A review of talks and walks in previous years. These are in reverse order with the December talks first in each year.
EVENTS 2015 :
“Plotting Plymouth ’s Past – the Boundary Stones Project”
Nigel Overton started off by explaining how a small group of volunteers from the Old Plymouth Society had set out in late 2012 to revisit the 1500 known sites containing boundary stones of all descriptions and to record them on a new internet database. They were supported by Plymouth City Council, the Milestone Society and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A logo was developed and tee-shirts printed to raise awareness of the project.
Nigel went on to describe how the stones fell into different categories such as – manor, parish & town, military, leats and waterworks, turnpikes, commemorative plaques, railways and private boundaries.
Using old maps (the earliest being from 1539) he recounted how Plymouth had developed into a city from the original 3 towns of Devonport (originally named Dock), East Stonehouse and Plymouth itself. Manors became Local Boards and in turn District Councils and so on. This growth & eventual amalgamation had meant numerous changes in boundaries and the proliferation and variety of the marker stones. Devonport tended to have the more fancy stones in granite whilst Plymouth’s were made of limestone, depicting the Four Castles motif.
The boundaries of Plymouth were established in 1439 though most of the remaining stones now are of 19th century date. Devonport grew up around the Naval Dockyard in the Parish of Stoke Damerell after 1690 and surviving stones are of manor, parish and Municipal Corporation type. There are a number of stones remaining for the manor of Stonehouse and others from 1883 erected by the Local Board. Many parishes were absorbed over the years and various stones can still be found. Particularly of interest is a series from 1893, erected by the Compton Gifford Local Board who were opposed to Plymouth ’s extension plans.
Nigel’s talk contained a whole series of photographs of surviving stones, illustrating the varieties and styles of the markers. Many of these are in prominent though sometimes quite precarious places and others almost buried under layers of tarmac.
In addition to the above, Nigel showed examples of stones of the Admiralty, often with the fouled anchor motif; War Department and MOD, and Government (broad arrow). Stones also survive belonging to the Plymouth and Stonehouse Leats, as well as those around Burrator marked PCWW (Plymouth Corporation Water Works). Others mentioned were those of the Modbury Turnpike Trust, railway, telegraph cable markers and Hospital of the Poor. Some mayors even displayed their own names on stones!
The Project – Plotting Plymouth’s Past – was formally completed in November 2014 with the unveiling of a new Three Towns Amalgamation Centenary Stone in Victoria Park.
Nigel’s talk was very detailed, the number and variety of the stones and the accompanying images, plus the historic maps provided a fascinating glimpse into the growth of Plymouth and its environs. The existence of this history, captured by the physical presence of over 700 remaining marker stones is now backed up by a superb database, which can be used to learn more on this topic and to find your way to visit many of the stones using the various “tours” on the Plymouth City Council website.
“Voices of Protest – Discordant views in Devon ”
Dr Todd Gray’s talk covered a period of great social unrest & uncertainty, singling out some of the major issues of the times & the people who were prepared to stand up & demand change.
One of these was local man William Elford who took up the cause of abolishing slavery with the publishing of a drawing of the slave ship Brooks highlighting the terrible cramped & inhumane conditions. Re-published many times here & in the US this was instrumental in the eventual abolition despite not everyone being in favour.
Facsism was the next topic with Plymouth & in particular the Western Morning News playing a prominent part in the mid 1930’s. Mosley himself made a number of visits to Plymouth, his rallies accompanied by melees, street fights & attacks on photographers. The violence & unrest continued when the Fascists moved to Exeter , though the Chief Constable there sought to defy the Home Secretary by outlawing the rallies. Mosley was popular in Exeter but eventually moved on.
The Suffragette movement hit the headlines in Plymouth in 1913 when Emily Pankhurst was arrested on board the steamship Majestic as it sailed in from New York . Big crowds waited on the quayside as she was taken to Exeter Prison where she was force-fed & later released. This followed protests in the area 4 years previously when 3 women from Torbay & Exeter were also imprisoned & force-fed for their protests.
Corder Catchpool 1917 was one of the first conscientious objectors. Returning from serving in the Ambulance Corps in France he claimed to be a Quaker & refused to be conscripted, being sentenced to 10 years in prison. After release he married & he & is wife played prominent roles with other Quakers in helping the Jews to emigrate from Nazi Germany & running rest homes for ex-prisoners in Germany . In 1916 around 1,000 “conchies” were housed in the Prison Work Camp at Princetown.
Elsie Knocker (nee Shapter), born in Exeter in 1884 was an orphan at the age of six. She later married & had a son though the marriage failed & she fuelled her passion as a motorcyclist earning the nickname “Gypsy”. When war broke out in 1914 she teamed up with her fellow motorcycle fanatic Mairi Chisholm joining the Ambulance Corps in Belgium . They worked tirelessly saving lives bringing back wounded from the front line. They became famous with their subsequent exploits (warranting a book – still available online), & earned many honours.
Briefly married again becoming a baroness, Elsie joined the WAAF in WW2 & was twice mentioned in despatches.
The abolition of Capital Punishment was the cause of Violet van der Elst, who having started working life as a scullery maid, then earned a fortune developing cosmetics. She used her monies to write books & wage vocal campaigns against the death penalty& staged a protest at Exeter Prison in 1936 trying unsuccessfully to avert the execution of Charlotte Bryant. She died almost penniless in 1966 having seen the abolition the year before.
Other interesting characters at the time included Philidda 1915 – a newspaper columnist in Exeter , she wrote “stories of interest for ladies” – what colour shoes to wear, how to treat your servants etc. When WW1 broke out, she completely changed her style, writing about men going off & coming back from the war, tales of the wounded & food shortages & the impact on Exeter of the conflict. She gained a reputation – unusual at the time – for her honest views. When the war ended, she reverted to advising ladies how to look after their men!
Todd also mentioned B.H. St. John O’Neill, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, who fought a hard campaign against the destruction of old buildings in Exeter after the war. Though a lot of these were only partially damaged & saveable, all were pulled down by the local Council.
Todd closed by mentioning Thomas Bennett who was executed in Exeter in 1531 for objecting to the Catholic Church & the subsequent burning of all religious art across the country.
Finally we were left with the thoughts as to whether the discordant views in the world today are any different to what we have seen in the past?
Our first event of the autumn welcomed a new speaker to our society in the form of Linda Elliott who is very involved with Tavistock Museum .
Linda started off by outlining the reign of the Queen who gave her name to the Victorian Era. Coming to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18, she reigned for over 63 years, only recently being overtaken by our own Queen Elizabeth 11. She was married to her first cousin Prince Albert for a relatively short period of 21 years, though they did manage to have 9 children in that time.
During the early part of her reign Tavistock was a bit of a boom town. The mid 1800’s saw a flood of migrants coming in – mainly for the mining – the population increasing by over 40% in a 20 year period. Around 450 families were clustered around what was quite a small area including the slums of Bannawell & Brook Streets, often 6 families to a house, with 20 public houses.
However the then 7th Duke of Bedford started to initiate improvements & as the century progressed, many changes were seen. Along came new housing, a new town centre, waterworks, police station & cemetery. Prior to this poor people were often buried in unmarked paupers graves. For a penny a week with the Prudential Company, people could reserve a burial plot – Linda displayed a copy of one such insurance policy. The railway arrived in 1859 & Tavistock hospital opened in 1887. Up to 1920 local chemists were very important in healthcare, often acting in place of doctors & being able to veto immunisation.
By the end of the 19th century the population of the town had halved, most of the miners having left for Australia or Canada – a trip to the latter then only costing 6 guineas! But improvements to the town & living conditions continued. New schools were opened (WH Smith in Russell Street ) & sports facilities were formed.
Given her association with the museum, Linda supported her talk with an array of costumes & memorabilia carefully laid out on the stage. This ranged from christening & night gowns & a farmer’s smock to school punishment records – causing some amusement as Linda read out extracts. The evening continued on a very informal basis with various questions & contributions from the members present. Members then queued to look at the various photographs, mining maps & a variety of other interesting artefacts. They were also encouraged to pay a visit to the museum itself to learn more about the town’s history & the Victorian Era.
An historical walk from Princetown to Hart Tor
A beautiful sunny evening in August was attended by around 40 of our members and guests who enjoyed a circular walk led by Dr. Tom Greeves.
Out of the main car park, our route took us past the site of the old railway station, the terminus of the line from Yelverton which opened in 1883 & closed in 1956. We passed the only remaining building which is thought to be an old stable block. Tom’s picture of the old station conjured up memories for those who remembered it in its heyday. Just past here are a series of PCWW stones, dated 1932, marking the watershed boundary of Burrator Reservoir.
Having safely negotiated the busy main B3212, we arrived at Meavy Head with the workings and spoil heaps of Devils Bridge mine clearly visible. Tom related the story of a tinner back in 1281 called Wm. Voyner who was killed in an accident at the mine. Evidence of the exploits of the miners can be clearly seen along the course of the Meavy (or Mewy), the evening sun casting dark shadows on the scarps along the river bank.
Next point of interest was the 600 yard marker post of the disused rifle range dating from the early 1800’s. We followed the line of these though some are missing, to the remains of the butts (or targets) just below Hart Tor. Along the way Tom pointed out the various hut circles numbering around 40 in total. About 20 of these had been excavated in 1896 by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee who found various artefacts, including bits of pottery & charcoal.
We paused on the slopes of Hart Tor and enjoyed the surrounding views – many of the distant tors clearly visible along with the prehistoric enclosure on the side of Raddick Hill. Tom showed us a picture of a contented moorman from the past enjoying the same vista. Nearby are a line of old metal posts marking boreholes which had been sunk to explore an earlier potential site for the dam of Burrator Reservoir.
Tom’s pièce de résistance had us standing by a line of unexceptional rushes. This he explained was a line of trenches, part of the site of a relatively unknown National Experiment carried out in 1869. Over a period of about a week, 300 men were camped on adjacent Middle Hill testing the efficiency of shrapnel versus case shells. Targets of timber and bags of sawdust, (apparently preferable to carcasses of dead sheep), were erected and artillery from nearly 1200 yards away on North Hessary Tor bombarded the area across the valley. Pits were also excavated – it would seem in record time, a sense of urgency perhaps before the firing started! – for both riflemen & horses to take cover. It’s hard to imagine now what such a dummy battleground would have looked or sounded like at the time, though Tom was able to produce some interesting old photos of the layout.
An amazing new piece of information, unearthed it would seem from studying old book publisher catalogues…Tom’s own words!
As the sun began to set and the evening cooled off, we made our way back along the well defined track, our knowledge greatly enhanced, rounded off by a pint at a local hostelry – a fitting end to our summer series.
Thanks to Dr.Greeves for a very interesting, perhaps even historic, evening.
An evening stroll of discovery on Roborough Down
The distant views of Princetown & beyond were scarcely visible as the rain clouds gathered. However, around 30 members stayed dry & enjoyed a recent summer stroll near Clearbrook, loosely based on a theme of transport & communications, led by Stephen & Claire Fryer.
The first item of interest was the impressive granite lined walls of the now dry Plymouth or Drake’s Leat. Completed in 1591, it ran from a headweir on the River Meavy (now under Burrator Reservoir) for 17.5 miles into Plymouth . Sir Francis Drake was in charge of the project & made a handsome profit, gaining coincidentally from having his own mills fed by the leat along the way!
Nearby stands Tyrwhitt’s Wharf, originally a stable for the horses on the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway. A brainchild of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt – founder of Princetown & part of his plans to open the area for cultivation & development – it opened in 1823 running from Crabtree to Princetown. It was only partially successful, mainly for the granite quarries, & was replaced by the GWR line in 1883, though still following mostly the same route. Many of the granite sleeper blocks can still be seen & milepost no. 12 stands close by.
Through the golf course runs the line of the Devonport Leat. Built some 200 years after Plymouth Leat to supply the town known then as Dock, it was slightly longer & was sourced by 3 separate river systems. Today the leat is dry beyond Burrator Reservoir where a pipeline diverts its waters into the lake. The course of both these major leats can be traced across the down from Yelverton, running in places side by side.
Stephen & Claire’s tour de force is the Decoy Airfield where they have spent over 7 years mapping the concrete landing light bases over a large area of the down. Decoy sites were established in the 1930’s to mislead enemy bombers from potential targets such as airfields and factories. The Clearbrook site was constructed in 1941 & was intended as a decoy for both Roborough & Harrowbeer airfields, being roughly halfway between them. Also it was thought that the golf course fairways at night-time might be mistaken for runways. There were 10 decoy sites around Plymouth , though Clearbrook was the only decoy airfield.
The dummy runway lights mounted on the concrete plinths were electric lamps replicating the full lighting of a genuine airfield. Our intrepid guides have since traced nearly 30 of these posts, some of which have been uprooted by maintenance vehicles & others have simply disappeared. On our walk, flags had been set out in advance enabling us to see several examples.
On 4 October 1944, the Admiralty took the decision to scrap all of the Plymouth decoys. At the Clearbrook site, to maintain secrecy, the lights, generators, switchgear, shelter fittings and any above ground wiring are likely to have been removed to a regional store.*
Our route back took us again along part of the old railway line including passing by a cutting which is now intersected by the road to the village.
Also enjoyed en route were the distant views of many of the hills & tors of Dartmoor , though the increasingly intrusive scars of the Hemerdon Tungsten mine may prove not so welcome a sight.
An excellent evening, much enhanced by Stephen & Claire’s advance research & knowledge.
* Further information on the Decoy Airfield can be found on the RAF Harrowbeer website link http://www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk/miscellaneous.htm
A visit to Plymouth Citadel
A sunny evening stroll along the ramparts, entertained & enlightened by Blue Badge guides Jayne & Chrissie, was what 34 members enjoyed on our recent visit in June.
The Royal Citadel was built in the 1660’s in the reign of Charles 11 & designed by Sir Bernard de Gomme. Today it is occupied by 29 Commando Regiment of the Royal Artillery. We entered by the huge baroque gateway built of Portland stone, bearing the King’s coat of arms & the date 1670, where originally there was a drawbridge over a dry moat, removed following extensive alterations in the 19th century. Jayne explained to us how the original citadel extended over a much larger area encompassing a lot of the modern day Hoe.
Climbing up behind the gateway above the original guardroom we progressed along the ¾ mile long ramparts to see our first cannon – a 32pounder with a range of ¼ mile & an 18 foot recoil – which often sent men tumbling over backwards into the ditch behind (later filled in by the Victorians).
Cannons of varying sizes became a familiar feature as we continued our rounds – at one time there were 113 of them – though none of them have ever been fired in anger. Unusually, some of them were capable of firing on the city, a design much criticised on a visit by Samuel Pepys in 1683 – “de Gomme hath built very silly” – but probably a recognition by King Charles post the English Civil War of Plymouth’s stance in the war as supporters of Parliament. One of the bastions & the cannon nearby show shrapnel damage from WW2, though overall the citadel was not badly affected by that conflict.
The huge extent of the citadel becomes very apparent as you walk along the 70 ft high walls with its barrack buildings (built in the late 19th century), warrant officer’s mess, other accommodation areas & the wide open parade grounds. The views across Plymouth Sound, the Hoe & the Barbican are equally impressive. Another huge cannon on rails with a range of 2 miles overlooks the Sound & nearby is yet another unearthed during excavations. Nearby is the old saluting platform not used for many a year.
In the far corner used to sit the original Drake’s Fort around which the new fortifications were built. It is also the spot where it is said that Drake played bowls before the sighting of the Armada (contrary to the popular myth of it taking place on the Hoe). It is certainly a great vantage point & was supported with warning beacons.
Coming down off the high walls into the open spaces below, we entered St. Catherine’s Chapel, built in 1671 on the site of a former 14th century church. This is a beautiful place, still well used today, with lots of memorials on the walls, frescoes of angels, flowers & colourful cushions depicting various regiments. Outside stands Drake’s Court with its large granite gateways, which used to house all the stores & supplies including gunpowder.
As we made our way to the exit, we passed the statue of King George 11, the last king to lead his troops into battle in 1743, & more cannons, this time from the Crimean War & Waterloo.
An excellent 2 hour tour of this impressive “little city”, made more interesting & entertaining by our guides’ anecdotes & knowledge, not only of the citadel itself, but the history of the surrounding area.
“Who were the Patriots? – the War across the Moor”
Though often thought of as a bit of a backwater, Devon was apparently far from it at the start of WW1. Dr David Parker recounted how the county was actually very vibrant with its Navy connections, good railways, prosperous agriculture & market gardens. News of the outbreak of war was sudden & people rushed to sign up as a certain excitement took off. However by the autumn of 1914 the rush of volunteers had dried up.
Earl Fortescue was particularly concerned at Devon ’s low response rate & organised a campaign of naming & shaming villages. Rallies were organised with live bands & singing to encourage sign up, but they didn’t work. A Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was then set up which divided Devon into areas. Huge recruitment marches took place with flag waving children & speeches by the local clergy & MP’s – these were also a big flop. Farmers were particularly resistant to sending their workers off to war & there were others.
Conscientious objectors preferred to stay at home working on the farms, or be stretcher bearers etc away from the front, or be absolutists refusing to partake at all – maybe on the grounds of religion or the need to support large families. One such group of c800 was housed at the Government Work Settlement in Princetown. They were free to come & go as they pleased & were not popular with the local population.
As the war progressed, lots of casualties were brought into Devon & town halls & stately homes were turned into hospitals with many women signing up as volunteer nurses. Medical care was first class & entertainment was organised for the wounded such as outings to Torquay, afternoon teas & sports days. It seems Belgians were particularly popular because of their effort in stopping the German invasion.
There were also many POW’s in the county & some of these worked on the farms. Women also decided to help out on the farms but this was not appreciated by the men who thought they were incapable of heavy manual labour & felt their space was being invaded. To counter this, Lady Mildmay & friend set up a successful all female working farm.
In 1917 everything changed when the Government issued a diktat ordering all Devon farms to revert back to an 1870’s style of agriculture. Blaming the loss of supply ships in the Atlantic , they insisted on the conversion to large scale grain production. Farmers were angry & faced fines or imprisonment for non compliance & rural trades such as blacksmiths, mechanics & rabbit catchers disappeared. Sugar, meat & potatoes were in short supply, though farmers often held back supplies hoping for an increase in prices.
It was also a suspicious time with spy stories everywhere, rumours of them hiding in places such as abbeys & demands for the employment of guards. It was a bad time too for schools & education with teachers away in the war & children working.
By 1918 however, the importance of looking after mothers & the future generation were recognised by the Education Act. Midwives were introduced , new babies welcomed & mothers congratulated.
This was an excellent talk by David about the impact of WW1 on the people of Devon, delivered without any visual aids or notes & a strong knowledge & passion for his subject.
“The Great 1737 Estate Map of the Bere Peninsula ”
The Hobart Map, measuring 9 feet by 8 feet was a truly significant early map, its history & association with the area recalled by Clive Charlton.
Bere Ferrers takes its name from the powerful Norman dynasty descended from Henri de Ferriers in about 1180. With the discovery & exploitation of silver between 1290-1330 the Ferrers became very rich, their dynasty lasting through until the late 15th century. By the 1600’s Bere Alston had become one of the first truly industrial towns mainly due to the mining & in 1586 was made a parliamentary borough.
The Champernownes now took over the manor, followed by the Blounts then local MP John Maynard. His grand-daughter married Sir Henry Hobart of Blickling in Norfolk in 1684. His son Sir John who was also an MP & Privy Counsellor, an “improving landlord” & very keen on climbing the social ladder during this period of prosperity & change, commissioned the map.
It is thought that there had been an earlier crude map produced in the late 17th century, but the 1737 map was meticulously produced on parchment with decorative edges & a cartouche dedicated to Sir John. The original is currently held in the Cornwall Records Office in Truro . The cartographer was James Corbridge who had previously done mapping work in Norfolk & Newcastle . The project took two years of survey work using various technologies & techniques of the time, some of them probably quite painstaking.
The map’s purpose is not entirely known but was thought to be for prestige & display. It identified land as capital, showing the names of tenants & the land uses (a forerunner of the tithe maps of 1840).
Clive went on to identify specific places on the map & how they had changed – or not – to current day. For example Bedford Street in Bere Alston is shown as Gallows Street , the top of the street known as Gallows Gate, suggesting sinister happenings in the past perhaps. A tree known as Election Oak is also depicted on the map, the likelihood being that this was the place where people gathered to hold local elections. Traces of open strip fields are also evident.
Bere Ferrers is shown as being very rural & empty of development, the area known as Mill Pool suggesting perhaps its use as an earlier tide mill. The parsonage is clearly identified as is neighbouring settlements of Gulleytown , Birch & Wear Key (sic), along with lots of orchards. One particularly fascinating piece of the map shows the silver lode running across several fields to the mines. The area around Denham also shows details of copper mines.
There are many other interesting observations to be gained by the study of this incredibly detailed early map, such as the changing road patterns & lost farms. This was an amazing project of its time & there is much that can still be learnt about the history of the Bere peninsula from further studies. A project for some of our members perhaps?
A truly fascinating talk well presented by Clive.
“Goldsmith’s Cross – A Dartmoor Story of Life, Love & Loss”
What stories can be hidden behind an old stone cross on Dartmoor ? In 1903, a young naval lieutenant called Len Goldsmith found a broken cross whilst walking on the moor near Foxtor Mire & had it re-erected; it has since borne his name. Sue Andrew in her talk, through a series of old photos & family letters, described the experiences of Len & brother Harry, specifically during the period of WW1. Sue’s husband Bill incidentally is Len’s grandson.
By August 1914 Len was in command of the destroyer HMS Laertes & fighting in the first naval battle of the war in the Heligoland Bight. Several shells struck the ship, one of which Len kept as a souvenir mounted on a silver plaque. Len was a prolific letter writer & from the battle front wrote often to his beloved father John, a solicitor & Mayor of Plymouth in the early 1900’s. Sue read from some of these, relating the realities of the war at sea, but also Len’s concern for his younger brother Henry, known as Harry.
Harry & his wife Sybil lived at Rockmoor in Yelverton in 1914. He was also a solicitor & Territorial Officer, but also a very keen sportsman. He rowed for Cambridge in the boat races of 1906 & 1907, won a bronze medal in the 1908 Olympics & was part of the team that beat the legendary Belgians. But he was drawn towards volunteering for the Front, despite his wife’s concern. Len’s letters shared his concern whilst expressing his admiration for Harry’s resolve.
Harry served with the 3rd Devonshires spending considerable time in the appalling conditions of the trenches & breastworks in France . Further letters from Len through 1915 contained news of Harry, expressing hope that he would make it through. He also talked about his own life on the seas including a visit to the Laertes by the King.
