Bread and Ale

                                                    Food riots
John Stevenson says that there was a long tradition of cloth workers 'defending their interests by crowd activity'. In 1795 several South Devon towns were quick to respond to high prices: Ashburton was one of them.
John Stevenson, Popular Disturbances in England 1700 - 1832, 2014, p120

Andrew Charlesworth says that Devon saw two waves of food rioting in 1795 and 1800-1. Shortages of grain caused a huge increase in prices; in addition the dockyard at Plymouth and fleets offshore required provisions in a time of war.
Most riots took place in South Devon and East Devon - towns affected included Crediton, Tiverton, Exeter and Modbury. Ashburton's weavers needed 'some control'.
Andrew Charlesworth, An Atlas of Rural Protest in Britian 1548 - 1900, 2017, p116
The Devon Heritage Centre holds a deposition of Samuel Coneybeare of Ashburton, regarding a food riot on the 26th June 1801.
Ref 1262M/0/O/LD/54/45 Devon Heritage Centre - accessed 30-07-2023

In 1847 there was danger of a riot in Ashburton because of the high price of corn. A large number of men (mainly, according to the newspaper report, miners), women and children gathered near the Mr W R Whiteway's Town Mills.

The mob searched through the mill store-rooms, and then '100' women seized a quantity of wheat that was arriving at the yard. 

Taking the key to the market from Mr S Mann (and allegedly threatening to break his shop windows if he did not give it to them), the women sold the wheat at 8s a bushel.

The town was in 'a state of excitement' all day, and '200 special constables were sworn in'. 
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 22 May 1847 p8 col3
For more on the Town Mills, see Woollen and Other Mills, under Banks and Businesses 3

The National Archives holds 39 letters concerning disturbances in Devon. Dated between May and August 1847, they include two letters from John Caunter saying that tranquility has been restored.
Ref HO45/1799, The National Archives, May 12th - Aug 31st 1847 - accessed 31-07-2023

Ashburton was not the only town dealing with the consequences of the rise of the price of corn.
Buckfastleigh inhabitants were in a state of 'considerable excitment', and the town crier announced that a large Friendly Society was meeting to consider using its funds to purchase corn and re-sell it at a more reasonable price.
Women seized wheat and barley at the Okehampton market, demanding that it be sold at a reduced price. Their 'violence and threats' resulted in action by the mayor and magistrates.
Crediton, Tavistock and Exmouth were amongst other towns experiencing disturbances.
Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 22 May 1847, p8, cols 2,3

                                               Ashburton Pop

'There is a particular kind of beer brewed in Ashburton, in Devonshire, very full of fixed air, and therefore known by the name of Ashburton pop, which is supposed to be as efficacious in consumptions as even the air of Devonshire itself...'
Sir John Sinclair, Bart., The Code of Health and Longevity, London 1818, p100 (notes)


'There is a legend that Ashburton was at one time famous for a beer known as Ashburton "pop". Tradition in this case is true, because the matter is referred to in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth published by the Historical MSS Commission.'
J Henry Harris, My Devonshire Book, Plymouth, 1907, p43

John Cooke, quoted by Sabine Baring-Gould: 

"I recollect its sharp feeding good taste, far richer than the best small beer, more of the champagne taste, and what was termed a good sharp bottle. When you untied and hand-drew the cork it gave a report louder than a pop-gun, to which I attribute its name; its contents would fly up to the ceiling if you did not mind to keep the mouth of the stone bottle into the white quart cup; it filled it with froth, but not over a pint of clear liquor. Three old cronies would sit an afternoon six hours, smoke and drink a dozen bottles, their reckoning bit eightpence each, and a penny for tobacco. The pop was but twopence a bottle. It is a great loss to the town, because its recipe died with its brewer about 1785".
Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, S Baring-Gould, Bodley Head Ltd., London 1908 (this edition 1926) p 74

According to Peter Hore, Ashburton pop featured in a naval dispute in 1801. William Cuming, who was born in Totnes, was in command of a ship called Russell, which had been involved in the Battle of Copenhagen. One of Cuming's lieutenants, Nesbit Josiah Willoughby, later accused Cuming of behaving in an unofficerlike manner, using blasphemous language, striking his officers and being generally oppressive. Cuming was, the court heard, particularly fond of Ashburton pop.
Cuming was aquitted, but Willoughby, who was heard to say that he hoped there would be plenty of Ashburton pop for dinner, was then charged with insolence and contempt - he was dismissed from the service.
Captain Peter Hore, Nelson's Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials, p63

