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 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 Exeter and
Plymouth Gazette, Friday 11 May, 1883
"DEATH OF MR BENJAMIN MANNING -
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
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 PigsPigs 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:
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
to the full letter
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).
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
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)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
article opposite begins by mentioning another matter. Mr
Manning had been involved a train accident and was
demanding £500 compensation for "bruises about his
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
|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
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.
Plymouth Gazette, November 1968
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
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.
About our Exhibition and Manning's Pit
Sarah and Hugh Hibbert FR Lee Saki
Manning's Pit Timeline