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Aerial view of Hope Cove

The Hope Cove history blog

Friday, 29th April, 2022

Phillida and Mary


Hope and the Surrounding Areas in the 1920s

From time-to-time conflict arises on social media regarding the shortage of social or affordable housing and the increasing number of holiday homes. It is a thorny subject. One side claiming that has always been much the same and it is true that census returns for the late 1800’s shows a fair number of retired professionals and a sprinkling of sea captains moving to Hope and most likely it is they who built most of Outer Hope as it extended up the valley. Holiday homes are a different issue and it is these which attract most controversy. This is not unique to Hope nor is it new. Many attractive villages all over the country are faced with the same problem and in the 1980s in Wales there was a spate of arson attacks against second homes.

As we shall see below, from the early 1900s Hope Cove was becoming an increasingly popular resort for holidays and day trips. If your timing was right fresh fish and crabs could be had. Until around 1950 Hope supported a butcher, a greengrocer’s shop, a garage and a filling station as well as the village general stores. To complete the supplies there were weekly deliveries of bread, milk, coal and Moysey’s brought paraffin and all other hardware items required for domestic use.

The “Western Times” between 1920 and 1926 ran an occasional column comprising letters written by someone called Phillida to her friend Mary. Phillida owned a large house near Thurlestone sands. She and family and friends stayed there for several months each summer. Thus, she was an early second home owner. We have not been able to determine where she was living but from her descriptions it seems probable that it was near to what was once the Rock House Hotel.


Despite extensive searches we could not identify Phillida. We know she lived in Exeter but assume her name was a nom de plume. She gives little snapshots of life living a twenty-minute walk from Hope Cove where she went to get fresh provisions. Importantly she adds colour to the precious postcards we have of those days.

In April 1920 she writes: -

We walked nearly two miles to church, found at Galmpton a fairly modern building of good size, and well-kept, with efficient choir, who tackled a full choral service, and got through it quite creditably.

A good compliment for a small village church. At that time the accomplished musician and artist Bessie Boyns who had made her home in Galmpton, might well have been responsible for the choir.

Phillida’s party had arrived in April.

Nobody has been brave enough to start sea bathing from this establishment. We have gathered winkles, quite a form of excitement in these parts, and very good eating, too.

She and the party spent quite a bit of time gardening which was to become very productive. She goes on to say: -

This morning we walked to Hope Cove to market. That is part of the fun when living in the country. You have to forage for food, but you can get a good supply, and good meat two or three-times week, English fed, which is almost treat. We see crabs and lobsters looming in the distance. One fisherman told us this morning we should walk over between 10 and 11 a.m. to-morrow and he would have big crab ready. So you see what simple pleasures satisfy us down this way. We can exist without picture palaces and music halls.


The view from the Downs in 1922

These letters were written just a few years after the Great War and Phillida was well educated with much to say about politics, Trades Unions and the working class. If she was over thirty she would be newly able to vote. She is the product of a moneyed class and her opinions are often what might be expected from someone in her position but she does show concern about workers housing.

She tells us that morning papers are delivered during the afternoon, and, the evening paper by the first post next morning, so she is kept up to date and well informed. She is unhappy about the food supply although she seems to do well enough.

The meat question is a crying scandal. Here we are obliged to eat imported meat when there is home-fed at our doors, which 'has to be slaughtered and sent away one hears — to the mining centres and big manufacturing towns, “to keep the workers sweet." Whilst nobody grudges them their fair proportion, it rather imposes on good will and good nature to yield up the largest share.

There can be no need for the high prices of fish, eggs. etc. We are paying 2/6d for eggs this way—quite reasonable. It will interest you to hear cream is practically unattainable. We get a small quantity each day.  We are surrounded by farms but they are selling large quantities of milk daily. Of that, we get a good supply.

Apparently there have been enormous football crowds at every match during the holiday. It is splendid to find the men content with games, instead of public house company. The shilling spent on their recreation is not wasted, and helps them be sporty other ways.

 "Hope Cove," about 20 minutes' walk from our cottage, has an additional population during June, July and August of about 300 people. Every house lets rooms with terms quite in keeping with the prices prevailing nowadays. The families, I presume, accommodate themselves somewhere, but it surprising how many quite a small house can lodge. This is our shopping village for oddments which one has run out of, or forgotten when town. Here, too, we get splendid shell fish, and bring them along alive. What could you have better than that? One thing I find difficult to get is ordinary fish. Apparently the Hope folk do little fishing of that description, although we are promised mackerel later on. Everything on a scale that people want it and must pay. There we pay 6d per lb. for new potatoes; here I find they are 3½d. This is the rule. Milk is dearer, and all else in keeping.

There is an absolute famine of fruit—practically nothing to buy. I see very little demand for sugar for preserving, because of the fruit scarcity. Very evident signs of potato disease have appeared; such a tragedy when the crops are so heavy. We are now digging our own potatoes, also pulling turnips, carrots, cutting cabbages, and very soon shall begin on peas. It is so nice to feel independent, especially such a distance from a market. At present we are self-supporting in that line.

Some of our party have just gone to Hope Cove, to shop at the Emporium there. It is small, but contains most things one wants. It has a quite enterprising owner, and doing good business. Every lodging-house, furnished house, and hotel is packed, and in spite of the unsettled weather, folks seem to be enjoying themselves—bathing, winkle picking, etc., when sport other kinds is out of the question. We propose to tackle pools, etc., for prawns on the first fine day. We have ample supply of nets ready.

