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Manning shop in Barnstaple High Street

The photograph from which the illustration above was copied is in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. It shows the Manning's butcher's shop at No 74 High Street, Barnstaple. The man in the doorway is almost certainly Benjamin himself.

Benjamin Manning


1812 - 1883



Who was Benjamin Manning?


What was his connection with 

 Manning's Pit?


Benjamin Manning  came to Pilton as an ordinary lace factory machinist, but by the end of his life almost everyone in Victorian Pilton and Barnstaple could have told you a story about him. Love him or loathe him, everyone knew who he was.

The best description of him comes from his obituary, so we begin with it here below:


The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Friday 11 May, 1883

"DEATH OF MR BENJAMIN MANNING -

The death is recorded of Mr. Benjamin Manning, of the Bodega, Joy Street, and chief of the firm of Manning and Son, auctioneers. The deceased, who died at the age of 72, has led an active and a useful life, and at one time took a prominent interest in local affairs, having been elected for three terms of three years each to the Town Council. He was Liberal in politics of the old school, always expressing his opinions fearlessly, but sometimes with an amount of vehemence which made it rather unpleasant for an opponent should he be close at hand.

He was a self-made and self-taught man. His knowledge of Shakespeare was considerable, and we never recollect hearing Mr Manning speak on political matters, either in public or private, without illustrating his argument with some apt quotation from that poet. He established the Bodega wine and spirit vaults, and for years he made it the head centre of Liberalism in the town. His strong convictions and his love of expressing them always drew to the house the principal men of his party, who now regret his decease. Mr Manning had been failing in health for the past few years, taking to his bed three weeks ago."

Benjamin Manning was in trouble in early life - he was sentenced to jail as an apprentice for absconding from work - but by the age of 20 he had settled down in Pilton, and married a local woman, Elizabeth Gribble from Bishops Tawton. On the 23rd of October 1833 his first child, John, was baptised at Pilton Church.
The couple had three more children, all baptised at Pilton Church, and the Census of  1851 shows the whole family living at No 29 Pilton Street, along with Elizabeth's parents.  By this time, Benjamin was no longer working at the lace factory, but had become a butcher, grocer and auctioneer.

Benjamin Manning and the Press

Much of our information comes from the British Newspaper Archives. Benjamin Manning was always either writing to the Newspapers, campaigning as a local politician, or appearing in Court cases. One of the first references we found about him came from the North Devon Journal of May 13, 1847, when he was fined for evading a toll charge at Maertop, on his way home from Sherwell with a horse, cart, calf and two or three lambs.   You can read the full report here

Benjamin Manning and Pigs

Pigs often feature in Benjamin Manning's life. In 1849, he wrote to the North Devon Journal during a dispute that he had with the anonymous Mr "Tenant Farmer" over pigs.  Mr "Tenant Farmer" said that Pilton Sreet residents complained about the smells from Manning's pigs.
Here is a part of Manning's letter:

"Indeed, I admit the impropriety of keeping pigs in places not adapted for that purpose; but the place in which I store mine is situated at the extremity of a garden 120 feet from the nearest dwelling house. This place is sheltered by a wall 10 feet in height; so that nothing, in the way of mischief, can reasonably be supposed to result from pigs being kept under such circumstances. But one word more – will Mr “Tenant Farmer” be so bold, and so manly, and so honest, as to give his proper name and address in answer to this, that our townspeople may have the opportunity of knowing to whom they must send their wash. I hope he will learn from this that pigs are not the only unclean animals; and that meanness and spleen, grounded on the most fallacious, ungenerous, and unjust principles, as they of necessity be, can never fail to merit the censure and disapprobation of very lover of truth."                                                          

Link to the full letter

Link to one of  Mr Tenant Farmer's letters

In the above letter, Mr Tenant Farmer says that Mr Manning thought it advisable to remove all the dung from town in winter and store it in "dung pits"  ...  We can't say for sure why the field became known as Manning 's Pit, and it was probably later, but could it be that this is where the association between Manning and Pit first came into public consciousness?