On May 17th 1915, less than 2 months after Harry had gone to France , a notice published in the Times announced that he had been killed in action. He had been taking part in an attack on the German lines at Auber Ridge near Fromelles, a ferocious battle which cost over 11,000 British casualties with no advantage gained. His body, amongst many others, was never recovered, though he is commemorated on the war memorial at Crapstone. From papers that Sue had retrieved, it was evident that Sybil was devastated & spent several years searching for information about his death. She died in 1934 & is buried in Buckland Monachorum.
Len survived the war, going on to serve in further battles & earn a DSO in 1917, adding a bar to this after service in the Black Sea . Further letters continued until his father’s death in 1919. After service as an aide-de-camp to the King, he went on to become Commodore of the Ocean Convoys in the Arctic & Atlantic during WW2. In 1943 he was awarded a knighthood for his outstanding service in 2 wars. He died at the age of 75 in 1955 whilst sailing in seas off Greece – he is buried in Athens .
Sue’s incredible research & the listening to the letters written by Len, brought home the realities of the war & the sacrifices suffered by many. The little cross on Dartmoor is a poignant reminder.
“The English Civil War in Devon ”
Dr Janet Few spoke about the English Civil War, with passing references to the south-west. She outlined some of the political background and the situation in south-western counties.
This is where the talk departed from our usual format when a lot of role play took over. Janet was unceremoniously interrupted by “Master Christopher” springing out from behind the curtains , apparently arriving from seventeenth century north Devon . Janet beat a hasty retreat to be replaced by her seventeenth century alter ego “Mistress Agnes.”
Mistress Agnes explained that the political history would be a rather boring list of who fought whom, where, when and who won and that this information was readily available in books. She therefore concentrated on the impact of the conflict upon ordinary people. She said that just under 4% of the population were thought to have perished in the English Civil War, nearly twice the percentage of the First World War. The majority of ordinary soldiers, who were fighting on a temporary basis as part of a trained band, were not fighting for a cause but were acting under instructions from their employer or landlord.
Mistress Agnes talked about the problems of ‘free quarter’, enforced billeting of troops and the effect of troops living off the land for many months. She took the Battle of Torrington , the final battle of the first phase of the war, as an example in order to illustrate some of the difficulties encountered by both soldiers and civilians.
Master Christopher ably modelled the armour of the pikeman, describing what was required of a foot soldier.
Certainly different to our normal talks but somewhat entertaining nonetheless.
Whitehorse Hill- the excavation of the prehistoric burial cist
It was almost standing room only as close to 90 members & friends packed the hall to hear Jane Marchand from DNPA talk about the amazing discoveries from the cist on Whitehorse Hill. The story starts back in 1999 when a previously unknown cist was discovered in this remote spot, the result of a side stone falling out of a peat mound which had concealed it. In order to protect it, the DNPA built a stone wall around it, but it became clear over the following years that the peat & the wall were being weathered away.
In 2011 with funding available, it was decided to excavate the cist & investigate the archaeology that may exist within. What followed was a huge surprise of an extraordinary collection of Early Bronze Age goods & artefacts, now thought to be the most important finds of their type in the last 100 years. The base stone of the cist & all the finds were sent to the Wiltshire Conservation Service Laboratory in Chippenham for extensive analysis. The various contents were subsequently analysed by experts around the world including Denmark & the Smithsonian Institution in the US .
The finds included cremated human remains & textile fragments. Although only half a skeleton was present, it is believed to be that of a person aged between 15-25 & of slight build. The textiles could have been part of clothing or a shroud used to bind the body. Also found were remains of wood charcoal from the funeral pyre & 2 wooden stakes used as markers.
Also discovered was an animal pelt probably used to wrap the body, a leather & textile object & plant material. Hidden within the pelt was an intricately woven basket containing over 200 beads, wooden studs & a flint tool. These personal possessions suggest that the cremated remains belonged to a young female – of perhaps some importance & standing in the community.
Further extensive analysis yielded more information about the finds. The textile object was found to be made of woven nettle fibre with calf leather stitching, thought to be a sash or belt. The basket was made of lime bast, (inner bark of the lime tree soaked in water), the resultant fibre being an excellent water resistant material.
The beads were extremely interesting consisting of amber, tin, shale & ceramic or clay, perhaps making up a spectacular necklace. Some of these materials have their own unique healing properties & not all are of local origin – amber (Baltic), shale ( Dorset ). The tin beads were thought to be a part of a wrist band & the wooden studs (made from spindle wood) possibly used as earlobe decorations. The animal pelt, after analysis by many experts has been identified as brown bear.
Radio carbon dating has identified the finds as 1700-1900BC. Much work has also been done on pollen sampling, revealing concentrations of meadowsweet, suggesting that the burial was carried out in late summer.
All in all, these finds were spectacular, exceeding all expectations. It is hoped that a permanent exhibition may be set up at Postbridge in the near future.
Thanks to Jane for a fascinating talk.
EVENTS 2014 :
One Dreadful Old Man? – the Political Journey of Lord John Russell
The question was posed by Kevin Dickens as he recounted LJR’s somewhat varied political career through some difficult times. Born in 1792 as a younger son of the 6th Duke of Bedford , he was elected as MP for Tavistock in 1813 representing the Whigs. Although a man of small stature with a thin reedy voice, he quickly established himself as a leading campaigner for electoral reform. During this time there were huge riots & disturbances over the Reform Bill at Hyde Park , Leeds & Newcastle – amongst others. However, he was influential in the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, earning the nickname of “Finality Jack”, despite disparaging comments & little confidence from his friends & peers.
By 1835 he was Home Secretary, followed by a stint as Secretary of State for War, then Prime Minister for the first time in 1846. This was a frustrating period for LJR coinciding with the Irish Famine & the unsuccessful attempts to find a solution. There were also repeated clashes with his Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston & disunity within his party. It was Palmerston who eventually forced a no vote of confidence in LJR – his famous “tit for tat” for having been previously dismissed by him as Foreign Minister.
After the passing of the Reform Act, he had taken time out in 1835 to get married to a Lady Ribblesdale, (apparently after previously proposing to 11 other women) & honeymooned at Endsleigh on the family estate. They had 2 daughters but his wife died just 3 years later. He married again in 1841 going on to have 4 more children.
By 1852 he was back on the Opposition benches, though the Government lacked a clear majority & only lasted 10 months. Divisions still existed because of disputes over the previous repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the Peelites splitting with the Conservatives because of this. LJR then joined forces with Lord Aberdeen & his Peelites becoming Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Continued clashes with Palmerston however overshadowed parliamentary progress.
Then along came the Crimean War, eventually causing the resignation of Lord Aberdeen in 1855, with Palmerston being asked to form a new Government. LJR was sent to Vienna in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a settlement to end the war, but then retired from politics temporarily to concentrate on his writing. He returned in 1859 serving in Palmerston’s Government as Foreign Secretary (in the first true Liberal Cabinet), having to deal in his time with many issues arising from the US Civil War. Then when Palmerston died in 1865 he was back again as Prime Minister. This was an unsuccessful return however & just a year later he resigned & retired to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park– bought rather reluctantly for him by Queen Victoria !
He died in 1878 at the age of 85 & his legacy of success in very difficult times lives on. His grandson Bertrand had spoken of him as a “kindly old man in a wheel chair” – surely not “a dreadful old man?” – at least no-one in our audience thought so!
Thanks to Kevin for a great talk.
The Trees of Plymouth through the Ages
Andrew Young’s journey took us from the end of the Ice Age when only 33 species of trees had colonised our country right up to the present day total of over 1,000 species. Early natives were the Birch, Aspen & Willow , as well as English & Sessile Oaks. It has not been a continuous increase however & clearance for pastures started in the Stone Age, additional uses for wood being found for tools, firewood & charcoal. This continued with the planting of crops & then smelting into the Iron Age. Around 100BC fruit trees began to be imported from Europe such as peaches & walnuts.
The Romans consolidated the land clearance activities but were responsible for the introduction of the Sycamore & Sweet Chestnut. It was not then until the 15th century that there was an increase in tree introductions. By then Plymouth was the 4th largest town in the country & increased trading with Europe & Asia saw new varieties of trees being imported. With the Tudors, in came the evergreen Holm Oak, Norway Spruce & White Mulberry. In 1577 one of Drake’s fleet ships called the “ Elizabeth ” captained by John Winter discovered a bark tree, now named after him & an effective cure for the sailors’ curse of scurvy (one of these can be seen at Greenway on the River Dart). Trees also started to come in from the US , such as Tulip & Sweet Gum, plus Horse Chestnut from Albania & Cork Oak from the Iberian Peninsula .
However with the advent of the shipbuilding industry during the time of Henry V111, there was huge demand for timber, especially for the native Oak, leading to shortages. This led to wood being imported from the Baltic region. For a time, other tree planting fell out of favour as demand also grew for housing & settlements.
Following Henry’s granting of huge estates to his favourites, arboriculture became popular with an increased liking for exotic species. City parks were born out of social necessity for exercise, amenity & healthy pastimes. Plymouth Dock had increased its population six fold in the 18th century & Devonport Park became the city’s first park in 1880, planted with Limes. Cemeteries were planted with Turkey Oaks & Yews. Voyagers such as Joseph Banks (Eucalyptus & Monkey Puzzle) & David Douglas (Douglas Fir & Monterey Pine) added to the species lists & introductions starting flooding in from all over the world.
Today trees are nevertheless under pressure. In the city of Plymouth many were planted in the wrong place & have been lost, though there were some notable survivors from the Blitz. Some suffer from poor maintenance & many don’t get planted at all despite planning promises. Dutch Elm disease still lurks & now we have Ash dieback, the loss of the Larch & many other threatening challenges to the health of our trees.
The Plymouth Tree Partnership has been set up to respond to these threats. They seek to promote the use of trees as key features of the city’s environment, leading to a greener & healthier place in which to live. They work with other groups contributing to various initiatives & using tree wardens to keep a watch out for new opportunities. Thanks to Andrew for a fascinating talk – check out www.plymouthtrees.org
A History of Dartmoor Farming
A return to our indoor events saw the appearance for the first time of North Bovey farmer Colin Pearse, who said he liked to describe his experiences as “looking through the Dartmoor gate”. Shunning the hall’s state of the art AV equipment, Colin brought along his own “props” – display boards of old & new photographs of farmers & farming activities & beautiful moorland landscapes.
His main interest & indeed passion is looking after his flock of pure bred White-Faced Dartmoor sheep, about which he had his first book published. Much of his talk therefore focussed on the sheep & woollen industry of the Moor, which made Devon very prosperous in times gone by.
He described how sheep were driven from all over the county to the Moor for pasture & how they produced wool “spun fine as a spider’s web”. In the 15th century, it was reported that at one point 38 ships laden with wool left the county bound for Calais & onwards. Ancient paths across the Moor are associated with the wool industry – eg. the Jobbers Path, plus packhorse routes & clapper bridges. Moorland names too revive these memories, such as sheepfolds, sheep creep holes, Grey Wethers stone circle & plants like sheep sorrel & fescue. The railways were important for the movement of sheep.
Colin also described the tough working conditions on the Moor in times of hard winters, particularly heavy snow, such as that seen in 1947 & 1963. He related stories of sheep frozen standing up & ponies stuck together by ice. Horses hooves were greased to stop them from freezing. A copy of an old letter written in pencil told of the very wet winter/summer of 1946 when 3 million sheep were lost. Here, he emphasised how important it was to keep breeding animals hardy enough to withstand these harsh conditions.
Colin also touched on other historical memories of Dartmoor tenements & longhouses, where families & animals lived under one roof; of thatch grown locally for roofing; threshing barns & cider houses; Royal forests & hunting grounds & the link to the Saxons with place names containing the suffix “worthy”.
Colin also has a claim to fame having featured with Adam Henson on BBC Countryfile. His talk was punctuated with his own graceful poetry, amusing anecdotes & more than a sprinkling of humour. On the way he conveyed his passion for being a real farmer who loved his animals, as well as being a talented author, historian, poet & photographer.
A visit to Whiteworks Tin Mine, near Princetown
A clear sunny evening in August & an initial ramble across lumpy terrain saw over 50 members & friends, led by Dr. Tom Greeves, appreciating the sweeping views from c1300ft. down over the numerous tin workings, the Devonport Leat, the notorious Foxtor mire & the hills beyond. Although there is evidence of tin mining on the site in the 12th century, major activity commenced around 1790 when the mine gradually became one of the largest on Dartmoor , under the ownership of Moses Bawden.
Tom paused on some of the large mounds describing how the miners were masters of water collection with their reservoirs, sluices & leats. He pointed out the remains of trial adits with traces of the tramway which ran downhill towards further workings.
On the lower slope, we passed by the old counting house, the HQ & home of Captain Wm. Thomas in 1851, along with the ruins of stables & other outbuildings & nearby another ruined cottage complete with fireplace. The remains of Knighton Farm lie beside the road, leading then through a walled sunken lane to Stamps Gate to the end of another tramway where once stood a 30ft water wheel, stamps & dressing floor.
Tom explained how there were around 3 dozen shafts on the site (some now neatly walled off) going down to depths of 200ft. (requiring lots of drainage), 16 heads of stamps, 4 large buddles, 3 water wheels (fed by the Whiteworks Engine Leat) & various tin processing equipment.
We walked along the line of another tramway, still very visible, to the site of a human operated capstan winding gear & several horse drawn whim platforms, recognisable by their holed stones, used for hauling up kibbles of ore from the deep shafts. Memories of another water wheel were once remembered by Ernie Worth of Peat Cot as being “sunk like a ship in the water”!
The existing cottages at the roadside were built in 1871 for the mine workers with further ones being added at New London , Princetown by the Cottage Improvement Society for Miners. Tom’s excellent historical commentary was enhanced by his collection of various old photos & maps, concluding with a copy of the Mine’s Sale advertisement of 1880. Although the mine briefly resumed working after this, it closed completely in 1914.
As the light faded & temperatures cooled, we made our way back up the tarmac road, having thoroughly enjoyed our last outdoor event of the summer, a big thank you being recorded to Dr. Tom Greeves.
A heritage visit to Ford Park Cemetery, Plymouth.
Another fine sunny evening greeted around 35 members on our visit, where Ruth Self & Rod Pickles were our hosts.
Ruth started by outlining the history of the site & how it had opened in the late 1840’s as a private cemetery company, after experiencing many financial & general construction difficulties. A period of prosperity followed after the decision to close all other burial grounds in the city on the grounds of public health.
However, after 50 years of virtual monopoly, competition from the opening of new cemeteries & the growth in cremations saw a gradual decline in its fortunes. As income reduced, maintenance of the graves became more difficult & the place less attractive for burials & the company went into liquidation in 1999.
A new era began just a year later thanks mainly to the enthusiasm & fund raising efforts of Dr. Henry Will – the new Ford Park Cemetery Trust taking over the ownership in 2000. Since then much restoration & improvements have been made, including the 2 chapels, the non- conformist chapel having been destroyed in WW2. This now contains the heritage centre.
Proceeding down the Processional Drive (dividing the conformist & non conformist graves), Rod took us on a fascinating tour of the huge site – containing over 250,000 burials. Amongst these, Rod pointed out numerous interesting memorials with stories to match, far too many to mention here, but remembering victims from the Boer, Zulu, Opium, Crimean & 1st World wars & the Titanic; & many interesting local people including the founder of Spooners & Co.
Our visit concluded with entrance to the Victorian Chapel whose end wall contains a massive plaque, engraved with the names of 1,250 civilians who died in Plymouth in WW2 – itself a memorial to the work of Henry Will who died on the 4th Jan 2014. Excellent refreshments in the heritage centre rounded off the evening.
Ruth’s historical knowledge & Rod’s stories behind the memorials made for a very enjoyable evening & such visits are highly recommended. Further details can also be obtained from a Heritage Trail booklet available at the Centre.
An historical walk around Bere Ferrers
We gathered in the sunshine at the quaint old Southern Railway station (housing an interesting museum of various artefacts), still a very busy point on the route between Plymouth & Calstock. Our guide Clive Charlton related some of its history (dovetailing nicely with Stephen Fryer’s talk from the previous month – see below). He explained how the village – the name Bere probably referring to a peninsular – had achieved early prosperity because of the nearby silver mines & the efforts of the Ferrers family. The family were established around the 12th century & were spread around the South West with several generations active until the end of the 1600’s. Close by is a memorial to the 10 New Zealand soldiers killed in a tragic accident in 1917 – mown down by an express as they disembarked from their own train, en route to Salisbury for training.
Passing down the road, we passed by the old rectory, a late 16th century parsonage that belonged to the Hobarts who once owned most of the area (one of their daughters later married into the Edgcumbes.) Clive quoted from an interesting court case which went into great detail about Rector Hobart’s alleged adultery & the attempts of the local churchwardens to throw him out, without success. It was also thought that the road we were on was an old trans rivers route passing from Cargreen in Cornwall, across the Tamar & then the Tavy to Blackston Quay & onwards, carrying flowers & fruit. Further along we passed the Church/ village hall, previously a school, noted for its combination of granite & Roborough or Elvan stone structure.
The village war memorial (the names of the NZ soldiers were added in 2001) stands next to the old well, erected by Francis Lady Shelley (a great friend of the Duke of Wellington), for the benefit of the poor in 1852 – the year that she & her husband both died. Opposite stands a private house once one of the 4 rectories in the parish. Nearby is the Barton, the oldest building along with the church, in the village & Ley Farm, also once a manor. The parish church of St. Andrew is a fascinating place, the Normans probably having replaced a previous Saxon structure, with a building in the shape of a cross. The transepts contain many interesting memorials & tombs, plus a squint & piscine, beautiful carved bench ends & the earliest stained glass window in Devon . An interesting tale here concerned a man who was killed whilst repairing the window by falling off his ladder – his widow went on to marry the Reverend Bray, to become the famous local author & letter writer.
Our walk ended after two fascinating hours on the riverbank beside the green. A shop once stood on the corner. Clive explained that the marshy area behind the wall, now a haven for wildlife was once drained as a green where fetes were held. It was a party field where visitors would come out for the day from Plymouth to enjoy games, teas & ice creams. A superb evening with views across to the river, now calm & quiet, that once buzzed with ferries loaded with produce from the valley, concluded (at least for some) with a refreshing pint in the Old Plough, in preparation for the walk back to the cars.
“Two Routes to Lydford” – (the building of the Plymouth, Devonport & South Western Junction Railway
The story of the building of this railway started with a Bridge. The Footbridge in question stood on Tavistock North Station, spanning the dual track railway line. In the photograph, on the cover of Stephen Fryer’s book, the Footbridge looks solid and sturdily constructed but seems to dominate the Station. When the railway network declined, the often elegant structures created in the 1880’s also declined. Luckily, people like Stephen Fryer have shown enough interest in the past history of railways to record the stories of the men who financed, designed and, most importantly, built the vast and complicated railway system in the West Country. The efforts of these men formed the basis of the talk on the building of the PD&S.W J Railway.
The expansion of the railway network throughout the British Isles from 1825 onwards gave the country the great Company names, GWR, LMS, Southern and LNER and the great engineers, Brunel, Church, Galbraith and others. But, supporting the larger companies were numerous smaller lines, criss-crossing the country serving the smaller communities and opening access to the countryside for business and leisure; opportunities that were quickly exploited by local businesses.
Stephen Fryer’s talk covered much of the vast and complex story of the construction of the railway line from Lydford to Plymouth via Bere Alston, Bere Ferrers, Tavistock and Tamerton Foliot.
The complexities caused by the many objections to the proposed route of the new line raised by rivals such as GWR and other vested interests, formed a particularly interesting part of the talk, as did the stories of the struggles, sheer hard work and, sometimes, incompetence of the gangs of railway navvies who built the line.
The talk was copiously illustrated by photographs, both black and white and coloured from the collections of Bernard Mills and the Speaker, which not only showed the marvellous stonework of the viaducts, the graceful design of the Stations and Tunnels and the smooth integration of the track line in the landscape. Sadly, the illustrations also showed the present deterioration of much of the railway line and the obliteration of the route, much of which is now just overgrown and derelict, like Lydford Station or returned to nature and the local wildlife such as the Brickfield bridge and the entrance to Devonport tunnel.
Stephen Fryer’s talk was at once interesting and entertaining, but to really get to grips with the politics, rivalry and sheer ambitious thinking behind the development of the interconnecting railway systems, created by the Victorians, the speaker’s book ‘The Building of the Plymouth, Devonport & South Western Junction Railway’ is a must read.
What of the footbridge that stood on the Tavistock (North) Station? It was donated to the Plym Valley Railway, for use on their new station at Marsh Mills and is believed to be receiving the restoration and tender loving care it deserves!
The Boys – the story of the Hameldon Bomber crash
John Lowe’s talk opened with the sound of Churchill’s stirring speech announcing the extension of the Battle of the Atlantic into Germany ….”this was their finest hour”….though 55,000 of Bomber Command were eventually to lose their lives. The Handley Page Hampden from 49 Squadron based at RAF Scampton that crashed on Hameldon in March 1941 claimed 4 of these.
John went on to describe the cramped conditions of the plane & the impossibilities of movement & visual contact between the crew – communication to base being by morse code & pigeons. It had seemingly crashed in thick cloud returning from a night raid on U-boats in Brittany . 3 of the experienced crew died in the crash though the pilot was badly injured & died later in Moretonhampstead hospital.
John’s attempts at finding out more information on the crash itself & the crew initially drew blanks, but eventually were to prove extraordinary. Firstly he made contact with a man from Ponsworthy who was able to recall how as an 8 year old he had retrieved parts of the wreckage. Then John discovered that the pilot, the Honourable Robert David Wilson, was the son of a Dowager Duchess who had kept a very detailed diary containing pictures of her son & her record of the events of the crash. Further to this an uncle of the navigator, Sergeant Richard Ellis, produced a scrapbook of Ellis’s letters to his parents, also with pictures.
Duchess Lady Margery’s diary suggests that her son had in fact attempted a forced landing, but in severe low cloud conditions had not managed to clear the hill. Accurate navigation in these conditions would have been impossible. The funeral of the crew she describes in detail & because Ellis was from South Africa, she arranged that he be buried alongside her son in Exeter Higher Cemetery….”they died together, they will lie together”. She also decided to erect a memorial at the crash site on Dartmoor . This still stands on the side of the hill & was rededicated in 1991 with an added plaque. Wireless Op. Sgt. Robert Brames was buried at Eltham, Air Gunner Sgt. Charles Lyon at Prescot.
