The extensive account below was submitted in February 2024 by David Bassett and family, regarding Glen Goyle and the times they visited as children when their grandfather owned the land.  

In particular, this follows on from conversations with FOGG member Jennifer Gold over the autumn and winter, when she asked if David could write down childhood memories.

“This he has done way more than that, as you will see,” as Jennifer says. “It’s a very interesting read.”

Memories of Holidays in Sidmouth, Devon

February 17, 2024


We were so fortunate to be able to spend our memorable holidays in Sidmouth, staying with our grandfather at Asherton House and Gardens. In addition to the gardens, which provided a great place to play, Sidmouth remains a special place to visit. We spent time on the beaches, walking in the hills and valleys around Sidmouth, and participating in many activities and events. In the early years we were there for Christmas’s, but then later visited every year for a week at Easter and for two weeks in the Summer well into our teenage years.

We are Dr. Bertrum Cohen’s three grandchildren, born to his middle daughter Barbara Joyce (Bunty), who married Derrick Vincent Bassett in 1945 after he returned from the war having been a German POW since the summer of 1940. We are named Gillian Margaret (Gill)(b 1946), David John Philip (b. 1948) and Patricia Wendy (Pat)(b. 1951) Bassett.

Asherton House:

Sometime in 1948, our grandfather, Dr. Bertram Cohen (Grandpa) moved from Hillsdon House on Sidmouth’s High Street to Asherton House on Cotmaton Road. He had the house converted to 3 upstairs flats and an extensive ground floor flat where he lived with his daughter, our Aunt Ruth. The rooms on the south side of the ground floor opened via French windows out onto a veranda ‘propped up’ by Wisteria (see pictures below). From the east end near the front door and porch, there was a consulting room, a large living room and two narrow bedrooms. At the west end of the veranda there was a conservatory filled with geraniums and a collection of ferns, ironically opposite the new fern garden on the west side of the stream (see map). At the west end there was a full bathroom. On the north side of a long inside corridor, there was a small kitchen, a passageway lined by fishing rods, stairs down to the North Wing, and a dining room with a bed in a cupboard assigned to David during our stays, ensuring he made his bed each day before breakfast. Near the steps down to the front porch via swing doors, there was a narrow dispensary, where Gill remembered being treated by a nurse for a septic chin, Grandpa created fishing flies, and Pat started looking at the medical books with great interest. Pat followed our grandfather by training at King’s College/St Georges Hospital Medical School. Off the front porch that was filled with golf clubs and bags, umbrellas, and walking sticks, there was a toilet that was always cold. At the foot of the stairs to the Norh Wing was the entrance to the cellar stairs. The footprint of the cellar was relatively small, only extending under the west part of the main house, suggesting that it was the original foundation of the smaller Asherton Cottage built by John Carslake’s time (see etching of Asherton Cottage below).

The North Wing can be seen in the old etching of Asherton Cottage with a thatched roof, later replaced with slate. The ground floor of the North Wing consisted of another bedroom, full bathroom, a large kitchen and a breakfast room that all became the centre for the production of homemade cakes by our Aunt Ruth’s homemade cake enterprise (see below). The North Wing of Asherton also contained the staircase to the upstairs flats and to two additional upstairs rooms that were available for our use when we visited. These rooms equipped with a sink, were originally designed to provide our grandmother with a base for her to return to from her wanderings. The room contained her blanket chest full of samples of different teas, pebbles and two large leather-bound etching illustrated books: “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” and “Don Quixote”. For much of the time she lived with us in Purbrook, Hampshire.

The Asherton housekeeper, known to us as Aunty Mare, lived with her husband Bill and their two children in what was then known as Asherton Cottage (see map). Aunty Mare’s daughter and Pat were inseparable and have stayed in touch, meeting occasionally to play golf.

The gardener and valet, Luxton, know to everyone as Lucky, was a remarkable man having lost his fore-arm in World War 1. He managed to clean cars and shoes, and handle all gardening tools, including the wheelbarrow and lawn mower by the use of a loop of string around his remaining stump. He lived with his family in a cottage near to the old Sidmouth fire station. The Luxtons had a long association with the Cohens, having lived near Hillsdon House. Mum talked about growing up with the Luxton’s daughter, who had a son who spent a lot of time with Aunty Mare’s son when they were young.