While doing research for our Exhibition at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, we were invited into Benjamin Manning's old house in Pilton Street, we saw the garden where he kept his pigs, and the Deeds to his house, with Manning's signature plainly visible. These Deeds were kindly loaned to us and exhibited in the Exhibition (you can see his signature in the photograph below).

Benjamin Manning's signature on Deeds of his
                      house


Manning and Politics - "Champion of Pig-Sties"

Benjamin Manning first became involved in local politics while living in Pilton, several notices in the Press show that he was on the Parish Council, and he stood as a candidate in the 1849 Municipal Elections where he was described as "the champion of pig-sties." 

Benjamin Manning - champion of pig-sties

The New Inn in around 1920, Pilton Street,
A 1920s photograph (at a time when it was a pub) of the Manning's home in Pilton Street. While they lived there in the 1840s  it was a butchers and grocers shop.
The cutting on the left is from the Western Times of Saturday 10 November 1849. Manning is also described as "opponent of the summary sanitary reforms enforced lately by the Board of Health." (links to be added later in regard to this)


Joy Street and the first ever Wine Bar in Barnstaple - the Barnstaple Bodega



Flagon - Manning and Sons
This flagon was already in the Museum before we set up the Exhibition. The writing on its side says:
Manning and Sons, Wine and Spirits Merchants, Barnstaple
Barnstaple Bodega Advert
An advertisement from the North Devon Journal



By the time of the 1861 Census Benjamin had moved from Pilton to Joy Street, and opened the Bodega.  He still owned the Pilton Street property and retained many links with Pilton. 

One of the strange coincidences that we have often wondered about is the fact that he opened a wine bar selling Spanish wines, around the time when Frederick Richard Lee moved to Pilton. Lee was a keen sailor, and had been to Spain and back on his yacht. Could it be that a conversation between the two men that inspired Manning to call his hostelry by a Spanish name? Or did Manning supply Lee with Spanish wines, while he lived in Broadgate House? Another coincidence is that the fact that one of Benjamin Manning's sons was also called Frederick Richard. 

There may be nothing in either suggestions, but although they came from different walks of life, the two men both went to the same church, and as an auctioneer Benjamin entered many of the grander houses in the neighbourhoods - selling furniture and effects which would have included paintings.

High Street and Joy Street
This map of central Barnstaple, taken from Google Maps, shows that the two Manning businesses (blue markers) were very close to one another.

The butchers shop at No 74 has changed very little, as you can see if you compare the photo on the right with the illustration at the top of the page.  It is now called Saltrock, and sells clothing.  The Barnstaple Bodega, just across the road in Joy Street, was demolished, sadly for us, years ago and the site is now part of Green Lanes Shopping Centre.
 

In  August 1864, Benjamin Manning and his family were embroiled in one of their many court cases. And yet again, it concerned a pig (The case of The Prize Pig).
This pig was already butchered, and had been bought by John Manning from a farmer. According to the Mannings, the pig "smelt very bad indeed". They refused to pay, and ended up in court. The case didn't end well for the Manning family - the jury chose to believe the farmer  rather than them.

Satrock, No74 High St


If you thought that once the dispute about the Prize Pig  was decided, that would be the end of that matter, that month, as far as Benjamin Manning featuring in the local papers, you would be badly mistaken...  Shortly afterwards he was in the news again.


The newspaper article opposite begins by mentioning another matter. Mr Manning had been involved a train accident and was demanding £500 compensation for "bruises about his head.".

The accident in question was at Egham in Surrey - we might wonder what Mr Manning was doing up there? Most of the passengers had apparently been at Royal Ascot, perhaps watching Prince Albert in the Royal Procession. So was Mr Manning a racing man - did he enjoy a flutter at the bookies? That would seem to fit well with his character.


 For ease of reading, we have cropped the cuttings into two parts. The first, on the right, deals with the rail accident, and his claime for compensation. He had been offered £100 but refused that, demanding £500 - a fortune in 1864.

Exeter Flying Post August 31st 1864 - first part of article
Mr Manning and Egham train collision


Six people died in this crash and there were a number of injuries - but we can't help wondering how serious Mr Manning'  injuries actually were.  There is no mention of them when he attended court - or at the dispute in the market, three months later. Was he trying it on - was he the first person to falsely claim compensation for whiplash injuries
?

