Local history: the story of Littleham

The Plough Inn, Littleham

The Plough Inn, Littleham - Credit: Mike Menhenitt

Littleham is in the ancient Hundred of East Budleigh, a Hundred being an old Saxon sub-division of a county which had its own court. It being inland it was historically agricultural and forested and was the largest manor (a modern day parish) within this Hundred. Littleham and Withycombe Raleigh now of course comprise the two parishes of the town of Exmouth. In Domesday in 1086 it was recorded that the village had 15 smallholders and 20 cottagers. By 1388 this had grown to over 100 tenants. There was a church there as early as 1146 and to the north of it a manor house was built in the 15th century which was also known as The Lord’s House. 

There were two farms within Littleham, Liverton and Woodlands, both of which became freehold properties in the 14th century. These together became the manor of Wode, before they descended to the Rolle family in 1740 and then to Lord Clinton. A further large house was that called Sprattshayes had to be largely rebuilt in the 18th century following a fire. It was owned by the Drake family and was later renamed Prattshayes and eventually was passed to the National Trust in 1961. 

Littleham was always a remote village and it was not until the opening of the railway from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton in 1903 that the old cart track from Littleham Cross to the village actually resembled something akin to a road. Once you descended the hill past the church you reached the hub of the old village where there were a few thatched cottages and the famous Plough Inn. This was affectionately known by the locals as Ponsford’s Cider Shop after the landlord. There were many tales of this old inn and one in particular refers to a local character called “Butcher” Dagworthy who instead of tethering his pony outside would often ride it up the steps into the bar. He seems to have spent much time there as it was said he never had time to milk his cows, but had an assistant who did it for him. He was made to whistle constantly while milking so that Dagworthy knew he wasn’t drinking his milk! After Ponsford died in 1906 the inn closed and was demolished in 1913. The site was cleared so that it could be incorporated into the churchyard, which prompted a public outcry as not content with losing their inn it was said by the villagers that the living had to make room for the dead! There was also a blacksmith by the old bridge which survived until the 1930s. 

Next to the old Plough Inn was the Sexton’s House and beside that were some thatched cottages which were also demolished in 1930 as being unfit for human habitation and these were replaced by Mead Cottages. In one of these thatched cottages a reputed smuggler lived and he used to pass up his kegs of illicit alcohol to his assistant standing on the church wall behind his cottage. It was as he said to let Lady Nelson mind them for him until the coast was clear for him to move them as her tomb is very near to where the rear of his cottage was! I am sure there are many more tales of old Littleham readers may know but space here does not allow me to include all the ones I have dug up – perhaps a whole article on these old tales my happen in the future. Littleham today still has that lovely village feel even though the roads have widened and the housing multiplied and it is easily reached from Exmouth. 

I have on several occasions been asked if I would write on a particular topic – so if you have anything you think would be of interest to readers please do email me at mike.menhenitt@btinternet.com and I will see what I can do.