One day, Aunty Mare’s son and Lucky’s grandson were playing in Grandpa’s consulting room and as they left the room, Mum commented on Aunty Mare’s son’s damp shorts to which he replied in his Devon accent: “Dour matter.” Unfortunately, it did matter since later that day Grandpa was seeing a very important lady patient and had to excuse himself to change his suit trousers having sat in his wet revolving chair where the young boys had been playing. “Dour matter” became a family saying from then on.

The Homemade Cakes Enterprise:

After leaving the army, probably in 1948, Aunt Ruth supplied Sidmouth hotels with a range of homemade cakes. We took it in turns to go in the car with her to help with deliveries. She later joined a colleague to open up Ruth’s Cakes on Old Fore Street and later on was able to purchase the property and develop kitchens at the rear.

At the larger cake kitchen in the North Wing, we took it in turns to look through the kitchen window to watch the cake-making activities. For example, we would watch a large sponge tray being taken out of the enormous gas oven and upturned on a table covered in castor sugar. The sponge was spread with strawberry or raspberry jam from gigantic tins, followed by freshly whipped cream. The whole lot was rolled up to make three large Swiss Rolls. David liked the days when Battenburg cakes were being produced as he could sneak some marzipan off cuts. It was not only cakes that were made, but also fruit and treacle tarts, many types of slices, almond macaroons, scones, rock cakes, and fantastic sausage rolls and Devon pasties that had lots of meat, as well as a range of jams and chutneys.

We were allowed to help with some activities such as brushing egg wash on the scones. The most impressive activity to watch was the making of eclairs which required the breaking of about 90 eggs into a large floor-based mixer in such a way as the eggs two or three at a time, could be smelled for freshness before being dropped into the bowl. We were involved in other activities that included blackberry picking and once plum picking from Captain Vernon’s Garden, located on the righthand side as one drove up the hill from Sidbury towards the Hare and Hounds. On a subsequent very wet day we were all playing in the storage room (bedroom) and Aunt Ruth said “help yourselves to the plums” and so we did. David was so biliously sick that Dr. Fison, known to us as Uncle Tom, was called in the early hours. David did not touch plums for the next 40 years.

After Grandpa died, Aunt Ruth stayed in part of Asherton the house for about 18 months, prior to marrying John Brown of Ottery St Mary. At this time, she sold the cake business. The couple who took over the business were not so successful, trying various ways to increase their income. In so doing, they lost the local trade. Aunt Ruth regretted the new owners retaining the Ruth’s sign above the door. The property has subsequently become a “Boots Opticians” and more recently “Vision Express.”

Travelling to Sidmouth:

Getting to Sidmouth was not always straightforward, since Dad’s second-hand cars sometimes broke down and had to be towed back to Portsmouth leaving us to go by train. Aunt Ruth used to pick us up at Axminister station. After the first breakdown, we moved from a loose packing of the car to having everything in a trunk. David and Gillian struggled to carry one end and Dad the other, leaving mother with the younger Pat, carrier bags and the dog, Winston. On one trip on the train, two-year-old Pat went missing with the dog. They had gone off along the train corridor only to return with a banana. Once our beloved trunk on our return was thrown off the train from the baggage car at Southampton Station by mistake since it was labelled Bassett, a suburb of Southampton. Many years later we moved to Bassett.

When Pat was born in November 1951, our aunts Ruth and Betty drove up to Portsmouth to collect Gill and David. We dropped by the nursing home in Southsea and saw the newborn Pat in a crib at the end of mother’s bed. It was a terribly frightening journey back down to Sidmouth in torrential rain and I think my aunts got lost. Some possible policeman involvement might have been part of the journey. David also recalls from that visit, the beautiful birthday cake of a ‘Puffing Billy’ train that Aunt Ruth had created for his 3rd birthday party. However, coming back up from the beach via the Goyle to go to the party, one of the boys with us, slipped off the bridge and got wet. David refused to let him have a pair of his shorts and went into a meltdown (a temper tantrum) and so missed his party.