Following an article about Ashburton Pop in the Mid Devon Advertiser, John Hutcheson of Denbury wrote in (and provided a photograph) to say that Ashburton Pop was apparently produced long after 1785. He has a large stoneware bottle in his collection with 'Michelmore's Ashburton Pop 1835' written on it.
Mid Devon Advertiser 27 November 2015 p27, cols 1,2,3,4

Right and below: A bottle inscribed MITCHELMORES ASHBURTON POP 1835
Many thanks to Rachel Wood for these photographs                                                                      

This might be explained by J S Amery, in an appendix to his Presidential Address to the Devonshire Association in 1924. Describing three glazed stoneware bottles belonging to Miss Lamason, he notes that one is inscribed 'R Halse Junr, Ashburton 1771', and goes on to say that in 1835 W Michelmore tried to revive its manufacture. A second bottle is inscribed 'Carlile's Ashburton Pop revived by W Michelmore'. A third one says 'W Michelmore, Ashburton Pop, 1835'.
Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Assocation, vol 56, Plymouth 1925, p102

William Michelmore died aged 68 in September 1846. He had been the landlord of the Royal Oak Inn for some years, and had been 'brewer of the that excellent beverage, Ashburton Pop'.
Western Times 12 September 1846, p5 col1
In 1822 Devon was 'much infested' with tea hawkers. In May of that year Robert Palk fined one of them £10. 
Exeter Flying Post, 16 May 1822, p4, col2

Mrs Furneaux, 'tea dealer etc.' died at Ashburton on December 27th 1847
Western Times 1 January 1848, p5

In 1848 a 'memorial' was sent by serge manufacturers of Devon to the Right Honourable the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, stating that now that the East India Company was no longer trading exports were declining. The memorial suggested that a reduction in the duty on tea would mean that comsumption of the beverage would rise: exporters of serge to China would then be able to profitably carry tea on the return journey.
Amongst those who signed the memorial were Richard and Henry Caunter; Tozer Sparke and Co. and John Berry, all from Ashburton.
Western Times 9 Jan 1847, p6, col5

Mary Brock, a servant at the London Inn, was charged with stealing one packet of tea. Her mother, Ann Brock, was charged with receiving. The case was dismissed.
Western Times, 22 July 1872, p3 col3



In 1849 a Mr Rossiter had developed an anti-ferment compound, that would, he claimed restore old, 'ropy or reamy' cider.

Nathan Beck*, an Ashburton chemist, was happy to endorse the product - one packet had, he said, restored the colour and taste of a hogshead of old cider.
Western Times 15 September 1849 p2 col5

* The 1851 census shows Nathan Beck, a druggist,  his wife Sarah and son George, living in East Street 

For more on cider, see Farmers, under Banks and Businesses


 June 1856. Cecil Torr's grandfather wrote to his father about the dinner and tea that he had given the villagers of Wreyland, near Lustleigh. It included roast beef and plum pudding, washed down with good beer. Then for tea, at 5 o'clock, there were 'Ashburton cakes and bread with plenty of cream and butter'.
Small talk at Wreyland, Cecil Torr 1970 edition. Adams and Dart, part 1 p 25



                                             Weights and Measures

1st October 1848. An new Act of Parliament stated that bread had to have the weight stamped on the outside. The penalty for non-compliance was 40s.

Should the weight be lighter than was marked, a 5s fine was imposed for every ounce the bread was underweight. Similar rules affected the sale of meat and dairy products.

Magistrates could employ inspectors of weights and constables to search premises and seize goods.
Western Times 15 July 1848 p5 col4


November 1848. Inspectors of Weights and Measures were appointed at the Court Leet. Most items inspected were satisfactory.
Exeter Flying Post 9 November 1848 p8 col3


Mr Edwards, Inspector of Weights and Measures, charged John Gerry, of the Royal Oak Inn, with having 17 unstamped and 2 unjust measures. In mitigation, Mrs Gerry claimed that she had not had time to buy and wash new measures between Mr Edwards' original visit on a Friday and a subsequent check the following Monday.

The magistrates imposed a fine of 7s for the unstamped measures, dismissing the rest of the charge.
 Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24 April 1894 p7 col5



1880 The Sunday Closing Association had recently sent representatives to advocate stopping the sale of alcohol on Sundays. As a result of a meeting at the Market Hall Messrs Craddock, Down, Clark and Mann had distributed and collected voting papers to Ashburton householders. Of the 75% who responded, 203 voted for closing, 53 had voted against, and 42 had no preference either way.
Western Times 29 October 1880 p8 col4

In 1896 the price of bread increased by 'another' half penny. This brought the price of a 4lb loaf to 5d
Western Times 11 December 1896 p6 col5



                                       Food in the 1920s and 30s

Horses and carts were common sights, delivering coal, logs and also milk and bread to housewives. The local dairyman at the bottom of Woodland Road brought milk on foot twice a day to his customers: he carried a covered milk pail, and measured the milk (still warm from the cow) in to a jug. Unhygienic and untreated, and it tasted delicious. The cows were brought down to the adjoining yard to be miked twice a day by Mr Stanbury, an old man with a flowing beard and brooding expression, who looked to me like one of the old testament prophets we saw in picture books. It was his son, Dick, Mary Woolacott's father, who brought the milk to our doors. A glass of fresh milk was a comfort to a sick child, especially with a sprinkling of grated nutmeg on the top.

