A Business Community

A Business Community

Farming has always been the underlying business of the village with tenanted farms throughout the parish and even in the 1980s there were five active farms in Fore Street.   The “Courts” of Stantyway and Watering were former farmyards, and shared their names with areas of the lands around the village where mediaeval strips were clustered.   Barton House on Church Hill was the farmhouse for the large farm running south to the Point.   In 1972 that farm, a dairy, was taken in hand and managed from what is now Willow House on Fore Street, but like the other in-village farms it closed, in 1993.   There is a separate page on farming.

Otterton has been home to many independent businesses and trades. The oldest trade recorded in the village goes back to the 14th century.  John Hosebonde, le Faber (the Smith) worked as a blacksmith at the forge and is named on the Lay Subsidy of 1332. The former forge is at the top of Fore Street but the village has not, however, had a regular blacksmith since 1990.    Nevertheless we have a thriving metalworking and engineering business in North Star Engineering along Ottery Street, and Pankhurst Engineering (now a toolmaking consultancy) runs from Wombles in Bell Street.

It was reported that as early as 1790 women of the village were very engaged, and very successful, at crafting and producing a lace now known Honiton lace. Houses on the Green had workers sitting in the light of the windows. However, in the 19th century a Tiverton-based inventor, John Heathcoat, had developed a machine that made light work of lace making, meaning that the lace the women were making was unable to be sold for the price it used to. Recognising the importance of this local trade, village shopkeepers set themselves up as lace buyers. They would collect the finished pieces to sell to the manufacturer when he visited, while the women would exchange the pieces for more thread and patterns and other goods from the shop. Unfortunately we do not know for how much this lace would have sold, as there are no prices recorded for lace in the village at this time

It is hard to imagine now, but in the early 1900’s large areas of land across South East Devon were transformed into Market Gardens. Two existed in Otterton: one on Maunders Hill run by Miss Emmeline Baker, and the other at The Gardens in Fore Street, run by Albert George Smith. Both of these operated very successfully from 1902 to the 1960s, and were welcomed by locals and those farther afield looking for good fresh produce.   A cattle market was also set up by six local farmers at the former Mill yard, called East Budleigh Market in the 1920’s. Cattle were auctioned off to potential buyers on the Tuesday and Friday of each week, and tourists would often visit the village to watch the spectacle!

In recent years new businesses have been encouraged at South Farm, no longer accessible by car from the village along the east bank of the Otter due to landslips, but nevertheless part of the parish.A Business Community  (Part 2 of 2)

One of the local businesses long at the very core of the village was the village shop and post office. First established in the 1770’s, the post office was situated in the courtyard at the rear of the Inn off the old Kings Arms until 1855. All mail was hand stamped with ‘Otterton Penny Post’, though many stamps were rather smudged as ale would frequently get into the inkpad!   Existing long before the Budleigh Salterton post office that is now the most convenient post office for villagers, it served as the main town post office in the Lower Otter Valley with Budleigh Salterton and East Budleigh as sub offices.

When William Freeman moved to Otterton in 1871, he turned his cottage into a shop and post office and ran it with his brother George.  After William’s death, George partnered up with Lord Clinton’s valet Harry Genge in 1923, to enlarge the business and continue its success.   It was based on the south side near the top of Fore Street.

The post office then changed hands a number of times, before making national news in 1998.    The owner and Postmaster was sued by Post Office Counters Ltd to recover £1.1 million and in December was tried at Exeter Crown Court and sentenced to five years in prison for fraud. The future of the shop became uncertain, being moved for a while into the conservatory of the Kings Arms as ‘Arkwrights’ before being closed in July 2006. Villagers were suddenly left with nowhere within reasonable walking distance to buy their essentials, and this was the way for several years until members of the community came to the rescue and set up a volunteer-based community shop in the former snooker room in the village hall in 2015.

The Mill is a notable enterprise.  It tells its own story, but the former mill, closed in the first part of the 20th century, was resurrected by Desna Greenhow (who lived at Mill House) and retired Judge George Polson and many village friends in the 1970s from its disuse as a cattle market, and the lease from Clinton Devon Estates has since passed through the hands of Bob Butler and Claire Stein, Caroline and Simon Spiller, to Chris and Carol Wright in this second decade.   The Spillers in particular were plagued with the series of devastating floods that hit the lower village in the first decade.

Thatched buildings are one of the attractions for visitors to Otterton.   From the first Listing of buildings in 1946 to 1987 there were 51 listed thatched buildings in the parish.   A few years ago the District Council moved the north end of our civil parish to Newton Poppleford and we lost five thatched buildings (four of them farmhouses).  There is also Waterhayes not listed, and three further modern thatched buildings.   There have been thatchers living in the village foir centuries.   From the 1790s to the 1950s eight members of the Caseley family have worked on our roofs.   In 1842 Houstern Farmhouse was nearly rebuilt and 655 sheaves of wheat reed were used to re-thatch it.   The sheaves were all supoplied by local farms – total cost £18/10/- On the other hand, when the Barton was regenerated in the mid 1800s the thatched roof on massive oak beams was sliced off in the attic and a huge queen beam structure with slate replaced it.

Sea View Farm to the east of the village is a farm but was until very recently also the base of the Ladram Bay Holiday Camp.  The area was in the 19th century known as ‘Laderham’, long before that ‘Capella de la Hedereland’.   The now huge holiday resort had very modest origins:   in 1924 the Estate allowed a group of girl guides to camp in fields overlooking the beach under the supervision of Ernest Mingo, but after the Second World War the farmer, Bill Carter, bought the farm from the Estate and the rest is history!

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