Mischief In the House:

The first part of the day’s activities was determined by the ‘Chore Rota’, pinned on the kitchen wall. Helping make the beds and the washing up were OK, but the best was helping Aunt Ruth cook the breakfast and feed the chickens. Since Grandpa mainly had fish most nights, the cooking of fish cakes the next day was a real treat. A regular visitor to Asherton’s small kitchen was the fish monger who used to fillet the fish on the kitchen table with great flourish and speed. It was a special privilege when we were old enough to sit with the adults for the evening meal on a folding table in the living room.

The main living room had an impressive Portland Fireplace with little alcoves containing miniature liquor bottles. In front of the fire was a hessian and silk fire screen depicting the Potala Palace in Lhasa, capturing our imagination at the time of the escape of the young Dalai Lama. One of the panes of glass in the French window/doors had to be replaced several times, including when our new dog, the Welsh Springer, Taffy, arrived for the first time and on seeing a pigeon on the lily pond, punched a hole in the glass with no injury. Another time when moving a sofa, we smashed into the same pane. The far lawn was equipped with holes for putting. A school friend of David’s was bored with putting and so decided to drive a golf ball across the stream that on bouncing off the veranda floor, holed that same glass pane. David and his school friend had a noisy pillow fight while staying in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It was abruptly stopped by Aunt Ruth after she heard from the upstairs tenant. In addition, David at a younger age found out how difficult it was to scrub wax crayon from the veranda’s stucco walls that had to be repainted. Together with sweeping everything off a new tea trolley with no edge on one end, made us very popular with Aunt Ruth.

One night there was an explosion in the small kitchen larder when one of our homemade ginger beer bottles that previously contained Whitbread Pale Ale, ruptured with the broken pieces of thick brown glass still being found a year later. Although we are sure that we continually tested the limits of Aunt Ruth’s good humour and patience on every visit, she never showed any major displeasure with us.

Asherton Gardens:

There was a large kitchen garden, where the chickens lived and Lucky had his shed. There was a dark greenhouse that was used for growing grapes, storing root vegetables and for drying Lucky’s tobacco. There was a small water tank in the greenhouse that David was fascinated by, filling it by the use of a small hand pump. He believed the tank was connected to the lily pond in the Near Lawn that ran across the south side of the house (see map above). The Near Lawn had a gentle slope down from the house verandah to an arched rose covered bridge over the stream. On the left of the slope was the lily pond that appears now to be upside down on the west bank of the stream. There is still a dent in the lawn in front of the new houses that indicates its previous location. On the right side of the path down to the stream was a large bed of azalea bushes. The main feature of the Near Lawn was a perfectly shaped Western Red Cedar whose outline can still be seen with a bit of imagination on the east side the lawn. It had a cathedral-like canopy under which there was an impressive space that was ideal for Gill to entertain Grandpa for tea with her dolls and stuffed animals. On this east side of the lawn, the magnolia tree is still there, having lost branches on one side. It was near where a path via a planked bridge and handrail led to the Glen Goyle. There is still a large Macrocarpa tree (Monterey Cypress) by the site of this previous bridge. At the west end of the Near Lawn under the conservatory was a small garden with a circular flower bed that was assigned to the tenants in the flat above. A third bridge connected this garden to the other waterfall just below where the new entrance out into Glen Road.

On crossing the arch rose-covered bridge over the stream, one came to the Far Lawn. On the left was the Japanese Maple that is still there, bordered by what used to be well pruned rhododendrons on the Glen Road side. There was a very large Lime tree at the south end of the lawn and at the other end, another large Western Red Cedar on top of a steep bank with Broom at its base. This tree fell down, possibly in a storm and although the remaining tree trunk is still visible, the area has been replaced by a Lucombe Oak surrounded by a relatively low wall connecting up the two sets of steps that one could use to access the tree canopy. This tree had a low branch that could be climbed upon when one wanted to pretend riding a horse (see above illustration).

