An old picture postcard has been found showing the old part of Feniton village. In front of Court Barton and Thorn Cottage is a group of nine little boys posing with their hoops. A man stands with the boys at the entrance to Court Barton. The stamp, which would have given a clue to the date the card was sent, is missing. The card is addressed to Miss L Harris, C/O Mrs Sage at Kersbrooke, Budleigh Salterton, with this message:

Dear Lily, Just a PC to tell you that G Harris is ill again, had a fit Saturday night had only been in bed 2 minutes the Dr came out Sunday morning he says he cannot do anything for him. Me and Aunt Ellen were going to bike to Axminster Monday if this had not happened. Keep this card. Puzzle find Bert on it. Love to both from Mother xxx   Will write later.

With the help of parish registers, census returns and GRO lists it is surprising what this simple message can reveal.

Miss Lily Harris was living-in as an ‘assistant with dairy work’ with the Sage family on a farm at Kersbrook, Budleigh Salterton, in 1911 when she was 19 years old. From her baptism in 1892 in Feniton we find that her parents were Frederick and Emily Harris.

Lily’s mother Emily was from the Colyton area, one of seventeen children of farm worker Edwin Dare and his wife Anna. Emily and Fred had met when they both in service at Rull Farm, Cheriton, Payhembury. In the spring of 1892 they married and their first child Lily Maud arrived during that summer. (A romance in the farmyard?) Lily’s siblings were also baptised in Feniton church: Elsie in 1894, Daisy in 1895 while the family were living at Sherwood, and Ernest in 1899 when they had moved to Curscombe.

In 1901, when Lily was eight, she and her five year old sister Daisy were recorded staying with an Uncle and Aunt, James and Anna Salter, at Fenny Bridges. (Anna was Fred Harris’s sister) Their mother Emily had recently died and father Fred was living as a widower at Charlton, Feniton with his other children Elsie and Ernest, an elderly man Henry Tucker and his 20-year old grand-daughter Sarah Strawbridge. (Sarah seems to have been brought up by her Tucker grandparents at Cheriton). Later that year Fred and Sarah were married. They had a baby boy Albert, baptised in Feniton Church, in 1902.

By 1911 the family were living at Sweethams – Fred and Sarah with Ernest age 11, Albert age 9 and Sarah’s grandfather Henry Tucker, by now age 80. Sister Daisy was in service with the Pidsley family of auctioneers in Sidmouth

The ‘Bert’ mentioned on the postcard was very likely Albert, Lily’s young half- brother. The boys look about aged between six and 12 so it is probable that the picture was taken between 1908 and 1914. Bert may well have trundled his hoop down Green Lane to join his pals when the photographer persuaded them to pose. Could the man in the picture be the farm manager Walter Vallis who was living with the Horsford family at Court Barton in 1911? Rose Horsford, a widow, was then running the family farm. The Horsfords had been at Court Barton since the 1840s.

 So it was Mrs Sarah Harris who bought this postcard to send to her step-daughter Lily who was ‘living in’ at Kersbrook, Budleigh Salterton. ‘Keep this card’ she wrote, so it was probably newly published.

Sarah Harris had been baptised in Colyton Church in December 1880. Her parents were Frederick Strawbridge, a tin plate worker, and Sarah Ann Tucker, and they had been married in the church the previous August. Just twelve days after the baptism, baby Sarah’s mother was buried. By the next census in the spring of 1881 Fred, now a widower, was back living with his family in Colyton and his baby daughter Sarah Ann was with her grandparents Henry and Mary Tucker at Cheriton, Feniton. By late 1891 grandmother Mary had died and Grandfather Henry was left with his 11 year old grand-daughter to care for.

Sarah’s mother Sarah Ann Tucker had a younger sister Ellen who married a thatcher Frank Rowe and they settled in Payhembury. This is just up the road from Cheriton and Feniton, so she probably kept in touch with her niece Sarah, and could be the Aunt Ellen who was going to cycle with her to Axminster.

Sarah Harris’s father Fred married again and remained in Colyton. His wife Rose and daughters were working as Nottingham lace net menders in 1911.

Fred’s father Robert Harris, a farm labourer lived on as a widower at Sidbury into old age. He was the ‘G. (grandfather) Harris that Sarah described on the postcard as having a fit. The doctor ‘cannot do anything’ she wrote. Robert died in the early summer of 1913, which suggests when the card was written. So Sarah and Aunt Ellen could not ‘bike to Axminster Monday’. Were they just going for the ride? We shall never know! It would have been a long haul from Feniton and Payhembury, especially on the heavy bicycles of the day.

Sarah Ann Harris, who wrote a brief message on a card that has shed light on so much local history, died on 3rd May 1918 at Sweethams, aged just 37. Husband Fred was a ‘farm carter’. The death certificate gives the cause of death as ‘Cardiac disease, mitral regurgitation, for some years’, meaning that the patient had a faulty heart valve; one common cause in the days before antibiotics was rheumatic fever, a bacterial infection that damaged the heart. It is a wonder that Sarah had been fit enough to ride a bicycle with this condition. Also a cause of death was ‘acute gastric catarrh’ for 6 weeks. This was a form of gastritis, a nasty inflammation of the stomach lining, causing excessive vomiting and not being able to keep any food down: a truly horrible way to die. Present at the death was Lily Harris, step-daughter. Had Lily had to go home to nurse her step-mother?

Later that summer of 1918 Lily married Thomas Bastin, a mason’s labourer who lived with his family at South Farm Cottages, Kersbrooke. Perhaps the ‘love to both’ on the card included Lily’s intended’ Thomas Bastin. After Sarah’s death she was free to go back to Budleigh to marry her sweetheart. Perhaps she had been waiting a few years to marry. This is the kind of sacrifice that girls were often expected to make in those days.

Written and researched by Brenda Powell. 

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