Over five weeks in the Autumn of 2021, we were delighted to host Jojo Spinks of Interwoven Productions CIC at Quay Words. Jojo ran her ‘People of the West Quarter’ creative writing workshops with people from the local community. These workshops were designed to explore the personal heritage of the participants and to encourage them to write creatively.

For our second ‘New Voices’ blog post, we’re pleased to share the work of Lynne Maclean, one of the workshop participants with you. Lynne tells us the experience of taking part in the workshops and shares some of her poetry written in the Devonshire dialect with us.

The creative writing workshop at The Custom House on Exeter Quay run by Jojo Spinks was both inspiring and enlightening. The setting was extremely conducive to transporting us back in time to foregone days when the quay was a hive of activity for both trade and recreation during the period between the two World Wars.

I have never considered myself imaginative enough to be a creative writer of any sort yet within the first couple of sessions I wrote the below 2 ‘ditties’ based on my own family history.

My mother’s family had been fish hawkers going back through many generations and had lived in the West Quarter since the 1870’s so I felt a great sense of belonging sitting looking out the window at the covered quay area where my grandfather had sold fish from the back of a barrow, and other ancestors before him!

Jojo made us all feel very comfortable and used techniques which quickly broke the ice so that we were soon chatting or working together as though we had known one another for years.

I’m not sure that I will ever get around to writing that play or novel that I now know is somewhere within me, but I do feel I have gained the confidence to try should I find the time.

The hospitality and friendliness shown by Jojo and Heather was endearing and the tea, cakes and flapjacks were very welcome. Sincere thanks to both!

‘Charlotte The Harlot’ (In broad Debnshire dialect)

Charlotte wuz a country girl from Goosens in Broadclyst,
At five yers old ‘er father died – ‘er life would take a twist.
At fourteen ‘er wuz a servant – Miss Joslin wuz ‘er name
Then ‘er moved to Exeter to make fortune and fame.
‘Er ‘ad a baby at eighteen – Sarah Ann after ‘er mum
But baby and ‘er mum both died leaving ‘er quite glum 🙁
‘Er ‘ad another at twenty – ‘er called ‘im Samuel John
Were Samuel the father’s brother, John the father or ‘er dad long gone?
‘Er ‘ome were now in Frog Street, John Westcott’s in Exe Island
She ‘ad Emily at twenty-one, two years later John took her ‘and.
In three more yers Sarah Ann were born, three kids wuz a lot to feed
They turned to crime to make ends meet – petty theft became a need.
Life in the 1870’s wuz very ‘ard, ‘eavy drinking wuz quite rife,
Charlotte were often arrested  - for abuse, bad language and strife.
John got fifteen months ‘ard labour, and Charlotte went on the game,
‘Er took in a ‘lodger’ in Stepcote Hill – William Sharland ‘is name.
Old Yer’s Night ’86 something ‘appened – Sarah Ann felt that ‘er ‘ad to flee,
The ‘ome for Friendless and Fallen Girls offered  comfort  and safety.
‘Er told them ‘er father were dead and ‘er mum ‘ad another man
At 15 this were a lot to take in and wun’t really part of ‘er plan.
The Theatre Royal fire of 1887 took nearly 200 lives,
19 year old John Westcott and William Sharland met their demise.
But what ‘appened to Charlotte the Harlot, remains a complete mystery….
Did ‘er burn in the fire like ‘er lover and son or take compensation and flee?

Emily Ward – From Fish Wife To Businesswoman  

Emily Salter were a Valentine baby in eighteen ninety-two,
Second eldest of a family of six, maids four and beys just two.
Dad Robert were a fish ‘awker, livin’ at Tabernacle Court
Sold fish off a barrow down the quay – all was freshly caught.
She ‘ad son Reg in 1910 when ‘er were just eighteen
And wed James Ward the following year – a carpenter ‘e’d been.
‘im and ‘is mum lived in Preston Street – groceress at ‘unter Store,
Emily a launderess in West Street – t’was a bleddy chore!
They ‘ad Violet in 1912 and to move to the States was their will.
A ticket was booked for Titanic, luckily cancelled as Vi were quite ill!
They rebooked on RMS Majestic,  a year later than they’d planned
But illiterate James couldn’t find decent work, USA weren’t the promised land!
They returned and daughter Nell were born & Emily’s dad died at age 44,
So James started selling fish on the quay, to keep the wolves from the door.
Emily’s mum passed away in 1915 and they had Emily –  child number four.
They lived near James’s mum in Preston Street – number 19 on the door!
Daughter Maud were born in 1917 and  brother Robert then died of the clap,
Wife ‘arriett also passed the next year – and 2 kids had the same mishap.
They left orphans Thomas and Gladys – so Barnardos took them in.
Poor Emily had a stillborn then lost James, it’s fifteen month twin.
‘er was like the old woman who lived in a shoe yet ran an ‘aberdashery shop,
‘er already ‘ad a family of five, would the child rearing ever stop?
‘er ‘ad Thomas, 2 more stillborns, Win, Barley and Beat – who didn’t live long,
Then Joan in 1929  and at 40 ‘er ‘ad  John   –   ‘er swan song.
They loved to go to the Warren and stay in their caravan,
James drove ’em down then ‘e went back – ‘e was an ‘ard-working man.
Emily was close to ‘er sisters – Nell and Liza and Vi,
But ‘arry ‘er brother kept ‘imself to ‘ imself – nobody really knew why.
To make a little extra cash she ‘ad a money-lending racket,
The kids would go to collect the debts and stuff them in their jacket.
James pushed ‘is barrow up Quay ‘ill it took ‘im all ‘is might
‘e had a nasty temper and would often pick a fight.
Emily and James led quite separate lives – ‘e’d go out for a drink every day,
‘e usually went to The Duke of York, thinking Emily at ‘ome would stay
But she’d nip across to the Coachmakers and ‘ave a few glasses of stout,
The kids kept watch for their dad coming ‘ome and ran to give ‘er a shout.
By now they’d moved to Rack Street and ‘ad a market stall
The J.Ward & Son fish business was in a South Street shop an’ all.
But then the war years started and the Blitz in May ‘42
Took their ’ome and the shop – their liveli’ood! Whatever would they do?
They bought a small shop in Sidwell Street but James became ill with TB,
‘e was sent to Whipton ‘ospital but died at age sixty.
So Emily took on the business and opened 3 more shops,
Bought an ’ouse up Mount Pleasant – she pulled out all the stops.
She employed all the kids in the fish shops and let out some property,
Then she moved to Eaton Place and became a retiree,
She moved in with her daughter Joan down on St. Davids ‘ill
She loved to watch the ‘orse-racing, picking winners gave a thrill,
She ‘ad thirty two grandchildren and often forgot our names,
To us she were always Granny Ward, one of the West Quarter dames.
She lived to the age of eighty-two despite ‘aving more than one stroke.
From fish wife to businesswoman – success certainly were no joke.

Words and poems by Lynne Maclean.