Yelverton & District Local History Society


EVENTS 2019: 


“Then and Now: Plymouth Hoe, the Barbican and City Centre”

As members enjoyed their complimentary glass of wine and mince pies, Chris Robinson led a packed hall on an evening of nostalgia with his stunning images of Plymouth past and present.

He opened with scenes from the mid 1800’s showing an undeveloped Hoe, used previously for cattle grazing, the Trinity obelisk and west Hoe quarry. As the area became “gentrified”, it was not long before impressive terraced houses were built, along with the pier, a camera obscura and Smeaton’s Tower. Chris supplemented his images with many humorous anecdotes about the Beatles visit and how people used to pick up coins on the shore from slot machines after the pier was bombed in 1941.

Images followed showing Hoe Lodge, now a bowling club, the corrugated iron shed giving Tinside its name, an unspoilt Coxside, the coal wharf, old fish market and the police station. On the Barbican stood a line of black Ford cars but now a scene dominated by the new visitor centre. Another of his stories was of the police using an iron pole to fish drunks out of Sutton Harbour.

His Barbican images were full of stories; of the Dolphin Hotel where the Tolpuddle Martyrs stopped en route home from their experiences in Australia; the Queen’s Arms with its collection of 800 china pigs, and of course the famous Lenkiewicz mural, now in  a sad state of neglect. Pictures of North Quay showed the old Co-Op, the Cooperage and fruit and veg stalls, the scene now however dominated by rows of expensive yachts. He mentioned how Stanley Gibbons sold his stamps from a shop in Lockyer Street.

The City centre inevitably because of WW2 showed the most changes. Memories filled the room as Chris displayed the old scenes, some of which were hand tinted prints: Turnbulls Garage (the first ever self service station outside of London), the burial yard, the old trams, the Guinness clock at Drake Circus, Spooners and C&A stores, the Rose & Crown pub and Old Town Street, one side completely demolished in 1937 as it was deemed too narrow.

More images of old Ebrington Street,  part taken down to make way for trams, included Pophams store, the Corn Exchange, the Globe Hotel visited by Drake and later replaced by the Prudential building.

Chris’s final tale of the evening was about one of the survivors of the War – the Western Morning News façade. However, there was not so much luck for its neighbour Costers – incendiaries cleared off the WMN destroyed it! A glorious talk of old and new pictures highlighting the history of the city, only touched on by this brief summary.



“Not one of us: The Infamous and the Illustrious in Exeter, 1450 – 1950

In October, we welcomed Dr Todd Gray to give a talk about “Individuals set apart by choice, circumstances, crowds or the mob of Exeter”.  From a series of stories over a period of 500 years, he gave a number of examples of the lives and peculiarities of people who did not fit into society and how they were treated:

Sammy Rowe, an elderly Cornishman with 150 convictions, liked prison. He kept on committing crimes so that he would be sent back to prison where he had spent most of his life. The judge finally said ‘that’s enough’ and sent him back to Falmouth where he died soon after.  Sammy was a sort of celebrity but an eccentric.

In the 1770s, Sarah Frost went everywhere dressed as a man convincing everyone until she gave birth.  It was such an event that it was in the newspapers at the time.

There was also an unknown Exonian in 1795 who lived in the city for 7 years and didn’t talk to anybody (apparently after saying the wrong thing to someone).

There were twins in Alphington who paraded around heavily rouged and in very bright clothes with their bloomers on show. The Victorians said that they had what we would call ‘mental health problems’.  They were moneyed people and their grandmother was black and mother a mulatto.

 In the 1880s Exeter City Council attacked the Salvation Army who were marching for temperance; thousands were arrested and this went on for 10 years.  It was organised by ECC to get rid of those they didn’t like.

Mary Ann Ashford murdered her husband with arsenic in the 1860s.  A hanging was a big event and people came from all over Devon to watch.  Mary Ann put her foot on a plank to stop herself being hanged but the hangman knocked her foot away.  The crowd became very excited, roaring as she died.  Afterwards, her body was taken to Exeter hospital and dissected.

