Thursday, 31 January 2013

The horrid history of a Budleigh salt-worker. Or just a fishy story?

Above: This cheerful-looking garden feature can be admired at The Salty Monk restaurant at Sidford, not far from Budleigh. It reminds guests that the building was reputedly a salt house used by the Benedictine monks of Norman times who traded salt at Exeter Cathedral. See
The scholar A.C. Heavison, in a scarce pamphlet on the Budleigh salt-mines, tells a story from the 11th or 12th centuries involving the notoriously short-tempered Prior of Otterton.

It was thirst-making work in the salt-mines and Hugo, one of the Prior's serfs was in the habit of taking a flagon of cider with him on his shift. Quenching his thirst with too much strong cider on one occasion meant that Hugo ended up drunk at the bottom of the ladder, a section of which he had pulled down.

All work at the salt-mine stopped. The Prior was informed and stood at the top of the shaft, shouting angrily at his senseless serf. All was in vain. It was decided to leave the drunken man to come to his senses.

A day later, Hugo recovered and made his way to the top of the shaft where he found no one about. Still suffering from the effects of the drink he toppled head-first into a barrel of pickled herring which stood awaiting a further load of salt.

And there, sadly, he drowned.   

Source: An account of the salt-mines of Budleigh in Devon and their output during the early medieval period, undated and privately printed for the author.  Quoted in Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries, 1975


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