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Legends and Extraordinary Events of Exeter

Page added 17th May 2017 –Two New stories added

Back to historic events in Exeter

The Port Royal Whirlwind

The Illustrated London News statement from George Webber, the landlord - 7 September 1850

On Saturday afternoon last, between the hours of three and four, whilst working in his shed, his attention was arrested by a loud rushing sound, which proceeded from a path immediately outside the building. On hastening thither he saw large stones, dust, etc., taken up as in a whirlwind, from a space on the ground as large as a coach-wheel. The revolving column gradually drew towards a small punt afloat in the adjacent river and moored to a post by the bank; the boat was then lifted as high in the air as the painter would allow, and was held there by the force of the wind, spinning round like a top. The column then moved on towards a four-oared gig, moored in a similar manner; when simultaneously the punt fell and the gig was elevated precisely from the water, whilst the stern was raised about fifteen feet. The column then seemed to have expanded its strength and fell, so to speak, in water, with the noise of a ton weight, dashing and stirring up the bed of the river with foam. The gig is thirty feet long and had in her at the time such was taken up from twelve to fifteen gallons of water: she has been rendered quite useless. What renders the occurrence the more remarkable is that at the time scarcely a breath of wind was stirring, and the sky was nearly cloudless.

Port Royal whirlwind

The Sturgeon

From the Remarkable Antiquities of the City of Exeter by Richard Izacke Esq. - 1741

In the Month of June, a Sturgeon ot nine Foot and half long, and fix Foot in compass (girth)  was taken in the River over againft the Red Rock, or Goodman's Well, on this fide of Topfhsam, by an Inhabittant of this City.

The Swordfish

Besleys' Illustrated Handbook of Exeter - 1885

Amongst the British fishes should be noticed the Sword-fish, measuring over 8 feet in length, and weighing 1001b., which was found stranded on the mud below Topsham in July, 1858.

Larks provide for the hungry in 1646

The Worthies of England by Thomas Fuller - 1662

When Exeter was besieged by the Parliament forces, so that only the south side was open to it, incredible numbers of larks were found in that open quarter, like quails in the desert. Hereof I was an eye but a mouth witness. They were as fat as plentiful, and were sold for twopence a dozen and under.

The Swarm of Bees

Exeter Flying Post - June 1892:

Swarm of Bees in South-Street - On Sunday was witnessed a novelty in South-street. At about eleven o'clock in the morning a large swarm of bees alighted on the corner of the house of Mr. Norris, auctioneer, and remained in a thick cluster for several hours. A beekeeper, residing in Paris-street, fixed a temporary habitation underneath the swarm in the afternoon and they gradually took up their quarters therein, the whole getting lodged between eight and nine in the evening.

Ball of Lightning New

Derby Mercury - Thursday 15 July 1736
Extract of a Letter from Exeter, dated June 30.

We had yesterday in this City a very violent Storm of Thunder and Lightning, which struck down several People, and threw down one of the large Stones of Trinity Church, with which fell a Ball of combustible Matter, as big as a Gallon Bottle, of a globular Form, with various Colours like a rain-bow; it was transparent, sparkled, and seemed all on Fire; on a sudden it burst with great Force, attended with a Sulphurous Smell and a great Smoke, by the Violence of which one Mr. Bass, and a Woman, were struck backwards to the Ground, and a Child lay as dead for some Minutes; at the same time Part of the Door of Trinity Church was struck out, and other Injuries done to the Roof and Windows of that Church.

Human Salmon New

Derby Mercury - Thursday 10 November 1737

They write from Exeter, that as some Fishermen near that City drew their Net to shore to their great Surprize, a Creature of a Human Shape, having two Legs, leaped out of the Net and run away with great Swiftness; and they not being able to over take it knocked it down by throwing Sticks after it: At their coming up to it, it was dying, and groaned like a Human Creature. Its Feet were webbed like a Duck's, had Eyes, Nose and Mouth resembling those of a Man, only the Nose some what depressed, it had a Tail not unlike that of a Salmon, turning up towards its Back; it is four Feet in Height, and now publickly shewn at Exeter.

The Topsham Waterspout

Mr. Zachary Mayne’s Letter, 1694. Concerning a Spout of Water that happened at Topsham on the River between the Sea and Exeter.