George Cudmore poisoned his wife in 1829 and after he was hanged for this his skin was removed and eventually used to cover a copy of the Poetical works of John Milton.

Elizabeth White was arrested for prostitution at 18; later she stole a hanky and was sentenced to transportation to Australia.  No transport being available, after 2 years she was moved to London where she kept smashing glass in order to remain in prison The judge let her out and she died soon after.

There were the American conjoined twins, Millie and Christine, called the two-headed nightingale who travelled all round the world performing.

Twentieth century examples included entertainers who blackened their faces as a novelty and may have led to later popular programmes such as the Black and White Minstrel show.

These are just a few examples of stories told by Todd and to read more one would have to refer to his book recently published under the same name.



“Cotehele: an Antiquarian home of the Edgcumbe family”

House and Collections Manager Nick Stokes led us through centuries of family history and development starting in 1353 with the marriage of Hilaria Cotehele and William Edgcumbe. Their house started with a slightly defensive but simple layout, remaining so until the arrival of Sir Richard Edgcumbe around 1450. Major changes and additions were made by him followed by his son Sir Piers in the 16th century.

Sir Piers subsequent marriage to Joan Durnford, whose family owned East and West Stonehouse (the latter then across the river in Cornwall), led to the building of Mount Edgcumbe house. Cotehele became a second home though a new tower was built along with brew, malt and count houses to support the local mining industry. By 1652 Colonel Piers, a staunch royalist who had fought in the English Civil War had moved into Cotehele, building the large wide staircase and other additions.

Further major changes took place around 1750 with the arrival of 1st Baron Richard Edgcumbe. He took on a complete remodelling of Mt. Edgcumbe and moved much of its contents to Cotehele including armour, clocks and tapestries. Encouraged by his friend Horace Walpole, then MP for the “rotten borough” of Callington, Richard began the period of antiquarianism – where things were made to look old and contents such as tapestries were cut to size to fit the rooms.

Rooms at Cotehele were kept small and intimate with an atmosphere of “gloomth” – gloomy and warm. This was continued by George, the 3rd Baron, who was then appointed the Earl of Mt. Edgcumbe in 1789. He carried out more reinvention with composites from different periods. Around this time King George 111 and his queen visited Cotehele and wrote articles of praise. By the mid 1800’s a guide book had been commissioned with superb illustrations and romantic scenes.

The links between the two houses continued through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the families occupied each in turn. At Cotehele, the whole east side was remodelled with butlers, housekeepers and servants quarters being added. Modern comforts were added along with more artefacts collections, landscaped gardens and parkland.

In 1941 Mt Edgcumbe was bombed and when the 5th Earl died in 1947 leaving his successor with a major problem, their 2nd home at Cotehele became the first property to be accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties. In 1974 it was acquired by the National Trust. Today it retains its dark and nostalgic view of the past, a Grade 1 listed building said to be one of the most complete and important Tudor houses in the country.



A Dartmoor Stroll on Walkhampton Common with Liz Miall

Our last outdoor event for the year was on a warm summer’s evening with Liz leading us on a path through time, just yards from Sharpitor car park. Without Liz’s expert guidance, many of the features passed along the way are easily missed.

The first example of this is a double stone row from the Bronze Age which abuts on the reave (ancient boundary), looking good in the evening sun, as it winds its way from  Sharpitor across the main road to Leedon Tor. Close by is a fine example of a cist (grave) from the same period as the row.

Making our way downhill along a paved holloway, we reached the ancient ruins of Stanlake farm and hamlet. First mentioned in 1281 it was abandoned in the 1920’s, the Gill family being the last residents.  Liz pointed out 3 longhouses, yards and gardens, cornditches, staddle stones and upturned troughs. Other pathways or strolls can be seen leading off to the surrounding small fields suggesting this was more than just a farm. The water supply was taken off the nearby Devonport leat.

