The Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival organisers have asked me to give a tour of the town's landmarks associated with creative people of the past and present who've lived or who are living in Budleigh. That includes writers, artists, musicians and scientists.
There's no charge, but donations for Fairlynch Museum and the Otter Valley Association are welcome.
When I've done this sort of thing in the past, people asked if there was a book or leaflet where all that information was written down. Well, there isn't really! So I thought I'd have a go here, but focusing on writers who have used Budleigh Salterton as a setting for their novels or who've described it in their memoirs.
"Nobody but a monumental bore would have thought of having a honeymoon at Budleigh Salterton," complains the eager but frustrated young bride Elvira Condomine in the play Blithe Spirit.
J.K. Rowling on the other hand...? Well, yes, that magical view may well have inspired her to set one of the scenes in her novel Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in a village called Budleigh Babberton. She may even have seen it while studying at Exeter University. It ought to be noted however that some Harry Potter experts think that East Budleigh is the more likely candidate.
But then, as far as we know, Coward never came to Budleigh. The 19th century writer George Gissing, on the other hand, came at least twice and mentions one of its well known landmarks in his novel Born in Exile, though he is better known for his novel New Grub Street, published in 1891. He is one of a number of writers who have lived in the town and used it as a setting in their works of fiction.
This commemorative table is located in Thompson's Yard, Westgate, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. I don't see why we shouldn't have a little plaque to mark where he stayed in Budleigh.
Even the French have honoured Gissing at 13 rue de Siam in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. Perhaps they appreciate his tortured artist side.
Maybe this description of a walk on the Coast Path west of Budleigh, taken from Born in Exile, reflects Gissing’s own mental state of turmoil:
“A few men and women were walking along the pavements; most of them looked cold and all over seventy. I glanced at the shops and houses as if seeing them for the first time, and decided that the atmosphere was approximately nineteen hundred. Again I felt irritated by Henry’s choice of abode. I was not naïf enough to suppose that writers invariably lived in an environment of velvet trousers, beards and brandy bottles, but Pebbleton seemed to me an unnecessarily extreme antithesis. That we all had to grow old and die, I was becoming painfully aware. But why choose to accomplish these necessary, evil processes in such depressing surroundings, hemmed in by the tastelessness of the pretty-pretty, fretted by fanciful names names painted on genteel gates, rock gardens, stunted fir trees and thorn bushes fleeing before the wind?”
Another author resident in Budleigh who describes his experience of rearing pigs - their names were Eggs and Bacon - was the novelist R.F. Delderfield. It's well known that he lived in Exmouth where his father had bought a printing press along with the local newspaper, The Exmouth Chronicle. Sidmouth, where he moved later in life, has a memorial stone overlooking Jacob's Ladder beach, commemorating his achievements.
It's also known that that he lived at Knowle House and then at Shortwood House, both on the leafy western outskirts of the town. Less well documented is his time in Budleigh Salterton itself. Yet in a collection of autobiographical essays, published in 1951 as Nobody Shouted Author, Delderfield mentions his move just after the end of World War Two to a house to which he gives the name ‘Spion Kop’ in a village that he calls Pebblecombe Regis.
This nautical fantasy scene was created by Budleigh artist Joyce Dennys as a bathroom mural. I love the fierce moustache
"The village expanded, of course, but not nearly as rapidly as one might imagine, for it was administered from the Golf House and each prospective newcomer had to undergo fierce scrutiny before he was encouraged to settle. Qualifications for residence were never actually set down on paper but they were there all right, as an impudent wholesale ironmonger discovered when he blew in from his factory at Middlesborough and moved out with a flea in his ear three months later."
Budleigh Salterton's much vaunted exclusivity is the butt of 1930s cartoonist G.S. Sherwood in this illustration from The Humorist
The text reads:
He:- Could you direct me to Budlear-Saunterton?
She:- I could, but I must ask you not to press your question, as we are anxious to keep the village exclusive
Delderfield blames the Americans for bringing about "the first real change in more than seventy years" to Pebblecombe Regis. "One morning in 1944" a column of GIs appeared in the town to the discomfiture of the town's Home Guard "which consisted almost entirely of men above the rank of lieutenant-colonel."