I Received yours, and should have given my self much sooner the Satisfaction of Answering it, had I not met with hindrances; I have taken pains to get the best Information that I could, and hope have with some difficulty pickt out a little Truth out of a vast heap of Falshoods. My Informants are Persons using the Seas, and are well acquanted with (Accidents shall I call them, or rather) Prodigies of this Nature, which are very frequent abroad, though rarely, I think ’tis said never seen before with us in our River, though some pretend to have seen of them in the Downs. The French call these sorts of Appearances Trombs, I suppose from the Figure and the Noise that they make, that word signifying a sort of Humming Top. They are certain Elevations of Water during Storms and Tempests reaching from the Superficies of the Sea to the Clouds. They happen several ways, sometimes the Water is seen to boyl, and raise it self for a considerable space round about a Foot from the Surface, above which appears, as it were, a thick and black Smoak, in the midst of which is observed a sort of Stream or Pipe resembling a Tunnel, which ariseth as high as the Clouds; and suck up the water with great noise and violence. They move from the place where they were first gathered according to the motion of the Wind, and disharge themselves sometimes into the Sea, to the unavoidable Destruction of such Ships as are in their way, if they be small Vessels, and to their great Damage be they never so big: Sometimes on the Shoar, beating down all they meet with, and raising the Sand and Stones to a prodigious height. ’Tis said, that Vessels that have any Force usually fire their Guns at them loaden with a Bar of Iron, and if they be so happy as to strike them, the Water is presently seen to run out of them with a might noise, but no further mischief. Ours happened Tuesday last, the 7th. of August, 1694, between Nine and Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; ’twas then very near, if not quite low Woter, which is lookt on as a special Providence, since had it been High water, ’tis concluded its Strength would have been much greater, and its consequences more sad. The Water that was near it seemed to fly hither and thither, as though ’twould fain make its escape from it: Yet I cannot find upon Enquiry that the Channel was at all wholly dry. There was also some Wind, though not so violent as it had been before; and when the Spout or Tromb began to move, it went with the Wind like a dark smoak, and the Wind being then W. N. W. its course was E. S. E. I have Sent you a rude Draught of the manner of its passage after it began to move, according to the best lnformation I could get, for I was not at home when it happened.

The marks +++ shew the River, the Letter O the Spout. The Letter S Mr.Seaward’s House (who was an Eye-witness of it) which it gently touched with little or no Damage, blowing only off a few Tiles. The Letter G the House of one Widdow Goldworthy, which it in part uncovered, took off almost all the Thatch of her Garden Wall, brake down a large Limb of a Plumb-Tree which stood at the higher end of her Garden, and which is more Remarkable than all the rest, it took off an Apple-Tree which was no way decay’d, and between fifteen and sixteen Inches about, within two or three Inches from the ground, almost as exactly as any Saw could have done it, and carried it, as I judge, (for I did not measure it) between Twenty and Thirty Foot from the place where it grew, and that not forward in the Path that it took, but almost directly backward, which makes me conclude that it had a double Motion; the one external from the Wind strait forward, the other internal and circular, like the Fly of a Jack, which a Man may carry in his Hand, that will strike anything either forward or backward as it meets with it. G with a Bar under it shews you Mr. Greens House, which was for the most part untiled, and backward in the Court there was a Linny that rested upon a Wall, which indeed it heaved a little out of its place, part of it hung on one side of the Wall, and part on the other; but not broken in pieces, nor much injured, it having been since restored to its proper place. The Letters WL shew you two Houses more that were very much damaged in their coverings, which is the more Remarkable, for that Mr. Moxam’s House, marked M M, though it stood between the Injured Houses, and was much higher than either, had only two or three Quarries of Glass broken. E E E E E shews the march of the Spout. The Letter X the Planks that were blown some upright, some several Yards out of their place. D a Ship newly launched, of about One Hundred Tuns, which was much shaken, but not hurt. K a Mast of near a Tun weight, thrown out of its place. W the Anchor that was torn out of the Ground, and carried seven or eight Foot with a Boat that was fastened to it, and blown up into the Air, that Boat was rent from the Head to the Keel. B another new Boat blown about six Foot high, and turned upside down. A a Fisher Boat with one Man in it, which was near the place where the Spout was at first perceived, but through Mercy escaped. LA a Lane that goes from the River, in which some Houses suffered Damage, which shews that the Spout was divided in its march. ’Tis no small Mercy that no Man, Woman, or Child received the least Injury in their Persons. God shews us what he can do, happy we, if we understood his meaning, and comply with it; but alas, Mercies and Judgments are soon forgotten.

