Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

Living in Braunton

Certain houses and shops in Braunton were prominent in the history of the village and are well remembered by residents. An excellent history of Devon is provided by W.G. Hoskins, who included some notes about Braunton houses in his work, which dates from 1954:

“... some excellent traditional building may be found in North Street, South Street and Church Street.  In the latter, Nos. 33-5 (formerly one house) are dated 1579.  No. 17 East Street and No. 7 South Street are similar in style.  These houses, formerly good farmhouses, are a characteristic type of building in many North Devon villages, with their massive stone chimney breasts on the street, beside the front door. Broadgate is an Elizabethan house, formerly a manor house called The Hall. It contains a plaster mantelpiece dated 1626.  The south block is medieval, with a fine roof of 14th century date.”

Ro Madgett

Brittons House from Mathoms, Ro and NZ relatives, 2005Local resident Ro Madgett has a family history that is firmly entrenched in Braunton. Her family’s heritage links to a variety of houses in the village. Here she is to explain more; see if you can recognise any of the names she mentions...

“I have known Braunton for all my life but it was only when I moved here to live that I fully understood how important the place is to me.

I enjoyed childhood holidays in the area from the 1960s onwards, I studied its geology for my degree, we brought our children here for their holidays and I always dreamed of living here. Since fulfilling the dream in 2000, I have learnt much about my family history and I now know why living here seems so right.

Brittons House, 1948For centuries my mother’s ancestors and their relatives lived in and around Braunton, working the land, investing in the trading ships that sailed from Velator and later in the railways that served the region. They lived in some of the large farms and houses of the parish – Fairlinch, Sanfield, Brookfield, Brittons House, Prospect Lodge, at Rhu, Lower Lease and others of the older houses in Saunton  – and further afield in the manor houses of Croyde, Putsborough and Pickwell. Their names are familiar even nowadays – Harris, Dyer, Oliver, Tweedie, Dunning, Horwood, Gladstone, Richards……

Some of my ancestors left the area, but many returned to settle again. Even my newly-discovered New Zealand cousins whose forebears left Braunton more than 100 years ago keep coming back to visit! I know how they feel – this is where my roots are, and I’m staying put!

Since writing the above piece, I have discovered my physical connection with my past is even closer than I first realised….

Brookfield, South Street, 2005Edward Harris (No 1) (1764 – 1832) was my 4 x great grandfather. He lived at Brookfield, in South Street. Married in 1793 to Elizabeth Oliver, daughter of Captain Oliver of Sanfield, he was a gentleman farmer, owning much land on the Great Field and around the village (eg. Venpit, Lower Thorn, Allerditch, Downlane Close) as well as Lime Kiln Field with its two kilns. He also owned a field on Lower Park Road called the Brittons, maybe containing a cottage, that he gave to his sister Letitia, her husband Balthazar Mock and their 5 children on a long term lease in 1792. The Brittons was returned to Edward Harris (No 2) about 1837, maybe after the deaths of his aunt and uncle?

Prospect Lodge, 1935Edward Harris (No 2) (1794 – 1874) also lived at Brookfield and worked the same land and kilns as his father. Brookfield House and all the land was sold after his wife’s death in 1890. He had several children from his marriage to Rebecca Watson Prole of Croyde Manor. A daughter died early and 2 sons died in Australia. His oldest son Edward (No 3) ran the Danube and Black Sea Railway and Kustendjie Harbour Company Ltd, so lived for many years in what was at first Turkey but became Romania. He was my great great grandfather. Another daughter, Euphemia, married John Eddowes Gladstone, a cousin of the Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. Yet another son, William Prole Harris, lived at Prospect Lodge on Lower Park Road before moving to the Brittons land, to a house known then as The Firs. William may have been responsible for demolishing an earlier house and building the current one.

In 1881, The Firs and all its contents were sold when William and his family emigrated to New Zealand. The house and land then went through several changes of name and owner before it was bought by Arthur John (Jack) Tweedie in the 1920’s. He had spent much of his working life in Egypt as MD of the Port Said and Suez Canal Company and as an advisor to King Farouk. He changed the house name back to The Brittons and bought several fields around the house to create a very large property. In 1940 he married his second wife Constance Eleanor Harris who was my great great aunt. In 1948, the house was the venue for my parents’ wedding reception.

In the early 1960s, Jack Tweedie’s daughter from his first marriage, Doris (always known as “Aunty Tom” because of her tom boy love of outdoor activities) arranged the sale of the Brittons estate, much of it being later used for the development of the road of bungalows known as The Brittons. Aunty Tom lived at Lower Lease in Saunton for many years until her death in the mid-1970s. Through her brother’s marriage, I am also linked to the Tweedie family.

Today what was once a field called the Brittons, then a house called The Firs, then a house called The Brittons, is now two adjoined houses called Brittons House and Park House. In what was once part of the garden stands a chalet bungalow built in the mid-1960s; in December 2000, blissfully unaware of the history of this land, my husband and I bought this house.

I now live on land that has been in my family one way or another almost continuously for well over 200 years!”         Ro Madgett, 29 March 2008

Andre Potier

Braunton Village 1Andre Potier, in recollecting his childhood in Braunton, remembers a great variety of places that sadly no longer exist.  He attended Chaloner’s School, which used to stand where the fire station does now.  It had large playing fields, with a pavilion, where sports days were held.  Andre remembers Joe Huxtable, who was a carpenter and wheelwright, as well as the blacksmiths near the river, which is now a dentist.  The horses that the blacksmith was shoeing were taken to the nearby river to drink.  Other memories include Fernleat, before the bungalows were built there and Bradleys building merchant, which had a mill for driving the saws. 

