Preserving your Past for the Future



 Efford - the story of an ebb ford


Aveton Gifford from Bigbury Golf Club 

CONTENTS:  Chapter 1: Introduction to Efford.  Chapter 2: Agnes' Story.  Chapter 3: South Efford House.  Chapter 4: Lime Kilns


LINKS:   Chapter 2   ~   Chapter 3   ~   Chapter 4


1. Efford

The Ford and Ferry
There are several Effords in Devon including the Efford in Plymouth and Efford House at Flete as well as our own here on the Avon. The name is a shortening of the words “ebb ford” or “ebbing ford”, and is also given to Ebford on the Exe estuary; travellers wishing to cross these rivers had to wait until an ebbing tide to ford the river, so the ford in Plymouth crossed the Plym (originally much wider before it silted up and land was reclaimed), that at Flete crossed the Erme, and of course our North and South Efford mark the site of the old ford on the Avon here, crossing the wide river valley at this point.

Before the bridge was built over the Avon in the early years of the 1400's this was the first crossing upstream from the coast, and it connected the towns of Modbury and Kingsbridge and their hinterlands. The mediaeval tracks criss-crossing the countryside have not always become the main roads that we know today. Travellers moved from place to place either on foot, or on horseback, with mules or carts to transport whatever was needed, and tracks were created that connected the places of importance at that time - manors or corn mills or churches or hamlets -  only eventually ending up in the towns nearby, and sometimes in a much more circuitous way. The A379 as a main road came very much later; a Charter of 846 AD identifies a different route. The journey from the mediaeval market town of Modbury would at that time take the traveller up out of the town firstly to the manor of Whympston. Then he would follow the next track down the hill towards Stoverlake (a Domesday estate) and Tetwell (at one time owned by the Priory at Plympton). Just after Stoverlake he would have a choice. He could either follow the track on the left down through the hamlet of Ashford with its corn mill, or he could take the one on the right to Borough, another hamlet around a large farmstead, but no matter which one he chose both tracks would converge again at Waterhead. Aveton Gifford was effectively bypassed in those days without a bridge to take travellers into the heart of the village; the route instead took the traveller down the lane to the river bank at North Efford to wait for a ferry or to cross at low tide.
The Hamlet of North Efford
The two areas by the crossing point over the river were significant sites in the parish; they were on the mediaeval "main road" long before the bridge was built. Both the ford and ferry crossed the river here, and by all accounts were still in use for a long time after the bridge was put up, so it’s hardly surprising that small hamlets grew up on either side. At one point in its history the old farmhouse at North Efford was also an inn. It was surrounded by its own orchard, so presumably was a cider house, and reputedly was the place where passengers on this side of the river could wait and watch for the arrival of the ferry. However better roads and the two parcels of land enclosed below the bridge and at South Efford in the 1780’s had effectively put paid to any ford, and with the widening of the bridge in 1817 the ferry had become obsolete as well. 

From Benjamin Donn's map of 1765.
North Efford is unnamed here, but clearly marked beside the road leading to Waterhead.
(Donn showed distances on this map, so 2 miles,1 furlong and 20 poles between Bigbury and AG is given here.)
Houses have been here on the North Efford bank for quite some considerable time. The earliest accurate map of Devon was drawn up by Benjamin Donn, and published in 1765. He was one of the first cartographers to survey an area properly before putting it to paper using a system of symbols to denote not just where, but also what the various places were. The main village of Aveton Gifford is clearly shown but significant outlying farmsteads and hamlets are also marked. There are hamlets at Lixton, Ashford, Burrough, Waterhead and Dukes Mill, and other smaller holdings include Damerells Combe, Stoverlake, Idston, Knap Mill and North Efford. By the early 1760s there was certainly something noteable enough here for Donn to include it in his survey.