On one side of the pathway under the tree’s canopy there remains a set of increasingly larger rocks that were used to climb up to the brick wall overlooking the pavement on Glen Road. The wall had a missing brick that was periodically replaced since the hole kept reappearing. It was ideal for helping us to look over the wall to watch out for pedestrians, to make some noises and then duck down to listen to the responses.

After crossing the arched bridge and turning right you come to a deep part of the stream, below a waterfall and the bridge to the tenant’s garden under the conservatory and their first floor flat. We dared each other to cross the bridge and try not to be seen making our way back to the main part of the Near Lawn.

This part of the stream is opposite the new entrance onto Glen Road and was the location of David’s civil engineering exploits. He spent a lot of time damming the stream. Looking back through the eyes of a 4-year-old, that waterfall was quite high and his small welly boots would fill if he approached on the slippery brickwork of the stream bed. Pat recalls playing in the stream with Aunty Mare’s daughter, dressing their dolls in full bathing costumes and not the now acceptable but revealing bikinis of today.

On the stream side of the Far Lawn there was a small grove of bamboo used as a backstage screen for summer concerts. The path from the Far Lawn to the Glen Goyle is still there, but with a much more substantial bridge than the one we used to cross the stream prior to entering the Glen Goyle by a rickety gate.

The Far Lawn was used for putting with rusty old golf clubs and for croquet using an old set we found in the cellar. We are not sure that we knew the rules, and we certainly did not play croquet with the assertive competitiveness that Aunt Ruth used to talk about when playing in her later years at the green by the Sidmouth Cricket Pavilion.

Other Early Memories:

We were also so lucky that there were so many other children around either visiting or living in Sidmouth with whom we were able to play that included the Fisons and Mrs Smythe’s grandchildren (see Dr. Cohen’s history). One of the first Easter egg hunts that David remembered was at the Fison’s home on Milford Road before they moved to Spring Gardens on Station Road. Other Easter egg hunts took place in the Asherton Gardens and just the size of the place kept us engaged for a very long time, especially when the parents forgot where they had hidden some of the eggs.

The summers brought many others to join us on the beach and playing hide and seek in the garden. David’s favourite place to hide was underneath the azalea bushes on the Near Lawn. Behind the rhododendrons, behind the bamboo, and under the broom at the top of the bank on the Far Lawn, were also good places.

One garden activity involved emptying the lily pond of its newts to a large jar only for them to be returned to the pond to be caught on another day. Pat recalls newt racing whereby they removed a couple of newts and watched to see which one reached back to the pond. She also recalls how Gill and David filled a jar of newts for her to watch while in bed with measles. However, David passed out with sun stoke during one of the early newt pond extractions and probably was not a major participant. He still does not like reptiles of any kind.

Some years we put on a summer concert for our long-suffering parents and relations. We set up chairs on the Far Lawn and one year Pat and Aunty Mare’s daughter made some small cakes and since they could not find butter, they used roast drippings from the bowl in the kitchen. Not sure about the outcome, but we are sure the audience members took a bite to be polite and perhaps hid the items in their clothes for later disposal. One year a Hula dance was to be performed using seaweed skirts that within the first few minutes all fell off at the same time. We are sure the audience tried desperately not to laugh as the dancers rapidly retired behind the bamboo, used as the back wing of the stage. In the meantime, David stepped forward to demonstrate a few card tricks but kept fumbling the cards. His disappearing act might have been more convincing if his subjects did not giggle so much as they ran from behind a screen to the shelter of the bamboo. In later years we put on more serious plays, one of which involved Dixon of Dock Green played by a Mary, who according to Aunt Ruth was more recently involved in the building of the Sidmouth Waitrose.

However, one wet summer we had access to a vacant flat for our rehearsals, in an old house off Gorse Way (Convent Road) overlooking the stream, and Bickwell Valley Road. In the attic there was a pile of empty carboard boxes that were set up as the counter of a haberdashery. Gill was to be an irate customer and David the shop assistant to be knocked down through the counter. Our rehearsal was stopped short by Aunt Ruth in response to complaints about the echoing noise that might well have involved a call to the police. We don’t remember that there was a play that year.