In 2013, descendants of Sgt. Ellis visited the site & met the “boy” from Ponsworthy. He described how he had made rings for his girl friends from perspex taken from the cockpit of the plane & presented one to them. Research goes on with geophysical surveys of the site still finding traces of the crash & small pieces of the wreckage.
John’s superb talk illustrated how frustrating researching historical events can be, but with a little bit of luck, how fascinating & rewarding it can be.
The Art of the Devon Garden- AD1200-1900
March saw the return of the ever popular Dr. Todd Gray with an entirely new topic based on his latest best selling book. He explained how the Devon Gardens Trust had asked him to do something for their 25th anniversary & how very little had been collated on the history of art in Devon. Over 100 images eventually appear in his book though not without a lot of research & appeals to museums & libraries etc far & wide, especially the US. Some of the first ones he showed were local eg. Elfordtown Farm, Warleigh House & Peter Tavy.
Taking us back to the time of Adam & Eve, he went on to illustrate the proliferation of fruit & flowers in medieval art, as displayed on plasterwork in the Customs House in Exeter & illuminated manuscripts in Plympton Priory. By the mid 1600’s, gardens such as Shute Park near Colyton were being planted with 000’s of fruit trees, with Courtenay Pole producing the first detailed fruit book. Evergreens became evermore popular into the late 1600’s & then topiary shapes & geometric straight lines took over, evidenced by images of Poltimore & Sharpham House near Totnes.
As the 1700’s & 1800’s progressed, the natural gardens look became the norm – hobby drives, ruined arches, irregular shaped ponds, “hermit” caves – plus summer houses & rolling parkland. Lynmouth had its cascades, waterfalls, ferns & fairy dells. Floral designs were incorporated in house decorations such as bedspreads , Axminster carpets, Plymouth porcelain & even court dresses!
The arrival of the Victorian period saw formality being reintroduced with a revolution in exotic plants, lots of them coming in from all over the Empire – eg. citrus groves – & also exotic animals such as seen at Knowle in Sidmouth. By 1837, Mt Edgcumbe had got in on the act issuing tickets for admission (not for soldiers & sailors!).
The Kingdom of Dumnonia – AD400-900
Following on from previous talks to us about the period of the Romans, Derek Gore returned to tell us about what happened afterwards. The first written references to a region called Dumnonia stemmed from AD540 & a King Constantine, with further mention in AD700 to King Geraint. The size of the kingdom is unknown though thought to at least include Devon & Cornwall. Archaeological evidence has been found of Eastern Mediterranean pottery – amphorae, perhaps originally containing wine, garum & olive oil. It was suggested that this was reserved for people of status.
There is further evidence of trading in writings by Procopius, with shipments of the above being exchanged for our exports of tin, copper, lead & pewter- & probably also slaves. Later on as the possible outbreaks of a plague restricted trade with the East, France (wines) & Germany (fine glass) began to feature. Again these were probably destined for the use of the kings & lords, not for ordinary people.
There is the question of where these important people lived. In the main it was reoccupied Iron Age hill forts – eg. Denbury , Defas & High Peak near Sidmouth. Remnants of amphorae have been found. Tintagel is another fine example of a fortified site of the period with defensive ditches. Latin inscriptions have been discovered on some of the buildings. Burial cists were also found on excavation of the nearby churchyard, with fragments of burnt animal bones & amphorae sherds. Some of this suggests eating & drinking fests on burial.
Iron & bronze artefacts were found at Bantham suggesting this was a port for exports & tin ingots unearthed at Mothecombe, plus remains of two buildings dated between AD450-650. Early mosaics also confirm existence of dwelling from this period. Early writings of Gildes show existence of churches, monasteries & bishops from this time – grants of land at Maker to Sherborne Abbey AD705 & the founding of a monastery at Fowey by St. Samson. These were Christians of status also evidenced by the existence of various Latin & Ogam inscribed stones, perhaps memorials or land boundary markers. This coincided with a large growth in big estates during this period & farming. There are many examples of drove roads & transhumance.
Clearly this was a time of change following the Roman occupation, but evidence has been found of an area perhaps then dominated by people like lords, kings & bishops, with a significant amount of trade between Dumnonia & the rest of Europe. A fascinating period.
The Bombing of Plymouth
Almost 100 members & friends crowded into the hall for our opening talk, with one of our own, Laurence Axworthy, entertaining them all with a superb collection of stories, enriched & brought to life with maps, photographs (old & new), news videos & wartime sounds. At times it almost felt that you were there, Laurie’s father certainly was.
It became clear that Plymouth had been identified as a good target very early on in the war & by July 1940 the first bombs had started to fall, North Prospect, Devonport & Cattedown all being hit in the first 2 weeks. By a month later most areas of the city had been hit with 000’s of magnesium incendiaries; the arrival of HMS Newcastle proving not to be much of a defence. 12 people were killed when the old workhouse – Ford House – was bombed & on the 25th September the first German plane was shot down. By mid October, 100 people had been killed after 120 air alerts.
The Sunderland flying boats arrived in November but huge oil tanks were hit at Oreston, the fires burning for days. 86 more died in the biggest raid so far in Jan 1941 as Hitler stepped up orders threatening invasion. In March a Royal visit, seen on the British Movietone newsreel, provided brief moral support to the city, though that very same night came the Blitz proper. Over the 2 nights more than 300 people died, 20,000 properties were destroyed/badly damaged at a cost of over £100million. Plymouth Pier, built in 1884 was one of the victims. People left the city in their 000’s, in all directions, sleeping rough in the countryside, with mobile canteens set up to help. There was a mutiny on the HMS Jackal when crew members refused to leave the port as their homes lay in ruins. A month later, 113 sailors were killed in the Dockyard & Mt. Edgcumbe House was burnt to the ground. A further 600 people died in more raids at the end of that month. Parachute bombs caused further huge damage & when PM Winston Churchill visited in May, he was said to be very distraught at all the deaths & the low morale. Plymouth then claimed to be the most bombed city in the country, further problems arising from the many unexploded bombs. Lady Astor sought to restore some spirits by arranging dancing on the Hoe & then in July 1941, the last bombs fell for 18 months.
In the summer of 1943 there were various hit & run raids particularly in the South Hams, several villages taking hits, though some planes were shot down. Defence batteries were built at Staddon Heights & Maker as the US troops started to arrive. Laurie ended his talk with an image from The Picture Post, dated 15th May 1945, a welcoming home shot featuring himself & his family. At times a very moving talk, it was greatly enhanced by Laurie’s use of the old newsreels, & of old & new photos, comparing bomb damaged houses of the time to present day, even showing adjacent trees that had survived & were still alive today. My summary here fails to do justice to this superb talk.
EVENTS 2013 :
Horses in Agriculture & Industry
Rounding off our 2013 Events programme was Gerald Williamson, owner of Harford Bridge Camping & Touring Park. Gerald recounted the history of the heavy horses “the gentle giants”, their use in armoured warfare throughout the Crusades, when oxen were used elsewhere as horses could not be spared. By 1910 though there were over 800,000 employed in agriculture, but by the end of WW2 they were very much under threat, the New Suffolk Punch in particular down to just 500.
From the mid 1700’s ponies were in great use in coal mines, though their treatment was less than satisfactory, those imported from the USA & Russia being treated much better. In 1911, following the Pit Ponies Charter there were 70,000 working deep underground in the mines, post WW1 this was down to 30,000 & the last pit ponies were retired in 1993. On the farm, horses were used to drive threshing machines, mechanical reapers & ploughs, often here with 8 in a line. As well as farming & mining, horses were also used to pull ambulances, furniture vans, milk delivery wagons & canal barges. They were also used in the Fire Service, by the RNLI to launch lifeboats, pulling bathing machines & hauling fish. Up to 1928 horses were used in the erection of telephone poles. This provided a lot of work for wagon makers, particularly in places like Bristol.
When steel rimmed wheels began to cause problems on the roads, granite setts were introduced, providing a new industry, particularly for Dartmoor. Many examples of the workmen’s benches, known as sett makers bankers, can be found, especially around the Staple Tors area. The granite was cut out & loaded onto horse drawn carts & tramways & new quarries were opened as the demand increased.
However, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, motorised transport & the railways, the disadvantages of horse drawn transport became exposed. It became obvious that the old methods were slow, costly & high maintenance & their places were taken over by huge machines capable of doing everything quicker & more efficiently. Sadly, the end of an era.
Gerald’s talk was accompanied by some superb images of the golden age of the horse, gone but not forgotten. He also owns a lovely collection of old horse drawn vehicles which are sometimes exhibited.
Lines Around Friary
To get the best impression of Bernard Mill’s talk it is wise to know something of the background of the speaker. Bernard describes himself on Twitter as a retired Railwayman with forty-four years service. This is true, but, he is also a railway enthusiast, author, a photographer of considerable talent, a railway archivist, an accomplished speaker and an entertainer with somewhat acerbic views of railway Management and ‘the Beeching Era’ and later Government Policies!
Such a background could only mean an entertaining evening. And so it was.
His talk was almost a preview of his latest book, soon to go to the publishers, and was a survey of the changes made on the railway lines around and into the city of Plymouth during the four decades of his working life. The ‘Then and Now’ of these changes by way of photographic evidence.
To illustrate the depth of detail of the talk, the first picture was of the 19.18 Plymouth to Exeter train Number 35874 about to leave from Platform 2&3 Plymouth station. Then, photos showing the station today and during the intervening years. With the many links to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as graphically shown in the previous Society talk on the Brunel railway bridge across the Tamar into Cornwall , Plymouth has had the railway at the very centre of its culture. Facts flowed. Lines, too numerous to mention here, fed the city’s commerce, industry and surrounding suburbs.
Goods trains, Royal Mail, passenger trains, even a police train carrying potential residents for Dartmoor Prison, provided regular services to and from the regions. Rail Tours by Ian Allan, aboard Train ‘ Plum Castle ’ (No: LNER4472) regularly visited the area and the Royal Train bringing some dignitary (possibly the Queen) came to the city, more than once. .
Much of this activity was duly recorded by Bernard Mills and shown to us with entertaining background description.
Even though the recording of the changes to the railways was of great interest, almost more important, was the capturing of the change to the city during the past forty odd years. Looking beyond the foreground train there is a multitude of detail. Old buildings, such as the Cooperative Warehouses, which should have been listed but were demolished to make way for ‘student flats’, North Quay now ‘Yuppie Land’, according to Bernard. Virginia Way , an area of highways and business parks was once a vast bustling railway terminus, with metal scrap yards, sidings and loading bays. In one photo a line of Stock cars are parked, ready for an evenings racing nearby. Other photos showed the differing amounts of traffic and types of cars most popular on the roads at the time. Ford ‘Escorts’ and ‘Prefects’ and little Hillman Estate cars with wooden frames brought back memories of days when a car could be parked in a street with plenty of space between it and the next one. Near the old Eye Hospital , people casually leaned on the fencing watching the trains go by. Ah, Nostalgia!
Thank goodness there are people like Bernard Mills with the talent, enthusiasm & love of their subject to record for future historians & our pleasure, this passing age.
Brunel’s Bridge – 150 years & on…………..
Our Autumn series of indoor events was kicked off in fine style by Peter Cook, Project Manager of Taziker Industrial, responsible for the £15million restoration work on the historic Tamar railway bridge. Opened in 1859, it was designed by the legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel & is often thought to be his greatest works. Centenary & 150 year anniversaries were celebrated & it still attracts sightseers & visitors from all over the world.
Extensive surveys were carried out on the river bed before construction began with nearly 200 borings conducted. A 90ft tall iron cylinder was built to form the work base for the central piers & floated into the middle of the river on 4 pontoons. Water was pumped out, mud excavated & a solid masonry pier built clear of the water. Landward piers were built on the Cornwall side first & girders & spans were hoisted up on floating rafts, followed then by the trusses. The lower ties of these took the form of chains made up of 20 foot links (some of which had been destined for the Clifton Suspension Bridge). Heavy trains ran across the 2,200ft long structure when completed & it passed its Board of Trade tests on 20th April 1859, being described as “highly satisfactory”. Brunel died later that year aged just 53. The single track line was converted from broad to standard gauge in 1892.
Peter went on to describe the many repairs & “improvements” carried out especially in the 20th century. These included cracks & strengthening works, but also necessary repairs after taking a hit from enemy action in 1941 & damage from a HMS Roberts collision in 1950. The current refurbishment contract, employing 69 staff on a 24 hour schedule, consists of repairs, tensioning, cleaning & painting & is split into phases to ease the loadings on the suspended access scaffolds. These are a special HAKI system of lightweight components – 33% lighter than normal – that click together, also incorporating a containment system which can be raised & lowered like blinds depending on wind speeds, which are regularly monitored. Timbers have been erected alongside the track bed to facilitate around the clock working without disrupting train services.
Cleaning is carried out by grit blasting, a particularly noisy & dirty job, taking the surfaces back to bare metal, sometimes involving removing more than 10 coats of old lead based paint. All the dust from this process is collected by a huge vacuum retrieval system & taken off site to landfill & the air is constantly refreshed & filtered to remove contaminants. Acoustic barriers are employed using encapsulation & rockwool to minimise noise & regular H&S, noise & pollution checks are carried out. The Goose Grey colour 3-coat paint system (based on that used for the Forth Rail Bridge) has a life expectancy of 25 years.
Another major part of the project is further strengthening of the structure & steelwork repairs, with nearly 6,000 already carried out. Interestingly, the lower diagonal bracing installed in the 1960’s & 70’s as an improvement, has now been removed as being redundant – this has taken the design back to Brunel’s original! The programme is expected to be complete by the end of December. The refurbishment of the approaches to the bridge may have to wait for further funding.
An excellent start to our autumn events which Peter supplemented by giving away some physical examples of redundant materials & superb photographic images, some of which appear below.
A walk around the Burrator/Sheepstor area
A very large turnout of 56 members & friends enjoyed an evening stroll from Burrator Dam to Longstone Manor & Sheepstor Church. Our chairman started off by informing us of the extensive history & industry of the area, including tin mining, farming, forestry, leisure & tourism, old railways and of course water.
Going back 400 years saw the building of the Plymouth or Drake’s Leat. Taking water off the River Meavy it was an 18.5 mile channel dug mainly by the miners, taking 4 months to complete at a cost of £500, which included a nice little profit for Sir Francis Drake who was in charge of the project. This was followed in 1898 by a further 21 mile leat taking waters from the West Dart to cope with demand from the rapidly expanding town of Dock, now Devonport. Although these leats are now eclipsed by the reservoir, they can still be traced & followed today in large stretches particularly on Roborough Down, where clearance works have been carried out.
By the late 19th century water was even more in demand & the Burrator gorge was damned & the reservoir constructed over 5 years, by 300 local men, at a cost of almost £200k. 20 years later it was further expanded & the dam heightened pushing capacity up to the present 4.2 million litres. A temporary suspension bridge was built during the extension phase to divert traffic. We passed the Beara Rock & down onto the “beach”, now very walkable with the reservoir down to 63% of its capacity. Here we saw signs of the old road across the gorge where under the waters lurk the old arched bridge. The track could be traced again as we walked through the trees & across the Sheepstor Dam.
Further trackways could be seen along the shore line & in the area close to Longstone manor, the old seat of the Elfords. Dating back to at least 1633, the ruins are now fenced off, though there are several items of interest here, including old troughs, apple press & windstrew. The manor was originally fed by its own leat, but was abandoned in 1898. South West Lakes Trust do have plans to carry out some conservation works in the near future.
A gentle walk through the woods took us to the site of the Park Cottage Inn, an 8-roomed pub in the 1890’s, catering for the miners, farmers & dam workers. A lively place no doubt for the landlord Josias Nelder, who gives him name to the approach lane, it was eventually purchased by Plymouth Corporation, who promptly closed it down & demolished it in the 1920’s.
A full moon over the church greeted us as we arrived at Sheepstor, quite a bit later than planned. Here, we were given a very lucid & informative talk by Mike Williams, on the history of the Brookes – the Rajahs of Sarawak. A splendid pink Aberdeen granite tomb marks the resting place of the first White Rajah, Sir James Brooke who had lived in the nearby Burrator House after his retirement. The other rajahs Charles & Charles Vyner & other members of the family are also buried close by. Inside the 15th century church dedicated to St. Leonard, Richard Bayly explained some of its history & features, all of which warrant a more detailed visit. A proposed pop in to the grounds of Burrator House had to be postponed as we made our way back through the darkening lanes.
Many thanks to Mike & Richard for their very concise & informative talks, especially given the reduced time available to them!
Also duly recorded are the trials of a photographer endeavouring to capture a record of a place now covered in overgrown trees, bushes and concrete? Standing in the middle of Virginia Way to get the picture you want must have been daunting!
A visit to the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter
14 members made the trip & enjoyed a behind the scenes look at the work done & information available at the new combined Westcountry Studies Library & Devon Records Office, officially launched in the Autumn of 2012. Any thoughts of tiny rooms & dusty shelves piled high with old records, difficult to find, were soon put to one side, as we entered large airy areas with high tech equipment & well organised filing systems.
Brian Carpenter (Community & Education Development Officer) guided us through the maze of large rooms, starting with the map room. Card index systems facilitate initial searches by subject, place & personal names & wills, leading to shelves of more detailed files. Huge tables enable big parchment documents such as tithe maps to be rolled out & looked at in detail. Within a few minutes the group were already dispersed around the room with heads in folders, an old map of Dartmoor proving particularly interesting. Every now & again the quiet was interrupted by oohs & aahs as someone discovered a promising record.
Moving very much behind the scenes we entered the strongrooms of records, 7 in total all fire protected & climate controlled, vast corridors of shelves, many on rollers which make best of space – easy to get lost in here which one of our members almost did! This is where the staff come to when copies of records are requested in the map room. Some of the maps kept here need 2 people to carry – they are so large. We passed through the backroom – maybe should be called the backlog room – where records donated start their life waiting to be sorted. Finally we came into the digitisation & conservation areas, high tech rooms with very specialised equipment & highly trained staff, demonstrating the painstaking processes. Some income is earned by the Centre through commercial restoration works.
14 permanent staff & around 20 volunteers maintain the whole centre – a mammoth task- excellent work being carried to collect, restore & protect a huge number of all sorts of records, including now books & journals from the Westcountry Studies Library. Refreshments are also available in an annexe room. This was a fascinating visit thanks to Brian & the staff & is a must place to while away the hours, for anyone interested in local or family research.
An Exploration of Ringmoor Down
The first outdoor event of the summer kicked off in fine style from Ringmoor Cott with warm sunshine and hardly a breath of air. Liz Miall led 40 members and friends over Ringmoor Down aka Brisworthy Ball accompanied by skylarks, meadow pipits, a lapwing and midges! She explained that the down, part of the Maristow Estate, probably owed its name to lending itself well to riding, Ringmoor being a corruption of “Rydemoredon” rather than to the well known stone circle or “ring”.
The geology of this area, being on the edge of the granite batholith is a mixture of granite and slatey border rock, (the metamorphic aureole), indeed the highest point of the down, the aptly named Round Hill (350m) where the trig point is situated, comprises this slatey border rock and contrasts with the nearby Gutter Tor which is a classic granite tor.
As we ascended the down Liz explained that the military use this area for dry training and their use here dates back to the Autumn Manoeuvres of 1853. We crossed an ancient prehistoric boundary reave known as the Eylesbarrow reave which stretches from Eylesbarrow to Wigford Down following the watershed between the Plym and the Meavy and forming an ancient land division.
Arriving at the head of Legis Lake and the first of three medieval farmsteads, we were able to identify two longhouse structures with clear entrances, an outshot and garden plots, the smaller of the two may well pre-date the larger. From here we walked south to the confusing remains of a second farmstead plus a good example of a corn ditch wall – a boundary between farmed land and the open moor which was reserved by the king for deer hunting and which was constructed in such a way as to deter deer from entering the fields, but if they did they could jump out with comparative ease.
After crossing Legis Lake (lake is a Dartmoor term for stream or brook) and observing the remains of tinning here, we made our way to the final medieval farmstead where longhouse, courtyard and barn are identifiable.
Liz then showed us an excellent example of a nearby cist complete with all side stones and large capstone. Cists or kistvaens are bronze age burial tombs; it is likely that this one held cremated remains contained within an earthenware vessel. Over 180 cists are known on Dartmoor although there are likely to be more yet to be discovered.
Our final stop was at the cairn circle and stone row. 11 stones are standing at the cairn circle which, with the row, was described by Hugh Breton in the early 1900’s as “a merely misleading self memorial reared by unrestrained enthusiasm”, referring to what is believed to be an inaccurate restoration of the time. Nevertheless, it is an impressive monument and the return stroll along the 369m long row as the sun dipped below the horizon was a pleasant end to the walk.
Many thanks to Liz for the above summary & also for a very enjoyable & informative walk.
The Lesser Known Tors of Dartmoor
Tors have been described as granite masses or prominent rocks, many of which are named on the OS maps. Tim Jenkinson however continues his quest to discover those that are not on maps & maybe are not named or even documented. In his A-Z talk, Tim led us on a voyage of discovery around 40 of the ones he has found.
He kicked off with Ashbury Tor with its curious “roman chair” – reportedly a good lunch spot, Blackey or Colden Tor & logan stone (one that rocks) & Brent Hill – upon which is a OS trig point, a small ruined chapel & a balanced large rock. The well hidden Burra Tor sits in the wood over the dam of the same name, beneath it lies an old workman’s hut, probably a relic from the dam builders. On the opposite side of the valley sits Claig Tor above the much quarried Yennadon Crags. Cadworthy Tor sits high above the Plym on Wigford Down sporting 2 fine examples of quartz veins.Amongst the curiously named there’s Cathanger Rock on Corndon Down, Figgie Daniel, Wooder Goyle , Gibby Combe & Lowton Borough Rocks. The small pile on Cator Common appears to have no name, whilst the rocks on Broad Down (or Broadun) seem to be in different locations depending on what book you read. Near to Devil’s Tor there is another small pile of rocks with no name – this looks more like a tor than its neighbour! Smearn Down (Smeardon) has several unnamed rocks on its summit as does Meldon Hill, one of which has a trig point with a memorial plaque. Rowden Tor is another with a plaque to J.W. Malim who wrote “The Romance of Dartmoor” book in 1935.Some tors have “little” associates eg. Little Longaford, Hare & Hay. There is actually a Little Tor which Eric Hemery described as an happy afterthought of nature, to relieve the bareness of the long featureless ridge. Over Tor at Merrivale possesses Mrs. Bray’s hand basin on its summit. Latchell Tor near Manaton, Vag Hill Rocks & Wells Tor are other examples of tors which perhaps do not get the acclaim they deserve.And there are many more examples of rocks, some of them surely deserving of the Tor appendage, hidden away in woods & other out of the way places. The fun is finding them. Tim’s talk with his excellent slides certainly excites one enough to keep looking. There is a question as to who gives a tor a name if it doesn’t have one – could it be you?