Topsham waterspout

The Shilhay Hurricane

Interviewed by the Exeter Industrial Archaeology Group in November 1975, Cyril Brown recounts his memory of the Shilhay Hurricane.

We heard this roaring, rushing sound almost like thunder. I was just going to run out and have a look when dad said "Come in, come in boy, don`t go out there". All of a sudden this stuff started coming down, corrugated iron sheets like confetti. Dad said "get under the bench, boy, get under the bench" and as he said it a piece of timber came right through the roof down through the workshop - it must have been one of the posts from Gabriels timber Yard, 8 inches square and 30 feet long. This noise went on for three or four minutes. When the dust cleared Dad went outside and said "I think the gasworks has blown up, the road is littered with corrugated iron". Then he said “The only place where there are any of those curved sheets round here is on Gabriel`s Belfast roof” and he thought a boiler had blown up there. After a few minutes the fire brigade and other services came and then we found it was this hurricane that had sort of spun round, lifted one of the roofs off the malthouse and the roofs off several of the drying sheds of Gabriels and taken them right up into the air where they disintegrated and came showering down in pieces. It was quite a freak and did not happen again.

The Exeter Mermaid

From the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies in Volume XV, January to June 1823.

The River Ex and its vicinity is indeed remarkable, not only for the appearance of more than one Mermaid, but for that of more remarkable Mermaids than even all the rest of the world. It is not a century since a Mermaid was said to have been seen in the river just mentioned , close to the walls of the city of Exeter....Its humanity extended to the waist and...it bore from the waist downwards a resemblance to a salmon. It had,however, two legs placed below the waist, and absolute novelties in the history of Mermaids. With these legs it left the shore of the river Ex, and ran before its pursuers, screaming with terror, till it was knocked down and killed.

The White Hart Cockatrice

Remarkable Antiquities of the City of Exeter by Richard Izacke 1723

One thing not to be forgotten, is, that there happened an Accident in an Inn commonly called the White-Hart in South-gate-street, in an old Well long neglected, which the Owner (Roger Cheek of this City, Brewer) had a purpose to cleanse, and in order there unto, caused one Paul Penrose to go down for the scouring thereof, who there in suddenly fell dead; whereupon a second Person named William Johnson (both of them by profession Carpenters) was employed to descend after him, who presently in the said Pit likewise died; a third Person adventuring himself to preserve his Friend had therein also perished, if with all celerity he had not been drawn up again, who, almost dead, was by rousing, and pouring Oyl and Aqua-vita into him (through much difficulty) preserved, who, when he came to himself, did affirm, that there came such a strange Stench out of the Caverns of the Earth, as that deprived him of breath: hereof divers Men censured diversely; some, that there was a Cockatrice in the Pit, some one thing, some another, but the general received Opinion, that it was occasioned by a Damp.

1837 Guildhall

A Case of Witchcraft - Guildhall 1837

At the Guildhall. Exeter, on Saturday, a girl named Shapland summoned another girl, named Dymond, on a charge of assaulting her. The defendant totally denied the assault, but said that the plaintiff had often accused her of "being a witch," and used some very personal and violent language towards her, to show her dislike for sorcery! The plaintiff on being asked by the magistrate if she really thought the defendant a witch, said, "Yes: she had been obliged to draw a circle round her door to prevent defendant from coming in. This, however, had not succeeded, for she had taken the shape of a black cat, and had come in and run over the room; she had than changed into the 'Jack of Hearts,' on which plaintiff was so frightened that she fainted away! Several times the plaintiff had endeavoured to catch the cat, to put its head on the fire, and had procured a long needle to draw its blood, which would have dissolved the charm; she had also applied to a conjurer named Baker, to charm it, but it was of no use! ! !" The magistrates dismissed the complaint.

