Albert Best

Clearing the grave of Albert Best

Clearing the grave of Albert Best

On Saturday, October 17th, a small working group of volunteers cleared the grave of Albert Best, located just to the rear of the surviving chapel in the Old Cemetery.

Albert Best was born in Teignmouth in 1840 only 25 years after the Battle of Waterloo and lived here his whole life, the final 20 years being at 32 Bitton Street.

He started work on his 14th birthday, serving a seven year apprenticeship to become a plumber, and later set up on his own, establishing a family business. His firm became a major employer in the town in his lifetime and a testament to this is an extract from the Teignmouth Post in 1919:

“At the supper to demobilised and discharged men last week, 28 of the men that sat down are employed by the firm of A Best Ltd., Plumbers, Builders & Contractors of Somerset Place”.

The firm later became J.G. Best and Sons, Builders and Ironmongers at 11 to 15 Somerset Place. That business finally closed down in the late 1970’s.

Albert Best drain cover just outside cemetery entrance in Higher Buckeridge Road

Albert Best drain cover just outside cemetery entrance in Higher Buckeridge Road

Although he started as a plumber it is clear from the range of activities he undertook that that profession had a much broader meaning at that time. His plumbing origins are still in evidence in Teignmouth. If you walk around looking at the ground beneath your feet you will occasionally find cast-iron drain or manhole covers with the mark of “A.Best Ltd”.

But he would also make lead coffins and perhaps this part of his business benefitted from being located close to the mortuary at Gales Hill. There is an interesting anecdote in the book “The Benedictine Nuns of Dunkirk” which involves Albert Best taking part in nocturnal activities at St Scholastica’s Abbey off Dawlish Road, helping with the coffin of the Abbess.

Hi firm also built the Shaldon memorial clock tower, erected in 1921 to commemorate the twenty-six local men who had lost their lives during the First World War.

Venford Reservoir

Venford Reservoir

However, probably the pinnacle of his professional career showed a transition into large scale engineering. As the 20th century got underway, his firm won a significant contract in conjunction with W Hawking of Dawlish. The project was to create Venford Reservoir in a beautiful segment of Dartmoor, just above the village of Holne.

 

Plaque at Venford Reservoir

Plaque at Venford Reservoir

The project started in 1901 and formally opened in 1907. It holds approximately 198 million gallons of water, covers around 33 acres and provides Paignton’s water supply. It must have been a proud day when a granite plaque bearing the name of A Best & Co was fixed up and the reservoir officially opened.

 

 

 

If Albert Best were just a plumber and engineer his contribution to Teignmouth’s life and development would have been worthy of historic note in its own right. However, he also had outside interests which occupied much of his spare time.

He spent much of that spare time on voluntary work for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a Friendly Society formed to provide members of the working classes with a form of insurance against sickness and unemployment. Weekly contributions were paid by members into the Lodge and benefits paid out when required.

He was also a member of the Yeomanry Volunteers from 1860 to 1884, coming out as a Sergeant. He was in the Devonshire contingent that marched past Queen Victoria at the Windsor Review in 1881.

Albert Best Diaries Part 1

Albert Best Diaries Part 1

Finally, inadvertently perhaps, he became an amateur social historian. He did this through keeping a diary from 1865 until a week before his death in 1920. The diaries have been collated and published in three volumes by his great-great nephew Alan Best who has commented: “When he started writing there were people who could still remember the Battle of Waterloo, when he died there were people born who are still alive today.”

Part I of the Diaries covered the period from December 1865 to the end of the century. It is in A4 format size, 128 pages long and contains supplementary notes taken from newspapers of the time, and a list of some 150 recorded deaths. Part II is similar in construction and covers the period from 1900 to 1913. Possibly the most interesting volume though is the third which captures Teignmouth during the pre-war period through to the Great War’s conclusion and its immediate aftermath.

As a personal observation, the entries in his diaries tend to be quite a succinct and pragmatic, or factual record of his day-to-day activities. It is interesting that he didn’t take the opportunity to offer much by way of opinion about the events taking place, such as the bread riots in Teignmouth for example or his nocturnal adventure at St Scholastica’s Abbey. Perhaps local running clubs would like to take up the challenge of the race he described from the Teignmouth Inn in Dawlish to the Dawlish Inn in Teignmouth! I was also intrigued that he wasn’t married. As a successful businessman you would think that he would be quite a catch in the Teignmouth of his day.