The hamlet of North Efford, from a sketch painted in 1811.
The cottages at North Efford (now Waterfoot) are shown with outbuildings, and up the hill behind is another house and the lane to Waterhead.
Two houses are visible on the right through the trees at North Efford and another house where the present barn now stands.
In 1803 another military map showing the Avon and surrounding area marks North Efford again, and like the earlier Donn map, relatively few of the other places in the parish are shown so it must have been sizeable enough to be included at all. The small sketch above was done of the hamlet just after this in 1811, and shows the houses here as seen from South Efford across the river. In 1827 a much more detailed map of the area was published by the Greenwood brothers, and that clearly shows four quite separate houses here.  Twenty five years later the tithe map of the parish was drawn up by a surveyor from Bigbury, and with it came the list of landowners, occupiers and properties in the accompanying apportionment, finally giving an accurate description of the hamlet. North Efford farm includes the farmhouse, a row of three cottages, what is now a barn but then known as Little Court, and one abandoned house as well as various outhouses and gardens. The 35 acres of land around it was mainly arable, but also included an orchard, a lime kiln and a “watering place” for stock.

The years of the census between 1841 and 1901 add to this picture, and all these details are enumerated in “The hamlet of North Efford”.  Until 1901 four houses were in occupation here; the main farmstead was the house we still know as North Efford, and the other three were over the lane. It has been possible to build up a history of these years from parish records and census entries.
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1. Agnes' story

Agnes was born in Aveton Gifford some time at the beginning of 1802 to parents John and Mary, also from this parish. There is no record of her birth, but she was baptized in St Andrew’s in March 1802.  She was later followed by two brothers, Philip in 1811 and William in 1813.

When she was 19 she married her first husband Josias in the church here. He was 22 years older than she was and had been born in Kingston, but by their marriage he was living and working as a labourer somewhere in this parish. Their first child John was born the following year, and their only daughter Mary was born four years later. Both these children were baptized at St Andrew’s, and the family was probably living somewhere in the village at this time from the “abode” given on their baptism records. However they had definitely moved to “Efford” by the time their third child Philip was born in 1830.  From this time onwards until almost the end of the century both Agnes and her daughter Mary lived in two of the cottages forming part of the house now known as Waterfoot, but at that time part of the old hamlet known as North Efford. 

In 1840 Agnes gave birth at Efford to their fourth child Richard, but he died not long afterwards; not unusual in those days when infant mortality through poverty and disease was responsible for the death of one child in every three. It’s possible that she may have had other children too, but there are no records for any; babies who didn’t survive after birth weren’t registered at that time. The 1841 census a year later shows that Josias and Agnes were living in the cottage here with their children John and Mary, and also Agnes’ mother Mary aged 70 who had lost her husband John six years earlier. Josias was recorded here as an agricultural labourer, but this broad description covered a multitude of different jobs, many specific and highly skilled; until 1861 there were more agricultural workers recorded (up to 1.5 million) than any other occupation. John was 19, and must have been working somewhere near enough to live at home, but Philip aged 11 was also employable, and he seems to have been working for a farmer in a nearby parish, and living there instead. It was not uncommon in country areas for a walk of several miles to work, and then back again at the end of each day. The rest of the family may have been living at home, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they were working close to home. 


A group of agricultural labourers from Aveton Gifford in their Sunday best c.1890


Children helping with the harvest in fields above North Efford cottages c.1900 

Mary was almost 15 when this 1841 census was taken, and she too was probably working somewhere near enough to live at home, but the records don’t tell us what. However, by the time of her marriage six years later she had left the village. She had been employed in Kingsbridge as a servant, but returned to the village to marry her husband John in St Andrew's in the summer of 1847. He came from the Totnes area but had moved to this parish before they married, and had been working here as a thatcher. Their little daughter Emily was born in the spring of 1848. John had found work on a farm and they had moved into one of the North Efford cottages next door to Mary’s parents. Tragically not long before her third birthday Emily died. Illnesses such as measles, diptheria, and scarlet fever were common, and responsible for a lot of early deaths; childhood epidemics can often be traced in parish records. However poor hygeine and poverty were equally responsible. In this particular family Agnes' fourth child and a quarter of her grandchildren were to die by their sixth birthday. 
Josias died in 1850.  We know he was 22 years older than Agnes, and his death at the age of 73 was at the Kingsbridge workhouse. It had been built in 1837 to house 350 inmates - the poor and needy of the 26 parishes that fell within the new Kingsbridge Poor Law Union, of which Aveton Gifford was one. (Before this date individual parishes had been responsible for their own poor relief, and Aveton Gifford had a workhouse that accommodated up to 40 inmates; the primary school was built in 1856 to replace it.) During the 1800’s workhouses increasingly took in the sick and the elderly rather than providing support for paupers. A report to Parliament from Poor Law Unions revealed that in 1861 there were more than 14,000 long-term inmates of workhouses in England and Wales, and of these, more than forty per cent were old and frail, thirty five per cent were mentally impaired and in general the remainder had a physical disease or handicap, including blindness. Many people spent their last days in the workhouse because its infirmary was the only place left to them if they could no longer be cared for at home. (However early nursing care there was distinctly hit and miss – before 1863 not one single trained nurse existed in any of the workhouse infirmaries outside London, and female inmates, often unable to read, were obliged to take on the various duties which, horrifyingly, might include reading the labels on medicines)  Josias spent his last days in Kingsbridge, and it's probably safe to assume that he was no longer able to work, and too infirm for Agnes to care for him. On his death the family brought him back here to be buried at St Andrews. 