The Mariners’ Way
John Risdon (Chairman of Galmpton LHS) started his talk explaining how foreign trade blossomed after the Armada, particularly between Devon & the US. However, so did the problems with Barbary pirates who regularly plundered the return cargoes of both goods & slaves, around the South West coast. It was because of these dangers & the hazardous rugged coastline that ships often unloaded at Bideford & crew members made their own way across Devon to the port of Dartmouth, hoping to catch a new ship – a route of 80 miles.In 2008 John & a friend attempted to trace the route the mariners would have taken, raising money for the RNLI on the way. His talk was accompanied by superb images of their journey, interspersed with interesting humorous & historical anecdotes. The starting point was Bideford, a very influential port in Elizabethan times thanks to people like Raleigh & Grenville. This led them along the Tarka Trail (Henry Williamson country, a disused railway now part of National Cycle Route no.27) following the Torridge & into Torrington. Despite their frustrations at being unable to find anywhere open for a cup of tea, they carried on through the ball clay areas of the Culm Measures into Hatherleigh, an original Saxon town (originally part of the Buckland Abbey estate) , still busy with its traditional sheep & cattle market.After following the River Okement, they diverted to Okehampton, before travelling on through Belstone & then the Taw Valley to Sticklepath & South Zeal – here unusually for the trip so far, they found somewhere busy with a welcome stop at the local post office for coffee! Continuing on past an overgrown red telephone box into Throwleigh with its historic green lanes & the hamlet of Wonson – the pub here having adapted an old horse box as a smoking shelter. Coming into the area of the Teign, the Mariners Way starts to be marked for the first time with finger posts. A crossing of the East Bovey yielded a ford, stepping stones & a clapper bridge. John’s route took them past the historic 16th century longhouse at Lettaford onto the fringes of the moor & the delightful, undisturbed farm of West Coombe – here the Mariners Way is signed as going through the barn with its granite drinking trough on the wall – clearly a place of rest for weary travellers heading across the county.A roast mutton & red wine supper awaited our modern twosome at Lower Hookner, before another diversion across Hameldon, through Heathercombe & along the West Webburn to Ponsworthy. Then at last the final major river of the journey – the Dart, to Newbridge (& the inevitable ice cream) & Holne to Buckfastleigh. From the high moor above, the sea was in sight. Spurning the main roads, they continued along the lanes to Dartington & into Totnes with its 19th century Regency bridge. Here they did probably what the mariners of old would have done & caught a boat to the destination of Dartmouth.Today, not much of the Way is physically signed or annotated on maps & very little seems to be known about the sailors who travelled its length. It is likely that some of them had homes & maybe even wives & girlfriends along the way to break the journey, but some of them may have travelled the whole route quickly across the county in search of their next job of work. John & his friend covered the route in 5 days raising £800 for the RNLI – his story made for an excellent talk.
Devon Bench Ends
Dr. Todd Gray returned to our fold with what he described as one of his most difficult research projects to date. Covering over 2,500 carvings & their associated social history, he had visited all the 463 churches in Devon & also consulted numerous parish & church court records, many of which had been damaged in the Exeter Blitz & therefore hard to read. Devon is one of the leading centres in the country for these carved bench ends, mostly made of oak, with 125 churches still possessing the benches (often called sedges).He explained how attending church on Sundays was compulsory (before the Civil War) & people were seated according to their public status, the higher the status the more comfortable the seats, some sitting on just forms & stools towards the rear of the church, others benefitting from designer benches at the front. Thus, they served as identifiers of ownership, some even having their owner’s initials or coats of arms engraved on them. Amazingly, every church has different designs for their bench ends, carved only by local Devon men, early images including the head of a Red Indian, a Bishop with his tongue sticking out, & other curious faces. It was noted also that gravestones & roof bosses were completely different to the bench designs.Designs vary enormously, from the mythological to the evangelist symbols of lions & bears, to snakes, frogs & angels, plain gothic tracery in East Devon & ornate Victorian in Buckland Monachorum. Mid Devon benches show humorous warped images & faces, figures in acrobatic poses, angels with bat wings & dinosaurs. North of Dartmoor we see depictions of The Passion of Christ with saints, nailed feet & vinegar sponges, all possibly associated with the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549. Clearly local village art & traditions played a huge part in the designs, & trades such as farmers & ship merchants & their tools evidenced in the variety. Special marks can often be seen on the benches representing the tools used by the different craftsmen, of whom we know little.Todd ended his talk expressing concern that with the modernisation of churches, these superb examples of local craftsmanship & cultures are fast disappearing – very few counties are left with the evidence of this part of our heritage.Once again Todd entertained us with his in depth knowledge & fascination with a subject not many others would attempt to discover & he did not disappoint. The number, variety & quality of the questions from the audience at the end were a product of the interest that he had stirred up in his talk.
The Remarkable Story of the Warren House Inn
Dr. Tom Greeves continued our Spring programme with a lively & informative talk to a packed hall of around 90 members & friends. He started by talking about the importance of the area because of the tinworkings of Vitifer, Golden Dagger & other mines & the associated rabbit warrens at Headland & Soussons. There may also have been an historic connection with King Arthur because of the site known as King’s Oven.The earliest reference to a public house here was the New House in 1765, the first recorded lessee being William Tapper in 1786. Tom related the famous story of the traveller waking up to a corpse in his room, only to find it was father who had died & been salted down & preserved, waiting for a break in the snowy conditions to get him buried. Jonas Coaker, the self styled Dartmoor Poet, who had worked at Powder Mills, was the last landlord from 1834-45, though he well may have stayed on for a while when the pub moved across the road. No photos exist of this original building though some traces of associated fields etc can still be seen. Reports of a fire that destroyed the old inn have not been fully accepted by historians, nor have the lively stories of the burning embers being carried across the road to the fire that has never gone out! It was in 1845 that John Wills built the new inn, a plaque commemorating this is still on the wall. The new inn for a short time was also called the Warreners & then the Moreton.Photos of the new inn started to emerge in 1895 & Tom produced superb images of the various landlords & the lively characters, mostly miners, that became involved in the life of the surrounding area & activities at the inn. One of the earliest tenants was Tommy Hext who was infamous for watering down his beer, but nevertheless stayed put for nearly 40 years. Because of its clientele, the pub witnessed lots of drunken brawls & incidents, one miner reportedly attacking the nearby Bennetts Cross in a fit of rage.There were other dwellings nearby including the bungalow of Moses Bawden, who was the manager of Devon Great Consols mine in 1875; later used as accommodation for his daughter, it was demolished in 1976. Cape Horn was the local name for a series of bungalows just along the road, home to various mining families – little signs remain today. William Toop Stephens, aka Billy Buck, was the landlord in the 1920’s though his reign ended tragically when he committed suicide in 1929. His wife carried on the tenancy with the help of their children, but a couple of years later both her sons were killed in separate road traffic accidents. It was taken over in 1931 by Arthur Hurn who had attended Oxford with the Prince of Wales & looked after his ponies at one time. Harry Warne known as Silver Top was another permanent fixture at the pub, often much to the disappointment of his hard pressed family. Further images of these old characters & their families & the humorous accompanying stories followed.As motor traffic increased, so did trade & a tea rooms was established opposite the inn in the 1950’s. The pub was refurbished in the 1960’s & Peter Parsons has been the landlord since 1988. The legend that the fire has never gone out still attracts countless visitors to this remarkable inn, the highest in Southern England at over 1,400 ft. Its remoteness has led to some interesting wintry experiences evidenced by some dramatic snowy images. Tom’s own superb collection of photographs & lively tales made this another entertaining evening. Further information can be obtained from Tom Greeves & Elisabeth Stanbrook’s book on the same subject.
RAF Harrowbeer – The Story so Far
Stephen (“Wing Commander!”) Fryer, ably supported by wife Claire & her amusing anecdotes, produced a very entertaining & informative start to our new programme, with a talk containing superb historical images of the airfield & surrounding area, plus video footage of various events, interspersed with amusing Spitfire Ale advertisements. Stephen in fact kicked off with the sound of a Spitfire emanating from a bottle opener!He explained that Harrowbeer was chosen as an airfield ahead of two other sites at Chelson Meadow & Roborough, the name chosen to avoid confusion with Yeovilton. Fascinating images followed of the old road layouts & some of the buildings that were altered (The Parade) or demolished to make way eg. Udal Torre (TB sanitorium) & the Moor House Hotel (a named stone sits in the Leg O’Mutton car park).Reminders of how the airfield once looked were displayed in pictures of the old parachute store & one of the recently opened up dispersal bay shelters, from which 12 tons of rubble were removed to provide access. Stephen also mentioned the decoy airfield near Clearbrook where some of the blocks supporting the ground lights can still be found. The crews were billeted in various locations around the area & after the war these were used as emergency housing, deemed to be quite luxurious & much sought after.With around 2,000 personnel on site at its height, the airfield was very busy, as shown in the superb images of the different squadrons & their aircraft. It was also a pioneering site for air/ sea rescue, home to the Walrus seaplane whose crew used to train at the Moorland Links Hotel swimming pool – a Pathe News film illustrating the hazardous nature of these operations. After the war a threat to create a new Plymouth airport on the site came to nought & the airfield was demolished, images of which were shown.More stories (Killy’s patch), images & films celebrated visits by the Duke of Kent & President Harry Truman & various characters from the squadrons. Polish & Czechs were among the 40 or more squadrons that operated at times from Harrowbeer, the name of Frank Mares standing out as one of their most famous figures, being the first Czech to be awarded the DFM. A colour film followed showing Frank & other members of the Czech squadrons receiving their medals.
EVENTS 2012 : Arthurian Landscapes – putting myth & history in their place
Andrew Thompson concluded our events for this year with his tales of intrigue regarding the legendary king. The earliest reference to Arthur was in the Welsh Annals in AD518 & he was thought to have been a Christian War leader fighting the Saxons who died at Camlan in AD539. Geoffrey of Monmouth developed the story further with his “History of the Kings”, published in 1139, with Tintagel established as Arthur’s birthplace, & the first mention of his father Luther of Pendragon & Merlin. Interestingly he mentions a castle there which wasn’t actually built until 100 years later.Stories abound of Arthur’s tomb being discovered at Glastonbury Abbey though this later disappeared. In the Great Hall at Winchester Cathedral exists a round table which has been dated to the 12th/ 13th century, the inset Tudor Rose looking suspiciously like Henry V111, who was thought to have had it repaired in his likeness in order to claim lineage. Other kings used the legend for their own purposes over the years perpetuating the myth, though interest waned in the late medieval period. Tintagel in Cornwall lays claim to a lot of the history surrounding Arthur, writers & poets like Tennyson reviving interest in the many romantic stories, including Loe Bar near Helston being suggested as The Lake of Excalibur connections. Thus in the 19th century, Trevenna became the Tintagel tourist attraction based on the legend. A hotel was built on the clifftop as a proposed rail terminus, though this never happened. Andrew focussed attention on the “island” fortifications. Excavations here in the 20th century discovered a huge ditch with unearthed pottery dating from the 5th & 7th centuries, suggesting that the site could have originally been a Celtic monastery. Further finds of unusual glass ware & artefacts from Africa & the Med. suggested it was also an important & very rich post Roman site & was heavily occupied. There are still many remains to be explored at the site, including castle ramparts, gatehouse, courtyard & the Great Hall, with various contradictions in building styles adding to the mystery, though the area is suffering from continous erosion. In 1953, the Order of the Knights of the Round Table was formed in the remains of the Great Hall, which today has over 117,000 members. Modern academics however suggest Arthur did not exist. Tintagel though still holds dear to the romance & historic legends & Andrew’s superb talk did nothing to dispel the excitement & fascination of this topic.
The Domesday Book in Devon & Cornwall
Terry Faull kicked off by talking about life before the Book, starting with the period under the Celts. Place names then typically began with “Tre” meaning farmstead & “Caer” or “Ker” in Cornwall. As Anglo Saxons took over, names changed to “Ton”,”Cot” & “Worthy”. They were great administrators setting up burghs such as Barnstaple, Lydford & Totnes – the first “book lands” or charters being granted, with accompanying maps, such as that shown by Terry of Meavy, dated 1031. The land was defended with earthworks manned by the villagers.After 1066 things changed rapidly as the Normans put down the various rebellions & extended their influence across the country. They were great builders, destroying houses to build their motte & bailey castles. Lands in Devon were granted by William to his loyal supporters, including Sheriff Baldwin, the Bishop of Exeter, scant remains of his summer palace still exist in Kingsteignton. However, by 1086 William needed extra funds to finance his conquering activities & decided to set up the “Great Survey” – a record of taxable properties. Circuits were established & commissioners appointed to travel around the country recording details of the lands, including land names, owners, size, number of inhabitants, acreage, mills, values & – most importantly, proposed taxes. This was the first time that place names had been written down & the survey was not without its difficulties. They were conducted in Norman French, written down by a clerk in Latin, further complicated by the interpretation from the various local dialects of the people surveyed. Size & acreage were determined using measures such as hides & ploughs, referring to how much land was worked by oxen. The vast majority of inhabitants in Devon & Cornwall were referred to as “slaves”, meaning they did not own any property or land. All the details were written on parchment in black ink with a goose quill pen – one scribe wrote the whole Book.There were many omissions – Dartmoor was not mentioned, no castles or mines were included & there were few churches, but it established a pattern of the English countryside, recording the land under plough & the roads, tracks & lanes – it was unique to England. Unfortunately, William died just a year later in 1087, before he could use it.The Domesday Book name originates from the rule that it could not be challenged until the end of time ie. “Dooms”day. It was held to be law until 1960. 3 original copies are still held in the British Library.
The Clapper Bridges of Dartmoor
A lively & entertaining talk by John Stuart started off our autumn series of events. Based on his book of the same name, John’s talk was far from a list of the bridges, being accompanied by stunning photographs, associated tales & the odd vernacular quotes! The word clapper means flat stone, the bridges often consisting of a single slab supported , by their own weight across all sorts of waterways, on imposts. John has visited over 200 of these on the moor. He mentioned how surprised he was at times at how many can be found in one small area.A good example of this was on the Teign & nearby Walla Brook, a classic single span specimen at Teign-a-Ver having been repaired by DNPA, another downstream held together by iron bands & more upstream on the Gidleigh leat. Not far away is one of the largest clappers on the moor en route to the derelict Teignhead farm. The most famous & most visited bridges are probably at Postbridge (nearly always someone on it), Dartmeet & Bellever. The last mentioned is unusual in having no evidence of a central slab, but slots cut into one of the piers suggest previous existence of wooden poles, perhaps to support a temporary crossing; one of the slabs is supported on only one small pebble. The many leats on the moor also contain significant numbers of clappers, made for carts, sheep & in the warrens – rabbits. These include leats such as Powdermills (gunpowder factory) , Grimstone & Sortridge (serving the manor houses), Devonport & Drake (city), Wheal Emma (mining). John punctuated his excellent images with stories (some pixie led – Fice’s Well!) & another one regarding the finger wagging Martha Witchalse who ended up accidentally killing her own son.Other excellent examples of variations of types of clapper were illustrated showing the one on the Cowsic (the longest), Fernworthy Reservoir when the tides out ! (2003), Harbourneford (complete with railings), Cross Furzes (with date carving) & Foxworthy (big one). The others are too numerous to mention here, best to go out & look for yourself – John’s talk (& book) certainly whets the appetite – an excellent opening to our Autumn season.
Exploring Historical Lydford
Dr Tom Greeves led 35 members & friends around the village, exploring its important ancient historical remains. He explained that the village was enclosed in the 9th Century, probably by King Alfred, as a defence against the marauding Vikings. Visible remains exist today of the old Saxon lanes, gateways & fortifications. The walk took us along & onto some of the turf ramparts & sunken holloways, some of which have been excavated in the past, yielding other walls & ditches. A Saxon holy spring can still be seen down one of the lanes.Tom explained the importance of Lydford, once seen as the capital of the Moor, with its own mint in the late 10th/ early 11th centuries, one of only 40 such mints in the whole country. It was said that 1million silver pennies had been made & only 400 have since been discovered, mostly in Sweden. Silver to make the coins probably came from the mines near Bere Alston, though some deposits have been found in Lydford Gorge.Passing behind the church of St. Petroc (a Celtic saint to whom the Devon Flag is dedicated), we visited the late 11th century Norman ringworks or fort. Excavations here have revealed traces of 5 rectangular buildings (including timber post holes) packed with charred remains of rye & oats, suggesting that this had once been used as a food storage depot.Our final stop was at the “Castle”. This was built in 1195 as a royal prison for French prisoners of war. In the 13th century, the present mound was created & a stone keep was built on the walls of the earlier building, forcing the original prison below ground level, very dim & devoid of natural light. The surrounding bailey had an enclosed courtyard, with stables & other outbuildings. One peculiarity inside was the existence of a 33 feet deep well, now covered in. In 1305 it became a Stannary prison & many tinners & others were tried & convicted by the Stannary Courts & spent miserable times here. In the damp & gloomy interior, Tom related many eye witness accounts & stories of people who had had to endure life in what was considered as a hell hole. Famous was the said Lydford Law –I’ve often hear of Lydford law, How in the morn they hang and draw, And sit in judgement after…………..During the English Civil War, Sir Richard Grenville used it as an oubliette to imprison parliamentary soldiers. It was considered then as one of the harshest prisons in the realm & many died within its walls.Thanks to Tom for a walk which did well to capture the atmosphere of times past.
Tavistock – an historical town walk
Alex Mettler, competing vocally with the church bells & a surprising amount of traffic, led us around some of the more hidden & unnoticed parts of the town. Starting at the now empty Abbey Court buildings, Alex explained how the town’s history was forged by first the Abbots & then the Dukes of Bedford & the coming of the turnpikes & railways. The superb buildings standing in the shadow of the 7th Duke’s statue, constructed of rubblestone & local Hurdwick stone, now look somewhat jaded with an uncertain future.We paused at the Abbey Bridge, widened in 1850, & the seemingly idle leaf collecting machine by the weir, before taking a rare & privileged peek inside the chapel, originally the Abbot’s lodging house. Now used as a storeroom, it was also once a dairy for the Bedford Hotel, the original connecting door still visible, but blocked off. The hotel itself has several interesting features including the ballroom (designed by John Foulston), the old stables & the remains of the Abbey walls.The part ruined gatehouse known as Betsy Grimbal’s tower is a fascinating structure worth pausing for a longer look, whilst across the road stands the first Grammar school, built in 1835, a little bit of fame due to W.H.Smith having schooled there. On then to the Wharf & the Canal, the brainchild of John Taylor. Here, once stood a granary, offices & limekilns, many of the buildings still preserved today – the canal itself still running all the way to Morwellham, having been used for the transportation of ore & other materials.Walking on down West Street, Alex pointed out its 5-storey houses & terraced cottages & old coaching inns, including the Cornish Arms & Browns Hotel. He explained how Market Street, with its exceptionally fine Corn Market building , was once a busy thriving market area, with numerous pubs standing side by side, to quench the thirst of throngs of stallholders & their punters. We passed by the incongrous Co-Op building, but noted the remains of Hunts Malthouse at the rear with a wheelpit still visible.Near the Ordulf Arms, once the Temperance Hotel, we were reminded of how the road levels have been changed over the years to accommodate modern traffic requirements, looking down at the old cobbled streetway known as Post Office Lane. Finally arriving back at Duke Street, Alex related how this was once a huge area of slums , but had been cleared & rebuilt in the 19th century by the 6th Duke. Today, many of these fine buildings still stand as a testimony to his foresight.
Milton Combe – a village walk
Richard (Dick) White’s interesting & informative stroll around the village (not in the rain!), accompanied by around 50 members & friends, is almost impossible to describe adequately here in print. Richard has lived in the village all his life & his historical knowledge & anecdotes would have best been captured on audio. Sometimes affectionately known as the Mayor of Milton Combe, he is a popular figure often in the past seen travelling around the parish on his old tractor.On this night, he was in his element, describing incidents from the past as if they were yesterday. Stories about the buildings & the village characters (including some of the animals) enthralled his audience.The walk wended its way from the WW2 memorial, once the site of the men’s reading room, past the pub, the strange name supposedly referring to the landlord’s amazement at being granted a full licence. A peek inside the church & more stories outside the village hall were some of the highlights, though these are too numerous to mention. Richard remembered the paraffin flavoured sweets from Auntie Reddicliffe’s shop, one of 3 in the past, along with a tea room. He also recalled with amusement how the cows on their way through the village, to & from milking, would munch the conveniently placed hanging baskets on cottage walls.All in all, an excellent evening, many thanks to “Dick” for his amazing recollections, both amusing & historically informative.
Myths & Legends of Dartmoor
Tom Soby’s alternative title of Miffs & Leg-Ends set the scene for a somewhat humorous look at many of the sites on the Moor, which are the subject of sometimes creepy facts & tales. He kicked off with a series of cartoon type drawings, originally created by Edward Andrews, relating the brief history of man’s presence on the moor.Sherlock Holmes & the legendary Grimpen Mire with the baying hound of the Baskervilles was a good starting point for his tales, followed by the story of Squire Cabell of Buckfastleigh, a notorious & much disliked hunter, also with a pack of savage hounds. He’s now safely interred in a lead coffin, in a very impressive, impregnable tomb with a slab on the top to stop him escaping! Then to the doctor who lost control of his motor bike on the bridge near Powdermills, claiming that a pair of hairy hands had grabbed the handlebars, and some years later an army man was thrown off his bike in similar circumstances. The road layout was subsequently altered & the Hairy Hands disappeared….though a Silas Sleep did have a scare one night with something furry knocking on his caravan window. Packs of hounds featured again in the tale of Bob Bowerman, his “Nose” supposedly the result of him being turned to stone after his dogs had chased & annoyed the local witches. Not far away is Jay’s Grave, the resting place of Kitty Jay – an unmarried suicide victim, spurned by her lover & the community because she became pregnant & was thus buried at the crossroads. The legend persists to this day of how fresh flowers (& sometimes coins) always mysteriously appear on her grave.Some odd enclosed fields near the Warren House Inn called the playing cards because of their shape harbour another tale involving the Devil & a certain infamous card playing Jan Reynolds. It seems the Devil came looking for him one day at Widecombe church causing the roof to cave in during a storm, 4 people dying with several injured. Jan was carried off but dropped his winning hand of aces onto the moor below. A poem about the event written by Richard Hill is on the wall inside the church.Tom went on to relate many more stories from around the moor visiting the eerie stunted oaks of Wistmans Wood; Lydford Castle & its unique brand of law “hang ’em in the morning, try them in the afternoon”; Brentor Church – built by a rich merchant, in gratitude for being saved at sea by his prayers; the Nine Maidens of Belstone (possibly a bronze age stone circle!) or ladies turned to stone for dancing nude on a Sunday; plus tales about Benji at Cranmere Pool, the healing qualities of the Teign tolmen stone, the Grey Wethers “sheep”, salting down father at the Warren House Inn, the hidden depths of Crazywell Pool, Spinsters Rock, Childe’s Tomb & Snaily House.Thanks to Tom for an unusual look at the huge amount of fascinating places on our Moor.