Above: Mrs Stanbury in 1955
From my own collection
Mrs Stanbury served us with dairy products – I was fascinated to watch her weighing clotted cream. We took our own glass, and went through the doorway into a granite floored passage. A door on the right which was kept tightly shut, led to the 'best' room. A table stood between this doorway and another which led to the yard: between these two doors stood a table with large white enamel bowls, containing milk which had to stand for the cream to rise to the top. This would then be scalded for another day's supply. Opposite the best room was the entrance to the living room - all the dairy products were arranged for sale at the lower end, and in pride of place was a large bowl of clotted cream. Next to it stood the scales with a variety of weights and small objects. It was a fascinating process and required great concentration.  The glass was placed on the scales and weighed, but it was never exactly ounces or half-ounces, so interesting objects were used, such as a faded pink plaster miniature toy, and a loop of wire. Once the glass and the weights balanced, the cream was spooned into the receptacle. Time hasn't dulled the memory of how the cream looked, with its golden crust on the top - I would give much to enjoy the taste today. Scalded over a wood fire the flavour was delicious and distinctive, and when it was eaten with honey from the comb, it was called thunder and lightning. Public health officials would scorn such practices, but to us it was the food of the gods.
Above: Where Stanbury's dairy was
Right: The date on the wall
My own photographs 2014


There were several bakers. Barnes in West Street supplied bread and a rich assortment of fancy cakes – mouth watering, they provided a welcome treat for Sunday tea. Their hot cross buns were looked forward to eagerly, appearing only on Good Friday. Andrews, the baker at the bottom of East Street, perhaps sold plainer fare but the memories of his bread linger still. On Mondays he made what was known as a 'twist' – today we would say 'plait', but they bore no resemblance to the modern version. It was unglazed: we had it broken off in chunks and eaten with local farm butter. He also made Bermaline bread, an oval brown loaf with a blue and white paper cuff proclaiming its properties. This bread had exceptional keeping qualities, and retained its flavour and freshness for days. Barnes made 'tuff' cakes, sometimes referred to as 'splits' – about the size of a small dough bun, they were very slightly sweet and made to eat with the traditional jam and cream teas. Andrews made plain bread buns, larger than a tuff cake, which resembled baps and were subtly flavoured with a couple of caraway seeds. They were known as 'Ashburtons' and were also bought for cream teas. I remember with nostalgia the smell of newly baked bread. Bread rolls, dough cakes, meat patties and fruit tarts were also available. There were other bakers in the town, well known for their specialities, but in a little place like Ashburton, people kept to their own territory.  

Many thanks to Hazel Bray for the above account.



In 1943 the ceremony of ale tasting was revived - it had not been performed for some years.

Those involved included:

The portreeve - Mr Brian Bernard Baker

The bailiff - Prof Abell

Aletasters - W Eales and H Hannaford

Pig drovers - C J Bawden and Mr Soper

Marshalls - R Arscott and S Cowles

Breadweighers - Mr Amery Adams and the Rev L B Stallard

Overseers - Mr Clark and Mr P Hill

The town crier was Mr F Wills.

Western Morning News 18 August 1943 p2 col2


1949 R Arscott and W J Eales pronounced that the ale was 'improvin' ev'ry yer' at the traditional ceremony of ale-tasting and bread-weighing. They formed part of a procession including the portreeve, bailiff, steward, chaplain and others, all dressed in full regalia, and in the case of the ale-tasters, with the addition of home-made red noses. Preceded by a brass band, they toured the 10 hotels and inns of the town.

The bailiff knocked three times on each inn door, instructing the landlord to bring out two tankards of ale so that the tasters could judge the quality. Each inn was presented by greenery to hang on the door, and a certificate to show that the ale came up to standard.

A large crowd watched the procession, including Mr Roy Kellino and executives of Associated British Pictures Corporation, who were in the town filming 'The intruder'*

Western Times 2 September 1949 p7 cols1,2

*Better known as 'Guilt is my shadow'  
See the website Reelstreets for screenshots from the film