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William Clibbett

(1803-1886)

Provided by David Carter 2018

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The Clibbetts were one of Appledore’s most long-standing shipbuilding families. Originating in the 1600s when the surname appears as Clepett, they went into shipbuilding in the 1790s when William Clibbett (1768-1857) rented a yard at Hubbastone, and later in 1812 he also took over the ‘Middle Dock’ yard. His father William Clibbett (1736-1811) had been landlord of the Bell Inn for over 30 years. William Clibbett Jnr carried on the family shipbuilding tradition until he retired in 1869.
William Clibbett junior’s father was determined that his family should increase their social standing from a background of innkeepers and shipwrights, so in 1813 he sent his eldest son William (1803-1886) to a boarding school 20-miles away at Hatherleigh, where many other master-mariner’s children from Cornwall and South Wales were also sent. Whilst there, William Clibbett junior kept a diary and in 1878 he wrote a manuscript about his life. In 1939 it was stated that this manuscript was in the possession of a Miss Day of Clapham, London, and the following article was published in the Bideford Gazette that same year.

(See Illustrated history of Appledore vol.3, page 83, for portrait of William Clibbett painted in 1834).

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Schooldays in North Devon - 1812

For his day and generation, Mr William Clibbett was a man of very advanced views, was equipped with a liberal education and was a wide reader. In his characteristically neat handwriting he wrote… 
The winter season of 1812 and 13 was remarkable of that period. Snow fell successive weeks and hard frost supervened and rendered the roads impassable until cleared, from that period to the present no such weather has been recorded. The season was also notorious by the advance of Napoleon and his large army on Russia.

Shortly after the Christmas vacation of 1812, the writer, then just ten years of age, was sent by his parents, who had in their early life found the advantage of even inferior education costly and hardly to be procured from their residence in a small seaport in north Devon, to a boarding school at Hatherleigh about twenty miles in land, well and properly managed by Mr Thomas Roberts a person well known and respected. Mr Roberts had suffered in early life the loss of both arms by the incautious handling and igniting of a small bombshell or hand grenade. 

Novel Mode of Conveyance 
I have mentioned the deep snow of the period; the roads had been cleared of the obstruction, but the wheeled carriages had not yet made progress, when my kind parents, wishing to lose no time, started me by fitting a pillow behind the saddle on which road one of my father's workmen. This was indeed a novel mode of conveyance, but the snow prevented us being much gazed at, and at this period the pillion behind the saddle for females was so common that little notice would have been taken of it. 
Conveyance to and from the school and home in those days was not of the best. It went but once a week, and the school boys had to walk a mile and a half to the village and start from there at 3am, in a heavy covered wagon drawn by two, sometimes three, heavy horses. The journey was never completed until 4pm in the evening. Nowadays, a journey to Liverpool can be performed in less time. The postage of a single letter was 9d but a small paper parcel could be sent for 1d. 

Arriving at the school young Clibbett found the number of boarders exceeded seventy, and he was amongst the youngest. Many of the elder boys were the sons of masters of vessels, principally from Swansea, south Wales, and ports and towns in Cornwall, while others were sons of respectable agriculturalists from miles around, even some from Somerset. 

Being the time during the war, farm produce was very scarce and sold at high prices, and farmers could well afford to send their sons to school. We were kept well up to school work, going in four times a day. Morning at 7 to write exercises on slates, and at 8 to breakfast, then wash face and hands, and in at 9 for reading, writing and arithmetic, dinner at 1, out at 5pm, then tea till 7 we went again to the schoolroom, and all stood up in a line and were one after the other questioned and examined to prove our progress in geography, history and other useful knowledge. 

Napoleonic War Prices 
Our food was clean and wholesome. Bread, the most objectionable, being very dark and thinly buttered, corn, then at wartime price being one guinea a bushel. We had joints at dinner and roast beef, veal, pork, etc on Sundays. We always went to church three times on the Sabbath, and between the meals and church hours were in the schoolroom in sections reading over the Gospel, Epistles, Collect for the Day, etc. Some years previous to my being sent to Hatherleigh, Mr Roberts having found the number of his pupils growing, had built a new and handsome dwelling not many yards below the old school. Both were detached houses on a hill adjoining the turnpike road. To the new house we removed about three months after my first arrival. Built for the purpose, this house was large and convenient, having in the front centre a large commodious dining hall with parlours each side, and as a wing at one end, a large well ventilated school room and equal size dormitory over. 