Dartmoor’s Pioneer Photographs of the 1860’s & 1870’s
Dr. Tom Greeves stepped in as an excellent substitute for our planned speaker who unfortunately was ill. Tom produced a talk accompanied by superb images from some of the early pioneer photographers – self styled “photographists” – which were astonishing in terms of quality for the time. This was the time when the well known Dartmoor author William Crossing was just a teenager, but reflected the moor that he came to know so well.Francis Bedford was one such photographer, a man of national repute, he stored images on stereo cards, producing an almost 3D effect of great composition, depth & quality. The back of these cards were used to advertise other services for photographs from all over the world, under the wonderful name of the Stereo Depot & Artists Depository! There was often a male figure in the background of the photo thought perhaps to be his son; Haytor Rocks, Hound Tor & the Nutcracker stone featured in early scenes, plus the long gone New House Inn, near Rippon Tor. William Merrifield from Tavistock was another keen artist photographing the Duke of Bedford’s slum clearances & pictures of Roos Tor – remarkable for the fact that it was a long way to carry all the heavy gear needed at that time.An image of Hunters Tor in Teign Gorge & the surrounding slopes before the building of Castle Drogo, brought home how much the vegetation has changed over the years, a similar scene being impossible to copy today. An amusing image of a a man crawling under the logan rock on the River Teign & a lone disconsolate looking fisherman again emphasised the superb composition of the scenes. Francis Frith was one of the next photographers to make his mark & there are many books available today featuring his work – Holy Street Mill in Chagford a favourite of his, along with Fingle Mill (wheel burnt down in the 1890’s).Tom showed numerous other images, many of the subjects of which are long gone – Chagford Woollen factory for example. Also fascinating were the pictures of the 1873 Army manoeuvres on Yennadon, images of the soldiers’ cookery, fresh meat hanging ready for the pot, & a glimpse of the original Dartmoor horse drawn tramway track in the background, along with the massive tented encampment. Other images including those of a wedding perfectly illustrated the costumes & fashions of the day, particularly the variety of hats worn by men!Finally, the stunning image of Brunel’s original wooden railway viaduct across the Walkham, soon to be replaced by the modern Gem Bridge cycleway, brought gasps from the audience, as did that of the original single span Meldon viaduct.All in all, a superb collection of these early images was brought to life by Tom, illustrating how skilful & determined these pioneers must have been, both in terms of moving their heavy equipment to fairly remote locations – often by use of special carts – & by their insight, skills & patience into how to build up a good photograph.
Sale of the Century – the Day the Duke of Bedford sold Tavistock
Gerry Woodcock defined the year 1911 as an End of an Era for Tavistock. From the year 976 the town had been provided for by the Benedictine monks of Tavistock Abbey, until the Dissolution of 1539. From then on, for almost 400 years, the Russell family as the Earls & Dukes of Bedford, became the benefactors of the town, despite living most of the time at Woburn Abbey.Following changes from the 1909 “People’s Budget” which had major implications for supertax & death duties, Herbrand the 11th Duke announced his intention to sell off large chunks of his estate, including those in Tavistock. This may also have been influenced by the fact that the town was in decline with the passing of the mining industry & the generally depressed state of agriculture in the area & the waning influence of the town’s political clout. His decision was met with stunned disbelief from the townspeople who organised meetings & a petition to try & persuade the Duke otherwise. He was not swayed & Ward & Chowen were instructed to make preparations for the sale.The Tavistock Urban District Council, which had been formed 12 years earlier, decided to act in the public interest, by first applying to keep the town’s water supply. Following this the UDC were asked to compile a list of any other properties that they might like to be excluded from the main sale & retained in the public domain….those put forward included the markets, slaughter-house, town hall, swimming baths, wharf & meadows. It was agreed that the transfer price should be agreed by arbitration.On June 26th 1911, Frank Ward announced the start of the sale. The first property sold was the Newmarket Hotel, bidding starting at £500 & ending at £4,250. This set the scene for the day & various other shops & inns in Brook & Duke Street were sold off, many to existing tenants. Several houses were withdrawn from sale because of the Duke’s concern for older tenants. The pattern continued & after 11 days, 360 properties had raised £123,000. Following the town sale, there followed the disposal of farms, country houses & residential estates of the area which meant that after 21 days, a total of £515,000 had been raised…”Mr. Ward took a holiday”.It was another 18 months before an arbitration settlement was reached in terms of the excluded properties, to the tune of £35,000. The aftermath of the sales led to a new town of property owners who had incurred debts to make the purchases & then carried out extensive alterations – many properties subsequently changed hands. The town had changed forever.Many thanks again to Gerry for his insightful talk, delivered without the help of visual aids. Further information can be obtained from his superb “Tavistock’s Yesterdays” series, particularly Episode 8, reference the above topic.
Historical Murders in Devon
Simon Dell started off by stating that murder is a serious business, with implications both for victims’ and accuseds’ families. He then led us through a series of cases, often requiring a detective’s nose to follow the intricate plots.A Valentine Day’s incident on the road at Knowle Down, known since as Murder Mile, was his first story. This followed the case of a woman that appeared to have fallen out of a car & died accidentally, but the diligence of the local constable proved otherwise. His discovery of blood on the ceiling of the car, along with a blood soaked hammer & astute observations on the way the car door would open in an accident, led to the driver & husband of the woman, a John Matthews, being convicted of murder at Exeter Assizes. This launched the career of the local PC who later went on to become an Assistant Chief Constable!Another case which was solved very quickly by the keen eye of the police happened near Winkleigh in 1975. A woman lived on a remote farm with 2 brothers, seemingly never going out & living a very old fashioned lifestyle on a meagre existence. The Luxton family had lived here for 4-5 generations, but then suddenly one day the farm was up for sale. A visit by the grocery man found a man’s body lying with a shotgun wound & the subsequent visit by the police found the other brother with a similar wound & the body of the woman. The discovery of a birch twig by the attendant Sgt. Pinder beside the body of each of the brothers proved that it was 2 suicides & 1 murder – the twig used as a crook to shoot the gun at yourself – jealousy being an obvious motive….In 1914, a farmer checking his stock near Hartland Tor, found the body of a 25 year old man, wearing a black & white spotted tie & a Swiss wrist watch, with a map & guide book nearby. He was eventually identified as a William Donaghy from Warrington who had been missing since the previous year, having said he was going away for a while. A memorial now stands near the spot on the moor. 20 years later, a man’s body was found near Rowter Marsh on the moor. He was wearing the same watch & tie as Wm. Donaghy – an open verdict was reached & he was buried at Postbridge. (the famous Dartmoor author Beatrice Chase wrote a book on the subject).The police placed an advert in the Daily Mail appealing for information on his identity, coincidentally at the same time as a missing person advert appeared. He was identified as Walton Howard – who had been a teacher at the same school as Wm. Donaghy in Warrington. Sometime later, the body of a George Miller was found at the bottom of Beachy Head in Sussex – on it was the same tie & wrist watch – & he had also been at Warrington School!Simon went on to tell us about several other fascinating cases including two where perhaps justice was not seen to be done. One at Peter Tavy in 1892, a man was hanged for a murder, but 2 weeks later, another man who had been involved committed suicide, leaving a note which said “what is hidden from man cannot be hidden from God”….was the wrong man convicted? Another case involved a William Galley from Moretonhampstead, who was transported to Australia, having been found guilty of a highwayman robbery. He was brought back after 42 years after being proved innocent.Perhaps a macabre subject, but a fascinating one nonetheless, and one that shows that not everything is as it first seems…..a big thank you to Simon Dell for his insights into investigations of this sort.
The Roman South West
In AD43 during the reign of Emperor Claudius, a Roman force of 10,000 under the command of General Vespasian, invaded England. Derek Gore’s superb talk on the subsequent events & influences on our own region of Dumnonia enthralled a packed hall at our first event of the year.After over 30 battles including the conquering of the Isle of Wight (known then as Vectis), the Romans spread westwards. Over the years, advances in aerial photography have identified many of the sites of their temporary camps & forts, & subsequent excavations have revealed more archaeological evidence. Two good examples of this are found at Bolham (near Tiverton) & Bury Barton (near Crediton), dispelling earlier theories that the Romans never made it past Exeter.Their forts were sometimes built on the foundations of earlier Iron Age structures & the importance of iron is evidenced at Hembury in East Devon, where remains have been found of workshops for the smelting of the ore – there was also iron production going on in the Blackdown Hills. The region was important too for corn, cattle, gold, silver, tin, copper, lead & pewter – all very useful & valuable to an invading army & their country back home.Again with the aid of the aerial maps, Derek was able to point out the routes of Roman roads eg. Dorchester to Exeter along the line of the A30, & on Sourton Down. Forts & settlements sprang up at various points en route, including those recently discovered at Calstock & Restormel. It is believed that an important port was set up at Topsham & the movement of goods to & from Rome & other parts of Europe across the sea was extensive. Our minerals went out & in came Roman soldiers’ necessities of wine, olive oil & garum (a type of fish sauce). Much of the incoming goods came in inside huge storage vessels; finds of Samian & other cooking ware having become quite widespread in subsequent excavations. It is likely that cooking pots were eventually made locally (Axe Valley) & traded with the soldiers.There was of course a huge impact of the Romans’ activities on the local population. At first it would have been very one way with the invaders taking what they wanted by force, beef, mutton, eggs etc., as well as timber from the forests for their forts. However as time went by, it would seem that the soldiers who were very well paid , would spend their money locally & the inhabitants traded regularly with them. The first use of coins in Dumnonia came from this period. A Roman legion was based at Isca (Exeter) in AD55 after the rest of the country was made secure. After they left, the city expanded beyond the original boundaries, though many of the fortifications can still be seen today. Romanised farmsteads or villas started to appear in the countryside, the one at Holcombe being a particularly fine example, complete with its bath-house. Evidence from this early period of our history continues to appear, as the recent discoveries at Calstock confirm, so there is plenty more to come on this fascinating subject – made more so by our splendid speaker – many thanks again to Derek Gore.
EVENTS 2011 :
Tavistock Abbey & the Isles of Scilly
A packed hall of members & friends, warmed by complimentary mince pies & a glass of wine, enjoyed Dr. Tom Greeves talk which brought to an end our 2011 events programme.Tom explained how the Benedictine Abbey in Tavistock was once the richest in Devon, & in the 12th century granted lands for a priory in the Isles of Scilly (IOS). This was built on St. Nicholas Isle, now known as Tresco, housing 6 monks & the Prior. Tom told of the early monks crossing the Tamar for the first time in their lives & making for Sennen Cove which was probably the nearest point of embarkation, the rough seas they faced & the bleak first impressions that they must have had of the Isles. The first Prior called Turold was told to “keep a firm peace”, which he was quick to enforce with the reported beheading of 120 pirates!Explorations on the IOS have discovered even earlier signs of Christianity. On the small island of Tean (originally St. Theona’s) there is the site of an 8th century church & a cemetery containing 16 graves. On St. Agnes , the remains of old harbour quays have been found along with the holy well of St. Awana (the only one on the whole IOS). Further relics of old churches & chapels have been found on St. Mary’s & St. Martins. A 6th century memorial stone similar to those at Tavistock vicarage was found on Tresco.The Priory would have been a busy place with lots of international travellers passing through the islands, though the monks were probably a bit fearful of visitors (particularly pirates). Breton jugs & querns are among some of the artefacts that have been found. In 1302, a man named Thomas Rychin killed a Tavistock monk & sought sanctuary in the Priory , later escaping though no further trace was found.Documents found in the Bedford collection refer to leases recorded in the 14th century to priors on “Reschaw” (Tresco), & several of these priors went on to become Abbots at Tavistock. There is no mention however of the IOS in the records of the Dissolution of the Monastaries (1536-41).Tom said that there were lots of “happenings” on the IOS around the times of the Priory. The infamous Bishop’s Rock was often used as a place where miscreants were marooned & left to die as the seas claimed their souls. Another place where ill sailors were taken & where pilgrimages were organised was St. Helen’s Isle, where it is thought there was a chapel, church & visitors quarters. In the 15th century the site was despoiled & funds to rebuild (as part of purgatory reduction) were not used to full effect, the site falling into ruin, & being further exposed during WW2.A remaining link between the IOS & Tavistock may lie under the town square. Graves were discovered there a few years ago during construction work – were some of these ex priors of the Priory of St. Nicholas on Tresco?A talk full of historical interest & a certain amount of humour, thanks once again to Tom.
Remembrance & the Great War – the Creation of Devon’s 2,000 war memorials
Lest Devon Forgets is the title of Dr. Todd Gray’s new book (Devon Book of the Year) & this was the basis of his illuminating talk, full of fascinating detail & history.From 1919 onwards, the villages & towns of Devon were often locked in controversy over the selection & erection of memorials to the war dead. One of the first to be built was in Washfield near Tiverton, the unique monument being a shelter with a simple memorial tablet fixed to the wall. But then every community’s monument was unique in both form & dedication – these days they mean different things to different people & except on special occasions are often ignored.After the Great War, the people of Devon felt the need to honour the dead & committees were formed to decide on the types of memorial, where to put them , whose names were to go on them & how to finance them. This led to huge controversies & divisions within the parishes. Suggestions for the type of memorial included village halls (the most common – for all parishioners “coming together in peace”), playing fields, libraries, hospitals, with the vicar often rooting for repairs to his church! ….& of course various forms of crosses.Even the choice of a cross was subject to much difference of opinion – Celtic, Latin or Maltese?…raised up as in a Calvary? Granite or another local stone? The choices were very much an expression of place & religion. Totnes erected a Sword of Sacrifice with its unique downward pointing bronze (only one of its kind) sword, others had the sword pointing upwards. Other styles of memorials include the pylon (Torquay), obelisk (Paignton), column (Plymouth), ornamental sculptures (Exeter) & many stained glass windows in churches.Size & positioning was also important, mostly depending on cost, but also elements of competitiveness within (Exeter) & between different towns & villages. Funds would usually be raised by public subscription & often fell short of the required amount needed, requiring a change in design. The names to go on the memorials also had to be decided on – eg. to which parish did the dead belong? – confusion on this issue sometimes led to some being missed or even duplicated in another locality.In later years after WW2 & the Falklands, names were added for these conflicts, some memorials also added those who were wounded & served in the various wars.The above is a very brief summary of Todd’s detailed talk & anyone who is interested in finding out more is recommended to read his superb book.
Sir Frederick Stratten Russell (Freddie)
Last year the Marine Biological Association (MBA) celebrated its 125th anniversary & our speaker Dr. Ann Pulsford thought it was fitting that “Freddie” was elected a Royal Society Local Hero. The Director of the MBA from 1945-65, he was also the senior editor of their journal. He also had a very distinguished war career.Born in Dorset but later moving to Newquay, he soon developed an interest in natural history, in particular marine life & the decline of fish stocks. At the start of WW1 he joined the RNAS at Hendon, but after a serious accident during pilot training & a long convalescence, he became an aerial observer, serving in Dunkirk. His job involved taking photographs of the the coastline whilst suspended under the plane’s fuselage, suffering several narrow escapes, and was awarded the DSC, DFC & the Croix de Guerre.A 1st class Honours degree in marine biology at Cambridge was followed by a post in Egypt, where he studied eggs & fishes. Then in 1924 he joined the MBA in Plymouth as Assistant Naturalist, becoming an enthusiastic angler & golfer in his spare time. He wrote his first book “The Seas” & started sampling programmes & publishing pioneering works on zoo plankton, jellyfish & other indicator species. His observations on the effects of changes in sea temperatures on fishing stocks became known as the Russell Cycle. He was a born survivor & managed to fight off being stung by the deadly box jellyfish whilst on an expedition on the Great Barrier reef. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1938, one of the yougest ever.He served as a highly respected pilot officer in RAF Intelligence in WW2 & in 1945 was appointed Director of the MBA. His first task was to rebuild the labs & other parts lost in the Blitz, but also added new labs & a library. From then on he developed the MBA into an internationally recognised centre of expertise, himself winning many awards, honorary degrees & visits from eminent scientists. He also published many books with his own illustrations, including the classic volumes of “The Medusae of the British Isles”.He was knighted in 1965 on his retirement & spent much of his later years on his hobbies of painting & photography. He was also President of the Dartmoor Association & assisted in the editing of the classic “Worth’s Dartmoor”.A truly remarkable “local hero”.
Kilworthy Farm “A Cathedral of Dung” …
is one of the descriptions that stayed with me after this fascinating visit, hosted by Sandra Vallance & her husband, & ably supported by Barry Landitt whose family previously farmed here.The buildings were constructed in the 1850’s by the 7th Duke of Bedford mainly from Hurdwick stone & other local materials, the whole place being designed as a cattle fattening centre. Calves were brought in & fed to the the point ready for market, a sort of early battery farming. The massive buildings hold first floor cowhouses where the cattle were kept in rows of stalls. Water was fed into individual granite troughs by iron feeder pipes, with chutes for dung leading to the undercroft.This undercroft – the “cathedral” is a very impressive structure indeed. Extending the full width & length of the buildings above, the huge granite columns support the floor of similar material above, with additional iron straps providing extra strength. A central aisle with granite kerb stones runs up each of the 5 bays providing access for carting the dung onto the fields. Swallows flitted in & out above our heads as we stood & marvelled at the sheer magnificence of the building.Water was taken off the Wallabrook & brought in on a leat to the wrought iron 30ft diameter waterwheel which can still be seen in its wheel pit in front of the farmhouse. This was used to drive threshing & other machines for processing the grain to feed the cows. Winnowing machines, chaff cutter, root slicer & cake breaker are some of the machines which would have been operated in the impressive granary barn. All the buildings have a clever, well designed system of interconnecting doors or chutes to allow materials & waste to flow easily.The stableyard consists of several other buildings including a cart shed, carpenter’s & blacksmith’s shops & a stables/harness room. On the arches of some are the carved heads or masks which are thought to represent the Kings of Israel.English Heritage stepped in & provided funds for the restoration of the buildings in 2003 & the place is now more traditionally farmed by the Vallances, hosting other group visits as well as running an established B&B business.The visit was rounded off with a superb tea of home made pasties, scones & cakes. Huge thanks again to the Vallances & especially to Barry for the wealth of knowledge & history that he contributed – a truly remarkable place.
An exploration of Wigford Down
Liz Miall led 20 intrepid supporters on this interesting excusion of the Down and fortunately the rain which had been around all day did not return. A lovely grassy area with superb views towards the sea & beyond, the Down was quite well populated in the Bronze Age & consequently there are still lots of interesting features to see.Cadaford Cross marked the start of our walk, originally erected by the monks of Plympton, part of a monastic path to Tavistock, linking with the nearby Stony & Urgles crosses. Above the old china clay pits now used by anglers, ancient cairns & boundary reaves are dotted on the side of the hill, with a sunken peaty pool ( half empty on the day) marking the summit. A retaining circle here, some 24 feet in diameter is notable for its very large stones, as is the round house further down the hill to the west. Here a large hawthorn tree guards a very prominent circle of stones. Nearby are more of the same, along with the remains of a medieval longhouse.Climbing back up the slope we encountered the line of 7 boundary markers engraved with the letter L. These were erected following a dispute on land ownership between Sir Ralph Lopes & Mr. Scobell; intriguingly only the former’s initial appears. Next stop was the Dewerstone with its stunning views out to Plymouth Sound. This was almost certainly the site of an Iron Age promontory fort with the steep valley protecting one side & fortifications guarding attacks from the Down itself.On the top rock there are various inscriptions, the main one being a memorial to the poet Noel Carrington. There are huge buttresses of rock below, favourites with rock climbers. One of these, a Mike Rabley, discovered in 1960 a Bronze Age pottery cup in good condition, now in Plymouth museum. On the return route we passed by Cadworthy Tor with its lovely quartz veins & then the well preserved kistvaen (stone chest – burial chamber) & its massive capstone – fragments of a pottery beaker were found here when excavated back in 1900.We then retraced our route passing through remains of more settlements, with signs of other field systems & ancient pounds in the Cadworthy fields below, back to the Counting House, the former office of the Wigford Down china clay works.A big thank you to Liz for leading us & passing on her knowledge of the Down, a place often overlooked by the motorist driving past, but nevertheless an area full of interest – and only partly visited on our walk & described here.
Horrabridge – a village walk
Jill Fitzsimmons, ably supported by her husband & other members of the family, led a large group of about 45 Society members & friends on a very interesting stroll around the village. The rains held off as the group were taken around the sites of the old mills, leats & mine shafts, many of the remains of which have long since disappeared. Indeed much of the village these days is taken up with new housing developments.Farming, tin & copper mining, wool manufacture & an early hydro electric turbine have all featured in its history. Some of the relics of a forgotten age can still be seen, an impressive wall with in built mortar stones one fine example. The aftermath of a very busy period of mining in the 19th century has indeed been a feature of much activity in the area over the last few years.When an old mine shaft opened up in a house on the appropriately named Copperfields estate, it started a huge investigation & extensive surveys which revealed many problems of a similar nature. A huge project was eventually started to fill in & shore up the shafts, stabilising & even demolishing some of the houses. A lot of this was around the old Wheal Franco mine, the humps & bumps of which can still be seen, along with the old mine captain’s house – now a private residence.The walk was rounded off by a display in the London Inn of old photographs, maps & historical records….& for some a welcome pint – a nice way to end a fascinating tour of the area.
