On the 25th of March, Dave French returned to his hometown Budleigh Salterton, where he was born and raised. He returned to conduct a communal event, teaching the locals about a tradition that Dave has devoted his life to. Accompanied by his wife Jean French and myself, Milla James, we arrived bright and early at Budleigh beach and were instantly greeted by locals. A small group of people were waiting for our arrival, eager to learn about the craft that had been passed down the last five generations of Dave’s family. They learnt about Dave’s practice of this historical craft via social media, such as facebook. Being greeted so warmly by such eager locals really gives Dave hope that this craft that he has so passionately devoted his life to has a chance of surviving. Dave recalls at around the age of five, he would take any given opportunity to be down on this beach, whether that was playing amongst the withy-pots or watching his grandfather mending them. The town is held very dearly to his heart.
Named as one of the best places to live in England back in 2022, Budleigh Salterton is a very picturesque place. This seaside town remains to this day as one of Devon’s un-spoilt and charming towns for those who wish to enjoy a day in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere while taking in the historic heritage. This fishing town holds a population of 6500. The beach as well as the overall town holds a place very close to Dave’s heart.
As we drove through its windy roads, Dave pointed out aspects of the town and made remarks on how they have changed over the years. Such as the barbers on Fore street, which used to be a newsagent back in the sixties, where Dave would buy sweets and toys with the ten-shillings which is essentially equal to fifty-pence in today's money. And the Cosy Teapot cafe, where his mother used to work as a waitress. The stream that runs alongside the highstreet, commonly known as the brook, is a stream of freshwater that feeds into the ocean. Dave recalls that he used to walk through it as a child, all the way to the culvert. He showed us Meadow Road and pointed out the house in which he was born. The street is called Meadow Road because before many of the houses were built there, it was a green meadow where Dave and his school friends would play.
The town in general holds so much history, some of the older locals that have spent their lives in Budleigh believe that it hasn’t changed much since they were a child. And others who have converted from the bustling city life to coastal town have remarked it as ‘a breath of fresh air’.
History is written throughout the town, on the walls of every house and cottage, every trickle of water in the brook to every pebble on the beach. This seaside town is praised for its constant revival of the history it holds and even offers insightful information in the Fairlynch museum which is located just opposite the beach.
Dave set his post on the edge of Budleigh's two-mile long pebble beach and began doing what he does best: crafting a crab pot. Many locals as well as visitors all the way from Leeds stopped by on their coastal walks to watch the pot be made and listen to Dave talk about its history as a craft. During which a free raffle was conducted. The winner’s prize was this newly made crab pot.
The crafting of this pot took a total of three hours and the average making time for Dave is typically four, stopping only for a matter of minutes to eat a scotch egg homemade by his wife Jean.
Dave met many people that day who shared their interest in crab pots and answered many questions regarding its history and his crafting technique. It was joyous to know how many people were fascinated by the craft and really sparked hope for its revival from being an endangered craft. But of course, we expected no less from Budleigh locals and their admiration for history.
Dave even met a distant relative to the Mears family, which is his mother’s side, from which he inherited the craft. The relative had brought a scrapbook of black and white photos of her great relatives, and amongst these was a picture of Dave’s grandmother. One of the pictures was of crab pots stacked on the roof of the family home. The relative assumed that this was to dry the pots out, but Dave explained that you don’t want to dry out willow because it’ll shorten its life, instead, it was most probably easy storage.
The winning raffle ticket was drawn and the prize was given to Mark Charlesworth (pictured below beside Dave French) who is a local. Born and raised in Budleigh and lives in one of the oldest cob cottages in the whole of the town. He stood watching Dave make the pot for more than an hour, asking questions and openly fascinated by the craft. Dave believes that it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person and Mark Charlesworth was chuffed with his prize.
At many points throughout the day Dave was offered donations for the craft to which he declined each time. This day wasn’t of collecting money, it was about spreading awareness about the craft. Teaching people about its eco-friendly benefits and historical elements. Dave is very passionate about this craft and is pleased to know that others are too. During his display, his Uncle Gerald who has lived his whole life in Budleigh came down to watch his nephew. Gerald grew up with the craft too and would help Walter Mears, (Dave’s grandfather) make the pots. He and his brother, Geoff, would round the bottom of the pots. Gerald was also the person that Dave turned to, over forty years ago, in order to re-learn and revive the craft. It is clear that his family tree is made of willow.
Written by: Milla James