The Devil's Footprints

The Times, February 16, 1855

EXTRAORDINARY OCCURRENCE - Considerable sensation has been caused in the towns of, Topsham, Lympstone, Exmouth, Teignmouth and Dawlish in the south of Devon, in the consequence of the discovery of a large number of foot-tracks of a most strange and mysterious description. The superstitious go as far as to believe they are the marks of Satan himself, and that great excitement has been produced among all classes may be judged from the fact that the subject has been descanted from the pulpit. It appears on Thursday night last there was a heavy fall of snow in the neighbourhood of Exeter and the south of Devon. On the following morning the inhabitants of the above towns were surprised at discovering the foot marks of some strange and mysterious animal, endowed with the power of ubiquity, as the footprints were seen in all kinds of unaccountable places - on the tops of houses and narrow walls, in gardens and courtyards, enclosed by high walls and pailings as well as in open fields. There was hardly a garden in Lympstone where these footprints where not observable. The track appeared more like that of a biped than a quadruped, and the steps generally eight inches in advance of each other. The impression of the foot closely resembled that of a donkey’s shoe, and measured from an inch and a half to (in some instances) two and a half across. Here and there it appeared as if cloven, but in generality of the steps the shoe was continuous, and, from the snow in the centre remaining entire, merely showing the outer crest of the foot, it must have been concave. The creature seems to have approached several houses, and then to have retreated, but no one has been able to discover the standing or resting point of this mysterious visitor. On Sunday last the Rev Mr Musgrave alluded to the subject in his sermon, and suggested the possibility of the foot prints being those of a kangaroo, but this could have scarcely been the case, as they were found on both sides of the estuary of the Exe. At present it remains a mystery, and many superstitious people in the above towns are afraid to go outside their doors at night.

Andrew Brice experiences an earthquake.

Brice's weekly journal - 21 July 1727

On Wednesday Morning last, as near as I may guess, about 35 Minutes after Four a Clock, was felt here in all Parts of the Town a violent Concussion of the Earth. As I happen'd at that Instant to be thoroughly awake, notwithstanding the vaster Surprise and panick Terrour which may be justly suppos'd therefore to have seiz'd me at such unexperienced dreadful Accident, I may be more qualified to give a true and certain, tho' imperfect, Description of its apparent Circumstances (if the Reader will deign to accept it in a familiar Way, as it occur'd to my Observation) than such as were thereby rous'd and affrighted out of Sleep, as I understand Numbers were, as well as those of my own family. The Weather was profoundly calm, but such as might be call'd rather dull and heavy than serene, scarce stirring the gentlest Breath of Air; when of a sudden my Bed was forcibly agitated and shaken, as I may compare it, as a Bolting-Sieve or Searce is shov'd to and fro to sift your Flour , accompanied with a russling Noise, and Clashing of the Window. Which amazing mighty Shock continued, I believe, above Half a Minute, without Intermission: Insomuch that it awak'd my Wife and little Daughter in a terrible Astonishment, the former of whom could not easily forego the Imagination, after I had heedfully look'd under the Bed and made several Essays to shake or rather shuffle it after the same Fashion to no Purpose, and narrowly search'd each adjoining Room, on a probable Suspicion of some huge Mastiff Dog, or a worse Animal (some villain of a Man)'s being there on a Design of Mischief; - I say it was with Difficulty that I could dispossess her of the troublesome Conceit that it was a Foretoken or Omen of some direful Calamity suddenly to ensue. Nor indeed, I must confess, could I (who am a sort of Infidel with respect to the Faith of our Fore-mothers, and as much as Sceptick touching the Wriggle-Doctrine and Gipsy-Prophecies as Transubstantiation; regarding the Auruspice of sputtering Coal fires, the Soothsaying of blue flaming Candles, the ominous Prognosticks of overturned Salt-cells, or quod praeduxit ab ilice cornix, the hooting and croaking predictions of Owls and Ravens, less than the presaging Twinges of a Corney Toe; - I say, incredulous as I am of such Whims, could I) scarce think what Notion to entertain; 'till, entering the Rooms of others of my Household, I found them coldly sweating under the like Apprehension of having receiv'd a secret Warning or Intelligence of their approaching fate; which soon convinced me to what real Cause I should attribute it, namely some Kind of Earthquake, at least a great Trembling of the Earth; the which I since find confirm'd by Multitudes of People who were surpriz'd and disturb'd at the like Rate.

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