“Military Tales between the Wars”
Elizabeth Maslen is a very experienced academic with a wide range of skills and experience.This background was ably illustrated in the precise and elegant construction of the talk she gave to an appreciative audience at Meavy Hall. The talk , based on the research for her next book, was mainly a consideration of the role of The British Legion in the period from its formation on May 15th 1921 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The main purpose of the British Legion was straight forward: to care for those servicemen and their families who had suffered disability and hardship during World War I.The timing was significant. In 1921, as well as the victims of the war there were 2 million unemployed and the future looked bleak for many people.The disaster of the failing League of Nations and the emergence of Hitler and the Fascist Movement caused considerable political and economic problems throughout Europe in general and Britain in particular.As Elizabeth Maslen observed, the British Legion soon became drawn into the political intrigue of the time.Politians and some senior members of the British legion believed that a strong bond existed between the ex-servicemen in Britain and Europe, including the ex-enemies & a mistaken belief in the League of Nations. This led to the formation in 1934 of a group of ex-servicemen who, fully supported by the British Legion, went to Germany seeking goodwill between the two countries. They were taken in by the welcome and assurances they received that Hitler did not have war on his mind, and a particular mixed message was received when Hitler sent a wreath to be placed at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day. The wreath was hastily removed. Later, as unrest grew and with the emergence of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, the Legion formed a Voluntary police force to help keep the fragile peace. It was virtually unarmed, was ineffectual and was soon disbanded. The British Legion reverted to what it did best; caring for the poor, disabled and shocked victims of war and their dependants. Elisabeth Maslen provided a fascinating summary of those complex decades between the two World Wars.
Len Copley stepped in for the unavailable Tom Soby, with an unusually angled talk on the beautiful variety of Dartmoor, ranging from Bronze Age antiquities to modern military artefacts , landscapes & wildlife, fully illustrating the rich & varied history of the moor.Starting with the letter A on the Arne Head stone at the head of the Erme, Len weaved his way through the alphabet all the way to the Zeal Tor tramway built in 1847 to carry peat from Redlake to Shipley Bridge. Amongst the industrial ventures encountered on his journey were the Haytor tramway constructed to take granite from the moor via the Stover canal to the port at Teignmouth ; the moorland granite & limestone quarries used in the construction of the Plymouth breakwater & the war memorial in the Falklands; the Rattlebrook peat works – oil from the peat reputably a treatment for frostbite; copper & arsenic (used for boll weevil control in the US & a cure for baldness!) the Sourton iceworks & the china clay pits.Len mentioned some of the ancient customs such as initiation rites on Hangingstone Hill (young lads on their first drift being hung upside down) & the practice of sleeping overnight on the roof of a warm limekiln with the very real possibility of either falling in or being overcome by the fumes – & as a social meeting place for communal roasting of potatoes! Ring Rock marked the nearest access point for farmers on horseback heading for Cranmere Pool. Then there was the Venville blowing stone used on the drifts to summon up & check the cattle. Another interesting waymark is the Take-Off stone of the Turnpike Trust, a change point for the “cock horse” on the transport routes.Wildlife & nature was not forgotten – from the beautiful ammil (a frost effect) to adders, foxes (apparently 4 per square mile on the moor), bee boles or straw hives, raven’s nests, feather beds of sphagnum moss (used an antiseptic field dressing ) & sheep – watch out for dead ones in the stream above where you’ve stopped for a drink!Len covered many more fascinating topics than the 26 letters of the alphabet too numerous to mention here, but included the leats & waterways, the caves of Buckfastleigh, inscribed stones, a vug & the smallest cross on Dartmoor made from a propeller shaft. A huge thank you to Len for coming along at such short notice & with a very enjoyable A-Z & moor……
“We were there – Plymouth in the 1960’s”
Through a combination of impish boyhood reminiscences & excellent archive film footage, Graeme Spink from the South West Film & TV Archive & Lawrence from our own society, gave a thoroughly entertaining talk to an audience of over 70 members & friends. Various film clips were shown during the evening with the pair providing humorous anecdotes & commentary throughout.Drawing on their memories from life at the Coburg Street PSM, they recounted how they watched the changing face of post war Plymouth from their classroom windows – buildings being demolished & new ones arising – one particular amusing incident recalled of a 7 storey row of toilets left on a pipe as the walls crumbled around them! Not always replaced to everyone’s satisfaction, many of the new buildings were described as “dismally unmemorable” & “disturbingly lopsided” (a reference to the new Civic Centre).The new Central Library was well liked with its excellent facilities & our “boys” remembered how a lady there would read them stories. Department stores opened up in the town accompanied by ’60’s rock music & they recounted the free trips for residents on the Saltash ferry – originally steam powered, then diesel.Graeme enthused about how he had sneaked in to see the Beatles when they came to play at the ABC cinema, film footage showing the group themselves sneaking through to the main stage via the Athenaeum tunnel to avoid the huge crowds. Other big crowds were shown frequenting the Mount Wise swimming pool, well remembered here was the liberal use of bleach for cleaning which lingered on the skin.Three other very amusing clips were adverts for Millbay Cleaners, Dingles – with a very well spoken voice-over & Plymouth Sports Stadium at Pennycross featuring pony racing. The Excel bowling alley in Mayflower Street was remembered as being exciting & the cool place to be, “heavies” on the door stopping you if you walked out with a pair of the special bright orange shoes still on your feet. Schoolboys were often in trouble here apparently through smoking, swearing & fiddling the slot machines.Other memories included the Rotunda self-service petrol station – the first one west of London – with fuel in 1963 at 1/9d per gallon! Graeme remembered being dragged up onto the Hoe in all weathers & his “tortuous” times at Maker Camp – the spartan conditions, creaky beds & disgusting food. Once they sneaked off to the pub but were rumbled by the teachers.The final clip was a promotional holiday destination film advertising the delights of the region such as Dartmoor, the beaches, the Dart steamers, Buckland Abbey & Paignton Zoo.Many thanks to Graeme & Lawrence for their memories & entertaining commentary.
Vikings in Devon
Derek Gore entertained an attentive audience with this potted history of the marauders from Scandinavia & their influence on events over 1,000 years ago.The first mention of Vikings in Devon in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was in 836AD when an army (probably Norwegians) landed at Carhampton in North Devon, defeating the troops of Egbert, the King of Wessex. This was an important royal estate which the young marauding males had known about in advance, arriving in their light & fast ships on prevailing winds, their chief targets being the taking of portable wealth such as silver, to reinforce their political positions back home.England back then was a divided kingdom, Devon was part of Wessex, & Egbert , already in control of much of the south, made numerous raids into separatist Cornwall. This prompted the Cornish to side with the Viking raiders, big battles taking place in Lydford (825AD) & Hingston Down (838AD) where Egbert finally triumphed. However a year later he died & was succeeded by his son Aethelwulf.There then followed over thirty years with various Anglo-Saxon kings wrestling with some of the most serious invasions in English history with big Viking fleets taking control of large areas such as Northumbria & East Anglia. Alfred the Great’s arrival as a warrior king heralded many victories as well as continued losses & a brief peace settled on the land in 871AD. This was shortlived however & the invaders continued to sweep through the country into southern England including Devon. Alfred did win his share of battles creating forts (burghs) in Exeter, Totnes & Lydford amongst others.After Alfred, a number of Saxon kings held the crown as fresh Viking armies came over from Brittany & Ireland. Tavistock Abbey was destroyed in 997AD & Lydford also came under attack though held out. In 1003AD Exeter was stormed & destroyed. Finally Canute, a formidable Viking warrior defeated the armies of Edmund Ironside, becoming the acknowledged King of all England. In a sometimes ruthless reign, he was of course most famous for his belief that he was more powerful than nature, attemping in vain to turn back the tidal waters on the Sussex coast.Canute died at the age of 40, the throne then being seized by his illegitimate brother Harold. By 1042AD the throne had swung to the Saxons in the shape of Edward the Confessor & then briefly in 1066 to Harold 11 (Godwinson). William the Conqueror then ended the era of the Vikings & Saxons ushering in the coming of the Normans.Many aspects of the Vikings still remain with us. It is thought that Gwytha, mother of Harold 1 founded St.Olaves Church in Exeter. Many artifacts of Scandinavian design can be found in Cornwall like stones & crosses & numerous place names can be traced back to these pillagers of long ago.Many thanks to Derek for his fascinating & informative talk.
The History of China Clay working on South West Dartmoor
Our year of events kicked off with Dr Bob Bruce tracing the origins of this process on the moor & the current issues of today. Bob firstly related how china clay was formed : following the intrusion of granite 300 million years & the exposure of the county rock, feldspars were converted to kaolinite after reaction with surface water.In the early 18th century, fine porcelain imported from China was the sign of wealth, but the recipe for its manufacture was an industrial secret. Then along came a Kingsbridge born weaver’s son by the name of William Cookworthy. He became a chemist/scientist & fascinated by the whole project, he carried out various experiments to try & perfect the process. He eventually discovered that the kaolin in association with petuntze (a type of granite) & the way it was heated were the key factors. Also most importantly these materials were to be found in Cornwall & on Dartmoor.In 1827 good quality clay was discovered at Lee Moor. The extraction was a very long & manual process starting with various elements of sand, stone & mica. These had to be separated in turn to leave the final residue of clay. This was dried & cut into loaves before being transported by packhorse to Plymouth & distributed by ship. The techniques of extraction were ever changing, tramways were built & big powerful hoses called monitors blasted out the materials in huge quarries.There were various areas of operation around the south west part of the moor, early ones being small family companies, before the majors of ECC & WBB got involved. Both these companies are now foreign owned. As well as the current active pits around Lee Moor & Shaugh, there are many visible remains of the old workings. Old tramways, leats, mica traps & settling pits exist all around the area including Shaugh Bridge, Shipley Bridge, Redlake & Crownhill Down.Many of the operations have affected items of historic & archaeological interest including prehistoric stone rows, reaves, cairns & enclosures, some of which have been completely buried by the operations. However, the clay companies do have a policy of restoration after use & the success of this can also be seen in some places.Bob concluded his talk by explaining that the current threats are mainly to Crownhill Down, the face of which will probably change for ever in the near future. The china clay pits of Headon Works are extending fast across the down with the additional spectre loomimg of the re-opening of the Hemerdon Tungsten mine. The demand for both these materials continues, china clay (used in paper making, paints, cosmetics & pottery) & tungsten (very hard material for tools etc). Also the current high world price for tungsten (also known as wolfram) & the large deposits in this area make it commercially viable.
EVENTS 2010 :
Incomers to Devon
Members & friends were greeted with a complimentary glass of wine & mince pies, before Devon born author Helen Harris concluded our events programme with a talk based on her book of the same name. Helen kicked off with a poll of the audience of about 60 people with only 3 acknowledging that their grandparents were born in Devon.Helen suggested that there were 4 main reasons for people moving to Devon – those for land, industry, jobs & retirement. She then selected four towns & villages representing each of these categories.The search for cheap land was one of the original reasons for the movement of people , from early prehistoric times. Land in north west Devon was cheap, the landscape dominated by the Culm Measures, an area of wet & acidic soils, remote & wild. However it was an area ripe for improvement & with the emphasis on food production, particularly after WW2, this attracted investment, the village of Bradworthy being a prime example. Its population has doubled in the last 50 years, with about 40% consisting of “incomers”. Isolated but active & fairly self sufficient, the village has one of the largest village squares in the Westcountry, schools & some light industry.The town of Tiverton, founded in the 7th century, was well known for its woollen industry, set up by John Heathcote who relocated from Leicester in 1816. Over 200 of his workforce came with him, many of them actually walking here! JH was a popular employer & the town prospered; he was succeeded by his grandson & up to nearly 2,000 people were employed. He founded a school for the workforce children & the mill is still active today making parachutes, nets & machinery belting. The population has trebled in the last 200 years to over 18,000.Buckfastleigh was also involved in the woollen industry & has had an up & down history. However it has benefited from its location alongside the A38, good for commuters to the major cities of Plymouth & Exeter. Many people therefore have moved here to take up jobs & appointments. Lots of cheap workers cottages have been bought & modernised & property values have rocketed.Torbay on the other hand represents increases due to retirement & the health & wellbeing benefits of the gentle climate & terrific coastal scenery. Originally consisting of four separate towns/ villages, the area saw a surge in popularity with the coming of the railways bringing visitors, who were attracted to a permanent move from other parts of the country.Among the many effects of the incomers have been increased urban sprawl, inflated property values which have caused problems for young people wishing to buy, changes in speech & accents & road congestion. However they have also brought many benefits such as new energy & ideas, new skills, & increased activity & enthusiasm…..& in Helen’s own words “we certainly wouldn’t want to be without them”.Many thanks to Helen whose book is well recommended for further reading.
The Discovery & Excavation of a Roman Fort at Calstock
Imagine searching for silver mine smelting sites from the medieval period & finding remains of a Roman fort, dated around AD50-85? This is exactly what Dr. Chris Smart & colleagues discovered following geophysical & magnetic ground surveys in the area around St. Andrews Church at Calstock in 2008. These initial surveys found evidence of walls & ramparts, finds of national significance, in & around the modern burial grounds.With backing from English Heritage, a major excavation project started in January 2009. Narrow trenches were dug close to existing graves & a larger area was unearthed in a part of the cemetery yet to be used for burials. The ditches were examined for types of soil, pollen & plant remains, with the results producing evidence of crops cultivation in previously open areas of grassland.Signs of buried logs & post pits suggested supports for the ramparts. Also discovered was evidence of barrack blocks & granaries, a chambered oven & a furnace containing copper residue. Numerous pieces of pottery were also removed from the dug out refuse pits, some of this having originated from foreign parts such as Gaul. A local gravedigger donated a piece of classic Samian pottery (found 20 years previously) which still had the makers name on it. Other bits of items of interest retrieved from the soil included a sandstone whetstone, a quern for milling grain, & metal links from chain-mail armour.The Romans were of course very interested in mining deposits & armies were quick to move into areas such as West Devon, itself then rich in lead, silver, tin & copper. The fort is estimated to cover an area of 2.72 hectares & is in a prominent position on a high ridge, also close to links by river. Evidence was also found of old Roman roads leading towards the Bere peninsular, thought perhaps to connect also with roads leading out of Exeter & still to be discovered routes along the south coast of Devon.As a sort of postscript, Chris & his team have discovered evidence of Saxon/Norman activity dating from around the 9th & 10th centuries, in the form of 500 plus pottery shards originally sourced from various areas of the South West. Who knows…they may yet find their medieval silver smelting site!A lively question & answer session rounded off a superb evening – many thanks once again to our speaker.
Behind Closed Doors
Jill Drysdale’s cryptically titled talk took us back to Plymouth in the mid 19th century, described then as a “swamp”. The Irish famine of 1845 had driven many people to the area looking for jobs & a better life. Unfortunately this led to huge over-crowding with people living in appalling conditions with no work & no money. This in turn led to many of them becoming desperate , the women folk of the household often taking to the streets, just to get money for food.Their “occupations” were described as milliners & laundresses etc , but these were merely euphemisms for prostitutes – “fallen women”. But this did enable them to dress up, wear nice clothes & of course earn money.In 1850, along came one Robert Armstrong Flack, who was appointed as the Town Missionary on a starting salary of £60 p.a. He was a Catholic himself & spoke gaelic. A dedicated man, he spent the rest of his time until his death in 1873 trying to help get the ladies back off the streets, & working with the sick & needy.He helped to establish various “hostels”, such as the House for Fallen Women, the Plymouth Penitentiary, Workhouse & Dispensary. He worked long hours in the worst areas of the city, where he was often subject to abuse & violence. His help was not always appreciated! We know this from his detailed journals of which Jill had obtained copies & read out extracts.In 1853/4 there was an outbreak of cholera in the city & many of the households were affected. In his journals he conveys the extent of the distress & suffering & the many, many deaths.Mack’s work was funded, not by the Church, but by benevolent Victorians, who probably thought it was good for their souls – to be supporting the needy! It would seem that Robert Mack never had a day off & he appears to have always enjoyed his work. A very unusual & dedicated man indeed.Thanks to Jill for a look behind the closed doors……..
Guided walk around Yelverton
After a day of almost continuous rain, the clouds parted 15 minutes before we set off, & Derek Roper led us on a very interesting & sociable stroll around the village, including a stop at a local hostelry!Starting at Leg O’Mutton, close to the old runway of Harrowbeer Airfield, we passed through this old corner & centre of the village, learning how it has become an almost forgotten part of the area. Parking charges introduced a while back have not encouraged visitors, the post office & bank have gone & now the local pub has also closed its doors. Once on the main road, but bypassed with the coming of the airfield, this quiet corner has seen many changes with no doubt more to come.We moved down Grange Road & along the old footpath past Harrowbeer Farmhouse, pausing to look at the old railway bridge & the entrance to the 600 yard tunnel which travels under Yelverton roundabout, emerging in Old Station Road. Several old houses line Harrowbeer Lane, though there has been much infilling here too.Next stop was the Rock Inn where Sue Callow produced some fascinating photos & family trees, tracing the history of this old hotel, part of generations of her family now for over 120 years. After a welcome refreshment & a short guided tour, we passed by the old Moorhouse Hotel stone, visiting St. Paul’s church, passing along the twin leats of Plymouth & Devonport & the old Princetown tramway. An old inscribed foundation stone at the back of The Parade was the final mystery of the evening.Many thanks to Derek for his enthusiastic delivery, Sue Callow for her hospitality, & Stephen & Claire Fryer for their contributions to an enjoyable evening.
Visit to Brimpts Tin Mines
A very warm summer’s day was the setting for 14 members & friends on a visit to these old mines on Dartmoor.Meeting up in the morning at Dunnabridge Pound, we walked over firstly to the old North Mine, which is located on open moorland, about 1 mile north west of the South Mine, also known as the Duke of Cornwall mine. The main workings here were in the mid 1800’s. Remains of the main shaft can be seen which originally reached a depth of 26 fathoms, though very little tin was extracted. Nearby is the outline of the horse drawn whim platform & two adit shafts. A flat rod system used to run across the moor connecting up the two mines & the nearby old waterwheel pit was visited along with the dressing floors (no sign of adders!).The next stop was over at Brimpts Farm itself where the group paused, under the welcome shade of some large trees, for a picnic lunch. Staying under trees, deep in the wood, we followed the line of a shaft to the superb site of the waterwheel pit, one of the best examples on Dartmoor. Traces of the leat which supplied it could also be found. Further down in the field next to the farm we walked over the filled in shaft to the adit shaft, where an old waterwheel has been reconstructed.These mines were first recorded in 1797, but went through various closures & subsequent reopenings under new owners, up until about 1856. Most of the machinery was sold off. Significant activity took place without much profit, though the remains of the workings today make for a very interesting exploration.A superb leaflet was written especially for our visit, with a detailed history of the mines, including diagrams, which will help those who would like to explore further. These are available from the chairman for only £2 each.
Barn conversions & the Swing Riots of 1834
Terry Faull commenced his talk by stating that history is often written by the “winners” – this talk would be about the “losers”, specifically in the field of agriculture, an area often neglected. He said that the modern trend of farm buildings ie. barns, being converted into living accommodation, bears an uncanny resemblance to events in the early 19th century, though with very different outcomes.Terry painted a picture of idyllic rural life with happy workers bringing in the harvest, sitting in the sunshine, drinking cider, singing & dancing, but in fact, their life was not like that & conditions were much harsher. Most of them lived on a bare subsistence, their wages being linked to the price of bread with the Parish making up any shortfalls; this led to unscrupulous employers reducing their pay & expecting the Parish to fill the gaps. William Marshall, a steward of the Drake Estate, in 1794 described the workers in West Devon as “idle drunken fellows” & children were often expected to be apprenticed at the age of 8 until 21, living a life of drudgery & resentment. Needless to say, relations between the workers & their employers were not good.The situation got worse after the Napoleonic Wars with the restrictions on imports ; wheat prices increased by 15% & the landowners made big money as they dominated the production of these crops. They employed servants, sent their children to public schools & considered themselves higher class. The “paupers” on the other hand had to make ends meet by breaking stones for the construction of roads to get Parish relief pay & those who could not work took refuge in the new workhouses being built eg. Tavistock (Maudlin Road). In the winter when outside work was not available, a very important, if not essential, activity was in the “flail” barns, thrashing the grain – hard manual work, but sociable with most of the family involved, & most importantly, supplementing their meagre existence. By comparison, an agricultural worker in 1827 earned about £31 p.a. – a landowner £30,000 p.a.!The advent of the Industrial Revolution & the development of new machinery was the final catalyst for a major rebellion. The flail barns started being converted to house new equipment, often driven by horse power in round-houses, removing the need for hand thrashing. This sparked the first riot in Kent in 1830 & these quickly spread around the country. Threshing machines & tithe barns were destroyed , farmers were threatened & strong letters of protest were written to landowners, often signed “Captain Swing” – a sort of fictitious figurehead & a supposed reference to the fact that the workers would rather swing from the gallows, than accept the new situation. These protests were met by vicious reprisals from a government scared by similar situations in France. Rewards were offered, 2,000 people arrested, 19 executed (some for very minor crimes) & around 500 were transported to Australia. The government were determined to stop further rebellions, setting up a commission to change the laws. Poor Law relief was ended & a new generation of work houses were built . Conditions in these were much harsher, families were often separated, pay was poor & the work hard – they came to be dreaded, including the new one built in Tavistock in 1839 by Sir Gilbert Scott (Russell Court).The Swing Riots did yield some achievements however. New machinery introduction was delayed until 1850; Methodism spread, encouraging the building of chapels & developing the education of the workers; village friendly societies were set up eg. Oddfellows & The Ancient Order of Forresters; & the rise of Chartism – the introduction of people’s charters eg votes for all, secret ballots, paid MP’s etc.Many thanks to Terry for a thoroughly entertaining & enlightening talk.
