Bideford’s ‘prefabs’.

During the Second World War huge numbers of houses were destroyed by enemy action, and as early as 1944 Winston Churchill announced an EFM (Emergency Factory Made) housing programme. In 1945 the new prime minister Clement Atlee began implementing the scheme and within six years some one million new ‘prefabs’, as they came to be known, had been built – and I lived in one as a child.

In Bideford some fifty were built at Bowden Green and named the Grenville estate. The rapidly assembled, prefabricated houses were simple but perfectly acceptable constructions and, unusually for the time, were ‘all electric’ with luxurious touches like fridges being available. The first was opened in April 1946 by the Mayor W.H.Chubb, who was accompanied by councillors and some of the first tenants. All this was reported in the Gazette along with some photographs as shown here.

The buildings were only designed for a 10 year life span but residents grew to love them so much they didn’t want to leave and it wasn’t until July 1964 that the town council decided to demolish them. This move immediately led to protests from the prefab dwellers – as shown in the attached cutting from the Gazette.

The tenants lost the battle, however, and their houses were removed and replaced by 3-storey blocks of flats – which in their time have now been demolished and replaced by new accommodation! Nothing ever stands still, but one has to wonder if the concept of ‘prefabs’ should be revisited to help tackle the nation’s current housing shortage?

Peter Christie.


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Felicity’s sustainable fish cookery – November.

Here is a Devon version of ‘Stargazey pasties’ made with Clovelly herrings.

Devonshire Stargazey Pasty.


450g puff pastry.

225g potato (cubed).

4/6 Herrings – filleted and sliced.

rashers of bacon.

1 onion.

50g butter .

1 tbsp. chives – chopped.

1 tbsp. parsley, chopped.

275g clotted cream.

Milk or egg for glazing.


Boil the potatoes for about 15mins.

Grill the bacon until the edges start browning, also slice and fry the onions in light oil until they are softened.

Chop up the cooked bacon and add to a bowl with the cooked diced potato, sliced herring fillets, chopped herbs and the softened onions and mix together.

On a floured surface roll out the puff pastry thinly and then cut rounds out to fit size 7inch/18cm side plates.

Fill the centre of each round with mixture on one half (be careful not to overfill). Add a spoonful of clotted cream on top.

Dampen the edges of the pasty with milk, fold and crimp the edges together carefully so that everything is sealed in.

Glaze with beaten egg and milk mixed, or just milk, and place on a non- stick baking tray.

Bake in the oven at 180C /gas mark 4 for 30 mins. until pastry is a golden brown.

Serve with seasonal vegetables or salad or take out with you on a walk or picnic.

Delicious with tomato chutney!


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One hundred years ago – November 1917.

Children from Bideford schools have collected approximately two tons of horse chestnuts, which will save a ton of cereals in munitions work.

North Devon Appeals Courts: Many columns in every edition are given to reporting the proceedings of employers appealing about their staff being taken to go to war. Farmers are protesting that on one hand they are being asked to increase food production, yet threshing is not being done because engine drivers and the labourers are being conscripted. Another farm instance this month is William Cole (18) of Bucks Cross who works with his father, Edward, breeding and training farm horses. They have 4 agricultural horses and 9 colts to be trained and this cannot be done alone. His appeal was allowed.

At Parkham the continuous showery weather has allowed very little ploughing to be done but an experiment at Melbury using a tractor saw the land turned and cultivated with some success. However rabbits ate everything that sprouted, but continued trapping saw the problem diminished, the crop grew, and now sheep can be seen feeding.

R Dymond & Co is offering for sale: A detached villa formerly called ‘The Ferns’ but now known as ‘Straiton’ at Buckleigh; 2, Nelson Terrace, Westward Ho! house and shop, & ‘East Glen’, Orchard Hill, Northam.

Another agent is advertising: A two-stall stable and Coach House, Torridge Street Bideford, 1 Torridge Street, 33 & 34 Torrington Lane, 35 Clifton Street, (a corner dwelling) & 35 Torrington Lane, which has a large frontage and has been re-roofed.

