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Albert Best's Legacy to Teignmouth - His Diaries

A Unique Record of Life in the Town from 1865 to 1920

by

Alan Best

[Albert's Diaries, edited by his great great nephew Alan Best, are to be published in three Parts. Part 1, covering December 1865 to the end of the century is available now. It is A4 size, 128 pages long and contains supplementary notes taken from newspapers of the time, and a list of some 150 recorded deaths - see below. It can be obtained from the Quayside Book Shop Teignmouth, Teignmouth Museum or The Mitre Book Shop, Newton Abbot. Copies are also available by post from Alan Best. Part 11, 1900 to 1913 should be available in late summer, and Part 111 by the end of the year.]

Albert Best was born in Teignmouth in 1840, some 25 years after the Battle of Waterloo, and he kept a Diary from 1865 until a week before his death in 1920. Within its pages is a unique record of life and events in the town during a period of significant social and industrial change.

He started work on his 14th birthday, serving a seven year apprenticeship to become a Plumber, and later set up on his own, establishing a family business which later became J.G. Best and Sons, Builders and Ironmongers at 11 to 15 Somerset Place, which finally closed down in the late 1970's.

His firm became a major employer in the town in his lifetime and a testament to this is his diary entry for October 4 1919.

In the Teignmouth Post it is stated that "At the supper to demobilised and discharged men last week, 28 of the men that sat down are employed by the firm of A Best Ltd., Plumbers, Builders & Contractors of Somerset Place".

A more permanent landmark is the granite plaque on the dam at Venford Reservoir, Holne on Dartmoor, built by Hawking & Best - the project started in 1901 and formally opened in 1907.

Albert spent much of his spare time on voluntary work for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a Friendly Society formed to provide members of the working classes with a form of insurance against sickness and unemployment. Weekly contributions were paid by members into the Lodge and benefits paid out when required. One of the first of his diary entries in 1866 is: -

Jan 16 Lodge night. Finished accounts at dinner time, laid them before Lodge - they were much satisfied. Passed a resolution that the Secretary be paid £2 for the ensuing year, to be paid half yearly In 1867 Albert became Treasurer to the local Lodge, with an annual vote of thanks as his remuneration, and continued working for the Lodge until a few days before he died.

Albert also found time to become a member of the Yeomanry Volunteers from 1860 to 1884, coming out as a Sergeant. He was in the Devonshire contingent that marched past Queen Victoria at the Windsor Review in 1881

Jul 9 Saturday. Windsor Review. Started by special train from Teignmouth 4.40 am. From Exeter in narrow gauge train 5.30. Arrived Slough about 10.0 a.m. Detrained and marched direct to Park - rather warm march - first fine day since last Monday. Refreshments & wash.
Assembled again at 3 pm, formed up in Brigades each side of long drive. We were in 4th Brigade, 3rd. division, 2nd. army corps. 5 o'clock signal of 21 guns, then her Majesty and Escort left the Castle and passed through the Brigades, ours first. Present arms, Bands, National Anthem. Ours was the last Brigade to march past, which lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.
We received cheers and shouts of "well done" and "bravo Devon".
Back to rendezvous, refreshments 9 pm. leave for Slough, halting on the road for other regiments to get away - very tiresome. Got entrained 12.55. Refreshments then sleep. Home 8.20 a.m.

There are triumphs and tragedies, town celebrations on the conclusion of the Boer War and Great War, Coronation of King Edward. The last day for turnpikes was also a milestone! One of the major tragedies occurred on April 20th 1896. His entry that day: -

Apr 20 Great sensation in the Town. A fellow called Haines, with his wife and four children, been living at One Spring Gardens these past three years, letting lodgings. About 2.30p.m. to day, whilst his wife was upstairs attending to the Lodgers, he first of all sent his oldest, a boy about ten years old to post a letter, then he sent the servant maid out of doors - and then took the three younger children, the youngest being only nine months old, and cut the throats of each one causing instant death, leaving the bodies in a heap on the hearth rug. Then he rushed upstairs and it is presumed he cut his own throat whilst doing so, because there were traces of blood on the stairs, and his body was found stretched out on the landing, with his throat cut nearly from ear to ear, and quite dead.

National events were not ignored. The entry for August 25th 1875 reads

Capt. Webb swam across from Dover to Calais. He started at 1 p.m., arrived next day about 11 am. - in the water about 22 hours. Capt. Boyton was 23 hours. Distance 23 miles.

Albert saw William Gladstone twice, once on his visit to Torquay, and again at his family home at Hawarden in Cheshire on 16th August 1894

Fine park and grounds. Went over castle ruins. Mr Gladstone addressed West Country visitors at 4.30 from the terrace. GOM (Grand Old Man) looking very well. Mr H Gladstone MP also there and addressed the people. Went into castle and saw presents of Golden Wedding etc. Went to Hawarden Village, saw the church (outside), also the Old Cottage, the birth place of Lady Hamilton.

Featured as well are thumbnail portraits of local people. On 21st April 1894 :-

Letter from Mrs Jenkins saying her husband Sam died last evening. Poor Sam, he was a good tempered fellow, and a good workman. He died from the effects of a cold caught at Salterton.