We continued along the leat, built between 1793 and 1802, 28 miles long, taking its waters from the West Dart, Blackabrook and Cowsic to supply the town originally known as Dock.  Its journey from 424 metres above sea level now ends in a waterfall emptying into the Burrator reservoir. Part way along the leat is the doll or Indian’s head. Originally thought to have been made by a French POW, it was vandalised in 1984 and then replaced in 1996 – though vandals seem to have struck again rendering it almost unrecognisable. At the base of the “Iron Bridge” aqueduct, the leat’s waters are supplemented by pipe from the River Meavy and Hart Tor brook, two of the pipes with 1915 marked on them.

At Black Tor falls are the remains of a crazing stone mill, tin mill, mortar stones and a wheel pit. A registration mark X111 can be seen on the mill lintel. Liz related a tale of how a colt of Mrs Gill’s became trapped in an old chimney and had to be released by Mr Pearce of nearby Kingsett Farm.

Our way back lay along the stone wall and cornditch below Black Tor. Once again a feature that’s easily missed is a 300 metre long stone row running adjacent to and sometimes embedding itself in the wall, with a possible burial cairn at the south end; just one of over 70 of its kind on Dartmoor which has the largest concentration of these monuments in Britain.  

An easily accessible and enjoyable walk -history brought to life by Liz’s insights.



"Gathering Gloom" by Stephen Fryer           Stanlake Farm/ hamlet



A walk around Devon United Mine, Peter Tavy


 Chris Wordingham took time off from his duties as landlord of the local pub to lead a large group of members and friends around the extensive remains of this ancient copper mine. Though often hidden in the undergrowth, various features of the mine can still be seen. The remains form part of the huge complex known as Wheal Friendship, workings having been recorded as early as 1818, under a number of names up until 1922.

Devon United Mine which runs along the east bank of the River Tavy, was incorporated in 1901. Copper, tin and arsenic were soon discovered and sold and leats, tramlines, dressing plants and calciners were built. The site expanded with additional arsenic processing plant and production increased significantly in the early 1900’s. However, disputes and even legal battles with the neighbouring Wheal Friendship over the building of weirs and water extraction from the Tavy became common place putting a strain on the shareholders.  This resulted in receivership in 1915.

In 1916 a fresh venture by a small private company began to explore further opportunities.  Adits were extended and new ones opened and a lode known as Bennetts was explored. This was the scene of a tragic accident that year when a worker was injured in a blast and subsequently died of tetanus as a result of his injuries. Unfortunately when payable ore was finally discovered, a dispute with the local landowner prohibited further progress. The mine closed in 1922. Total ore sales over the period 1824-1919 were around £89,000.

Aided by Chris’s excellent handouts of the original mine layout, our walk took us along the edge of the surface workings of the area known as South Mine, the first item of interest being the old water turbine house which drove a compressor for air drills. We followed the pipeline up to the old take off from the original Cuddliptown mill leat, passing along the way various exploration tunnels which were used to chase the ore lodes, often unsuccessfully. The old smithy could also be seen near the river. Further up the path we were shown remains of the calciners, condensing chambers, shafts, wheel pits, an engine house, plus the old tram line and flat rod system. On its own at the far end stands the ruin of the old powder magazine store.

This is a fascinating area with extensive historical remains of these old mines hidden sadly beneath the vegetation growth and deserves more attention as a heritage site. Hopefully with people like Chris giving talks and leading such excellent walks will revive the interest and preserve their history for future generations to enjoy.



A guided tour of Okehampton Camp

Starting off in the Officer’s Mess building, Camp Commandant Crispin d’Apice, backed up by Tony Clark, introduced us to the workings of the camp and a history of military training in the UK. He explained how our country has had a long history of defence and battles particularly during the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century. Further wars that followed increased the need for specialised training, particularly with the developments in artillery firepower.