Link will be added shortly with more details of the crash.




The second part of the Aug 31st article returns to the matter of the Prize Pig Case again. On a market day following the decision, Mr Manning met one of the jurors from the case, and became abusive towards him.  This did not go down well, and Mr Manning ended up being fined for his behaviour.

He is also chided by the Flying Post writer:
"Steady there! Mr Auctioneer-publican-butcher Manning! A number of trades do not necessarily imply great wisdom to the person who caries them on: and the use of the words "illiterate ignoramuses" shows that Mr M may take a quiet survey of his own understanding.

We don't know, as we did not have time to check further - but what would the betting be on the likelihood that Mr Manning, after reading this report, fired off a rejoinder to the Exeter Flying Post, and began a correspondence similar to the one with Tenant Farmer ?

Exeter Flying Post August 31st 1864 - second part of article


Mr Manning and dispute with juror

Buttercups and May Blossom in Manning's Pit
Buttercups and May blossom in Manning's Pit.

The Final Years... and Manning's Pit.

At some time in  or around the 1870s  Benjamin - or a member of his family - had signed a lease on North Fields. They may have used to field to graze cattle, or other animals. Benjamin Manning died in 1883, but his name lived on, attached to this field.   It is not surprising really. Some people live uneventful lives and are rarely spoken about after they have passed on. Having read just a few of the stories connected with Benjamin Manning, we are sure that people in Pilton carried on talking about him for many years, so that his name, and his association with the field that was to become a cherished part of the community, was carried forward not just into the 20th Century, but the 21st as well.

He was always one for a good fight. How pleased he would be if he could walk round Pilton today, and see his name on walls and gates and in windows everywhere, with the message "Save Manning's Pit."

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, November 1968

Letter from Mr Manning's milkman
Advancing age did not, it appears, reduce his belligerence, as the letter on the right demonstrates.  Politics were always his passion, and despite any reputation he may have had for being difficult, he was three times voted onto the Town Council and served three three year terms.

In around 1880, he became ill, and had to pass management of his businesses over to his sons for a while. This is probably why it was William, not his father, who was one of those who nominated Lord Lymington as a candidate for the the crucial Barnstaple By-Election in 1880.
 

 This Election was of national interest, and you can read all about it at this link,  that is also on the Saki and Hibbert pages. We know Hector Munro was there in the town to see the events, and presume the Hibberts and William Manning were watching as well. Benjamin may have been ill in his bed, but it is still possible he watched from his windows - and may have seen the
  the man injured by a carriage being carried into his Joy Street house. (as described in the report.)




As the notice on the right proclaims, he recovered from his illness, and was able to take up work again by July of 1880.


He was to live another three years. We don't know as yet where he was buried.



There are also links to more details of his life on our Timeline, such as reports about his prowess as an auctioneer, or more details of his family life.

His son William was to die only four years after his father.
22nd July 1880
Recovery from illness, 1880

William's obituary 1847


MR WILLIAM MANNING, wine and spirit merchant of Bourport Street, died on Friday last after a short illness. The deceased was a son of the late Mr Benjamin Manning, who for so many years kept "the Bodega" in Joy Street -an hotel which has now given place to the well known drapery establishment of Messrs. Richards and Co. Mr Manning also carried on business as an auctioneer. In politics he was a Liberal, and his loss is regretted by a wide circle of friends. He leaves a widow and one child - The funeral took place on Monday in Pilton churchyard. Among those who attended to pay a last respect to the deceased were Messrs. R Ashton, (deputy Mayor) W Smyth, J P  W Wivell, A F Seldon, J Bater, Charley, Pinkhman, W Lake, F Cudd, Bryant (2) German, Abbott, Harris, Hillier S Hodge, Spurway and Horn. The service was conducted by the Rev W E Ryan.. Mr J D Thomas was the undertaker.

Manning grave in Pilton Churchyard
This is the grave of one of the Manning Sons, Frederick Richard, in Pilton Churchyard. The names of his parents, Benjamin and Elizabeth Manning, are
also inscribed on the headstone, so they could be buried beneath it as well.