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This article is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

from The Kings of the Sea Patricia Beer


My mother's mother was born in Chagford in the middle of the last century, when all the inhabitants were moor people, with the exception of the children of the French Lieutenants' women who would have been parents themselves by then. It was always a cold grey wet town. The only colour would have been the blood that ran away from the slaughter house on which it was centred. In the long days between the tin rush and the tourists, the isolation of the settlement must have either maddened people or mummified them in total fulfilment.

It maddened my grandmother, apparently, for she took the outlandish step of going down to the palm trees and the mild air and the worldliness of Torquay and becoming a housemaid at one of the new villas in St Marychurch. No doubt she felt she had landed in another country but there may have been something exotic about her. Perhaps she inherited the swagger and the flashing eye of a French ancestor. That is not simply a romantic fancy. The officers from the Napoleonic wars, housed in the new prison at Princetown, were known to be men of honour, and on the strength of that were let out on parole often enough to make real changes in the looks of the little moorland towns. Certainly in her new circle - the servants in the other villas and the young craftsmen and tradesmen of the district - she was referred ...

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