The Governors of Edgehill College have purchased ‘Kiltrasna’, a large residence with 15 acres high up North Down Road. It will become a hostel for the increasing number of students attending the college.

An alarming accident occurred in Bideford later in the month. The Hartland to Bideford Brake pulled by 2 horses was descending Grenville Street and as it turned down into the High Street the shaft connecting the horses to the coach broke, causing the coach to run into the horses. They started off and the entire assemblage careered down the street, narrowly missing several shoppers. The driver, with considerable skill turned the horses around the National Provincial Bank corner onto the Quay towards the Kingsley statue whereupon the coach rolled over onto its side. The horses were unharmed and the driver proceeded to extricate six passengers from the wrecked coach.


These and many more items of local interest are available to read at the Bideford Community Archive at the Council Offices, Windmill Lane, Northam. Tel: 01237 471714. Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings or visit our website

The Archive’s Annual General Meeting will be held on Monday 20th November 2017 commencing at 7.15pm in the Council Chamber, Northam Town Council, 1 Windmill Lane, Northam. The Mayor of Bideford will preside. If you would like to consider joining the Archive’s Committee please email There are numerous posts to be filled including Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary.


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Rope Walk – “The Battle of the Posts”.

Rope Walk today is a narrow but well used roadway running parallel to the Pill. Its name obviously records the presence of the ropemaking industry which was once so important to the ship-owning merchants of Bideford – but how many know the odd story behind the disappearance of the industry?

Around 1876 H.M.Restarick, a ship-builder of East-the-Water, took over the Rope Walk and, aware of the need for ever longer ropes, extended his ropemaking yard including some new posts – right across Chingswell Street and into the Strand. This obviously upset the local residents who immediately complained to the town council, who responded by ordering Restarick to take down the new posts as soon as possible.

Unfortunately Restarick was also a town councillor himself and he told his fellow councillors bluntly ‘Horses, carts, carriages, pedestrians etc could only pass subject to the convenience of the rope manufacturers’ and he really couldn’t understand why everyone was getting so agitated!

The council then ordered their Surveyor and his men to physically remove the contentious posts. They arrived at 7 a.m. one morning – only to find Restarick and some 50 of his employees guarding the posts. The shipbuilder then ‘dared the Surveyor to touch the posts’ – at which point the council men retreated.

Local papers satirically termed this ‘The Battle of the Posts’ as they reported a second attempt to uproot the posts at midnight where ‘a big strong fellow by the name of Passmore’ led the council men but as soon as he began work he was seized by Restarick’s men and escorted away. He was lucky as the ropemakers ‘had a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers near at hand and were very anxious to use them.’ To celebrate their victory they erected some ‘triumphal arches’ made of evergreens and topped with triumphant mottoes.

A month or so after this a council election was held where ‘pro-post’ candidates were elected in the heaviest poll ever recorded in town. The new council half-heartedly attempted to reach some agreement but Restarick refused and the posts remained at least until 1906 when, some 8 years after Restarick had died, the owner of the Strand Collar Works, which had replaced the Rope Walk ‘generously decided to forego his rights in respect of the posts on the Strand’ and they were removed. Exciting times in Bideford!

Peter Christie.


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One hundred years ago – October 1917.

The Borough of Bideford announces, under the powers conferred by the Retail Prices Order 1917, the Sale of coal prices for the forthcoming winter months:

Best Lydney House Coal £2.0.0d per ton. £2.2.6d delivered to the customers’ house.

Lancashire House Coal £2.5.0d per ton. £2.7.6d delivered.

Lydney Nuts £1.18.4d per ton or £2.0.10d delivered.

27 Bridgeland Street Bideford, formerly occupied by Mrs Field is now for Sale by Auction. The Bridge Trust own a lease signed on 26th November 1890 for the next 99 years. The Ground Rent has been set at £10 per annum.