At that time Dartmoor was still considered as a remote wasteland, but its wide open spaces, hilly and rugged terrain were thought to be ideal for mobile artillery which could fire over the hills and defeat entrenched enemy. Thomas Tyrwhitt certainly was in favour (£’s!) In 1873 after shrapnel had been invented, a huge training exercise involving over 12,000 men and 2,000 horses was held elsewhere on the moor. By 1875 permanent training had begun in earnest and the first structures appeared at Okehampton. Bell tents were erected on camping terraces, stables were built for over 400 horses, a hospital was constructed and sewage facilities created. 

By 1892 the present military camp had been built. More permanent buildings were constructed replacing the earlier more temporary structures. These have been added to significantly over the years with more modern facilities being added such as showers, food preparation areas and en suite accommodation, though several of the originals still remain. During WW1 tracked vehicles were used, live firing with mortars continued and more buildings were constructed and updated for WW2 training. The camp has been used for Dunkirk evacuees, POW’s and Falkland War preparations.

Our visit continued with a tour of the site entering many of the numerous buildings, many of which are original and listed such as no. 69, the Warrant Officer’s and Staff Sergeant’s Quarters from 1894.  Many of the buildings have original corrugated iron roofs and among those seen were stables, decontamination block, gun store, gun maintenance, toilet blocks, farrier’s facility, married quarters and the guardhouse. We finished in the superb museum which has an amazing collection of artefacts ranging from old photos, military shells and equipment, badges, pencils etc.

The Camp is now the 2nd oldest training area in the UK. The special qualities of the moor support the modern training methods which take place on 3 ranges with safety and conservation being key objectives. Lighter weapons are used with no artillery, tanks or mortars. Static targets are used at Wilsworthy and the other areas support some live firing and dry training with blanks. Other activities include route marches, rock climbing, mountain biking and team building.


The History of the Plymouth Royal Navy Dockyard 

 Commander Charles Crichton’s slide show with his highly entertaining anecdotes produced a colourful talk on the development of the Dockyard from the late 17th century. Plymouth already had a naval reputation mainly due to Drake but it was William of Orange who recognised that the country needed a bigger shipbuilding facility and naval base. After several sites were considered in the locality, the area known then as Dock was chosen in 1690.

A stone lined basin and first ever stepped dry dock were built in 1692 along with a centralised storage area. Other buildings designed by the navy architect Edmund Drummer included a double ropery and a grand terrace of houses for senior officers, most of which was destroyed in the Blitz.

A huge period of expansion started in the mid 18th century with the development of South Yard. Additional slipways (one still survives unaltered today), dry docks and wet basins were established for the repair and maintenance of the fleet.  Workshops, a new ropery, smithery and sawmill followed and the Yard still contains several scheduled monuments and listed buildings from that period despite the war damage.

A new gun wharf named Morice Yard was added which was a self-contained establishment with its own complex of workshops, offices and storehouses including on-site storage of gunpowder. Further expansion followed in the 19th century with the advent of steam power and the opening of North Yard at Keyham, linked to the other yards by underground tunnel and rail lines. In addition to more docks and basins there were specialised workshops, foundries and forges. An engineering college and the HMS Drake Barracks were built. The town of Dock was renamed Devonport in 1823.

The dockyard in the 20th century doubled in size with over 18, 000 employees and over 300 ships built. Additional facilities and modernisations followed including the frigate complex, nuclear submarine, Royal Marine and amphibious warfare ships’ bases.

The Dockyard today is run by Babcock employing less than 3,000 service personnel but still probably the biggest naval base in Western Europe. Parts of South Yard are now used for the building of superyachts and as a marine industries hub together with the Heritage Centre maritime museum. A fibre replica of the “King Billy” ship’s figurehead stands at Mutton Cove.

Commander Crichton’s haunting tales of paranormal activities around a rumoured execution cell in the old ropery rounded off an entertaining evening.