How to steal the Common from the Goose
A quote from an old poem, but James Paxman, brought this to life with his excellent talk on agricultural & other developments on Dartmoor from the mid 18th century and the work of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA).The middle of Dartmoor was originally a hunting forest, for the use of the King & his followers, otherwise it was thought of as a barren & rough area of wasteland, hardly worth a mention. Early farming was of the strip & rotation type (remains of which can still be seen at Challacombe), requiring a lot of co-operation between landowners, plus areas of small sub-divided walled fields. The major enclosures started to come in the late 18th century & around then many changes occurred in the agricultural world.Jethro Tull was a key figure with his new seed drill, “Turnip” Townsend introduced new methods of crop rotation, & Arthur Young founded the Board of Agriculture.Turnpike roads replaced the old tracks across the moor opening it up to heavier transport. Thomas Tyrwhitt founded Princetown & had big visions about the development of the moor – along with Buller & Bray, not particularly successful. Landowners descendants had a right to create additional newtakes (enclosures) of 8 acres, but this started to be abused by the exclusion of rocks & bogs etc, so creating much larger areas of enclosed land eg. Muddilake, near Two Bridges.By the late 19th century, the image of Dartmoor was starting to change. Wm. Wordsworth with his lyrical ballads described it as a place of beauty, with value to the urban dweller, Samuel Rowe & Widgery popularised it with their books & paintings, guides were established & the coming of the railways promoted the moor as the “fairyland of the West”, with day trippers arriving from London.The improvers’ effects on the moor led to concerns regarding the erosion of the commoners’ rights to use the land in the traditional ways. The DPA was thus formed in 1883 & a definitive book was produced by them on these rights. Further enclosures were challenged & gradually these rights were upheld, no substantial enclosures have been made since, though the originals remain.Farming is still an essential feature of Dartmoor, though its land has faced many challenges over time including quarrying, tin mining, china clay, the military, reservoirs, forestry & transport. Today, many challenges remain such as excessive vegetation growth caused by reduced grazing, peat bog reclamation, & the new tungsten mine on Crownhill Down.James, as Chief Executive, explained that the DPA continues to try & meet these challenges today, actively campaigning to preserve the natural beauty & traditions of the moor for all to enjoy. Many thanks to him for his excellent talk.
Milemarkers of the Tavistock Turnpike Trust
Tim Jenkinson, County representative of the Milestone Society, produced a very interesting talk on the history of these fascinating objects & the work of the society in their identification & restoration.The origin of milestones is usually accredited to the Romans; by the 16th century parishes were liable for the upkeep of the roads, & then in the 17th century the postal authorities got involved, the Turnpike Trust being created in Devon in 1750, with compulsory mile markers then in 1767(the county has the largest network of roads c8,000 miles). They are most commonly made of granite, though some were replaced by cast iron plates. In 1940, because of the war, many direction signs were compulsorily removed to confuse the enemy.Tim illustrated the varying designs of milestones – some with Arabic and Roman numerals, some showing distances in miles, furlongs & poles, & others listing distances to several different places. Because of the place names indicated, some of the stones in West Devon are thought to originate from the mining era. Take-off stones such as the surviving one near Beardown were used to indicate where the extra horse could be unhitched. Other stones that can still be found indicate the start or end of the relevant Turnpike Trust’s responsibility.Tim also told us about the work of the Milestone Society which involves the discovery of milestones that have sometimes long been hidden in hedges etc., the recording of all stones on a national database & often their restoration. Some milestones are Grade 2 listed & have been micro-chipped to discourage their removal.With the creation of the Tavistock Turnpike Trust in 1762 & late 18th century acts to improve roads across Dartmoor, to Plymouth & into Cornwall, toll houses were built, many in a distinctive octagonal style. These are also recorded on the database & we were shown pictures of some of those still existing today, several of which are in our locality, such as Horrabridge & Tavistock. The one at Shaldon was still collecting tolls up to 1947. Many of the remaining houses have been restored and are in use as private dwellings.Tim closed this fascinating talk by encouraging us all to be on the look out for lost stones, there are still many that remain undiscovered & others that need restoration.
The Devon Dumpling
Professor Philip Payton related the story of “HRH”, (Henry Richard Hancock), the local lad from Horrabridge who made his name in the copper mines of South Australia.Born in the village in 1836, he initially worked in his father’s foundry & then in the Sortridge Consols mine. A clever lad with strong practical skills & a burning ambition, he moved at the age of 23 to manage a silver lead mine. near Adelaide. Just a few years later, he took over as superintendant & then Chief Mine captain at the recently discovered copper mine at Moonta after a strike had removed the previous unpopular management. Henry soon realised the tremendous potential of the mine & set about recruiting extra workers & installing new equipment.A great believer in the methods, practices & technology of Cornish mining & the skills of its miners, he set about building his “Little Cornwall”. Workers were recruited from other parts of Australia, as well as Devon & Cornwall; he introduced steam engines, winches, tramways, lots of which were built & imported from England, including Tavistock. He designed & patented equipment himself including a percussion drill & a jigger. The output of the mine trebled & HRH started to become a successful & wealthy man.When world prices slumped in 1874 the mine entered some difficult times. Relationships with the workers suffered, miners associations were formed & Henry was often lampooned in cartoons & reminded of his Devon roots, hence his nickname. But he was a strong & strict manager, often held in awe, but with a deep concern for the welfare of his workers. He was a devout Wesleyan & bequeathed land for chapels & schools, started various sports clubs, mutual improvement societies & introduced sick pay schemes.In 1877 he took over as captain of the nearby Wallaroo mine & the two big mines were subsequently amalgamated with Henry as General Manager. After his first wife died of typhoid, he married again & had a further 10 children. He retired in 1898 & was succeeded by his eldest son who managed the mine until it closed in 1923.Henry returned to Devon briefly, planning to settle in Whitchurch. However, his perceived ostentatious airs & graces did not not go down well with the locals & he returned to Adelaide. He died at the age of 83 in 1919 & is buried there.Moonta today (the name means impenetrable scrub) is a popular place for retirement & for tourism – it is still referred to as “Little Cornwall” or the “Cornish Copper Triangle”.Many thanks to Philip for his excellent talk.
Devon Place Names
Robert Hesketh drew a large audience to our first indoor event of the year with a talk that underlined how much our place names reflect English history & heritage.Most of Devon’s place names have a story behind them, many going back to Anglo-Saxon times & the days of conquests & settlements. Some have Celtic origins eg. Dunchideock, though the Romans & the Vikings made little impression on namings. Later on, the Normans developed names from powerful feudal families adding their signature to an existing place eg. Sampford Courtenay, Newton Ferrers. The Saxons also attached their family names to places eg. Dittisham – Dedes home; Lympstone – Leofwine’s farm. A few of Devon’s names are of modern origin eg Kingsbridge, Princetown, Devonport.Names often reflect the topography of the county eg. Hoe – a spur of land; Nes – a headland; combe – a valley; Snapper – from snaep meaning boggy land. Others describe the type of settlement eg. Stock – outlying settlement; Ton – a farmstead; Hamm – on marshy ground surrounded by water. Another derivation is from activities on the land eg. Sheepwash – what it says on the tin; Swincombe – swine valley; Plympton – plum valley. And of course there are locational type names eg. Uppacott, Westcott & interestingly Sutton (South town, now Plymouth). Rivers often take their name from their appearances eg. Meavy – lively stream; Clyst – clear stream.Of course, the spelling & pronunciation of many of our names have changed over the centuries & comparisons with early records as contained in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the 9th century & the Domesday Book are interesting.The origin of some place names cannot be easily reconciled & are often disputed, eg. the River Bovey. This is what helps to make the origin & translation of place names such a fascinating topic, which can be readily studied & researched by us all. Many thanks to Robert for his introduction to this subject – there are many good books on this for follow up, as well as the Devon Place Names Society.
Tinners of South West Dartmoor – Life & Landscape 13th – 17th century
Responding to a request from one of our members for some medieval history, Dr. Tom Greeves produced a fascinating talk to end our 2009 programme on a high note.Tom concentrated on our local area, noting that the earliest records of tin mining dated back to 1281, when reports on an incident at Meavy Head recorded the death of a miner, one of four working in that area. As early as 1303, tin production records exist for locations such as Stanlake, Nosworthy & Middleworth farms, as well as a longhouse near Gutter Tor. The hard physical & manual labours of the tinners gradually changed the landscape, their methods of streaming creating deep scarps & clearances on the moorland scene.Later methods of tin working – open cast – caused even bigger impacts, Claziwell Pool being an example of a huge hole in the ground created by the tinners. Reports in 1638 talked of major pollution problems in Plymouth harbour due to the silt & debris washed down from these workings. Other deep shafts in the area included those at Keaglesboro & Furze Hill, near Horrabridge.Water was a very important resource in tin production & the tinners were highly skilled in storing & moving it. Tom showed several examples of small reservoirs which were created near to workings as reserve supplies, many of which can still be seen in outline today. Also still very evident on the moor are remains of the tin mills, where the ore was crushed. Many examples of associated leats & wheel pits can be found, along with mortar stones which were used in the crushing process. Not so common, though 3 exist on the Walkham, are the blowing mills where tin was smelted, using water powered furnaces – here one can sometimes be lucky & find the mould stones in which the ingots of tin were formed.Tom punctuated his talk with anecdotes & amusing stories of some individual miners, particularly the reports of a court case involving the theft of sheep. In many ways, this brought to life the rugged nature of their existence whilst out mining. However, huge quantities of tin were produced on Dartmoor through the ages & no doubt there were some very wealthy beneficiaries. A highlight of Tom’s outdoor research was probably the discovery of a bottle in Burrator reservoir, complete with the seal of John Elford of Longstone, dated 1661.Thanks to Tom for a fascinating 700 year journey looking at the tough lives of the tinners & the impact of their labours on the moorland landscape.
Arresting Women : Suffragettes & the struggle for Plymouth’s prostitutes in the 1870’s :
Dr. Todd Gray once again highlighted events from our recent past that have not always been well documented or talked about – “history that hurts”. Reminding us firstly of the part that Plymouth played in the support of Oswald Mosley & his Blackshirts & dispelling some myths about the slave trade in Devon, he noted that we often liked to remember the nice things from our history.Early images of prostitutes were of the seaside postcard type – jolly, rosy cheeked ladies with charm & warm personalities. However, using some of the earliest photographs from police files in the late 1800’s, Todd showed that this was often far from the truth. Prostitutes & others classed as criminals then (sometimes after trivial offences compared to today) were subjected to harsh prison sentences quite often with hard labour. The images of these “ordinary” people & their crimes was thought provoking.With 10% of the Armed Forces laid up with social diseases, prostitutes & Plymouth in particular (as a test case) became a focus for an Act of Parliament in 1860. The idea was to identify the women affected by disease ( often maliciously reported by men) & cure them, though they were kept in hospital, working long hours cleaning, with no wages, until they were free of disease. The Goverment tried to claim this a success as the number of prostitutes reduced from nearly 2,000 in 1865 to under 500 in 1873.But, the Act was thought to unfairly punish women , whilst infected men still roamed free. This led to the early suffragettes coming down from London to speak out & further led to rebellions of working class women. On the other hand, some women, now free of the disease seized the opportunity to advertise themselves as clean & charge more for their services. The churches were up in arms. This all led to the beginnings of the Devon womens’ movement & the rights of women generally.Another fascinating talk from an excellent speaker, highlighting just how our past has often shaped the future, negative beginnings often leading to positive results.
The Wildlife of Dartmoor :
Our autumn series of events kicked off with an excellent talk by John Walters, co-author of the book with the above title. As a passionate artist, John has worked with David Attenborough on various projects, including snails & earwigs ! Aided by his superb photographs, John took us through the numerous habitats that exist on the Moor, a variety made possible by the traditional management of previous generations.Climate changes in the past have also had an impact on the wildlife variety, animals such as elephants ,hyenas & woolly mammoths once existing before & during the ice age of 20,000 years ago. As the climate warmed, many plants & animals colonised the area from southern Europe. The impacts from increases in population have led to the extinction of a lot of species, though Dartmoor may have escaped some of these changes.Today, there are perhaps almost 20 different types of habitat, ranging from blanket bog, heathland & rocky outcrops on the open moor to woodland, meadows & fields, rivers & reservoirs, caves & mines, and towns & villages. Some of the wildlife that these support were illustrated with John’s photographs, images that have required hours & hours of patient study in uncomfortable hides & surroundings.The list of wildlife recorded & filmed by John is extensive. Bog orchid, emperor moth, purse web spider, hornet robber fly, raven, devils matchstick lichen, ash black slug, wood ant, dormouse, roedeer, nightjar, marsh fritillary butterfly………just a few to mention.John ended his talk with some splendid short videos – a rather gruesome one of an adder eating willow warbler chicks ; a pair of adders dancing and a young cuckoo being fed by a meadow pipit.Another excellent talk from a fine speaker & photographer.
A walk around Bellever
Thanks to Tony Burgess we were able to go ahead with this event – Liz Miall had unfortunately been rushed to hospital just a couple of days before with a burst appendix – we wish her well & understand she is now recovering at home. We joined up with a group from BTCV in Plynouth & had an enjoyable afternoon, though the theme became archaeological rather than the planned focus on the work of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust – more opportunities another time perhaps ?Starting off on the Lich Path (the way of the dead, when coffins were transported for burial to Lydford), we progressed to the open moor. The walking here is now much more pleasant with better views following extensive felling of the pine forest. Tony guided us to various kistvaens, one in particular a very fine example complete with its own stone row. He also entertained us with a bit of magic around ley lines, waving rods & even stroking the granite ! Some more kistvaens were visited, followed by a climb to the top of Bellever Tor. On the way we observed the large pound on the slopes & some very active Dartmoor ponies. On the summit, Tony regaled us with tales from the Hounds of the Baskervilles.On the way back, we detoured to visit the recently excavated roundhouse & were fortunate to see active work going on by two members of the archaeology group. One of them gave us an excellent explanation of the project, detailing their findings. We were able to see the post holes which would have supported the roof of a building, believed from the carbon dating to originate from around 1500BC. Many pieces of pottery had also been found.This excellent walk finished off back at the hostel where we were treated to a very welcome cream tea. Many thanks again to Tony for stepping in & making this a very good afternoon.
A walk around Buckland Monachorum
After a day of of rain the skies cleared & around 45 members & friends accompanied our chairman on a guided walk around this historic village. Taking its name from the association with the nearby Cistercian Abbey, but once known as Churchtown, it still retains some of the old buildings & memories, though many changes have taken place in recent times. Part of the parish of the same name, it is essentially a farming community, though mining was also once a significant activity in the area – some of the farms are Grade 2 listed and still active working ones, with Cuxton in particular having been in the same family for over 100 years.Other existing buildings with history include the Hostel (formerly the Baptist Chapel built in 1850), the old Lady Modyford school (1702), the Gift House (old almshouse established by the Drake family in 1661), no 1 The Village (scene of a 20th century murder & suicide), the Drake Manor pub (17th century) – still a very lively & active hostelry with landlady Mandy now in her 20th year in charge – and of course the Church.Ken Farnham, master builder & local craftsman, also responsible for more modern alterations to the village such as the Chapel Meadow estate & the new Cof E aided Village School (opened 1976 after significant public subscription) guided the group around the outside & then inside of the church, relating the various changes throughout time made to the original 1490 building. There have been several restorations & additions including the vaulted roof of Drake’s Chapel and the 70 feet high tower & its 6 bells. The Saxon font was discovered in 1857 during other repairs. Outside, the steps of the cross (erected as a memorial in Queen Victoria’s time) were part of a preaching or market cross which stood on the old village green opposite the church gates.Many thanks to everyone who turned out for this mere glimpse into the history of our church & village. Particular thanks to Ken for his assistance both on the walk & for his deep insights into the church history, also my thanks to Brian Salt for his local knowledge inputs & to Dave Butland for his interesting & amusing anecdotes en route.
A visit to the POW memorial cemeteries & museum at Dartmoor Prison
A warm sunny evening was the setting for our first outdoor event of the summer, with a healthy turn out of members & friends. Current curator Brian Dingle, ably assisted by previous curator David Francis, guided us under the “Parcere Subjectis” gateway, alongside the forbidding prison walls to the beauty & tranquility of the two cemeteries.Here, they explained the origins of the French & American cemeteries, each memorial a different design, but impressive in their own right. The French one has been recently carefully restored, in time to welcome a delegation from France, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the prison & the over 1,100 prisoners who died there. The victims of the Napoleonic & US wars who had perished had originally been buried inside the prison walls, but their remains were relocated when the the convict prison opened in 1850.It is hoped that a similar commemoration will take place for the Americans on their anniversary in 2012.We were then escorted back to the museum to spend an hour looking at all the fascinating information & artifacts on display. Probably more aptly described now as a heritage centre, it has recently been expanded & holds an extensive array of historical information, as well as items made by prisoners, some of which can be purchased. Brian has many plans for the future & further visits are thoroughly recommended.
Your Humble & Obedient servant- a talk by Dr John Goodridge
The wording above was the signature line on correspondence from the officers of the Bedford Estates to their superiors. John Goodridge took members of our society through the history of the rich & powerful estates of the 19th century. The mid 1800’s were a time of great change with the Russell family benefiting from the lands that they owned & that were administered by hard working stewards such as John Benson & Chris Healy.By 1860 the Duke of Bedford was the 3rd richest landowner in Britain, with estates in Bedfordshire, the Fenlands, Dorset, London & Devon. (London was the smallest in size but yielded 70% of the total income).The work of the stewards was hard with the huge distances they had to cover, though their salaries were very good for the time. All correspondence was conducted by letter & before the mail service became fully operational, this was also a slow process.Despite their assets, when the 6th Duke died in 1839, the estate was over £500,000 in debt, probably due mainly to the Duke’s spendthrift nature of acquiring country mansions & various arts & treasures. Much tighter controls were introduced by Healy & helped by the economic boom particularly around the mining in West Devon, this debt had been reduced by half just 10 years later.In the 1840’s the Chadwick Report called for sweeping social reforms such as improvements in housing & sanitation. This was particularly required for Tavistock which at the time had only 507 houses for a population of over 4,000. Along came Theophilus Jones , the architect who made his mark with the design & building of many of the “Bedford Cottages”, much of the finance coming from the success of the mines. These included Dolvin Road (Jones lived in no.1), Westbridge, Wheal Maria, Mill Hill & Parkwood Road.John Benson, having been once jilted & suffering a nervous breakdown, eventually remarried (a relative of Mrs Bray) & had 9 children. He died at the age of 82.Much has been written & heard about the Bedford Estates themselves, but the unsung heroes were the officers mentioned above, working long hours & travelling long distances in difficult times. Thanks to John Goodridge for an excellent talk bringing them back to life.
Smeaton’s Tower & the Eddystone Light – a talk by Nigel Overton
The world’s first offshore light, built on “rocks of dragon’s like teeth” (according to William of Orange). Nigel gave us an illuminating talk on the history of the 5 lighthouses that have stood on the rocks 14 miles offshore of Plymouth.After an early petition to Trinity House in 1664 to build a lighthouse had been turned down as being impractical, the arrival of the naval dockyard hastened the decision that the reef needed a light. An eccentric yet innovative Henry Winstanley was commissioned to build & the first lighthouse, made of wood, was completed in 1698. After severe weather damage, this was redesigned & rebuilt, 120 ft taller, a year later. Another huge storm in which over 6,000 people lost their lives , swept the lighthouse , including the keepers & Winstanley, off the rocks in 1703 .John Rudyerd , the son of a wealthy merchant family, built the 3rd light in 1708 in a different style – timber clad & caulked with oakum to keep it watertight. This one lasted until 1755 when it burnt down down as a result of the candles catching the roof on fire. The keepers were rescued & one of them was found to have swallowed a lump of lead, though this was only discovered after he died a few years later.Next on the scene was the founder of the Institute of Civil Engineers , John Smeaton. His tower , completed in 1759, was a radical new design, a mixture of granite, Portland stone & Plymouth marble, held together with his own invention of mortar – it also had much greater candlepower. This lasted for 127 years when concerns about the state of the rocks beneath it, caused it to be dismantled. Money was raised to reassemble it on Plymouth Hoe, where it was opened to the public in 1884, & is still standing as a tourist attraction today.The current light was completed in 1882 by James Douglas who was later knighted for his achievement by Queen Victoria. Although the largest of the towers at 95 feet high, it had the benefit during construction of more modern building techniques & its candlepower was some 30 times greater than its predecessor. This was doubled again in 1956 when it was converted to electric power with a rotating light , a helipad was built on the top, & in 1982 it became an automated, unmanned operation. It stands today as a very important guide to the increasingly busy shipping lanes off our coast & a monument to inspiring engineering feats of the past.Thanks to Nigel for a fascinating talk.
Mutiny on the Moor – a talk by Simon Dell
Despite his hectic lifestyle, Simon was on hand to deliver an excellent story based on his book of the same name. With the 200th anniversary of the opening of Dartmoor Prison, it was interesting to go back to 1932, when a”serious disturbance” started in B wing. Simon had gained an interest in the story when looking at old photos as a young YTS student.The prison back in the 1930’s contained a mixture of inmates – hardened men who had served in the war, old seasoned convicts & young “motor car bandits”. The new governor brought in a harsh, strict regime of needless punishments, with both staff & prisoners demoralised by the changes. There were lots of plans to escape (many formulated in the church), most of which were foiled.Breakfast consisted of porridge made in huge vats & one day early in 1932, it was deemed unfit for the purpose – maybe not an accident ? In order to keep the prisoners quiet, the governor ordered extra rations of margarine & potatoes. With the porridge failing again on successive days, prisoners’ demands grew & tensions ran higher, with demonstrations & assaults on staff. This led eventually to a full scale riot.The admin block was set alight & fireman, local police, military & reservists raced to the prison to charge & quell the disturbance. Many of the prison officers were saved by loyal convicts. Afterwards, the former governor returned to take over, Seale Hayne students ran the farm for a few months as convicts were not allowed out. The damaged buildings were demolished. An inquiry into the happenings suggested that some disillusioned officers may have smuggled in weapons…….A series of riots took place throughout the country in 1990, Dartmoor prison coming out in sympathy with the one that started the troubles at Strangeways. Again major damage was caused in similar circumstances to 1932.An excellent evening of story telling from our man in blue.
Tavistock Abbey – a talk by Gerry Woodcock
Gerry gave a well researched & entertaining talk at our February meeting.Although nothing but a few ruined pieces of wall now remain, the Abbey from 976 to 1539 was the major contributor to Tavistock’s wealth & welfare. The Benedictine monks lived a hardworking, co-operative & communal life & took responsibility for much of the welfare outside the confines of the Abbey. Over the years they established a monastic school & cared for the sick in a hospital that included an outpatients department. They also administered a leper colony, gave clothes to the poor & accommodation to travellers. They buried the dead in a small area of ground between the Abbey & the parish Church of St. Eustace next door.Ordulf, Earl of Devon, who was the brother in law of Edgar, King of Wessex, founded the Abbey. Although attacked by the Danes in 997, it survived & had 39 Abbots during its life pre-1539.Although the names of the first 3 Abbots remain a mystery, Gerry was able to name most of the others, describing in detail some of the more interesting ones, including Alfred the 4th Abbot, a highly political man who later became Archbishop of York & crowned William the Conqueror ; Geoffrey the first Norman Abbot; & John de Courtenay, a passionate huntsman of foppish apearance, who died of the Black Death.The Abbey also aquired the fourth printing press to be made in this country in 1525. When Henry VIII closed the monasteries down, the monks received from £2 – £10 redundancy money, according to their length of service. The last Abbot received an annuity of £100. The Earl of Bedford, John Russell, became the owner of the remains of the Abbey.As one of the leading authorities on the history of Tavistock, Gerry finished by answering a wide range of questions, rounding off a very interesting evening of local history.