Also for Sale 17 Winterbourne Terrace Lime Grove Bideford. Freehold. A W Cock, Auctioneers, 7 Grenville Street acting as agents for both sales.

In the village of Monkleigh two freehold thatched cottages are offered for sale by R Blackmore & Sons. The auction will take place next month.

North Devon Sugar prosecutions. Before the County Petty Sessions in Bideford is the owner of Rowena Boarding house in Westward Ho! for unlawfully obtaining 88 lbs of sugar for the purpose of preserving home grown crops. Upon investigation no jams, conserves or preserves had been found and on interview the owner admitted that she has failed to realise the significance of her actions. The Court felt that a warning needed to be given regarding the unlawful acquisition of goods in acute shortage and she was fined four guineas.

The Arbroath registered schooner ‘Surprise’ with Captain and four hands ran aground and was wrecked off Northam Burrows. She was bound for Rouen from Port Talbot and the Captain, who was unfamiliar with the estuary, was blown onshore by a westerly gale and flood tide. The Appledore lifeboat attended but could not get near to her. One crewman, a Dane, was washed ashore in the Taw estuary 1½ miles from Braunton and another came ashore at Chivenor. The Captain’s body was washed ashore at Woolacombe.

Bideford School Inspectors reporting to the Town Council point out that 33% of the Infants in Geneva school are underweight and across the town’s schools 75% of all girls are undernourished. The War is having an effect upon all levels of the population.

Each month the newspaper records the gifts that are donated to the two local VAD Hospitals at Enderly, Torrington and Commons, Northam. Eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit are commonly given. This month rabbits come from Lord Clinton and pheasants from Lady Gertrude Rolle. Other gifts include playing cards, cake, cigarettes, slippers and the ubiquitous socks.

These and many more items of local interest are available to read at the Bideford Community Archive at the Council Offices, Windmill Lane, Northam. Tel: 01237 471714. Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings or visit our website


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Felicity’s sustainable fish cookery – October.

Here is a wonderfully flexible and tasty recipe for a pasta cod dish. The original is a recipe from a restaurant in Rome -so an authentic Italian / Mediterranean dish. The best fish to use is salt cod. I used some fish from Newfoundland given to me by a cod fisherman from Petty Harbour near St Johns, when I visited in July. I also use fresh spinach for the vegetarian dish -both versions are delicious. You can use fresh cod or even local caught pollack as well.

Tagliatelle with Cod and pecorino cheese. (vegetarian version with fresh spinach leaves).


For the Stock-2 sticks of celery and chopped onion, fennel trimmings or seeds, parsley stalks and block pepper or peppercorns. 350g cod fillet (or salt cod fillet, if available).

50-100g of fresh washed spinach leaves – for a vegetarian dish.

1 small onion (could be red onion, for added colour).

6 tbsp. olive oil.

450g tagliatelle or spaghetti.

100g pecorino cheese, or ready grated Italian cheese.


Simmer the stock ingredients together for about 15 min Poach the fresh cod in the stock for under 5mins, or soaked salt cod for 10 mins. Lift out with a slotted spoon, blot with kitchen towel and pull away from skin, and using a fork flake the fish and set aside in a bowl. If using spinach leaves wash the leaves and set to dry in a colander.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente. Chop the onion into chunky pieces. In a large frying pan fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and lift the pasta with any residual water clinging to it.

Pull the pan from the heat, add the cheese and mix vigorously until creamy – adding extra pasta cooking water, if necessary. Add the torn basil and fish flakes (or spinach leaves) toss again, and serve.Add more grated cheese and garnish with basil sprigs.

This tastes absolutely delicious whether with fish or spinach leaves.

September was a busy Fish Festival month with Festivals in Newquay and Brixham. Wouldn’t it be good if we could have a fish festival in Appledore Fish Dock next year to celebrate both River and Sea fishing? Let me know if you would like to contribute to this idea? Next month is Herring Month with recipes for fresh and smoked Herring.