Steam threshing machines were in use from the 1840's. 
This one (1909) travelled from farm to farm and took 11 men to operate.

Donkeys were commonly used at this time; a donkey's metal shoe was found 
in the ruins of an old outbuilding at Waterfoot.

After his death Agnes stayed on in her cottage here with her younger son Philip who was working for one of the farmers at Waterhead, and with daughter Mary and son-in-law John next door.  Her mother Mary had moved to the village to live with one of Agnes’ brothers and his family; his wife had died a couple of years earlier. Presumably to help to make ends meet she had taken in a lodger, John, a widowed tailor, who lived here until his death over 13 years later. The census taken that year (1851) shows that Agnes herself was working as a nurse. Very often this meant either a midwife, or else a “monthly nurse” who helped families out after the birth when it was necessary; she might indeed have been both, as many women were. The “monthly” didn’t actually mean for a month. In country areas the nurse would often have lots of little part time jobs, called in when she was needed, and poorer families would only pay for what they could afford. Many such nurses didn’t have continuous employment or a regular wage.
Later on in that same year at the age of 49 she married her second husband, also a Josias. He was widowed too, and although born in Ermington he had moved to the village by the time of his first marriage here in 1820.  This Josias was only seven years older than her, but like Josias 1, he was an agricultural labourer working on one of the local farms in the parish.

Finding work in rural areas was always more of a problem. From the 1840’s the slow drain of people in country areas to find work in cities or to emigrate had begun, and Agnes’ relations were typical of that time.  William, Agnes’ younger brother, had gone from the village as a young man. He was a shipwright, and had moved first to Topsham then on to Devonport to find jobs and never returned. Her other brother Philip remained here until his 40’s working on local farms, but he too moved to Plymouth some time in the 1860’s presumably for work, and also stayed there for the rest of his life. Agnes and Josias’ eldest son John can’t be traced locally after 1841, so it’s likely he  moved away as well. However some of her family did still live nearby; her mother was in the village, her son Philip married a local girl and they moved to one of the cottages at Waterhead, and her daughter continued to live next door.

Ricks being thatched to protect them from the weather. 

A horse-drawn hay scoop.

Her mother died in 1860 at the age of 93, and was laid to rest with her father in the churchyard here. Josias 2 was working on a farm at Easton, and Agnes, now 59, was having to earn her living as an agricultural labourer herself. She still had her lodger to bring in some rent, but it seems from the census of 1861 that she was also helping to look after 2 grandchildren – then as now, there had to be shared child care for families to bring in a wage. One of her grandchildren, a little girl of 5 months old, sadly died a few months later.
Ten years later Mary and John were still next door, but by now John was working as a gardener. They don't appear to have had more children after Emily, and they had taken in a young boy William as a lodger; he was described as a scholar on his census details, presumably going to the school in the village.  It wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for Mary and John to bring William up as their own child, and perhaps that’s what they did as he certainly seems to have been a part of their lives. There was no formal adoption procedure in this country until the first Adoption Act was passed in 1926. Before then it was not unusual for families, when one or both parents had died or who continued to have too many children to be able to support them all, to hand a child over to another couple without any formalities at all. There were also orphaned, illegitimate or abandoned children in the workhouse who could be given a home. William lived with them for at least the next 10 years, becoming an apprentice blacksmith perhaps to one of the 3 in the parish at that time. However in time he too had to move away, finding work as a blacksmith in Plympton.
In 1871 Josias 2 and Agnes were still in the cottage. Neither of them was young any more – Josias was 76 and still working on a local farm, and Agnes was now 69. No occupation was recorded for her this year; that column in the census was for paid employment only, so presumably she was no longer bringing in any wages. Their old lodger had died several years before, and they now had another – a young man of 16 also working on one of the farms nearby. John and Mary next door had William with them too, but again John had had to change his job and now worked as a fisherman. (North Efford was home to a number of fishermen over these census years. For over 10 years there had been fishermen in one of the other cottages at North Efford, and later on another householder was running his own fish dealing business here too.)  For most of the next twenty years John too continued to work as a fisherman.


