Secret Bude was commissioned as part of a series by history publisher, Amberley Books, based in Gloucestershire. It follows on from my two previous Bude titles, Bude Through Time and Bude in Postcards, which are far more pictorial and visual, but I’m a word person so was thrilled to actually be able to write about beautiful Bude, rather than merely create captions. Oddly enough, writing was much easier than captioning, too, because it felt like I was unravelling an ongoing mystery.
As ever, the photos came from the wonderful collection of a local man, Ray Boyd. Poor Ray, a Bude man through and through, was extremely ill at the time. I am very glad he pulled through and couldn’t believe my luck that he was still organising photos I’d asked for during his recuperation. Unfortunately, I lost a number of people I knew during the writing of the book, which rather delayed it, and which I dedicated to them. Hard to believe I have lost yet more since.
What I very quickly discovered was that Bude has lots of ‘secrets’ as in ‘local knowledge’ but that much of it is not the kind of thing anyone would put in print! There are also some extremely knowledgeable people in Bude, though at times it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Researching for a book about a place is always interesting. Much of the research is internet or book-based, but it is from local people where the true ideas, inspiration and knowledge come. Jonathan Stamp kindly allowed me into the study of his late father, local historian, Bryan Dudley-Stamp (whom I’d previously had the pleasure of meeting) which was a wealth of information. It was winter and the study was very, very cold. My fingerless gloves were a great help, alongside my phone to take photos of information, because I was too cold to write! What this did was help me to get a feel for what was important and develop something of a game plan. Even so, I still wasn’t quite sure where to start.
Next, I made a few visits to the Castle Heritage Centre where the ladies in the archives were extremely helpful. This was formative in giving me more ideas, such as the fictional tale of The Iron Pineapple, which I used. I was struck by what a fabulous resource the Castle is. Get the Bude Light up to scratch and it, too, will be a huge asset to the town.
When writing a book of this nature, contacts are always useful. I was lucky to be able to interview Tony Edwards, the only person I know still living to have met the Waite-Smith deck tarot artist, Pamela Coleman-Smith, who lived out her later years in Bude and indeed died in the town. I’d read quite a bit about her but Tony brought her to life, telling me of their interactions when he was her errand boy. By some amazing coincidence, I was contacted by Susanna Dark from the shop Wise Old Crow. Susanna had documents I copied relating to Pamela, which uncovered mysteries like how and where she died. Pamela had lived in a flat at what is now the Bencoolen Inn, so it was fascinating to uncover more about her. I’m now trying to write a book specifically on the subject of Pamela.
The more I delved, the more I uncovered until it began to surprise me quite how many famous links Bude has. I’d heard that a Titanic survivor hailed from Bude (Archie Jewell) but until I researched him, I didn’t know that his seafaring father had nearly frozen to death during the Great Blizzard, but what was the most interesting was reading his testimony from the inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic.
As I’ve grown more familiar with Bude it was easy to visualise where various characters lived, and imagine the impact of their environment on their lives.
What was lovely and what isn’t in the book, but is on the Bude & Beyond website is that alongside the many messages from people saying they’ve enjoyed Secret Bude, I received one from Gavin Sampson from Guernsey. Gavin was born and raised in Bude. He was able to shed more light on the 1899 Bude Riots, explaining that the trouble began in 1897 when Mr Rundle Brendon applied for a licence to sell liquor at his proposed new hotel/inn to be built on Summerleaze Down, to be called The Grenville. The people of Bude & Stratton were quickly up in arms over this infringement of what they considered to be common land. Even now, locals feel the same. Summerleaze Down is a hugely important part of Bude, creating a sense of space for all to enjoy. As a result of protests and possible legal action. It seems that no building work was started, and Mr Brendon had to re-apply for his licence but was told he needed to start building work within a year. Bude locals were prepared to fight this, so when land was fenced off and notices erected threatening prosecution, 14 men were served with writs and the development all came to nothing. The Grenville hotel did eventually get built in Belle Vue, now used by Adventure International. Gavin mentions his great grandafather, Captain Edward (Neddy) Maynard, Master and owner of the Bude ketch, ‘Jessamine’, described the Grenville as “looking like a jam factory” when he entered Bude from the sea.
Gavin kindly sent me a photo of his Sampson’s bakery van c. 1910. His family are cousins of the bakers and he remembered the biscuits with the jammy centres mentioned in the book! It is lovely to have such feedback, including one or two corrections, from someone taking their time to contact me.
That, however, is the kind of spirit Bude impassions within its people, both locals, and newer arrivals. They are keen on their history and the development of the modern town. There is and always has been a sense of community spirit; they help others and they will fight for what is right.