The Bideford Bridge Trust has awarded a grant to two Primary schools in Bideford for the Brilliant Fish Education group to run “History of Fishing in Newfoundland and Salt cod recipe demonstration/tasting sessions this Autumn.


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“Discovery desk” unveiled at Northam Burrows.

A new exciting display has been unveiled at Northam Burrows Visitors Centre. The ‘Discovery Desk’ includes a powerful public-use microscope and collections of samples, helping visitors to take a closer look at the unique local environment.

Northam Burrows Visitors Centre recently re-opened following a fire that took place earlier in the year. It has been fitted with new displays and exhibits about the natural features of the Burrows, as well as its history.

The ‘Discovery Desk’ was installed as part of the North Devon Coast AONB’s Coastal Creatures Project, which aims to encourage people to take an active interest in the wildlife found on the North Devon Coastline. In addition to the ‘Discovery Desk’ Northam Burrows Country Park are hosting a series of Coastal Creature Project events and more are taking place at other locations within the AONB

AONB Manager Jenny Carey-Wood said “The Coastal Creatures project is all about engaging the public with our coastal wildlife, to better understand and enjoy the stunning landscape in our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty including Northam Burrows” . And added, “The Northam Burrows centre is in an ideal location for this equipment to reach local people and visitors thanks to funding from Torridge District Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

Lead Member for Community, Culture & Leisure at Torridge District Council, Councillor Philip Pennington, unveiled the new display and said “The 253 hectares of grassy coastal plain at the Burrows already provides excellent recreational facilities, and the ‘Discovery Deck’ provides yet another reason for residents and tourists to stop off at the Burrows Centre. Visitors now have the chance to take a look at the Burrows from a different perspective and see it as it has never been seen before.”

For a complete list of Coastal Creatures Project events visit


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One hundred years ago – September 1917.

Mr Gerrish, chemist, of 9 The Quay, continues his advertising campaign by encouraging readers to take his Tonic Liver Mixture. He states that “your liver, if neglected, will bring utter ruin and an early decay”. His mixture, costing 1/3d per bottle, claims to cure a long list of ailments including headache, sleeplessness, palpitations, constipation, spots before the eyes, flatulency and coated tongue.

Home health remedies seem popular. Doan’s Backache and Kidney Pills are promoted under the headline “Men work from Rise to Set of Sun, but Women’s work is Never Done.”

In another advert, we are informed that Black Cat cigarettes are manufactured by an independent firm which does not belong to any Trust or Combination. 10 Black Cat Medium cost threepence halfpenny, Mild are fourpence; Extra Large, which contain one-tenth more tobacco than the Control Board requires, will cost you fourpence halfpenny.

Squires & Son, leading jewellers in North Devon based at 12 High Street, Bideford, wish to buy old gold or silver and are now offering exceptional cash prices for broken jewellery.

More details are given of the forthcoming sugar rationing. Householders have to obtain an application form from the Post Office between 22 and 29 September. This must be sent to the Local Food Control Office at the Town Hall before 5 October. A Registration Card will be sent out by 26 October; this should be filled in and handed to your chosen supplier by 5 November. Rationing starts on 31 December. WH Luxton & Son, Farleigh’s Stores, Dawe & Son and Tattersill’s Stores are all vying for custom. Owners of restaurants, guest houses, schools and clubs are also reminded to register.

Bideford Art & Technical School will be starting a new term on 24 September and is offering classes in painting & decorating, modelling in clay, pottery, building construction and machine drawing. The Evening School of Commerce meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays to study commercial correspondence, office routine, book-keeping and shorthand. Classes in dressmaking, cookery and gardening will be available later.

Recent heavy rain has stopped harvesting in Parkham, but prior to the rain a large amount has been stacked in good condition.

In Instow the harvest is practically finished and several heavy crops of second clover have also been brought in.

