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Clovelly and Christine Hamilton

Clovelly is a small village that is obscure, ancient and hard to access. It’s history stretches back to Celtic times. It is one of the few spots suitable for a port on the rough north coast of Devon. Nowadays, the village is vying to leave its obscurity behind as it seeks to be viable in the Twenty-First Century through tourism.

Only 2 families have owned Clovelly. That depressed me when I heard the fact. I had images of masters and serfs and the attendant exploitation that comes with such an arrangement.

In the 1980s the place was free to enter and somewhat run down. In the Victorian times the village had become dilapidated. The then owner Christine Hamilton did the place up in the way Victorians did with neo-classical embellishments and her initials everywhere. Her desire to improve the living conditions of her tenants was rivalled by her ego, I feel. I read in the museum that she once uttered:

“I dwell among my own people.”

Her people with whom she never considered a co-operative set up. I presume her land bought her wealth. The people of Clovelly looked like poor fishing people in the museum pictures of the past. My own people has a patronising tone.

Nowadays the village does a bit of fishing but relies on tourism. They charge £7 entry fee. For this you get access to the village, a look at the donkeys and access to one old house that has been converted to a museum. It’s poor value.


The village is quaint, picturesque: beautiful cobbles and cottages tumbling down a steep path to a small harbour. The village is billed as having no vehicles. That is a total lie. The Red Lion guests drive down to the harbour. Land Rovers supply the village; the donkeys are idle; and the use of sledges is tokenism. The man tending the donkeys was not shy in claiming the car hypocrisy was down to ‘weak management’.

cars in Clovelly

I liked Clovelly, I just feel it was not a real village because you had to pay to enter and the folk living there were tenants and employees of Clovelly plc.

The only thing that can be said in favour of this arrangement is that single ownership stops the villagers selling their cottages to wealthy outsiders who permanently change the character of the place.

I think I would have preferred the run down version of Clovelly that the late 1980s offered; especially if they really used the donkeys back then.