The Prance Family


        The 1871 census shows that the Prance family at Peppercombe is quite extensive. John and Mary are living with their widowed daughter Athalia in the 'rude cotage by the sea', below the Castle, but during the Autumn John inadvertantly fell over the cliff and  later died from his injuries. He was buried in Parkham churchyard on 2nd. October 1871 aged 82. William and Harriet and their family of six children must have occupied one of the other cottages. All male adults are described as fishermen except William who was a Master Mariner, a title which probably entitlesd him to captain a substantial vessel.  Joseph, one of John's sons, is living at the Castle with his family. ( Joseph evidentally had a club foot but distinguished himself by saving a man's life off Peppercombe. Ref: Bideford Gazette. 17/12/1861 ) The Castle incidentally was the property of the Pine Coffin family.  Also at this time, 1871, we find Deera Hollway aged ten living with her parents Henry and Mary Hollway and siblings at 1 Albert Place, Old Town, Bideford.
    1881.  William and Harriet have now brought their family from Peppercombe into Bideford and are occupying the house 26 Milton Place, Old Town..  Frederick obviously had his eye on the rather serious looking Deera, a few doors away  at 1 Albert Place, because in 1891 we find him married to her and living at 2 Albert place with the first of their five sons Frederick. (Today Albert Place consists of one dwelling only)
    In 1901 we next find Frederick and Deera, now with five sons living at 30 Old Town, two doors away from 1 Albert Place together with Deera's father Henry now aged 79.  Frederick is here described as master of his own fishing trawler so the family by this time must have had some finanial independance. in the meantime William and Harriet are probably still living at 26 Milton Place.
    In 1911 Frederick and Deera are found at 66 High Street with all their family including Harriet now a widow of 84. At a date soon after this the family moved into 91 Abbotsham Road which became the family home until Deera died in 1952. All the above mentioned Bideford houses are still there. No 30 Old Town still bears the name DERENDA,  a word easily identified with the name Deera. There is nothing left of the Castle at Peppercombe.

                                                            26 Milton Place

     Milton Place       1 Albert Place                                                            DERENDA
                                                                                                                  30 Old Town

66 High Street     (centre)

Glendale.  91 Abbotsham Road.    ( Now 'The Hollies')


    I feel that Deera has not had the recognition she deserves. She brought five sons to maturity,  one of them seriously handicapped whom she cared for all her life and also looked after a much debilitated husband in his last years.  I remember her with affection and great respect. She feels particularly close as the houses she lived in are within a few hundred yards of where we live now.


 ...........A few memories from the times that I spent during holidays in Bideford just before the war at my grandparent’s house in Abbotsham Road and at the end of the war when difficulties in London and my father’s lack of work forced my parents to stay at father's former home for a while.

    My father usually arranged a visit or a holiday in Bideford at least once a year to see his parents and Claude, his disabled brother who lived with them, and other members of the Prance family who still lived nearby. We were fortunate to have a car and father always set off at what seemed the crack of dawn competing with himself to make the journey in record time. I was too young to remember much of the journeys but the house and its occupants made a great impression.  The house itself was a conventional L shaped terrace house.  The parlour, which was kept for ‘Best’,  off the hall was just inside the front door, another room which was Claude's, next the dining room which led into the kitchen.  Outside was the small garden, an outside  lavatory, a shed or workshop and small garden area. It was inside the house and the people in it however that were the most memorable.

    Until my grandfather’s death in 1939 the house was occupied by him, his wife Deera, Claude who I have said was disabled and a lodger by the name of Mr. Barfett whom I assume was there to help with the household budget.  Grandfather, with his bald shiny head,  had once been a tall strong man, a powerful swimmer who had saved many lives in Bideford Bay but at this age suffered terribly from asthma. This was so debilitating that he  was unable to walk from one end of the house to the other without gasping and having to light some powder from a tin, burning it and inhaling the smoke.  Therefore on entering the house one was first struck by the burnt leafy smell which was always present.  During his life he had been known as Captain Prance, master of his own sailing fishing trawler based on the quay at Bideford. Having lived a healthy life outdoors I often speculated on the cause of his Asthma since none of his five sons or their families had suffered similarly.  In the 1930’s he was able to make the journey to Sussex to visit us but his little tin was never far from him.  I cannot recall his voice now but remember him with affection.

    Grandma was a character and uncompromising in her rules. She managed the house. Her accent was broad ‘devonshire’ and I can still recall her voice today.  A slight woman with a straight back, busy and unsmiling, usually to be found in the kitchen or sewing in the dining room.  She never seemed to be without an apron on and it was a family joke that she kept putting one apron on top of another to keep the one underneath clean until she had quite a layer.  She must have had a hard life bringing up five sons, a husband now suffering from very bad health and a lodger to look after.  As I will now relate one of her sons  was of great concern and obviously continued to be a great worry .