Portraying local life in the 50’s – a talk by Lilian Harry
Lilian kicked off our 2009 programme with a fascinating talk about her early days growing up in Portsmouth during the end of World War 11. Events such as rationing (especially the end of sweets rationing), the advent of the television, the reliance on women doing unusual jobs, & then the difficulties of adjusting to peace – all these were inspirations behind her series of wartime novels based around people’s memories, fused with fiction. Other memories utilised included those of the Lyons Coffee Houses & their “nippy” waitresses & the sounds of Glen Miller music.After moving to Devon, Lilian switched to writing about village life, in a community called Burracombe, based on no particular village, but perhaps “somewhere you want it to be”. Her stories are based around the memories of typical village life, with its numerous shops, post offices & small independent businesses. Village activities such as bell-ringing (Lilian herself an enthusiast), & local fairs like Goosey Fair; the impact of the closure of businesses & the decline of the railways, and the differences between village & town attitudes & values – have all provided sources of material for the historical novelist.From the age of 5 years old, Lilian had aspired to be a writer, giving herself a grounding with short stories & articles for newspapers & magazines, before launching into full length books. She stressed the importance of research, to ensure that the facts in her books were realistic or at least believable to her readers, perhaps invoking their own memories of how life was in the past. One of her best research projects had taken her to Paris, discovering how carrier pigeons were smuggled out of the beseiged capital using hot air balloons, made from the materials used in the local fashion industry.Lilian’s own recollections stirred up members of the audience who responded with tales & questions from their own memory banks. All this emphasises the importance of local history & the need to write it down & record it, not necessarily in the form of novels, but somewhere – before it is lost & forgotten.
EVENTS 2008 :
The Life & Times of building the Avon Dam half a century ago a talk by Dr. Tom Greeves
Tom took us back to the time between 1954-1957 when the largest engineering project on Dartmoor in the 20th century, flooded 50 acres of the Avon valley, to provide a 305 million gallon reservoir & water supply for Torbay. Ably supported by recollections from society member Mike Williams, who was an engineer on the project, Tom displayed many old photographs obtained from one Nicholas Horne in Canada (who once ran a successful photographic business in Totnes).The main contractors were Tarmac Ltd. & the project was a huge logistical exercise in terms of getting men & materials to the site with the narrow approach roads. Workers came from all over South Devon (even some from Liverpool), most arriving by buses which struggled through the lanes to arrive on time for the 8am starts. The road from Shipley Bridge to Brent Moor House (since demolished) was improved & then extended up to the dam site.The River Avon was partially diverted through pipes to allow for the excavations & a huge cableway was built across the valley to carry & manoeuvre materials into place; carrying up to 6 tonnes in weight, this was a highly skilled operation. All sorts of buildings then appeared in the area as the massive construction started to take shape. Allowance was also made in the construction for a further raising of the dam by 15 feet which would have doubled its capacity – up to now this has not been required. The work was dangerous at times & one man lost his life after being knocked off the dam by a small crane.The workers were looked after in the site canteen by Doris Trundle & Gertie May, the only women on site. This facility was good business for South Brent village shops which provided all the food.Before the site was finally flooded, several archaeological surveys were carried out. The foundations of a medieval settlement which exists on the left bank & can still be seen in very dry conditions was thought to be originally managed by Buckfast Abbey & their herdsmen. A 16th century tin mill was excavated before the flooding & this contains many artefacts including mould & mortar stones & a furnace – this was again exposed in the drought year of 1976.Tom’s talk & the memories of Mike brought home both the sheer scale & the harsh & dangerous conditions of this amazing engineering project, many thanks to them both.A raffle at the end of the evening raised 61 pounds for society funds – many thanks to those who donated prizes.
The Lost History of Devon – a talk by Dr. Todd Gray
In one of our most thought provoking talks to date, Dr Gray took us through the ages touching on a variety of historical events which have changed our heritage and why they are sometimes “forgotten”. Starting with a series of paintings, he emphasised how the artists’ impressions often changed our own perceptions of how things looked in the past.He then started looking at why things change & why the records are often lost. Religion was one cause because objects have been removed and replaced as being dangerous or out of step with beliefs of the time, quoting the example of a statue of the Virgin Mary which was removed and reused as a base for a bread oven ! Another interesting case was that of a limestone carving on Plymouth Hoe depicting two giants wrestling, an annual event which was part of May Day celebrations, removed as Christianity conflicted with “heathen rites”.The cholera epidemic of the early 19th century had a major impact on town centres such as Exeter , where streets had been widened and buildings altered to create more space, allowing more air and sunshine to come through, also removing the accumulation of filth. This is a topic not often talked about today, especially as part of Plymouth’s history where attempts to eradicate the disease were initially not so successful.Other causes of change, perhaps more readily discussed today , are weather and disasters such as fire. Noted here were the destruction of Hallsands (a combination of natural causes and bungled officialdom) and the loss of the “dancing trees” in Moretonhampstead due to storms. Significant fires, mainly where thatch and cob were involved, had been seen in Ottery St Mary, Chudleigh and Tiverton – giving way to the replacement of these traditional materials by stone and slate. Modern traffic conditions have led to street widening and road improvements where old buildings have been sacrificed, also not forgetting the influence of political decisions eg. Beeching’s closure of the railways in the 1960’s.More controversial topics are often swept under the carpet either because they are considered taboo or embarrassing, like for instance the relationships between local women and the American forces during the wars, many of which have probably had quite an influence on today’s generations. Fascism is a particular example of a very uncomfortable part of Devon’s history, with Plymouth in particular being strong supporters of the movement in the 1930’s (largest membership of the party outside of London), welcoming Mosley and his Blackshirts at their frequent rallies in the area. Devon also played a big part in the slavery trade.Dr Gray is a prolific author and has written many specific books on the topics mentioned above. This was an excellent talk which underlined why and how we lose history because of the restrictions we place on ourselves. It also emphasised how important it is to record historical events and to share them, with a view to learning from them in the future.
Statues of Sir Francis Drake around the world – a talk by Alan Gray
In a talk which could easily have been subtitled – things you didn’t know about the Drakes – Alan, ably supported by his wife Jean, gave an illuminating account of “goings on” and relics of the period.All in all, 5 statues have been discovered – in Plymouth, Tavistock, San Francisco, Offenburg (Germany) and Cork. Unfortunately, the one in Germany (built supposedly to commemorate Drake bringing the potato to Europe) was destroyed by the Nazis in 1939. Only the hands were rescued and are now in the local museum. The statue in Cork was also damaged beyond repair.San Francisco still boasts a 30 feet high monument on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, an unusually lithe and athletic looking Drake shown acknowledging the crowds which greeted him on one of his stop offs whilst circumnavigating the globe.Our own local figure standing on the roundabout in Plymouth Road was unveiled in 1883 by the then portreeve of Tavistock & Jean read an extract from the local Gazette of the days celebrations. A limited supply of special coins were minted of which two had been obtained by Alan and were on display at the meeting. The story behind this statue was especially interesting with 53 different “faces” of Drake having been under consideration before sculptor Joseph Boehm* was given the go ahead. Also, it seems that competition with the proposed statue in Plymouth had quite a bearing on timing of the build and thanks mainly to sponsorship from the Duke of Bedford, the Tavistock statue went up first.Three years later in 1884, a 10 feet high replica of the Tavistock statue was erected on Plymouth Hoe with reportedly around 70,000 people present for the unveiling by the then Lady Drake, complete with brass bands, guards of honour and a 21 gun salute – Jean again reading from the local paper of the time.Alan also showed many of the artifacts and relics of the Drakes including jewellery, coconut cups, flags, coats of arms and the famous drum.* It seems the sculptor was quite a character and one of his most famous pupils was Princess Louise (daughter of Queen Victoria). He died a sudden and unusual death in her company, though possibly with a smile on his face!Many thanks to Alan and Jean for an excellent talk.
Dartmoor Granite quarries – a walk with Liz Miall
13 intrepid members were expertly guided by Liz on a walk around the area once inhabited by several hundred quarry workers & their families. We started off at the site of the old Walkhampton Foggintor schoool, now known as Four Winds car park, which was attended by children up until its closure in 1936. The mision hall nearby has also long since gone. Liz pointed out examples of granite blocks that had been cut using the traditional methods of tare & feather & also sett makers bankers, where workers toiled to make granite setts for a penny a time.We walked through the remains of West View (or Red Cottages) & associated quarry, past the still occupied & seemingly aptly named Yellowmead Farm, onto Hill Cottages & the main quarry itself. Alongside the old branch of the Princetown railway (granite sleepers can still be seen), are the remains of the old smithy, powder house, weighbridge & stables, along with a very curious archway. By the time we reached Royal Oak siding, the weather had finally turned against us & we retreated in the gathering gloom & wet.The visit was greatly enhanced by the contributions of our own society member, Ivan Meade, who lived with his family at Hill Cottages, in his early life. Ivan was able to walk us through the ruins of his old front room & added many personal memories to the enjoyment of the evening. We dried out later in the cosy confines of a hostelry in Princetown.
A visit to Bere Alston
18 members & friends defied the summer showers & were rewarded with a fascinating exploration of this historic mining community. Trevor Bond & his local history society guided us around the village streets reminding us about life in the area both past & present.Taking its name from its original Anglo Saxon owner, roughly meaning farm on the peninsular, the village was particularly active from the late 13th century through to late 19th. This was after the discovery of silver & then lead which resulted in a huge mining boom & an influx of workers from Cornwall. Tamar Valley fruit & flowers were also an important source of income & the adjacent railway was an ideal form of transport & communication.The village has seen a huge increase in new housing in recent times & is still continuing to grow. It is still well served by shops, including butcher, post office, Co-Op, estate agents, bookshop, pub & fish/ chips – though this is a far cry from earlier days when there were around 32 shops & 9 pubs (for the thirsty miners ?)Of particular interest now is the fascinating village Mosaic Map, the Square with its old miners cottages & old wheelwrights workshop, & the running tap on “Tap Hill” . There are many other areas of interest however, the histories of which were brought splendidly to life by Trevor & his companions. The evening was rounded off by refreshments in the Holy Trinity church hall, with a display of archive articles & photographs.The village is also on the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail & there is a particularly useful leaflet available locally which will enhance any visit to the area.
Songs of the West – the songs of the Rev’d Sabine Baring-Gould
Local history met folk in a musical evening performed by the Wren Trust. Paul & Marilyn from the Trust entertained another large audience with a potted history of the famous , & some thought eccentric, squire & parson from Lewtrenchard & a rendering of some of his songs – even the members were singing by the end!SBG was born in Exeter but moved to Lewtrenchard Manor in 1881. During his lifetime (1834-1924), he found time to father 15 children , renovate his house, travel extensively around Europe, write many novels including the Red Spider, plus pamphlets & magazine articles, collect & publish his famous Songs of the West & research other folklore & songs…. & even found time to re-erect fallen stones on the Moor. Altogether, he deposited a collection of over 200 such songs from the period 1600 to the 1900’s with Plymouth University, but also collected a further 650 more on top of these.He is probably best known for the song “Onward Christian Soldiers” but he re-discovered many other favourites including Widecombe Fayre, Rosemary Lane, Green Broom, Strawberry Fair & Devon Bellringing, plus the Death of Parker & Captain Ward (well known pirates). Paul & Marilyn used the concertina, guitar, accordion & the fiddle to good effect in re-creating the great man’s work.Later in his life, he organised concerts to raise money for not so well-off singers, in so doing he did “tidy up” some of the songs to make them more commercially acceptable. He died & is buried in Lewtrenchard, but thanks to organisations like the Wren Trust (now in its 25th anniversary year), his legacy will live on for future generations to enjoy.
The Templer Way
Mike Perriam returned with one of his favourite talks regarding the 18 mile tramway & canal linking the quarries around Haytor with the port of Teignmouth.The name is taken from the Templer family, James starting it off in the 18th century. After running away to sea at an early age & making himself successful & wealthy in India, he returned to Devon & bought the Stover Estate in 1765, building Stover House using stone from the nearby Haytor quarries. His son , also a James, subsequently built the canal to transport ball clay from the Bovey basin to the docks, replacing the expensive & laborious packhorse routes.His son George then took over the estate in the early 1800’s & started to develop the granite quarries, leading to the construction of the tramway which opened in 1820. Unfortunately George was more interested in in the arts & his sporting pursuits rather than business matters & the estate was soon sold on to the Duke of Somerset. The canal then became very successful from the transport of both granite & clay through till the mid 1800’s, the granite quarries closing finally in 1860. The clay trade continued right up until 1939 when use of the canal ended & road transport took over.Mike’s talk digressed to scenes of Lake Havusu in the Arizona desert of the US where London Bridge now resides, built mainly of the granite from Haytor quarries. Mike’s talk was an inspiration for all to walk the Templer Way starting from the quarries of Haytor & Holwell, tracing its route along the old tramway, through the Stover estate beside the canal, all the way to Teignmouth.
The Dartmoor Village
Jenny Sanders continued our new programme to a packed hall with a fascinating look at several local villages, tracking their development & changes over the period 1801 to present day. Several villages were compared including Walkhampton, Whitchurch, Peter Tavy, Lydford, Holne & South Zeal, looking at key facilities such as transport links, pubs, post office & shops, churches, village halls & activities such as fairs & traditions.Another interesting aspect was the population change, which in most cases showed an amazing similarity between the beginning & end of the 200 year period, apart from an increase in Walkhampton. Several villages showed increases in the intervening period mainly due to the influx of miners, but then have reduced since.Amongst the various facilities that have disappeared have been the well publicised village post office & shop, railway links, some schools, garage/ petrol stations, & the silver mint at Lydford! Bucking the trend, Holne has recently opened a new shop run by the community & there is still a thriving shop & post office in Whitchurch.On another positive side, the village hall now seems to be a driving force in community life, with all sorts of sporting & leisure time activities taking place. Many of the schools are still thriving & village fairs & festivals (particularly the folk festival in South Zeal) still draw in the crowds.Lively discussion continued at the end of Jenny’s talk and despite the sometimes gloomy news that we hear about our villages & the changes taking place , there remains a confidence that they do remain great places to live.
Our 2008 programme kicked off with Brian Woods and his unique interactive walk along the 4.5 mile route of the historic canal, via his cleverly woven digital photographs and laptop.The brainchild of the mining engineer John Taylor, the first part of the canal was opened in 1805 to carry minerals from Tavistock to Morwellham. Brian carefully picked his way along its route from its take off on the River Tavy, singling out special points of interest and history, such as the high level aqueduct, built to span the Lumburn valley.Brian dwelled for a while in the 1.5 mile long tunnel under Morwelldown, explaining that this had been an extremely difficult construction which took another 13 years to complete. He talked about the associated mining in the vicinity, pointing out the minerals and their dramatic colours in the rock, and how little clearance there was for the original boats – little of which is known. Finally he dropped down the incline plane to the quay on the River Tamar, though the canal itself still feeds into the hydro-electric power plant nearby.Brian’s wintry walk in the comfort of the Meavy Hall was a good way to start the year. This can now be enhanced by physically exploring the route itself (apart from the tunnel). We will also be visiting Morwellham itself in one of our future events.
Events from our 2007 programme included……………
The End of an Era – Tin mining on Dartmoor 1900-1975
Dr Tom Greeves recounted through stories & photographs the lives of the miners in the last century. He had previously met many of the miners who had worked in places such as Hexworthy, Golden Dagger, Vitifer, Owlacombe & the Mary/ Peter Tavy areas.Tom had been lucky enough to visit these mine areas with the old miners & learn about their working lives. Conditions were tough in the early 1900’s, with no electricity & shafts lit by helmet candles. The miners would often walk out to their places of work from Tavistock & spend a week at the mines. Vitifer mine in particular, near the Warren House Inn, was large with deep shafts & closed once but then re-opened with more modern machinery. There was a complex of buildings including the captain’s house, bunkhouse, kitchen & cottages for the miners’ families.Copper, tin & arsenic formed the main output with varying degrees of success & profitability, the mines often closing & reopening on different scales of production each time. There was however a great spirit of togetherness amongst the workers themselves. Owlacombe mine was operated for a while from 1906 by an experienced South African engineer, but again struggled to make a profit.Tom’s excellent images brought back to members the harsh reality of this industry, less than 100 years ago.
Personal Memories of Yelverton
Dave German, founder chairman of the society, returned from deepest Cornwall to share his special memories of growing up in Yelverton & the neighbouring area. With the help of his impressive collection of historical slides, Dave fondly recounted the times spent with his grandparents in Yelverton Dairies, & the businesses of Pipers Ice Cream & Barretts in Moorland Villas & the Corner Shop owned by his parents at Leg O’Mutton.He recalled moving houses on numerous occasions including a spell at Huccaby House, the previous home of a certain Robert Burnard. His slide journey took us along old railways, including personal memories of riding on the turntable; along old tollroads, leats & moorland tracks. Scenes of sports days & meetings of the hunt & pony shows depicted life on the Green before modern roads & roundabouts destroyed nearly all trace of lively days in the village centre. The wartime airfield of Harrowbeer had changed the face of Moorland Villas & Dave recounted stories of the people who came to Yelverton for the health benefits & built beautiful houses, many of which still exist today.Dave’s talk was rich in his own memories not just of places, but the characters that he knew & was also memorable for his typically informal story telling & his images of past life in our area. We encourage more of our members to come forward with their own pictures & stories.
The Dartmoor Archive Project
The Dartmoor Archive was established in 2003 with financial support from the Dartmoor Trust & the Heritage Lottery Fund, its aims being to digitally preserve photographic collections of the moor for the benefit of research & education.Gary Stringer & Sue Boddy from the Archive gave us a very interesting high tech talk on the digitalisation process, with examples of images from the website, many of them of our local area (including the Royal Oak & green outside), with even a video clip from a recent feature on BBC Spotlight.We were told that the site now has over 10,000 images, including the famous Chapman, Taylor & Burnard collections, covering topics such as social history, archaeology, fashions, buildings, railways & much more. These are likely to be added to in the future with documents & maps, which will facilitate closer links to local history organisations like ourselves. Up to now the Project has been based at Exeter University but will soon be moving to Delamore House at Cornwood. Four of the original Robert Burnard photograph albums from the late 19th century have been completely restored & will be on display at the new base.Members were encouraged to play an active part in the future success of the Project by coming forward with their own photographs & also helping with the digitilisation & website process, something which can be done in the comfort of one’s own home. The site is already seen as a valuable teaching resource for primary schools, with users from as far away as Peru, Argentina, Senegal, India, Japan & the USA. Overall a very entertaining evening for the 70 members & friends that were in attendance, many of whom stayed around at the end to ask questions & play with the very useful search facility on the website…..www.projects.ex.ac.uk/dartmoor.trust.archive/
Deancombe Valley exploration
Trekkers badges & certificates were perhaps the order of the day when 21 members & friends finished exploring some of the abandoned farms & mines in the area of Nosworthy Bridge. On a nice sunny evening, Dartmoor Chris guided us through the mud & obstacles accompanied by the persistent midge, bellowing cattle & a hooting Tawny owl.Starting at the remains of Bal Mine & its cunningly concealed whinstone beside the carpark, we moved onto Middleworth. Remains of the fine barn still stand with some traces of the farm, vacated in 1919 like 28 others in the area following the building of Burrator reservoir & concerns over pollution. Further along the track, we passed East & West Deancombe farms & the old tin mine adit. Plenty to see here, including the staddles which used to support hayricks.The remains of Outholme tin mine required some effort to reach, with a fast flowing stream, stiles & undergrowth slowing our progress. Worth it though to see a neat line of mortar stones beside the track plus the wheel pit, tail race & furnace. With the light fading & the midges turning up their venom, we returned along the edge of the woods & through the arboretum. Our guide went awol here, but the more intrepid members found the direct route first back to the carpark.
Harrowbeer Airfield visit
Over 20 members of the society, accompanied along the way by Pippa Quelch from Radio Devon, were treated to a thorough exploration of the old World War 11 site by expert guides from the Harrowbeer Interest Group (HIG), with the storm clouds staying just out of the way this time (after last year’s washout).Splitting off into 3 smaller groups, we spent over 2 fascinating hours visiting the site of the old airfield which was operational between 1941- 46 , looking at the extensive remains of the old runways (built out of rubble from the blitz of Plymouth) , & numerous buildings including the control tower, blast bays, gun batteries, storage hangars, bomb, parachute & fuel stores. Various photographs were shown to us of the aircraft such as Spitfires & Typhoons & their squadron crews & a surprise VIP visitor diverted here (after the war had finished!) due to fog – the US President Harry Truman. We listened to stories of derring-do about Czech & Polish pilots & unfortunate fatalities too.Afterwards, members retreated to the Knightstone tearooms (the original control tower) for refreshments, courtesy of Mike Hayes, who then opened up the museum in his garage, which is also full of fascinating artefacts, collected or sent in by ex-pilots & members of the public.The visit was subsequently featured on Radio Devon, including interviews with our chairman & members of HIG. For further articles of interest on this topic, see copies of our Society’s journals nos. 21 & 22.Many thanks to the members of HIG who have a superb website at www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk & are holding another of their open weekends at the end of August.
22 members and friends enjoyed the sunshine on their visit to this restored Dartmoor longhouse, near Walkhampton. Tim and Kay Miall were excellent hosts, providing an extensive tour of the house & outbuildings. After gaining of Grade 2 listed status for the building in the early 1990’s , Tim & Kay, who were then living next door in the Victorian farmhouse, painstakingly & lovingly restored the former Devonmoor Pets Hotel to its original glory.A farm is first mentioned on the site in records going back to the 13th century. A previous modernisation phase carried out in 1663 had produced the unusual ‘L’ shaped design , caused by the steep & rocky slope, & in the latest stage of restoration tons of earth & “modifications” were removed to reveal old original features previously covered up for years.After walking back up the delightful foxgloved avenue of Jimmy Bickles lane, the group were welcomed by Sue & Bill Andrew, & treated to a tour of the 16th century Walkhampton Churchouse, also Grade 2 listed . A former inn, it was also used for handing out bread to the poor, collecting tithes & parish meetings. It stands close to an old monastic track which is still waymarked with an ancient stone cross.The visit was rounded off in the church with a brief talk & a superb tea of scones & cakes.