Fishermen with seine nets in their boat - 1896

Women and boys with seine nets - 1896

Agnes' family's story seems a roll call of death and personal tragedy, but partly because one of the most reliable records that we have access to is the old parish burial register.  Agnes' son Philip had moved from Waterhead to Damerels Combe, and it was here that he died in 1876 at the comparatively young age of 45, leaving a wife and several young children. He was followed by his step-father; Josias died in “North Efford Cottages” in his early eighties, and both of them are buried in the churchyard here.  Old age must have been difficult after that for Agnes, as in the census five years later when she was 79 she was “in receipt of Parish Pay”. She still had family around her though. John and Mary were living in the cottage next door, and the little grandson Walter who had lived with her in 1861 was working on one of the local farms, and had moved into the other cottage here after his marriage. Now there were great grandchildren next door. He had ten children in all, and eight of them were born in Aveton Gifford, but not all of them here.

There were still four houses at North Efford in 1891, and the census of that year gives the numbers of rooms in each household. The farmstead of North Efford over the lane was a bigger house of over five rooms by this date, but of the three at North Efford Cottages Mary's was only 2 roomed, and both Agnes and her next door neighbour had 3 rooms each. Agnes had her house to herself, but her neighbours were a family of eight; her grandson and his family had moved to Bridge End to be replaced by the fish dealer and his family.  Mary’s John had died at the beginning of the year so both the women were widowed and now living on their own, and still next door to one another after 44 years.  Agnes was now 89, and there is no mention of Parish Pay in this census, but she must surely have had some form of financial assistance from someone. Mary was now 68 and still working, as a charwoman. The census this year was taken at the beginning of April –  William can be found in a "convalescent home" in Crown Hill, recorded as a blacksmith but not working at the time. Presumably his illness was enough to make him come back here again to Mary, as he died at “North Efford Cottages” in the January of 1892 at the age of 27.

A Sunday School outing passing the hamlet of North Efford early 1900's. Showing the row
of cottages to the left, the thatched barn at North Efford and the roof of North Efford farm house

north efford

North Efford Cottages, now abandoned. Taken about 1900.


At some point during the 1890’s both Agnes and Mary moved from North Efford Cottages into the main village, and their houses began to fall into disrepair. The 1901 census shows that only one house remained in occupation in the hamlet, and it was the larger farmstead; their fish dealer neighbour with his family had also moved into the village on his retirement, and all these cottages were now empty. The photograph above was taken around 1900, and shows what is now Waterfoot. The thatch is falling in at the far end of the building but the largest nearer cottage is in a better state.  It is likely that the fallen thatch covers the remains of the two small homes of Agnes and of Mary who both lived here from before 1830 until some time in the 1890’s; a period of over 70 years.

Agnes died in the village at the grand age of 97, and was buried here at St Andrew’s in May 1899, to be followed in 1908 by Mary, aged 87. In the churchyard Agnes’ parents share a grave and a stone, her son Philip was also buried here with his wife and three of their sons are nearby. However like her two husbands before her, her infant son Richard, her son-in-law John and daughter Mary, and their “adoptive” son William, her and their burials can only be found in old parish records, not identified by grave stones. The burials in this churchyard tend to be grouped in families, and there are a number of unmarked graves near those of Agnes' parents and of Philip and his family. Maybe some of them are buried nearby and perhaps their stones or simpler wooden crosses have disappeared over time. 