These and many more items of local interest are available to read at the Bideford Community Archive at the Council Offices, Windmill Lane, Northam. Tel: 01237 471714. Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

New Website

The Archive is pleased to announce our new website You will now be able to see some of the items we hold in the offices here at Windmill Lane. You will be able to search our family names and local history databases that relate to the Bideford Gazette newspaper from 1856 onwards. We will be adding new information EVERY week so if you do not find what you are seeking on your first attempt, please keep coming back.


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Felicity’s sustainable fish cookery – September.

I gave you a recipe for a lobster dish in August, so here is a recipe for crab cakes made in a muffin tin.

Baked Crab Cakes made with goat’s cheese and bacon – makes 6 cakes.


250g crabmeat (can be white crabmeat from spider crab legs).

Fresh goats’ cheese.

1 egg.

12 slices of bacon.


Preheat the oven to 160 C (320 F)

Peel and wash the potatoes, then cut them into thin rounds. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

In another bowl, crumble the goat’s cheese with a fork. Add the egg and beat with a whisk. Fold in the crab meat, season with salt and pepper.

Oil 6 tartlets mould/muffin tin sections with high sides, then line the bottoms with greased- proof paper. Place 2 slices of bacon criss-crossed on the bottom of each mould, overlapping the top edges. Add a layer of potatoes slices. Spread on some crab mix and then another layer of potatoes. Keep layering in this way until all the ingredients are added to the 6 moulds and all the ingredients are used. Finish with a potato slice and then fold the bacon slices over them, and pat it all down gently to seal.

Bake the crab cakes for 30 minutes

Remove the cakes from the oven and increase the temp to 180C. Carefully transfer the crab cakes from the moulds to a baking tray lined with 6 squares of wax paper and put the crab cakes back to crisp the bacon for 15 mins.

Serve hot with a good green salad made with crunchy fresh spinach.


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All the fun of the Fair!

Fairs have been visiting Bideford for one hundred and fifty years at least and even though today they face huge competition from computer games and local attractions the travelling show people still come. The history of the fair in Bideford has rarely been recorded but we know that for much of the nineteenth century the stalls and sideshows were erected on the Strand. Shown in photograph 1 is one of the boxing booths on the Strand where aspiring local boxers could take on professionals – and, more often than not, realise they weren’t quite as good as they thought.

When the gulley and stream flowing down the Pill was finally filled in around 1900 to accommodate the Bideford and Westward Ho! railway (the Appledore section came later) the showmen soon realised this large area of flat land would be ideal for their stalls and rides and they moved here – as shown in photograph 2. Notice the amount of litter scattered around – clearly this isn’t just a modern problem. The presence of the Kingsley statue (erected 1906) and the fashions indicate this picture dates from around 1910.

The third photograph shows the 1968 fair, with some very traditional-looking sideshows.

For many decades visiting fairs set up on the Pill and even spilled on to the Quay and along Bridgeland Street.

Over time, however, demands for car parking and complaints over road blockages saw the council move the fair site to the river bank in 1970 as shown in the unusual fourth photograph below taken from the top of the Post Office sometime around 1975.

This site was rather small and when the new Riverbank car park was opened in 1991 it allowed the larger rides and stalls we see today to spread out. Whatever their age many Bidefordians will have happy memories of when ‘the fair’ came to town, so let us hope the show people continue to visit bringing a touch of the exotic to Bideford during the few days they are here.

Peter Christie.


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Another ‘lost shop’ – Taylor Brothers.

Shops come and go all the time in all towns, with a few lasting for some time – but even these eventually close. One that fits this latter category is Taylor Brothers’ shoe shop in Mill Street. I first started buying shoes there 40 years ago, but John and Angela Taylor, the present owners, can trace the beginnings of the business back to around 1938 when John’s father Reg served his apprenticeship with a shoe repair shop situated in one of the Art Deco buildings in front of the Baptist church in Mill Street.