    Claude had a large pit in the top of his head, the result of a terrible accident when he fell out of his pram when still a baby.  This left him with un-coordinated movement in his limbs and a speech defect so bad that only those who knew him well, his family or those who befriended him in the town could understand what he was saying.  This was not only frustrating to those he met but also to him personally and resulted in many a scene and bad temper. Because of his physical difficulties he was untidy in his dress and  often unshaven. He was obviously unemployable but when his father was working his fishing vessel he would go down to the quay, help his father and was well known and befriended by other fishermen and townspeople on the quay so he was known to quite a few.  This paints a rather depressing picture of Claude but like many others with a disability he had extraordinary gifts. For a start he was talented as an artist  as  testified by his many paintings.  But that shed in the back garden was his retreat and his heaven. In it was a complete jumble of what appeared to be workshop rubbish. Old tins, tools, nuts, bolts and discarded remains of many a job lot.  Claude was however a craftsman and from all this apparent rubbish he bent, hammered together, soldered and fashioned all sorts of ornaments and machines.  The most remarkable were his wind working machines.  He designed models of men and animals all propelled  into action by the wind.  These were fastened to the tops of poles so that when the wind blew the clatter of these working models filled the air in the small garden behind the house.  Extremely ingenious..... and considering the clumsiness he had to contend with quite remarkable,  Being the son of a  sailor and fisherman  he was fascinated with ships and  fashioned in wood many models of ships all painted and delicately rigged. One of these I still have.  Such were Claude’s  interests and  abilities.  Indoors he frequently played his wind up gramophone and the house resounded to the songs of  Richard Tauber and the like.

     When Grandma died in 1952 something had to be arranged for Claude.  The remaining brothers sold the house and with the income generated he was accepted into the Western Counties Home at Starcross where he lived until his death in 1980 at the age of 83!   He was, according to the staff and those who visited him there, very happy.  He was popular and very much at home in the workshop and continued to paint and a number of his paintings were made into Christmas cards which were published.

    The other member of the household was Mr.Barfett.  I remember Mr.Barfett for two things. He was a mathematical genius and also an epileptic subject to fits.  Genius is perhaps too strong a definition but he had the ability to answer  instantaneously almost any complex  mathematical problem you could think of.  Being a small boy I was unable to test this out properly but was assured by everyone that he had an astonishing brain that in a flash could solve seemingly impossible sums.  I assume he was employed and used this talent in his work unless of course his epilepsy prevented him from working.  I witnessed one of these fits in the dining room at Glendale and watched with awe as he stiffened up and slid from the chair onto the floor. It didn’t last long but the whole thing was the sort of experience that a young child finds quite baffling but at the same time takes in his stride as matter of fact.

    A  frequent callers at the house were my uncle Clarence and his wife Ethel who lived at Tower House in ‘The Strand’.   He was the one brother of the five who lacked worldly ambition and I believe had communistic leanings.  He had a philosophical turn of mind, was an atheist, was well read and was the sort of person whom you might expect to turn up at a political meeting and become argumentative.  He and Ethel had no children of their own but 'Clarrie' always had something unusual to entertain me with. He arrived with all sorts of tricks.  He made paper burn in such a way that it portrayed a picture or made indoor fireworks.  I think he nade more of a fuss of his dog than his wife as they were inseperable  and went everywhere together. He certainly doted on ‘Bat’ having taught him all sorts of tricks which he proudly demonstrated at every opportunity.  Although something of a maverick I liked Uncle Clarrie.  He owned a plot of land in Bay View Road overlooking The Burroughs where there was a shed for shelter and for making cups of tea etc. After the war he kept his three wheeled Morgan car in the shed and as a family we used to spend afternoons up there looking through his telescope at ships and people walking on the golf course. He told the story that during the war while looking through his telescope at The Burroughshe he saw someone  blown up by a mine.  It is an unlikely story but the sort of thing that happened to Uncle Clarrie.
    At the very end of the war  we stayed at Glendale for three months or so  before returning to our house in Hampstead. That was the last time I was there.  Only Grandma and Claude lived there then. Mr.Barfett was either dead or had moved elsewhere.  I attended the art school which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once I borrowed a canoe which Uncle Clarrie had constructed from sheet metal and in it I set off up the river taking advantage of the tide and using it to bring me back home again. On another occasion I used it to ‘stick’ dabs on the sandy bottom of the river at low tide.  I had the misfortune of choosing a Sunday for one of these expeditions and arrived home dishevelled and obviously looking worse for wear. Grandma opened the front door and I can recall to this day the indignity and disgrace she felt at such a spectacle entering her house on the Lord’s day.  I believe my parents suffered for my indiscretion.

    Grandma kept her straight back to the very end and when she was about to die at the age of 91 she is reputed to have sat up in bed and said “call the brothers”.  She waited until they had all dutifully arrived from different parts of the country before dying peacefully in her bed.

    Christopher Prance

Uncle Claude, myself, Grandpa, my father Bertram, Uncle Clarence

About 1938 at 91 Abbotsham Road