Braunton Village 4Andre notes that when Chaloners Road was built there were so few cars about that nobody was concerned for the safety of children living nearby and indeed the road cut through some people’s gardens, apparently without much fuss at all!  In other areas of the village, in the days of the basket factory where Tesco now stands and in the time when Braunton Pottery still traded, Andre remembers a lady called Poll Ridd.  She used to stand all day, it seemed, in her doorway in Heanton Street.  Heresay has it that she would attend all the funerals in the village!  Of course the arrival of the Americans caused much excitement among the youth of the day and Andre remembers playing with the soldiers at their camp.

Braunton Museum

Braunton Village 3A wealth of information about Braunton’s past is available at Braunton Museum, which is located in the centre of the village at the Old Bakehouse Centre. You might like to do some research into your own family there. More information is available from the Museum’s web-site.


Sports have always played an important part in Braunton’s social scene and the village has its own cricket club and football club. Here is the Centenary Brochure of Braunton Cricket Club (1880 – 1980) (2.99mb, pdf), which was kindly donated by Andre Potier.

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In addition, the parish boasts the renowned Saunton Golf Club, which lies just outside the village on the edge of the Burrows. Local resident Richard Wakeford describes why he and his wife decided to move to Braunton:

The White House near Crow Point, 2006"When we were younger, we used the beach between The White House and Crow Point a great deal. We sailed dinghies and water skied and had picnics with other local friends. It was only locals who knew of this splendid place. With advancing years and family grown and dispersed, these activities no longer attract but they were a factor in our decision to come to live in Braunton. I still very much enjoy a walk beside the Caen and round Horsey Island, where I can enjoy the big skies and the great variety of wading swimming and diving birds, particularly in the winter months.

Then there are the Burrows. A unique habitat full of surprises. This is a special place where familiarity actually enhances enjoyment. No matter how many times you visit, there is still another little surprise. I shall leave a fuller appreciation of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to John and Mary Breeds, who over the years have introduced so many to the delights of this place with their enthusiasm and great depth of knowledge.

English Nature, now Natural England, are to be congratulated for their influence here in Braunton. By their work in clearing scrub and exotic invasive growth, the flora unique to this area is being encouraged to return and even multiply. Not only that, but their diplomatic policing of the countryside does a great deal to curb some of the less desirable elements of progress and its effects on our dwindling stock of real country.

Braunton Burrows 2004 cHaving been members of Saunton Golf Club over four decades, on retirement we wished to live in fairly close proximity to the finest golf course in the West Country. I describe the course thus on several grounds besides its excellence as a links.  Just to walk on the short springy turf, growing on the poorest of sandy soil, is a joy. And off the fairways the undulating terrain is beautiful to look upon, winter or summer.

Early purple orchidThe course being virtually treeless, the eye is drawn to other flora in seasons, the spectacular Viper’s Bugloss, the luminous Evening Primrose, and the glorious Orchids and Hellebores. In places it is hard to avoid the Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Rest Harrow vying with the sweet scented Lady’s Bedstraw and Thyme. Yellow Rattle, Melliot, Agrimony and Verbascum complement the green of the indigenous grasses of this very special place. In autumn and winter the foliage is more subdued in colour, more subtle and as the searchlight of the lower-angled sun defines the shapes and reflects or illuminates, it reveals the features of the plants which had been hidden or overlooked when they were arrayed in their summer gaudiness.

Devon Reds grazing on Braunton BurrowsAnd of course it is not just the human eye which is delighted by these flowers in spring and summer. The butterflies are prolific; blues, coppers, fritillaries and daytime moths such as the burnet gorge themselves. Bees, ladybirds, beetles, caterpillars and spiders all share this environment with us. So too, do the larger fauna; voles, rabbits, adders, foxes and of late gorgeous Red Devons, grazing on neighbouring land. Not so popular with the ground staff are the badgers which frequently do a little ploughing here and there.

LapwingThen there are the birds. The Golf Club’s logo is the Lapwing. Years ago this was a common sight on the course but sadly no longer, although they can still be seen in fields and mudflats not very far away. Skylarks still surprise us with their vertical take-off and thrilling song. The Kestrels are forever hovering, vigilant for their preferred diet of vole, short-tailed preferably, please. Stonechats perch where they can see…and be seen. Gulls plonk themselves down in the same resting place they have used for generations when the weather turns rough at sea. Whilst overhead ravens are often seen croaking loudly as they urgently fly to their arcane destination. Our constant companions are the rooks. These industrious and highly intelligent birds with their comic pantaloons, rather like golfer’s plus-fours, work hard for their living, digging about with their strong probing beaks for grubs and any other titbits they might come across.

As if this was not enough for the local golfer; the course is surrounded by the most beautifully varied scenery, with a micro-climate which enjoys more dry days than the rest of the county, the sound and smells of the sea, and a very rare phenomenon, the constant roar of traffic is absent.

As you may have gathered, my wife and I love living in Braunton, appreciating it even more as we grow older. People here are relaxed and friendly. The coast and countryside is beautiful and largely unspoilt. We have little need to go to a town. What more could we want?

Find out more about Braunton Burrows and the fantastic flora and fauna that Richard describes.

Find out more about Saunton.

explore braunton, the most biodiverse parish in england - a north devon aonb project