Reg used his new skills to set up his own outlet in the front room of a house in Meddon Street and after the war set up a shoe repair business with his brother Mick in New Street, Torrington (opposite White’s Lane). The two did well, especially after securing the contract to repair shoes for both RAF Chivenor and St.Mawgan’s, and in 1949 moved back to Bideford acquiring 44 Mill Street and later the adjoining number 43. The two shops were completely remodelled in the 1970s to create the premises that have become familiar to generations of children and parents alike. As their available space enlarged so the brothers expanded into selling new shoes and leather goods and then added key cutting to their services. Reg died in 1981 just a year after taking on his son John, and the latter continued to run the business with his uncle Mick who passed on in 1995.

John and Angela have run it successfully with their 5-6 staff until this year when they have decided to retire. Over the years the shop hasn’t just catered for those buying new shoes or repairing old ones but has also provided some ‘special’ lines as well. These include making a pair of boots for a black Berkshire sow who had sore feet, repairing a diving suit and even making some size 20 shoes for local entertainer Jay the Clown. Oddest of all must have been the male customer who walked into the shop, took off his trousers and asked the surprised staff if they could mend his wooden leg!

All good things come to an end, it is said, and now this much loved shoe shop is closing some 68 years after it first opened – one of the longest lived businesses in the town. It will be much missed.

Peter Christie.


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One hundred years ago – August 1917.

Meetings are held around the district to mark the 3rd Anniversary of the start of the war. Mr W T Charlwood presided over an evening gathering on Bone Hill. The salute was given by the Scout Bugle Band and prayers were offered by the vicar, Revd Gerald Payne Cook. A resolution was passed stating that while regretting the loss of life, they were determined to carry on the war to a successful issue.  Two Grand Promenade Concerts will be given at the Nassau Baths in Westward Ho! in aid of the Nursing Association and Soldiers Teas. If the weather is unfavourable the gymnasium will be used.

Mrs Daw of Yeolden House is making arrangement for a series of concerts to be given by the Belgian Artists Committee.

At Bradiven Farm on the Christie Estate Mr Dennis, who is one of the tenants, saw a demonstration of a Strait caterpillar crawler tractor capable of 2½ mph. It can pull a four-furrow Ransome plough, and at least 10 acres can be done in a day. The plough will be used by all of the estate tenants, a kindness much appreciated in these tough times.

A farmer from Abbotsham has been summoned to appear before Bideford Borough Sessions for selling adulterated milk. The defendant, who had delivered to the Workhouse, was in Lime Grove when apprehended. The witness purchased a pint of raw milk for 2½d which on analysis contained 5.88% added water. The farmer had been busy cutting hay and had left the milking to a boy aged 14 and a girl aged16, as he had no other help for many years. He said the milk supplied to the Workhouse had been analysed recently and found to be satisfactory. A fine of 9/- was imposed more as a warning than a punishment.

Farleighs stores remind readers that it is important to register your name and the number in your household for the purpose of the sugar rations. A card will be issued to enable you to claim your full entitlement. At this time of year many householders would be collecting hedgerow fruits for jam making and this will be a serious restriction to the diet.

In an advert by Mr E Gerrish, Chemist of 9 The Quay, the benefits of Iodized Sarsparilla are extolled. It is described as an excellent and certain remedy for diseases of the blood and skin. The price is 1 shilling per bottle.

Since the formation of the Carpentry Branch of the Bideford & District War Supply Department in April last the workers have made 160 pairs of crutches, 9 back leg splints, 16 Carrs wrist splints, 25 arm splints, 22 leg rests, 7 Bowlbys arm splints, 7 rectangular splints, 7 bed rests, 8 nests of splints, 19 bed tables, 42 plain grooved splints and 52 dropped wrist splints. A creditable record from voluntary workers generously supported by Bartlett & Bayliss & Co, Messrs Cocks of Appledore, Mr C Gibson, Mr H Williams of Royal North Devon Golf Club, all preparing the wood for crutches.

