William Robert Pearce

William Robert Pearce of Wearde Remembers in 1957

I was born at "Wearde Quay", at the head of the Hamoaze, on the Cornish side just at the centre of where the Tamar and Lynher rivers meet, on 19/11/1880. I was the 4th of five children (1 sister (the eldest) and 4 brothers), all born at Wearde Quay. My father was born there in 1850, and my grandfather in 1803, and my great grandfather came to live there from Antony at some earlier period.. My father was the youngest of a large family. Beside my father, I remember 5 of them and know of 4 others. My grandfather died suddenly at about 60. It was the custom in those days to send a couple of boys in large boats to "The Bridge" the shallow water between Drake's Island and Mt. Edgcumbe to gather large grow­ing seaweed for manuring, which would be torn off and washed in by rough weather. Two young sons had been sent on this job and a gale sprang up, and grandfather Pearce was so anxious about then, that when he went upstairs to look down the river for a sight of them he passed away suddenly.

Some of my earliest recollections are looking out from the quay, and seeing the old powder ships - red painted - moored off Wilcove. The largest of these was the "Conquestador". The watchmen on board these ships would hail any boat approaching at night by yelling "Boat Ahoy", to which someone in the boat would have to answer "No No". Many of the men manning these ships lived on the Saltash side and would go and come morning and evenings in large cutters from Wearde Quay beach. No smoking or matches were allowed on board and I remember as a boy going with others over the beach and finding these things under stones or in rock crevices above high water, I am afraid some were pilfered. Later these ships were taken to berths above Saltash Bridge and were made depots for Metropolitans Policemen who at that time patrolled the rivers and looked after the Dockyards. Several brides were found by these police from the Saltash girls.

Later, H.M.S. Defiance was brought to a berth just off Limekiln Point. (this limekiln still exists). The berth was close to the shore where there is a run of deep water. Just past the limekiln is a built structure known as Mann's Quay. This had been made use of many years before in connection with quarry’s. Though I remember before ore it, I do not quite remember the Defiance being brought there, but remember incidents very early after, and also its extension to 3 ships in line, the Defiance; Perseus; and Flamingo. The Defiance was started as a training ship for boys and. later became a torpedo school. Early on, getting, to known some of the officers and instructors, we used to get informed that some of the boys were due for punishment, which meant that all the boys were assembled on the "Poop" to see a few get so many strokes of the birch Which could be viewed also from the hill above Wearde Quay. Entertainments for the crew and boys were put on in the lecture rooms, and often an invite would be sent to us to see these. I was very small when I first remember seeing a visiting hypnotist there.

Before I started school proper at the then St, Stephen's Board School, for a short period I used to be taken in a pram by my sister to a private school just beside the ‘Star Hall’ Saltash, carried on by the Misses Speare for girls where my sister attended. At 5 years I joined St. Stephens school. A Head Mistress was in charge at that time Mrs. Barraball of Llanstephen House), At about 9 years I had to transfer to Longlands School - a fair walk, from Wearde Quay - and re­member walking home the evening during the commencements of the blizzard (March 1911) when during the night much damage was done and built up snow drifts many feet deep, preventing school attendance for a week. The Head Master of Longlands School was Mr. Hirst. He was also a colour-sergeant in the Saltash Company of the Volunteers, and gave us regular military drill in the playground, and took us on route marches through the country lanes. He trained a few of us to do the drilling in the playground, and I was put in charge when I was about 12 and I put the whole school through their drills before the visiting Inspector - marching the classes around, and forming a square on the march, etc. I carried on with this until I was 13½, when I left to attend a private school at Devonport known as Ryder's School (Head Master - Alonzo J. Ryder).At this school a section was formed for higher education, and this portion ultimately developed into Devonport High School, I carried on in the ordinary school and passed for entry into the Dockyard at 15 being 13th on the list out of about 400. My joining at the Dock­yard meant arising at 5.15 a.m. for breakfast and walking to Saltash to catch the steamer (6.0 a.m.) to begin work at 7.0 a.m. This was the routine until the G.W.R. was approached and a train was arranged for, which left Saltash at 6.15 a.m. Just before the steamer journeys ended I experienced a collision off Pottery Quay, when on a dark morning and the harbour full of ships, the S.S. Albert ran into us in the S.S. Eleanor a paddle wheel steamer. Both cabins were full of work-men, and the crash threw us all in a heap.

I was in the fore cabin, and there was a rush to get on deck and we squeezed up the stairway in a solid mass, being spurred on by someone on deck shouting "She's going down", but she didn’t go down, but just limped into Pottery Quay.  During the steamer period there were frequent bits of excitement through fog, when we sometimes even turned completely around unknowingly until picking up some stationary hulk or buoy in the harbour or to get near enough for the captain to hail a ship.

The introduction of the train was greatly welcomed. It was more comfortable, sheltered from the weather and quicker. One morning, soon after the commencement of this service, a mishap occurred causing some consternation. The train coming up from Plymouth, was usually punctual, then shunted the engine for the return journey, and this once the driver miss-calculated and ran into the standing carriages at a fair speed which threw everybody of f their seat, and caused a scramble to get out. I was uninjured but there were several minor injuries, the worst being a broken nose, and much of the glass was broken right through the train.

Structural changes have of course taken place in Saltash. What were in my early years, just country lanes between fields have or gradually changed into streets and residential areas.