Plumber, reservoir builder, businessman, philanthropist, social historian – that was Albert Best.

Albert Best, 3rd May 1840 - 16th September 1920

Albert Best, 3rd May 1840 – 16th September 1920

For more information check out:

The Grave …..
Diary Part 3 review …..
Diary Part 2 review …..
Diary Part 1 review …..
Shaldon Memorial Clock …..

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Cemetery Map

The graves in the Old Cemetery are located on a grid map which has now been reproduced here as a page in the Cemetery menu – Click here.

The first grave we cleared (Leah Laforgue) is in plot S9, whilst Albert Best’s grave (next story) is in KK.

Past and Present Meet on 17th October

Clearing the grave of Albert Best

Clearing the grave of Albert Best

A group of us met on this fine Saturday morning to clear the area around another grave, that of Albert Best, which is to be found just behind the surviving chapel in the Old Cemetery. I will post up a separate story about Albert Best since he was quite a leading light in Teignmouth during his time and has left us a legacy of contemporary social history through his diaries.

However, there was another reason for getting together. Thanks to Tacy Rickard I had been pointed to an electronic copy of a lithograph print of the Cemetery, dated 1864. I thought it would be interesting to try to take a modern photograph to compare with the original picture.

 

Teignmouth Cemetery 1864

Teignmouth Cemetery 1864

(The lithograph has been reproduced with kind permission of the Devon Archives and Local Studies Service based at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter)

Starting with the original lithograph, the view appears to have been taken from the direction of the Higher Buckeridge Road end of the cemetery uphill from the current main entrance. So enter through the main entrance, turn right and take the first main path to the left.

The path in the lithograph appears to be wide and cobbled, which is supported by the discovery of cobblestones close to the first grave that was cleared (Leah Laforgue). The present day path is narrower and grassed but there seems to be a tarmac layer underneath. So we could speculate that tarmac at some time was laid over the cobbles and then couch grass has over time taken over the tarmac.

There seems to be a little artistic licence in the picture. For example: the chapel roof angles differ from the actual roof (unless there has been reconstruction); and the view is as though you are looking down onto the cross (X) in the picture and up towards the chapel. It is difficult to see where this viewpoint could have been.

There are four reference points marked on the lithograph, only two of which are visible today. ‘A’ I think is St. Michael’s Church; ‘B’ seems to be the slightly hillier area next to Rocky Lane along Exeter Road; ‘C’ is the chapel itself; and ‘X’ is the cross which is the closest fix-point for the picture.

 

Present day photograph

Present day photograph

Comparing the lithograph with the present-day photograph you can see that:

  1. The reference points ‘A’ and ‘B’ are no longer visible, blocked by trees;
  2. The chapel ‘C’ is slightly different in shape;
  3. The cross ‘X’ is now broken and its position suggests that the original viewpoint was further to the right of the position from where the photo was taken. However, as can be seen in the photo, there is now a tree obscuring the view at the front and also there is a dense hedge to the right of the cross which prevents taking a stand further to the right.

The broken cross is dated 1862 so fits well with the date of the lithograph; and the shape of both the plinth and the cross itself match the lithograph picture. This grave is of a child age 8, Wilhelm Carl Edward Bodnar, who may be at the heart of an interesting story – the research is ongoing.

Setback!

cemetery2Campaigners trying to preserve a derelict chapel and lodge at the old Teignmouth cemetery have suffered a setback.

Teignbridge Council, which owns the properties, has applied for planning permission for a change of use to convert the ‘surplus assets’ into a dwelling, and demolition of a store to provide a garden. But opponents are objecting and want to see the historic buildings restored.

The town council submitted a ‘community right to bid’ application to Teignbridge. This would allow it to try to acquire the chapel and lodge, if and when they are put on the market by the district council.

The chairman of the Finance and General Purposes committee, Cllr Geoff Bladon, is leading the fight to retain the buildings. He told a town council meeting on Tuesday that the application had been refused by Teignbridge. ‘But I will be appealing against that decision,’ he declared.

Cllr Bladon said later that many people in the town would be angry at the refusal because there was a lot of support for restoring the buildings. Local funeral directors had expressed an interest in using the chapel for services in the future.

 

Story from: Teignmouth Post, Friday Oct 2nd 2015