“Life on Dartmoor in WW1”

 Peter Mason’s talk through his use of letters, reminiscences and  excellent images of people who lived in this period brought to life what was happening in those difficult times. Before the war tourism was flourishing, farming was recovering from depression but there was widespread industrial unrest. Emily Pankhurst was imprisoned in Exeter. Flower and agricultural shows were still in progress when war broke out.

Military training started on the moor and young men flocked to join in the adventure – work on Castle Drogo stopped. Reservists were called up, horses requisitioned and amidst concerns about German spies ex poachers were recruited to stand guard. As initial enthusiasm for joining up to fight waned, recruitment marches were held across the country and many Dartmoor farmers held back. Letters read by Peter from anxious relatives emphasised the concerns with an increase in conscientious objectors.

However, many schemes started to help the war effort and lots of locals were involved in fund raising events and the collection and processing of Sphagnum moss and foxglove leaves for wound dressings and pain relief. There were egg collection schemes, plus berries and conkers for use in cordite. Voluntary aid departments were set up across the moor and visits arranged to tend the returning wounded, even the Scouts were involved in providing teas and entertainment.

The demand for timber for pit props in the trenches brought in workers including some of the conscientious objectors (the “Devon Knuts”) and others were brought into help with farming. 1916 also saw the birth of the Women’s Land Army who were trained at Seale Hayne and taught to plough, milk cows and drive tractors  and other vehicles. Even prisoners of war were roped into help. Peter’s extracts from the memoirs of Cecil Torr and the suffragette Olive Hockin highlighted their involvement.

Life continued as normal where at all possible despite the impact on schools of epidemics of mumps, chicken pox and measles. Scouts ran messages, Lustleigh May Day carried on and other social events continued to support the war effort.

When the war ended in 1918 church bells rang again and detonators set off on the rail line into Lustleigh welcomed the home-comers. Armistice dinners were held (men only!). Empire Day was held in Ashburton in May 1919. The establishment of war memorials started to much discussion and controversy. The North Bovey lychgate was dedicated on the 10th Jan 1920, the official date of the WW1 Peace Treaty.



“Morwellham: Tavistock’s Port”

Rick Stewart started off by emphasising the correct pronunciation of this settlement, the highest navigable point on the River Tamar. Benefitting from being on flat land it was probably used by the Romans from the nearby Calstock fort, growing further from the influence of Tavistock Abbey, and again from the 13th century onwards as tin mining on Dartmoor increased the river trade.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, the land was granted to the Duke of Bedford but it was rich men from Bristol that had the biggest influence on the development of the port by the 18th century. These men were traders who used slave monies to develop copper mines, smelting plants and factories in the Bristol area. When copper was discovered in the Tamar Valley and was easier to extract, their attentions and money moved south and the port experienced a period of boom and bust as the industry took off.

The opening of the Tavistock canal in 1817 increased the flow of goods to and from the port and then in the 1840’s the richest copper lode in the world was discovered and the mine of Devon Great Consols opened. This created a huge mining boom with £1 shares trading at £800 a few years later and a massive increase in trade through the port. A 4.5 mile long railway was built in 1858 connecting to the port by an incline tramway and the building of the Great Dock doubled the port’s size. The Duke of Bedford built cottages for the miners, Tavistock was thriving and these were peak times.

However, competition from Chile where opencast mining was cheaper led to a need to diversify and by the 1870’s the copper mine was now the largest producer of arsenic in the world, exporting this via the port to the US in huge quantities for use as an insecticide in the cotton fields . By 1905 this trade had ceased and the big mine closed and the port and quays fell into disuse.

Increased leisure time and interest in history and industrial archaeology grew in the mid 20th century and in the 1970’s restoration work began on the area. A charitable trust was set up to start an open air museum, the old George and Charlotte mine was re-opened and the Great Dock refurbished. The mid 1990’s recession led to further setbacks but the awarding of Unesco World Heritage Site status to the area gave a further boost to the port.