The roof was replaced, the cottages now used as a barn, and
the field behind still part of North Efford Farm (pre WW1)


North Efford Cottages, restored in 1945 and renamed Waterfoot


North Efford farm house (undated)


From the end of the 19th century North Efford Cottages were unoccupied and derelict, and the name died with them.  A photograph of the buildings here from before the First World War shows that the three cottages had been re-roofed recently, and for many years after this the building was used as a barn or a linhay and even a boathouse. It was bought and renovated in 1945, the new owners calling their house Waterfoot. The outbuildings behind were abandoned over time, and now there is little sign of them at all. However the farmhouse over the road has continued to be occupied all these years, and the name North Efford is still used here; a reminder of a once thriving hamlet.

3. South Efford House

 The exact date when South Efford House was built is unknown although 1760 is inscribed on the Victorian addition to the front of the house in the photograph below. There was a very much older cottage for the ferryman on the original site, but how long that had been there is not known either.The original house may have been smaller than the one we know today. There is a sketch of it at the Devon Rural Archive at Shilston showing the house as a more simple three story building with two wings - a coach house to the left of it and a wing incorporating the old ferryman's cottage to the right, both connected by single story passages. The house was set in its own grounds, and sheep are grazing right up to the front of it. This small watercolour comes from a sketch book belonging to a John Savery, and was one of four paintings of the estuary done in 1811 when he was visiting his brother Christopher, the owner of South Efford House at that time.

South Efford House, with the coach house on the left and the remains of the old ferryman's cottage incorporated into the right wing.

South Efford House and estate was owned at the beginning of the 1770’s by a man called Richard Hobbs, but whether he was the person who built it or not, or how long he had owned it is uncertain. At the time of his will drawn up just months before his death he wasn’t living in the house, renting it instead to a George Steer. After Richard’s death in 1772 the estate passed on to his son, another Richard, and then on through a combination of his sisters and nephews in a complicated line of inheritance set out by the terms of his will, which eventually resulted in the sale of the property to Christopher Savery in 1787, and a case before the Courts of Chancery in 1828.
The will and estate of Richard Hobbs
I give and devise to my son Richard Hobbs ….. all that my messuage, estate, lands and premises thereto belonging, called or commonly known by the name of South Effard, situate in the parish of Aveton Gifford in the said county of Devon, now in the possession of George Steer;…….

There follow a number of conditions in the will in which the father Richard also set out the terms of bequests including a payment of £600 in various proportions to his three daughters, and a condition whereby if his son didn’t return from the West Indies where he was living to take up possession of South Efford, then it would pass to the three sisters instead. Shortly after making his will in 1772 Richard Hobbs senior died.  His son duly returned from the West Indies for a few months, and made a few fleeting trips to South Efford to guarantee his inheritance, and various other arrangements to settle his affairs and the terms of the will. He returned to the West Indies the following year leaving behind him at least one unpaid debt, but had arranged for it to be paid back from the rents from South Efford until his debt was discharged; somewhere amidst his plans the payments for the £600 were also accounted for. So South Efford continued to be let in order to make the outstanding payments, including the “interest on a mortgage on the premises made by the said (Richard junior) to one Susanna Mallett for money lent by her to him” mentioned in the later court case. Over time these arrangements were further complicated by the death of both Richard junior and one of his sisters two years after their father, and then of other family members over the next few years. A second mortgage on the premises was made to Richard Livermore in 1785 as well, for money which he had also lent to Richard junior during his lifetime at least eleven years before.

In order to resolve this increasingly complicated situation it appears that the property of South Efford was sold to Christopher Savery in 1787 by the surviving relatives, and on 12th and 13th January of that year indentures were drawn up to exonerate Christopher of any responsibility for the debts which were to be paid off in full from the purchase money.

However one of the aggrieved remaining beneficiaries felt that the rightful proportion of the £600 had never reached him, and a case was brought before the Courts of Chancery at the Spring assizes in January 1828. After what looks like a brain-teasing consideration of the facts Lord Tenterden found against him.

Christopher Savery
The Savery family was a prominent South Hams family originally of French stock; they can be traced in Totnes from the 13th century and Dartmouth from the 15th.  An earlier Christopher Savery and his brother Richard had both been members of parliament for Totnes in the mid 1500’s and the family now owned property in Harberton, Staverton, Totnes, Ugborough and Modbury. In 1787 the estate of South Efford was bought by Christopher Savery (1756 -1840), a gentleman and lawyer. He also owned the manors of Shilstone and Spriddlescombe in Modbury, and in addition he bought “the manor of Churchstow” in 1789, although South Efford seems to have become his principal residence.