The Hope Cove Phillida was describing had just begun to develop and the breakwater was yet to be built.

In the remote village of “Hope Cove," combining Galmpton. there is to be a sale next week. The proceeds are for the church organ, which needs repairing and a general overhaul. Usually country villages work well together, and Churchgoers and Nonconformists combine for efforts of this sort. We most certainly shall be there.

The following paragraph puts some perspective to the discussion at the start of this blog.

The August contingent have "rolled, up," so that we are quite a little colony of foreigners (that is no doubt how residents regard us). We can almost claim be residents, as we spend five months of the year, and have the privilege of being included in the visits of the rates and tax collector. It is worth it, and, may add, rates are not calculated to give one shocks in this district. After the and towns, the village demands strike one being “reasonable." to say the least.

For the fete at Hope Cove the elements smiled. It was a glorious day, consequently there was a gathering of the clans from villages and hamlets far afield. Apparently, one per year is the limit, everybody tries make a go of things." Visitors from "Hope" had been energetic with fishing line and crab pots for the fish stall, which proved a great attraction,' and speedily sold out. Cakes, home-made, piled high one another, drew visitors. Fruit, vegetables, etc., all sold well. Carrots, for Is 6d, were luxury, but sold readily at that.

Amongst the attractions were cockerels and hens in pens. The names had to be guessed. A long list of names was supplied to the speculator from Biblical to music-hall favourites. A pig, nicely got in blue ribbons, was patiently awaiting the crowds come and guess his weight, the prize being a fowl; for an extra Is a chance for a "draw" was thrown in. The possessor of the lucky number became the owner of the pig. I may add "the family" tried their luck, which was "out that day. Altogether it was a cheery show, there were lots of people, and they made record sum on the day's fun. In the evening there was first-class concert, contributed by professionals staying the village, who willingly gave their services. The sum raised was far beyond one's wildest dreams.

The route taken from Exeter is described and sounds tortuous in places. No doubt it took quite a while. Hope seemed to be a popular destination for charabancs taking people on days out.  Modern day travellers from Malborough to Hope know the road is challenging in places. However Phillida’s comments below are surprising.

The road to Salcombe is the last word in roads. It is too appalling to describe. One wonders whether the Devon Authorities ever mean to tackle the branch roads, or if they have forgotten there are any. I should advise some them to take a motor ride this way—they would soon have a hive of workers on them.

The letters contain observations about harvests, storms, gardening and events in the area.

There was huge excitement here on Sunday. An old fisherman from Hope Cove turned up with the news that an American liner had signalled to Hope " to send the lifeboat out. This was done, and they found it was wanted to bring a stowaway ashore. We were just preparing to go to the beach, part of the house party being equipped for bathing, so we started off in time to see the big steamer steaming out to sea again. We have never seen one, so close in shore before. The story was, this stowaway deserted from a sailing ship at Southampton, choosing the crow's nest (if you know anything about a ship, you will know where that is) as hiding place.

Coming down Channel on Saturday night, it was quite cold, and blowing quite a smart breeze, so that after landing their pilot, the deserter felt he was safe; cold and hunger drove him down, but he was unfortunate, as the ship was still close enough to land to put him shore. They were bound for America. A collection was made by the passengers, so that he was not destitute when was put on shore at Hope. What became of him after, I do not know. Our excitement was great seeing this large ship in close to land.

After another storm Phillida writes:-

At Hope Cove, just beyond, the work of the last seven weeks was practically demolished during Sunday night. The foundations of the new breakwater were undermined and washed away, so that it means beginning all over again.

Phillida noticed several people camping and one group near their home.

They proved to be contingents of Devon Girl Guides, units from Tiverton, Brent, Kingswear, Totnes, Cornwood, and so forth. We met them at " Hope Cove." They were trekking with their frying pans, cups, and other gear, for a picnic lunch somewhere on Bolt Tail, glorious headland nearby, now covered with purple and magenta heather. Stopping to let them pass, we noted they were a workmanlike crowd, in the best sense, well set up, and evidently enjoying themselves. Afterwards we saw them invade the village shop, brisk sale postcards and other oddments took place. This coast is an ideal spot for camping purposes and under present weather conditions could not be surpassed. A little care has to be exercised when choosing bathing spots, but there is no real danger. That lies on the other side of the hill, at Bantham, where that regrettable tragedy took place last year amongst the schoolboys from Bristol

I have extracted those parts of Phillida’s letters which give some insight into life in Hope in the 1920s. However they contain a great deal more about the fragile economy of the country and some concern about politics here and on the continent. There is still some rawness left over from the war. If you would like to read them in full you can access my transcription Phillida_and_Mary.docx. There are some caveats though. I have had to read the photocopies on The British Newspaper Archive. These are not always clear. I am not a trained typist and my eyes are not those of a young man. In short – I haven’t proof read them and there may be many typos! cth.

If you have any ideas about Phillida's identity, please let us know



Previous posts

; 2022

; April

Phillida and Mary

Hazel Leslie's Memory

>  February

>  January

>  2021

>  2020

>  2019

This post is intended to share local history information, to promote discussion and inform research. The information included is to the best of my knowledge and belief accurate, and obtained from reliable sources. If you find inaccuracies or omissions it would be really helpful to know, so that we can update our information. Maz.

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