Description of Clovelly
A Voyage Around Great Britain (Vol. 1)
"Undertaken in the year 1813, and commencing from Land's End, Cornwall, by Richard Ayton, with a series of Views, illustrative of the Character and Prominent Features of the Coast, drawn and engraved by William Daniell A.R.A."
London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown (1814).
As we advanced the prospect still improved in beauty, and the whole county, from the sea to the horizon over land, was extended in uniform luxuriance; infinitely diversified in surface, but with hill and valley equally teeming with vegetation. This lovely scenery continued uninterrupted to Clovelly, which we entered through the grounds of Sir James Hamlyn, comprehending in them the highest beauties of Devonshire, with every embellishment that art can give, disposed with judgment and taste.
The town of Clovelly is built on the acclivity of a very steep hill overhanging the sea, so steep, indeed, as to have very much the character of a precipice. When seen from the bottom the houses have a most singular appearance, rising step by step, with the roof of one house below the base of another, and so running up to the top of the hill, suspended like pictures against a wall. There are some disadvantages resulting from this mode of building, amongst which I particularly noticed that the chimneys of the lower houses vomit forth their smoke into the parlour windows of those above them. In labouring up or sliding down the steep steps of the town, one ought to possess the lungs and legs of a Welsh pony, to travel with any degree of comfort or security. At Clovelly a man cannot step up to chat with a neighbour, a cloud or two above him, without expending more breath in the journey than would be sufficient for an hour's talk, so that if not very long-winded he must give up all hope of long stories. but these are circumstances which can only disturb the residents in the place; to people passing through it in pursuit of the picturesque they are sources of satisfaction. Its singular inconveniences, informal chimneys, and vertical street, have to the eye a very pretty effect. It has one other appointment too, best appreciated by strangers; a very good inn, recommended by plenty, cleanliness, great civility, and moderate charges.
I mentioned the re-appearance of trees to the westward of Clovelly, but the cliffs immediately about it are so loaded with them, and their branches and leaves so interlaced and matted together, that they form one close and compact mass, as impervious as a jungle of blackberry bushes. I do not present this as particularly ornamental, but think it might be an improvement were this exuberance corrected, though the pruning hook is generally so unnecessary an instrument in the neighbourhood of the sea, that something may be said of the excess for the sake of its singularity. Besides, the trees are all low, and if the sea prevents their growing tall, it would be merciless to check the only inclination which they are permitted to indulge, that of growing broad. However exceptional they may be in form, they are of the brightest green, a very rare colour on the coast, and sufficient in itself to give it liveliness and beauty.
There is a good harbour at Clovelly, not infested by those hideous rocks which we had so often seen starting up above the water in the very mouths of havens, and lying like snares in the way of every vessel that approached. The business of the port is principally fishing, and it is very evident from the refuse of heads, tails, and fins, which manure the beach, that the shores swarm with fish. Turbot and soles of the finest quality are caught in great profusion, and there being no fishmongers but the fishermen, they are sold at a price proportioned to their quantity. A London fishmonger would, no doubt, be able to prove that this is a very injudicious plan, as it effects the seller; but then one does not exactly see why his interest alone should be consulted, nor why twenty hungry stomachs should remain unappeased because he finds his account in satisfying only one. A society was formed some time ago for the purpose of redressing this grievance, but nothing appears to have been done, and the metropolis, which, it has been proved, might be supplied with an abundance of fish, at an average rate of fourpence a pound, still has it doled out by a few individuals, with such scrupulous economy, that two-thirds of its inhabitants receive none at all. and the remainder less than they could consume, at an expense more than adequate to furnish plenty for the whole. It is much easier to find fault than to suggest remedies, but if this evil is really occasioned by an iniquitous combination of a few fishmongers, it appears obvious that it might be removed by facilitating competition, or dividing the business among more hands, and that this object might be effected by establishing several spacious fish-markets in different parts of the town, which would be convenient of access for all inhabitants, secure for the salesmen certain demand, and for the buyers a certain supply at a certain price. There being, at present, only one fish-market in London, and that small and confined, and not accessible to a fourth part of the town, the constant complaint of the fishermen is, that there is no demand, and of the public, that there is no supply, while the fishmongers stand between, and, naturally enough, check the supply, and stimulate the demand with a view to nothing but their own advantage. The plan of appointing more markets was proposed in a report of the Fish Association, and the only difficulties that oppose its execution seem to be some legal impediments. But it is hoped that these impediments are not insurmountable, and that some means mat be adopted for making that legal which would seem to be so widely beneficial.
At Clovelly I observed, at low water, that the whole surface left dry by the tide was covered with fragments of rock, not bedded into the sand, but lying loosely on it, and all rounded and polished by continual collision and friction in the turbulent sea. These, no doubt, are the remains of former cliffs, washed down by the waves, and they now form a barrier that now protects the present cliffs against further depredation.
Transcribed - Brian Randell, 3 Dec 1999