Christopher Savery was responsible for much of the “improvement” of South Efford while he lived here. The house when he first bought it would have fronted on to a wide open estuary with the remains of an old retaining wall running down the estuary edge of the fields immediately to the south of the house, built presumably because some of the land behind it flooded even then. Christopher decided to extend his river frontage out into the marshland in front of the house by enclosing an area of about 42 acres (17 hectares) of it behind a solid banked wall, thus creating additional fields. It must have taken quite some work to enclose it and improve the pasture, but even so part of the land still remained marshy, and old maps mark much of the outer areas as “liable to flood”; however two of John Savery’s watercolours of the time show small fields and red cattle grazing happily there. The work was completed seven years later by the time the Reverend John Swete, a Devonshire clergyman, historian, and artist recorded his travels through the area in 1794, as he described South Efford’s newly enclosed fields and commented that this had trebled the value of the property.

Two ladies stand in the frozen estuary downstream of the bridge (C. 1917)
The two banked up walls of the enclosed marshes are clearly shown here.

An aerial photograph of South Efford House with the enclosed marsh built out
in front of it taken about 2010.

There were at least two lime-kilns at the eastern end of the bridge on Savery land from which it appears that Christopher derived at least a part of his income. The Rev Swete had also noted that one on the downstream side of the bridge was embellished with some sort of some ornamentation to make it look as if it was a folly rather than a working kiln as it seems to have been visible from his front windows. However by 1821 family fortunes had reversed, and “Savery C, South Efford, gent and lime-burner” was declared bankrupt. The property at Shilstone manor had been put up for sale in 1818, and bankruptcy proceedings rumbled on until well into the 1830’s when he was in his 70’s. All documents in the archives name him as “Christopher Savery of South Efford”, so in spite of other properties he owned at various times it appears that this was always his main residence. He died in 1840, and by this time it seems that the place had gone out of the family, and his two surviving sons had moved to homes of their own - John to Venn, and Servington to Fowlescombe and Modbury where he was in business as a lawyer. Servington still retained some land at Bridge End well into the 1840's; a plan of the bridge dated 1845 from Heritage records in Exeter shows the kilns there now belonging to him. 
Ghosts at South Efford
In the 1930's Mike Cassidy's mother was staying at South Efford House when there was a terrible commotion first thing in the morning. It seems a maid had gone downstairs to start the day and couldn’t get into the kitchen however hard she tried to open the door. Going outside and entering the room from the other door, they saw to their great surprise that the huge kitchen dresser – solid pine, stacked with crockery and cooking utensils and occupying most of one wall - had been mysteriously moved during the night across the room and was now blocking the door.  The ensuing hullabaloo spread through the household and it was soon established that nobody had heard a thing. All this makes a jolly good story, and could be put down to exaggeration or an over-active imagination, but corroboration comes from other sources. Alan Edgecombe was a lad of 15 working there with his grandfather at the time, and was one of those enlisted to lift the dresser back – it took 5 men to get it back into place!  Bill Starey’s mother, Mike’s aunt, had been one of those staying there that night as well, and had been so thoroughly spooked by the whole occasion that she refused to stay there ever again.
The remains of the old ferryman’s cottage are still there in the right hand wing of the house. It has long been said that the ghost of one of the ferrymen still haunts South Efford. Alan Edgecombe tells of stories from the 1930's of a penny-farthing bicycle on the top landing which residents would often hear being ridden from one end of the landing to the other, and it would be found in a different place in the morning from where it had been left.  Residents in the 1980’s reported numerous sightings of an assortment of other ghostly people; a cloaked gentleman was seen in parts of the house and garden, and other people on the top floors – mainly women, but occasionally a child as well, who were travellers awaiting the ferry.  A previous owner followed a little candle flame along the corridor and down the stairs at dead of night. He was intrigued by this and while updating the property he investigated the places where the "ghosts" had been seen to emerge or disappear; he found evidence of doorways, an old staircase, and a completely enclosed little windowless room, all of which had been previously bricked up.
The Devon Book of Ghosts includes a section on South Efford, and a foul mouthed naval officer resplendent in his uniform who can be heard swearing at night in the house has even made it into a book of Military ghosts. Three ghosts, or shades as they are called here, are recorded as “Haunting manifestations” on a website of paranormal activity – a hanging servant, a naval officer and that of a ferryman.
Newspaper reports from as long ago as 1935 have reported similar stories, and this article was printed in The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) and Cairns Post (Queensland, Australia) at the time, obviously picking up on something in the British papers.

