Lemons Cottage

Cottage History


As can be seen from the 1987 listing details it was a Tenement Farmhouse. This just means that it was let out by Tender to a tenant farmer. How much land was included is yet to be discovered. The listing also suggests that originally the hall (middle) of the house was open. This means that there was no upper floor in this part and the large curving timbers that supported the roof (cruck)were visible. The open hall had an open fire.

It is most likely that the name Lemons refers to a tenant family called Leamon or Lemon. These names appear in the Atherington Parish Register of Burials. Lemons Farm - the large house next door has been called in the past Leamons.

The cob walls are made from mixing - soil/clay, sand/aggregate, straw, water and sometimes lime. Making the walls was skilled hard work and very dependant on the weather. Each course had to dry (but not too quickly) before the next was applied. If the weather was too wet or the proportions of the ‘mix’ not correct, the wall would slump and bulge.

Lemons is a traditional Devon long house built on a slope. The higher end was for human habitation with the animals in the lower. The slope allowing slurry to drain hopefully away.

The original cross passage from the front door straight to the back door would be used for winnowing grain. Both doors would be open and a breeze would blow away the chaff.

An interesting feature is the alcoves in the outside wall of the sitting room. It is likely that they were used for making clotted cream. Unpasteurised milk was strained into a wide pan ( the lower alcove) and then left overnight (the upper alcove). Next day the pan was put over hot cinders in the fireplace until a solid ring started to form around the edge.Then again left overnight  in the same upper alcove or somewhere colder. In the morning the thick crust of semi-solid scald, clotted or clouted cream could be lifted off with a long handled skimmer.

The old surviving, authentically rustic oak screens/panelling are as yet undated and deserve sympathetic restoration.

Needing further research are the taper burn marks on the timbers over the inglenook fireplaces. These are often found in old houses.

They just could be where ash was wiped off hot pokers or candle flame burn marks. An article in British Archaeology March 2018 journal reported that a historian tried to replicate burn marks by putting it in a candle holder attached to a beam, but failed.

Other explanations are more intriguing because the marks may be made deliberately and they involve superstition. One, they ward off fire and lightning (fighting fire with fire). Two, if Church candles from the Candlemas service are used, the marks will give extra protection against fire and ill fortune entering the house.


Local Legends

highwayman-Tom Faggus.jpg

North Devon’s own 17th Century Dick Turpin.

It is highly likely that a highwayman called Tom Faggus rode his wonderfully clever strawberry roan horse called Winnie down the old main road through the village. He had lost money in a law suit. Unfortunately he was soon to marry his true love Betsey but as a result of losing his money her father forbade it. So he became a highway man. As in all good tales he was courteous, calm, non violent and only robbed the wealthy. He was hanged in the end but R D Blackmore gave him a starring  role in the famous book Lorna Doone.

Another Legend.

This story is from the WI ‘The Devon Village Book’ so must be true. Many years ago a man lived in Dobbs Cottage (opposite the post office).

He committed a murder and was told that if he could empty the River Taw of sand by picking up a grain of sand a day he would be saved from the gallows. He couldn’t and wasn’t! There is though a deep fishing pool in the Taw known as Dobbs Pool. It is said that a strange black dog is sometimes seen at night. It is The Black Dog of Torrington and is the ghost of Dobbs!


Atherington is thought to have got its name from the 10th century AngloSaxon, King Athelstan who drove away the Danish Invaders and made nearby Umberleigh his royal seat. St Mary’s Church was begun around 1202. Most of the present building is 15th and 16th century.

The church has medieval Tudor tombs, memorial brasses, wood roof bosses, carved bench ends and a famous, highly ornate, carved north aisle screen which has retained (despite Elizabeth 1 ordering them to be destroyed) Rood Loft. You can ascend a narrow,winding staircase to see the 16th century painted panels. Up there you can get a good view of the 15th century carved roof bosses.

Atherington was on the old main road from Barnstaple towards Exeter. This up hill and down route was superseded in the 1820’s by the building of the Barnstaple Turnpike. Stage and mail coaches could now average 10mph. The village must have lost ‘passing trade’.

This was mainly connected to agriculture, market gardening and soft fruit. There were many cherry orchards of the mazzard variety, which originated from France. In the village were also a blacksmith, thatcher, cobbler carpenter, mason, undertaker, shopkeepers, publicans and a chimney sweep. The 1851 census says that the population was 599 for the village and surrounding parish.

No less than 5 tailors and 2 dressmakers were listed. Tailors could also bleach garments and dye them black for essential for mourning garments. Adult clothing was cut down for children. Dressmakers would also make stays and bonnets. The village was self sufficient.

Families had to have more than one source of income. Chamois glove making from sheep skin was a cottage industry that came about as a necessity. Because in peacetime the demand for wool to be made into hand woven serge for uniforms ceased.

This glove industry was set up by merchants at the start of the 19th century. Pack horse/mule trains went from village to village bringing gloves in kit form and returning to collect the finished gloves.

The majority of the work was done by women and it was hard on the hands and eyes, dull, repetitive work. Working full time, 6 days a week they seldom earned more than 7 shillings.

At this time a number of women still spun wool from home but were even more badly paid. They cleaned, carded fleeces  and then for each 1lb of spun wool produced - 9d was earned. As late as 1851 20 women in Atherington still did this work. In the 1850 Whites Trade Directory Atherington had 4 public houses or inns. The last to close in living memory was The White Hart and it is now private house.

Village of Atherington