Today, it is owned by private enterprise and its fascinating history lives on for all to see.



Tavistock Canal and its History”

Simon Dell kicked off our 2019 programme with an historical stroll along the canal and a brief history of the man responsible for its construction, the mining engineer John Taylor.

Taylor had made his name in the late 18th century as the mine captain of the Wheal Friendship complex in Mary Tavy, at the time the largest copper mine in the world and a major exporter of arsenic to the US for the control of the boll weevil.. Transporting of the ores by packhorse to the port of Morwellham was a real problem so Taylor came up with the idea of a canal and an Act of Parliament was passed in 1803 to enable work to begin.

Initially using part of the old Crowndale Farm leat the canal took 14 years to complete over a distance of 4.5 miles. It flowed gently downhill along most of the way, negotiating 3 copper lodes with 24 waterwheels en route and required a 1.5 mile long tunnel. It was then connected to the port by means of an incline tramway. 38ft long wrought iron tug boats drawn by horses carried the ore down the canal bringing back grain, lime and coal. The ore was shipped to South Wales for smelting.

Simon’s talk took us on a virtual journey along the canal starting at the take off point below Abbey Weir with its iconic leaf clearer! The canal flows under the old town grain store (now the Guide Hall) past the old Wharf offices and coal store through the Meadows and out of the town into the woodland beyond. It continues under an arched bridge stained blue with copper residue, over an aqueduct until it reaches Lumbur Bends with its lockgate and the amazing tunnel construction.

An embankment formed from the tunnel excavations stands over a 0.5 mile incline to the copper lodes of Wheal Crebor mine with its own waterwheel. The tunnel passes underneath, extremely narrow with adits leading off, the walls coloured by yellow ochre. Standing in the field above are 3 8ft high air shafts which plunge 350ft vertically underground. It took the barges 2 hrs to negotiate the tunnel downstream and 3 hours back.

In 1819 a branch of the canal called the Collateral Cut took a route up to the slate quarries at Mill Hill, with an accompanying horse drawn tramway. Although traces of this can still be found, much of it is on private property.

Since 1933 the canal has been utilised by the hydro-electric Morwellham Power Station, connected by pipeline. Today, the canal because of its importance in mining and transportation history forms part of the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site.





“Backtracking around the Princetown and Tavistock Branches”

Bernard Mill’s opening image of two trains including coal goods at Bickleigh Station in 1962 set the scene for his nostalgic and entertaining talk. Through a series of then and now scenes he took us on a journey firstly up the line to Yelverton.  

The original line from Plymouth had already passed over 3 viaducts before reaching Shaugh Bridge platform with its own refreshment kiosk and was frequented regularly by boy scouts and other passengers enjoying the surrounding woods. The 308 yards of Shaugh tunnel led through to Clearbrook Halt, scene of a derailment in 1885, now sadly private and completely unrecognisable.

Yelverton Station with its own turntable and crossing loops opened in 1885 providing for change to Princetown. The station opened up the area to much passenger traffic and Bernard’s superb images showed it in its heyday. The scenes of Plymouth Dairies milk churns carried on the trains, the unusual gravity shunting and the people in their fashions of the 1950’s contrasted vividly with the now inaccessible and totally overgrown state of the present site.

Heading across the moor, Bernard’s pictorial journey took us to Burrator Halt, originally used by the workers building the dam, the old kissing gate still visible today. A snowy scene showed the RAF mast at Sharpitor in the background as the line wound past Routrundle to Ingra Tor Halt. An image of grazing cattle from 1938 marked this spot, also famous for its old “beware of snakes” notice. The first part of Bernard’s tour, after a 3 mile loop around King’s Tor and its quarries, ended at the highest station in England. The branch line closed on a cold and foggy day at the end of December 1956.