Did Not Always Bring Blood 
The master of the school was a very humane man. The 'custice' or sharp slap on the flat of the hand punished for dirty face or hands. slovenly, ill-adjusted or torn clothes. Flogging was the extreme penalty of our schoolboy law, carried out as punishment for fighting, staying out after allowed hours, lying, swearing, etc. This severity was not frequently carried out, but I have witnessed it sometimes during my term, and being made a sort of solemn affair had just such an impression on us as public hanging used to have on more aged spectators. It took place about noon in the schoolroom. About two hours previous the culprit would have to go to the lower end of the schoolroom and stand against the wall while on the end of the desk close by the terrible cat o'nine tails would be laid, consisting of nine knotted strands of whipcord attached to a short stick. When the time came the victim, made bear by his coat and waistcoat being removed, and his shirt pulled up over his head, was then taken up on the back of one of the stoutest boys, and the master gave him ten or twelve strokes, but the force used though very painful from the apparent suffering of the criminal, did not always bring blood.

Superstitious 
In regard to pocket money, economy was the order of the day. The 'big' boys had 3d a week as regular spending money while the small boys had but 2d. There were no steel pens so that sometimes it a mishap took place in pen making, their weekly pay would be all eaten up in that article alone. Those were superstitious times and white witches and fortune telling were firmly believed in. Nor can we wonder, when It is stated that about that time the Great Divine, John Wesley, was a believer in witches and the Wesleyan Magazine of that time, under his editorship, gives statements so superstitious as would only be laughed at in the present time. 
Our amusements were of a healthy nature and were not so frequent as to interfere with our studies. We had a large space of ground behind the house where after dinner for a short time and in the summer after evening school. we should engage in foot and tennis ball. Saturday afternoon the Head of Hatherleigh Moor was our favourite resort and a clear spot of easy declivity, and here we had our round trap ground, a game that was both agreeable and led to healthy exertion. 

The Most Clever Man in Devon 
Our schoolmaster was the most clever man in Devon, taking into consideration the fact that he had lost both his arms. At that time in many of the parishes round, oxen were employed in ploughing the land. Sometime you may see, with heavy yokes on the neck, from four to six moving slowly along, the driver making a curious unmelodious noise. a goading them with a somewhat sharpened stick, at times four oxen would be put in with two horses in front to keep them in a straight line and to assist. At length it was found that the hoof of the poor animals wore away and required a light iron shoe to keep it right and perfect, and the great difficulty was how to place the animal in a safe position to affix the said shoe. Our schoolmaster took the affair into consideration and with his own stumps made. on a small scale, a most perfect model of a machine for that purpose. It was laid before one of the greatest scientific societies in Cornwall and a machine of proper size was made from the model and it answered the purpose admirably, and it was much approved and applauded in both counties.

Coffin Hung in Kitchen 
Writing of some of the interesting people who used to live near the school, Mr Clibbett stated that… 
Among the outsiders was a remarkable old man, upwards of ninety years of age, an occupant of one of the small parish arms house. He had but little advantage of education, could write imperfectly, but was a poet in a way, having composed many homely pieces in his latter years. He had formerly been a carrier between Hatherleigh and Exeter and was very strong, and told us that during his wild days he was able to lift a full barrel of cider to his mouth and drink from the bunghole. Many years before I knew him he had become a pious man and was a great favourite of the good vicar. At one end of his kitchen hung his neatly made oak coffin, with the shroud inside and under it against the wall was his decent, well cut tomb stone. Name engraved, two verses of his own composing below, nothing wanted but to fill in the date of his death. 

Apprentice System 
The respectable inhabitants of Hatherleigh were a well disposed lot of people and appeared to live comfortably together, but the farm labourers were a rough and ignorant lot, almost entirely uneducated. They used to designate us as Mr R's hounds. The parish apprentice system was then as in many years after the law of the land, commencing at eleven or twelve years of age, and It was sad to see how many of the boys were treated, sent out at all times in frost and snow to pull up turnips and other fodder for the cattle. Their dress generally consisted of buckskin leather breeches down to the knee, then thick yarn stockings and thick clumsy shoes with great nails covering the taps and so heavy that they could scarce draw one leg before the other. There were many curious characters in the town, among them the choir, who used always at the morning service to chant the hundredth psalm 'O Be Joyful in the Lord'. These singers appeared to give their whole heart to it and conspicuous among them a venerable ironmonger, blessed with an extensive corporation, used to burst out, and appear as if that part of his body formed part of a portable organ. 

Mr Clibbett draws his story to an end with references to the deaths of his old schoolmates. Looking at it as a whole, he concludes… 
I think there is a probability I may explain with the messengers to good old Jove of old I only am escaped alone to tell thee. 

(taken from Bideford and North Devon Weekly Gazette 7th March 1939)

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