From Volume 1:

Deaths 1865 to 1900 - giving the dates on which they appear in a Diary entry

Ackland T 29.5.98 Hammond T 27.2.81 Pattison W 28.3.89
Bailey 10.11.74 Harvey, C 27.1.98 Pearce, Miss E A 28.3.78
Bastin 14.12.99 Hayman John 19.12.99 Pemberton, Mrs 4.1.86
Bealer 15.5.77 Hayman Mrs 18.12.99 Pepperall 6.12.75
Bennett S 22.5.95 Hayman Mrs 20.12.92 Pitwood C 3.1.77
Best P 1.4.93 Hayman S 19.5.92 Pope J 23.1.91
Best S 14.2.67 Hayman T 25.1.93 Portbury J 30.9.97
Bickford B 25.5.68 Hayman W 8.12.86 Portbury C 29.02.98
Bramwell 26.5.70 Henley W 16.7.70 Price, Mrs 18.1.89
Born W 7.12.93 Hindon H 2.3.99 Rabjohns 23.7.73
Boyce A 19.10.96 Hobbs, Mrs 10.12.92 Rendell C 18.10.80
Brock 25.2.82 Hodge H 20.11.94 Rendell H 5.12.93
Brock. Mrs 25.12.78 Hole Walter 6.12.75 Rhodes, Mrs 4.4.71
Brook J 23.10.84 Holloway S 2.8.94 Rooke C 7.10.95
Browning 10.01.88 Hooper 16.1.87 Rudall 18.2.66
Browning H 7.2.87 Hore W 7.1.92 Sampson, Aunt 19.1.81
Browning J 2.8.94 Ingleston 4.6.95 Sampson, Uncle 29.05.78
Bryant 18.2.66 Jackman, Albert 10.9.71 Scales Maud 2.12.73
Burden C 3.2.83 Jarvis J 27.6.89 Scagell J 3.1.77
Cann W 4.8.98 Jenkins, Sam 20.4.94 Sharam Bill 26.12.66
Clapp 13.11.80 Johnson T 15.2.94 Sharam, S 4.4.80
Clark S 23.10.84 Jones, Aunt 28.3.84 Sharam T 14.12.90
Cole W, Mrs 21.11.96 Jones, Uncle 4.3.68 Shaw 14.12.72
Coles F 16.5.94 Kelson C 29.1.80 Short 1.7.94
Coleman, Ellen 21.12.98 Kelly N 25.9.72 Small Sammy 9.3.73
Collard Beatrice 14.8.91 Kent W 19.2.94 Spencer G 13.1.83
Constable, Abbess 23.2.89 Key, Mrs 5.8.74 Spencer, Miss 13.1.73
Cotton H 20.10.84 Langley, Miss 3.6.92 Staddon 22.9.78
Courtenay 27.05.98 Langley, Mrs 3.6.92 Staddon G 16.6.87
Cowell 1.2.98 Lee, William 2.5.74 Stoker P 29.9.97
Cox G M J 10.12.92 Leicester, Revd. 16.4.73 Taylor T 12.11.99
Cox J 2.1.94 Lucas A, Sir 19.2.96 Templer, General 19.4.75
Coysh E 28.10.86 Marshall, Capt. 14.8.72 Thomas Fred 7.7.79
Coysh Mrs E 23.6.90 Matthews 9.12.94 Tidball S 10.4.92
Coysh Mr 15.5.67 Matthews, Miss E G 8.4.96 Tripp, Miss 25.1.98
Coysh Mrs N 3.4.94 Matthews S 17.3.86 Tucker Annie 19.10.96
Craig 18.9.94 Moore, Mrs 5.7.73 Tucker F 26.9.96
Crees D 15.4.80 Mortimore A 3.9.82 Tucker T 13.11.80
Crow Mrs 12.12.85 Mudge 26.2.97 Turpin N 9.10.94
Easterbrook T 16.3.81 Murch, Mrs 26.12.83 Valentine R 2.8.88
Elms R 17.11.97 Norsworthy, Mrs 15.3.84 Ward G.P. 4.2.81
Elsworthy, Mary 9.3.66 Norsworthy N 10.1.93 Wegger A. E. 14.3.93
Endacott 22.2.93 Sharam S 4.4.80 Wedge Mrs L 29.4.74
Farler, J 22.9.78 Northcot C 21.6.98 Whidborne J 23.12.90
Field, Mrs 29.3.84 Paddon H 13.10.94 White, Miss 12.6.96
Foresters, Sarah 17.1.69 Paddon Lucy 18.9.99 White W 17.11.88
Fry, Mrs 20.2.97 Parkhouse, Mrs 11.6.97 Wilson C 15.9.95
Gater W 30.7.91 Parr W 18.2.81 Workman Dr 11.1.86
Haines 20.4.96 Parr W 21.4.98 Woolaston 4.1.78
Hallett 31.5.79 Parson J 6.12.74 Yabsley 22.2.76

Brian Randell, 27 May 2008