On the Beach

On sunny days in the summer, our morning activities were mainly based at the beach below Jacob’s Ladder, mentioned in one of HG Well’s short stories. It remains the best place to swim and having an extensive area of sand revealed at low tide was also ideal for castle development. Dad had been able to quit smoking for several months and was sitting in a deck chair tied to the dog Taffy, the glass pane breaker, who was making use of the chair’s shade. Dad was being attacked by wasps, and found a year-old packet of Player’s cigarettes in his red holiday trousers. He picked up his walking stick and wandered along the beach to find someone with a light. No sooner had he stood up when Taffy saw a seagull and was seen running across the sand with a deckchair attached, flattening every sand castle in his wake, finally ending up in the sea making a big wave on his arrival.

Dad with his arthritis held us up above the breaking waves when we were learning to swim. We noticed that when he pretended to swim that he kept one foot on the bottom. One time when a friend of Aunt Ruth was learning to drive, we borrowed the L plates and threw them over Dad’s shoulders as he limped into the sea. He was a good sport.

Out and About Sidmouth:

The summer holidays were remembered for the beach, tennis, playing in the garden, and for weekly expeditions to Dartmoor and Exmoor, including picnics with Aunt Ruth’s crispy rolls with ham, cheese, pickle or sometimes the dreaded Shippams fish paste. We always picnicked by a river or stream so that Dad could cool his beer. Several times in North Devon we came across an elderly couple who parked their ancient car in a quarry so that the lady could push her husband on a wobbly bicycle along the road. We always looked out for them thinking they were a local witch and wizard.

We remember Easter holidays with the free handout of a hot-cross bun and an orange delivered to us in the car park across the road from the Bedford Hotel. From this car park, you could get a ride to the top of either Salcombe Hill or to Mutter’s Moor (Peak Hill) in open blue touring cars that had several rows of seats and no seat belts to keep one from falling on the road at corners. We knew them as ‘Toast Racks’. One year Pat and Aunty Mare’s daughter were in the Easter Parade, dressed as the ‘Officer and his Lady’ from the Quality Street Tin. They received second or third prize.

We were able to have a few mornings on the Coburg Terrace tennis courts. Both Gillian and Pat were growing stars, Mum had played in her youth and Dad had also been a keen enthusiast in his youth. Although his arthritis pretty well kept him in one place on the court, he had an interesting and devastating serve that involved a flicking of the ball into the air followed by a forceful wrist-generated downward swing of the racket. David just fumbled with his racquet but had to rush around a lot when paired with Dad, inevitably missing the ball or hitting it with too much enthusiasm. Both Pat and Gill went on to play tennis at school, with Pat competing at the National Schoolgirls tournament at the Queen’s Club.

David went out mackerel fishing once with Bill Harris, the landlord for Ruth’s Cakes and several times went out on the cattle truck with Bill Mare, going all over Devon to pick up cows and sheep. He stayed in the cab when visiting the slaughter houses, well-armed with Aunt Ruth’s bacon and marmalade sandwiches for breakfast and a crispy ham and cheese roll for lunch. Once, when picking up sheep on Dumpdon Hill above Honiton, David was asked to swing the gate closed when all the blue painted sheep had passed through. He was too slow and so had to abstract a red painted sheep, being instructed to grab a rear leg and the scruff of the sheep’s neck. He caught the red painted sheep but was pulled onto the ground under the flock into the mud and excrement to the great amusement of all bystanders. Some form of initiation perhaps? reminiscent of the early experiences of James Herriot in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.

Gill used to volunteer at the Folk Festival in its early years. Later Aunt Ruth used to host visitors to the festival from several countries including Spain and Switzerland, that led to her being invited to a wedding in Switzerland, which she attended.

