It was all a bit Poldark…
Six months in and we’re still here! It’s been a busy summer with fabulous weather and cottages and yurts full of happy holiday-makers. We’re now looking forward to a “quieter” few months getting on top of the admin and maintenance!
The six-month milestone and some recent conversations with guests about the history of Halsbeer has made me spend a bit of time looking into the past. In particular I was keen to see whether the local legend of brandy having been hidden by smugglers in the Halsbeer Farm pond had any truth in it. It seems it does and as is often the case, truth is even stranger than fiction. It was all a bit Poldark. The story is recounted by Eleanor, eldest daughter of Walter and Amy Frost on a website about the Frost family of Devonshire from whence I have drawn this extract:
“(In) 1752 John Frost married Diana Leddon and lived at Halsbeare. There is an old ballad written by a Diana Frost which tells of an occurrence that has now passed into a local legend. Halsbeare lay in a very secluded part of the country, and some smugglers, hard driven by pursuers, took advantage of its isolation to hide several kegs of brandy in a pond on this property. This pursuit came to the ears of the Excise men who arrived with an order to search the house. John Frost, ignorant of what had taken place and indignant at the demand, stood at the door “with full-drawn sword” and refused to allow them to cross the threshold. Defeated, the men turned away, but saw the pond, dragged it, and the brandy was discovered.
John Frost “summoned was to Exeter,
Dear man, he lost the day,
Quite heavy the expenses were
The same he had to pay.”
Old Ballad by D. Mortimore nee Frost.
However he refused to accept this verdict with its slur on his honour, and determined to take the case to London. This was a great undertaking in those days, and the case was long protracted and the costs heavy. Twice during the trial his daughter Eleanor rode to London to act as a witness. All that was movable at that well-stocked homestead – ricks, stock and implements – was sold to meet the costs: But John Frost had a high spirit. Eventually he won the day, his name was cleared, and as he rode homewards he caused the church bells to be rung in every Devonshire village through which he passed. Happy indeed was his return:-
“To Stoford Water he arrives
Kentisbeare bells are rung,
And by the old inhabitants
A welcome song is sung.
He lived to see, the land restocked
The great barn richly filled,
He charged his sons and daughter too,
Ne’er to oppression yield.
In peace and plenty years rolled on;
In love they strove to live,
When’er a friend required help
To him they freely gave””
I feel so lucky to have found this fascinating account of goings on 264 years ago at the place we now call home – I consider we are but guardians of this historic property and I shall certainly be digging into its history a bit further to find out more about the characters that used to live here. The Frost family website also has some gems about Christmas frivolities at Halsbeare (as it was then spelt), but I shall save that for my December blog!
(PS If anyone ever fancies donning some waders and plunging into what is now lovingly renamed Brandy Pond to help us get rid of some of the invasive bullrush you are welcome. You never know what you mind find.)