Cairns Post        Thursday 31 January 1935
These ghostly inhabitants do seem to have been fairly evident over a long period of time, although not all of them were troublesome. However one of the later owners of the house called in a minister to exorcise the poltergeist activities; these apparently ceased after that and South Efford House has lost its night time visitors!

Lime kilns 

Lime kilns were used from Roman and medieval times right through to the 18th and 19th centuries.  Lime had become an increasingly important commodity. It was used in all sorts of building materials including mortar, plaster and limewash, and as a dressing on the land to improve fertility of the soil. Its production had obviously become a source of income for the Saverys.

There are pictures and old prints of limekilns throughout the county and over 100 were known to have been in use in South Devon. Most of them were solid stone structures mainly built between 1700 and 1850, often near to limestone quarries, or on the coast or navigable rivers where transporting the raw materials by barge was easiest. Here on the lower reaches of the Avon there were certainly at least eight – one in Bantham, another over the river by the Villa Cruso, one at Stiddicombe creek, one at Milburn Orchard, one downstream from Waterfoot, another where the cottage Slipway now stands, and the two owned at one time by the Saverys on either side of the bridge at Bridge End.

A sketch of one of the kilns on the Kingsbridge estuary.

The lime kiln at Stiddicombe creek.

 These kilns were built with a quay beside them on the river bank so that barges could draw up alongside to unload the quantities of stone and of coal that were needed. The kilns were all more or less the same size and shape, typically a cylindrical fire pit about 3m in diameter and about 4m deepand most of them were built into the side of a slope so that this stone and fuel could be carted up to the top. Alternate layers of lumps of limestone and coal would be loaded into the kiln through the opening at the top, and when packed it would be lit through a small hole or “eye” at the bottom. The fire would gradually spread up through it, but to get a good slow and even burn throughout the load the top chimney would be sealed with clods of earth. Typically the whole process took a week – one day to load the kiln, three days to burn through, two days to cool down enough to handle, and the last day to rake out the lime and ashes, and sort and load the good lime into into waiting carts or barges. Most kilns also had cottages or huts nearby for the men who used to work there as tending these kilns was a full time job. but they also had to ensure that there were no accidents; the thick outer walls of the kiln would radiate out a lot of heat when it was lit, but unfortunately the slow combustion would also give off poisonous gases. It was not unknown for travellers and vagrants or those in severe hardship who wanted to take advantage of a bit of free warmth to be overcome by the fumes if they fell asleep beside it.

The whole process was a bit hit and miss as it was difficult to regulate, and the huge temperature differences between the centre and the outside walls could very easily produce quantities of either over baked or of half burned lime at the end of the week, neither of which could be sold. It was a skilled business to load the kiln and use the right quantities of coal to get the most out of a batch. There was also an optimum size for these kilns to work and they could really only produce between 25 – 30 tons each time. As the demand for lime for manufacturing processes increased over the 19th century more efficient industrial production methods were developed.  Also the growth of the new railway networks meant that raw materials could be transported much more easily overland to where they were needed. These small local kilns on the coast became outdated and unprofitable, and their use gradually died out. On the river here maps of 1886 and 1890 show kilns still at Bantham, Villa Cruso, Milburn Orchard and the 2 at Bridge End and but those by Waterfoot, Slipway and Stiddicombe were not shown at all. The Bantham kiln had definitely stopped work by this time, but it is uncertain if any of the rest of them were still in use. Most of them including the two owned by the Savery family have now disappeared, but the two remaining at Stiddicombe creek and Millburn Orchard have both been restored in recent years.



The Devon Rural Archive at Shilstone has kindly given permission for the use of the sketch by John Savery of North Efford, and part of the Benjamin Donn map. The archive holds many other maps, documents, books and records of the parish, and visitors are welcome to browse or research. For further information and opening times please see

We have also been given kind permission by the Cookworthy Museum in Kingsbridge to show several of the pictures on this page which are taken from their own photographic archive.They have many items and records of interest from the parish, and the museum is open to visitors for much of the year. For further information and opening times please see