These and many more items of local interest are available to read at the Bideford Community Archive at the Council Offices, Windmill Lane, Northam. Tel: 01237 471714. Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

STOP PRESS – Great News. The Archive is pleased to announce our new website You will now be able to see some of the items we hold in the offices here at Windmill Lane. You will be able to search our family names and local history databases that relate to the Bideford Gazette newspaper from 1856 onwards. We will be adding new information EVERY week so if you do not find what you are seeking on your first attempt, please keep coming back.


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Felicity’s sustainable fish cookery – August.

In July I visited Petty Harbour, a fishing village in Newfoundland near St John’s. There were at least 20 fishing boats of all sizes alongside their “stages”.

I was invited to see a youth project called ‘Fishing for Success’, and met Tom Best, the President of the Fisherman’s Co-operative, that has just built the Resource Centre. Lots of activity in this place!

Poutine is a Canadian classic dish ,

and here is a Newfoundland version using lobster.

Lobster Poutine.


A portion of chips for each person.

Cheese curds – or gouda or Baby belles,cut into small lumps.

Lobster meat.

Lobster stock.

Oil and flour for gravy..

The stock should be made to make the gravy – so depends on the number of people eating! Make half to I pint of stock for 2/4 people and, make lobster gravy with 50 g of butter/ veg oil spread . Melt in saucepan and add 50g of flour to absorb fat and cook gently for 1/2 mins.  Add stock in small amounts to make a gravy. Keep quite thin.


Buy chips fresh and hot.

Add lumps of cheese.

Make up stock, add lobster meat, serve poured over to taste.

I will be demonstrating and serving to taste this dish at the Clovelly Lobster and Crab feast on 3rd September. Hope to see you there.


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A brief history of the Custom House.

Bideford’s buildings are constantly being reinvented – and anyone walking along to the Post Office will have noticed the old Custom House has become a new coffee shop – with some of the best views over the river from its first floor windows.

The main bulk of the building itself dates from 1695, just three years after the Bideford Bridge Trustees decided to develop a new street to be called Bridgeland. The first house was constructed by Nicholas Gascoyne in 1692-93, being the handsome brown brick building known to most as ‘Dr.Candler’s’. Nicholas, whose name suggests he was a descendant of French Huguenots who fled to North Devon, was a local carpenter and his work was evidently good enough for him to be granted a 99 year lease on the Custom House site on which he built himself a house.

By 1760 Benjamin Grant was leasing the house and there is a note in the Bridge Trust minutes from 1778 asking him ‘to replace the Stone which some time since was taken down from the Wall of the House he inhabits facing Bridgeland Street which Stone sett forth the time the said Street was built.‘ I wonder what happened to that?

In 1792 a new lease was granted to Thomas Grant, who was the Bridge Trust Steward, but he does not appear to have lived in it as by 1794 he was building Northdown House (later the Convent). A decade later three spinster sisters called Morrison were leasing the house though whether they actually lived there or not is uncertain. A surviving sister was still the leaseholder in 1832 when the building was noted as being the HQ of the local customs officers.

The earliest surviving census from 1841 records various of these officers living here – as they are so recorded up until the 1891 census when 72 year old Thomas Martin, ‘a gentleman,’ was then the occupant. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses William Martin, a retired builder, was living here and it seems to have continued as a private house until becoming a shop.

People may recall the dry cleaners that were based here for some years before it became a public house (Tequila Jack’s, Quigley’s, Custom House etc). Today it has been refurbished as a coffee shop, delicatessen and cinema, and enters a new stage in its long life.

Peter Christie.


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“Buzz” subscriptions, for paper copies.

If you’re reading this, obviously you are able to access “Buzz” content online (including our many archived copies, under ‘Downloads’).

If in future you’d like to receive a paper copy through the post every month, to send a copy to friends or family outside the area or overseas, we have a subscription service.

A year’s subscription costs £13, which covers postage (second class) and includes a small contribution to “Buzz”, and comprises eleven copies (Christmas issue is a double edition).

To subscribe, download a form here and return it to the address shown.


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