Harold James

The next carpenter to join Will Welch at Simonsbath was Harold James who came from the Okehampton area to take up his duties in September 1947.  He left in 1953.



Harold, along with his wife, Lily, and daughter, Cynthia, moved into 2, West Cottages and it was there that their son, John, was born in July 1948.  Two years later (following the death of Charlie Elworthy in September 1950) the family moved next door into 1, West Cottages. [i]

In addition to being a skilled carpenter, Harold also had considerable practical knowledge of all kinds of machinery and among his duties he maintained the Estate Landrover and the Farm Manager’s car. [ii]

Harold was carpenter at Simonsbath at the time of the major flooding in August 1952 that caused such devastation and loss of life in nearby Lynmouth.  Flood water also caused severe damage in Simonsbath including to the system of weirs and water carriages that had supplied power to the mill for over 50 years.  The Fortescue Estate temporarily used a tractor to power the mill and then a Tangye engine. [iii]   In December 1952 a Ruston Hornsby diesel engine was installed and has powered the mill to this day.

Harold James and his family left Simonsbath in July 1953 and for some years lived at Northlew, near Okehampton….[iv]

He then moved to Boasley, Bratton Clovelly where he ran his own carpentry and building business.  (The hamlet of Boasley was mentioned in a Saxon document of 1050. [v])  John McDonald, the harness maker of Dulverton, joined the business as an apprentice in about 1967 and remembers Harold James talking about the flooding at Simonsbath and about the lignum vitae bearings on the turbine wheel.  He recalls Harold James describing the bucket loads of eels they found when they drained down the leat. 

He also remembers Harold James talking about a young man in Simonsbath who bought a Vincent motorbike which, after a time, began to be very noisy.  He apparently didn’t know that he needed to put oil in the engine as well as petrol.  When they asked if he’d now put in the oil, the young man said he had “but only a drop or two as it wasn’t used to it.”[vi]

Like John Karslake, the Estate Carpenter in the mid C19th, Harold James was a Methodist lay preacher and his son, John, who worked for his father at some stage, also attended a church college.

For five months after Harold James left Simonsbath Edwin Purchase, the son of Clifford (John) Purchase, the Exmoor Estate Farm Manager, looked after the engine and charged the batteries at the sawmill which supplied the village with electric lighting. [vii]  [viii] He left the village in November 1953 when his father retired and the family moved to Branscombe on the East Devon coast.

[i] Roger Burton pers comm

[ii] Roger Burton pers comm

[iii] Stan Curtis pers comm

[iv] Roger Burton pers comm

[vi] John McDonald pers comm

[vii] Roger Burton pers comm

[viii] Edwin Purchase pers comm