One of the greatest changes in my memory is in the social habits. There were many Public Houses which attracted thirsty ones from the Three Towns, many taking advantage of the three mile limit especially on Sunday afternoons after closing time in the Three Towns. They would come to Saltash by steamer and then overdoing it in the bars and would cause rowdy scenes in the street and end with a riotous trip back home by the 6.0 p.m. steamer to get back at opening time at North Corner to continue the good time as they saw it. There were several regular noted quarrel-some characters and pseudo-entertainers, whose business was to keep the excitement alive. All bank holidays days and election periods brought the usual rowdy crowd. Another outstanding, event was the old Saltash regatta, which was very popular, and aroused much rowing rivalry. For this event additional police had to be brought into the town and were soon in action when fights would break out in the crowded Tamar Street and were kept busy marching men and women up the steep hill to the “lock-up”.

Election fever always ran high, and the scene of a crowded rowdy Fore St. generally with mob fighting can't be imagined by the present younger generation of Saltash.

I attended St. Stephen's Church Sunday School until I was 15 was a choir­boy when Mr. Hurst was organist. A few of us took it in turn to blow the organ and I remember when a rather mischievous boy let the pressure get so low that the organist could not sound out he notes. My first Vicar was Rev. Fraser, and after his removal to Loughborough

Rev. Bell came. My father remembered when the Church seating was high boxed in pews, and the music supplied was from a gallery of violinists. I remember a pair of stocks being kept just inside the West door they were later removed and I have been told they are stowed away in an outhouse up by the vicarage garden.

At a recent exhibition of old prints and paintings in Plymouth Art Gallery there was a large print showing the disposition of the forces during the Civil War. This showed a fort but no houses at Wearde Quay (parts of this fort still remain and this is mentioned in Mr. Porters book published in 1895. In and around Saltash Plymouth Library has a copy of this book. There are several old prints of the Hamoaze and District in the Library. The earliest showing houses at Wearde Quay is dated 1809, and there is another showing no houses dated 1796.My family were always of the opinion that the houses were of an earlier date than this. Wearde House was built in 1740 for Port Admiral Harrison. He later became Sheriff of Cornwall.

Prospecting for Silver Lead had gone on around Wearde Quay at some period. There is a very deep boring at Mann's Quay at the West end and a five-foot boring straight in at beach level which runs a considerable distance in on the Saltash side of Henn Point. The entrance to this is now partly blocked by sub­sidence.

Little incidents of my life which help to recall old memories are:-

When I was a schoolboy I was put to learn the violin from an old mason named Chubb. He lived in a small house at the back of Fore St. Where the Cinema now

Stands Mr. George Howard (Ex Mayor and Co-op Manager) was being taught there at the same time.I used to take my violin to school and then proceed to Saltash, and often to wait about for hours until Mr. Chubb returned from his work at one of the out-lying farms, one of the Churchwardens of St. Stephens at that time was a short portly gentleman of St. Stephens farm, Mr. Stephen Goodman). On my way to school one morning with my violin I met him in the road outside his house He knew me, and greeting me asked me for a tune, so he spread my music book on his wide chest and I gave him a tune in the middle e of the road.

As a young man I had a few lessons on the piano from another prominent Saltash man - a Mr. Battishill - an ex-army band-master, a musician of note. He had a daughter - a talented contralto singer and sometimes she deputised for her at father in taking my lesson. I lost sight of her later happenings. I attended dancing classes in one of the terraced houses on the left-hand side of the road towards St, Stephens, adjoining Messrs. Freeman's gardens. Mrs. Neath held the classes and taught quite a number both from Saltash District and from the three Towns. In their latter years they removed to the Devonport side.

At St. Stephens Church I remember the regular attendance there of Lord DCourcy from Stoketon; Mrs. Parnell (widow of the famous Irish statesman) who re­sided  at Trematon Castle for a time; the attendance of the Rashleigh family when  they came  to Stoketon; the Grigg family from Forr ( the two elderly Miss Griggs taught  in the Sunday School; Mr, Miller from Saltash, always a well dressed man. He kept a fine provision shop, and Miller's Corner is still known to Saltash people where North Road joins Fore St.

I attended as a school boy a notable Exhibition held in Saltash Guildhall sponsored by a Chief Warrant Officer (Mr. J.J. Jennings) In his travels abroad he had collected quite a large number of interesting and valuable things, so with these and the addition of loans from all over Devon and Cornwall a great display was accomplished and was patronized by crowds for several days.

In my school days the Tanyard at Burraton Coombe was in full work by a Mr. Nancarrow who was a prominent man in all Parish affairs, a thriving business was carried on. The animal carcasses were brought to the Tanyard skinned and cut up. The skins were treated in the tan pits, taken out and scrapped, and hung to dry in the large buildings along the roadside. I have seen many a load of leather carted away to the railway station. The spent tan (shredded oak bark)was bought for greenhouse hot beds. More scientific methods being found for dealing with the skins in other parts of the country completely ruined the business at Burraton Coombe.

My father remembered some of the making of the Cornwall Railway, and that the house at Wearde Quay was made use of as “The Railway Inn” during that period. We kept the sign board up to a short while ago when it was lost in the fire that burnt out our large store. Father used to relate how he went in a boat with the family to the opening of the Saltash Bridge by a Royal person and that the famous rowing lady (Ann Glanville) came out to the royal boat and was persistent in asking that the her presence should be made known to the royal party.

The Saltash Steamboat Company’s fleet consisted of the Princess Royal, Alexandra, Empress, and the Eleanor (paddle wheel boats), Victoria, Albert and Prince (screw propelled). The boats played a great part in catering for peoples pleasure until other attractions, such as the motor car, motor coach and organized sport drew away their patronage. A fine new boat was built at Dartmouth and heralded as a great addition to the fleet. She was named the ‘Plymouth Belle’. There was a great demand for her first trip as she was channel going, but this trip caused great inconvenience as she broke down outside.

These notes are the record of a few thoughts that have come to me at the moment. No doubt other thoughts may come to me.