole street, and a great way after we were quite out of the town; so that we were glad to ride as fast as we could through the town to get clear of them; I was, indeed, astonish'd at such a sight, in a country where the people were so generally full of work, as they were here; for in Cornwall, where there are hardly any manufacturers, and where there are, indeed, abundance of poor, yet we never found any thing like this.

Before I quite leave Devonshire, I must mention one thing, which I observed at my first setting out; namely, That I would take notice how every county in England furnish'd something of its produce towards the supply of the city of London: Now I must allow, that Cornwall is, in some respects, an exception to this rule, because, though it is fruitful enough for the supply of its own inhabitants, yet, in the first place, the waste grounds are so many, the inhabitants so numerous, and the county so narrow, that, except the herrings, a few of which may be brought to London for sale, they have not much overplus to furnish other parts with; but then they make us amends by sending up an immense wealth in their tin, lead, and copper, from the bowels of their barren mountains, and the export of the pilchards, and herrings, from both their shores to Spain and Italy, from whence much of the returns are again brought to London for their vent and consumption.

In like manner, the county of Devon has been rich in mines of tin and lead, though they seem at present, wrought out; and they had their stannary towns and coinage, as well as in Cornwall; nay, so numerous were the miners or tinners, as they are called in this county, that they were, on occasion of a national muster, or defence, regimented by themselves, arm'd, and officer'd by themselves, and were, in short, a separate militia from the train'd bands, or militia of the county; but now we see the tin works in Devonshire is quite laid aside, not one tin mine being at work in the whole county: There are, indeed, some copper-works undertaken on the north side, as we were told; but I do not find, that they are yet brought to any perfection, and about Ilfarcomb, Comb Mertin, also at Delverton, in the north part of the county, they have been at work to see if they can recover some silver mines, which, in the time of King Edward III. were so large, that they employed three hundred miners, besides other workmen, and brought that prince great sums of money for the carrying on his wars against France: What progress they are now like to make in it, I cannot yet learn.

But there is one article in the produce of Devonshire, which makes good what I have written before, That every county contributes something towards the supply of London; and this is, the cyder which I have mentioned already, and which takes up the south part of the county, between Topsham and Axminster, where they have so vast a quantity of fruit, and so much cyder made, that sometimes they have sent ten, or twenty thousand hogsheads of it in a year to London, and at a very reasonable rate too.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)

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