Daily Walks:

Nearly every afternoon, we were out and about Sidmouth and so know of all the walks, which included different sections of the River Otter, Mutters Moor (Peak Hill) and Salcombe Hill. Walks that are still favourites. Every spring we went to pick primroses and/or daffodils in the Coly valley above Colyton. Our dear dog Taffy, fell off a bank into the river where he started his career as a water spaniel, thereafter jumping into rivers and lakes from which he was always difficult to abstract.

When it was raining, we all chimed up: “Oh no, not Harpford Woods again”. We usually entered near the railway bridge just past the Bowd Inn, waving in ‘Railway Children’ enthusiasm to the train drivers as they thundered past us down the track to Tipton St John. It took a few years to become brave enough to walk through the drain that ran under the railway embankment where we made menacing echoing noises.

Other walks bring back many memories and stories that include Dad getting lost around Blackbury Castle (Camp), and Aunt Ruth backing into a bank and incapacitating the car. We were particularly impressed by Mum and Aunt Ruth taking the carburetor apart. Eventually Ted Andrews (garage on the Esplanade) came out from Sidmouth and unblocked the exhaust pipe. On East Hill we came across an old decaying wooden threshing machine. Mum said that she may well have fed it with wheat or barley during her war-time service in the Land Army.

Our travel to walks in the Harcombe Valley took us past the site of a confrontation between our mother and Aunt Ruth with a well-established member of the Sidmouth community. It was one of the first days of the war and the lady insisted that our mother and her sister back up to make room for the lady’s car. She assumed they were joy riding and demanded to know what they were doing for the war effort? Our mother replied that they had been up during the early hours and were returning from milking cows at Blackmoore’s farm. We think that the lady on becoming embarrassed, might have reversed her car into a gateway.

On Our Best Behaviour:

There were many occasions when we had to be on our best behaviour that included attending the Amateur Dramatic Society Eastertime musicals in the Manor Pavilion. We recall seeing “Maids in the Mountain”, “The Arcadians”, and “Miss Hook of Holland.” However, the most memorable performances were “Oklahoma,” where the cast successfully converted from broad Devon to American Cowboy accents; and the “Mikado” where the script was altered to include local place names: “railway carriages to Budleigh”. We always looked for Aunty Mare, who was in the chorus and the two comedians in every show, namely: “Stinky Martin the butcher” (our Aunt’s name of endearment), and “Tom Foyle” the haberdasher. They always gave memorable performances. We also had to dress up to go to the Flower Show held each year hosted by Mrs. Campbell-Watson in the gardens of Powys House. On a regular basis we visited a Mrs. Townsend to play board games with her. She lived in a ground floor flat near the end of Boughmore Road. She was a very pleasant lady, but very competitive.

One special visit to another of Grandpa’s patients was a visit with Lady Twyford who lived half way along Muttersmoor Road backing onto the Golf Course. She had an aviary of tropical birds and had two mynah birds freely flying around the house. One used to wolf whistle and talk extensively with words picked up from the gardener. Lady Twyford’s husband, Lord Harry who died in 1967, had been Lord Mayor of London in 1937-8 and Chairman of Brettles, the knitwear company. She had a St. Bernard dog called Betsie. One Saturday morning on a radio show, probably, ‘Two Way Family Favourites’ that played music requests for service men and women abroad, one of the two announcers remarked that he was just about to putt on the 13th green of the Golf Course in Sidmouth, when he heard a lot of wolf whistling followed by: “Hello me old cock sparrow – where’s Betsie” from one of the mynah birds.

We joined Aunt Ruth several times for Scottish Country Dancing and following some dancing lesson at the Manor Pavilion, Gill and David went to their first dinner dance, which was held at the Fortfield Hotel.

It is a small world:

One is always meeting people that are connected to Sidmouth. David met a sweet lady on a train from London who lived in a flat in Powys House, a site of the Sidmouth Flower Show. A member of the Blackmoore family, whose distant relations farmed in the Harcombe and Sid Valleys where Mum used to milk cows, tried to sell David secretarial services in Detroit, Michigan about 25 years ago. David was visiting a farm south of Ottawa and met someone who used to work in Cirencester for the son of Tommy Sanders whose family used to live in Cherry Cottage next to Asherton. And so on……………..