Back at Yelverton, we were taken through the old tunnel, over the old road bridge (originally timber built on the design of the Royal Albert at Saltash), into Horrabridge Station. Opened in 1859, it was busy handling copper ore, coal and agricultural products. Stunning old pictures of the Grenofen Viaduct contrast sharply with the modern Gem Bridge as this part of the route now forms the Drake’s Trail cycleway. We end finally at Tavistock South, its original station being rebuilt after 1887 because of a fire. An image of a diesel demolition train on closure in 1964 was offset by Bernard’s final shot of two trains side by side representing the two routes to Tavistock.

Bernard’s superb quality of old and new photos, his incredible recollection of schedules and timetables and his unique delivery made for an excellent evening to round off our year of events.



“The Building of Plymouth Breakwater”

Ron Smith, a new speaker to the society, started his talk by asking the audience some topical questions and after some positive responses, proceeded to tell us about his research.

The breakwater is 60 yards short of a mile long and was built to protect the Sound and the anchorages of Plymouth. 43 feet wide at the top with a base of 65 feet, it lies in 33 feet of water.  About 2 million tons of limestone was used in its construction at a cost of £1.5 million.

Beginning in 1788, there was a plan to have 2 breakwaters between Drake’s Island and Barn Pool, and another between Bovisand and the Shovel Shoal (mid-Sound), but it was soon realised that there was no protection from the south-west. In 1801/2 another plan was looked at from Penlee Point into deep water.  However, in 1806 John Rennie and Joseph Whidbey surveyed the area in detail and their proposal was accepted in 1811 with the breakwater to lie on the Shovel Shoal, the big advantage being that ships could get out from the shelter at either end according to wind direction.

Whidbey was appointed to superintend the construction and to find the correct stone; a quarry at Oreston, bought from the Duke of Bedford was opened on 1st April 1812.  The first blocks were dropped on the Shovel on 12th August 1812 and first sighted above water at the low spring tide on 31st March 1813.  The bulk of the breakwater was rubble i.e. rough blocks not fitted together which were tipped over the side of specially built ships. About 50 vessels were used and 306 men employed in the quarry with over 12,000 tons of stone quarried weekly. Richard Trevithick invented a stone-hole borer using a rotary bit for the process.

Storms were a big problem as they displaced the rubble from the seaward side so more stone was needed to flatten the configuration. 100 ton wave-breaker blocks were brought in separately to reduce damage. Concrete moulds were used to make the numbered blocks with c30 still being replaced annually. A lighthouse stands at the Cawsand end and a seamen’s refuge at the other, both made of granite; the fort is not actually on the breakwater and was built, as a folly, in 1860.  Construction was finally finished in 1840.  Today constant repairs are needed: voids happen which are injected with concrete and the breakwater constantly needs repointing.

Some famous people have visited e.g. Princess Victoria and her mother in 1833.  In 1844 tours were started with a bus, under horsepower, being taken out to there to carry people on the structure.  There are still trips undertaken by visitors today which can be arranged by Ron Smith.    



“A Great and Desperate Venture: Belgian Refugees in Devon during WW1”

Ciaran Stoker kicked off his talk with a dramatic image of a crowded Ostend docks, crammed with just some of the quarter of a million refugees who fled from Belgium to the UK in the autumn of 1914, one of the largest ever movements of people into this country. Ciaran’s research in the Devon Heritage Centre at Exeter had led him through government publications, newspaper and local committee archives and personal correspondence unearthing a wealth of details about the events at that time.

As 8,000 of these refugees came into Devon, a War Refugees Committee was set up in early 1915 under the leadership of Hugh Fortescue to manage the allocation of people and resources across the county villages and finding immediate places to home them. This was later combined with Major Owen’s committee and led to competition over funding. Though there was some help from the Government, fundraising came from numerous sources including concerts, fetes and parades with lots of community involvement and some refugees finding local work. This was all despite difficulties over language, religion and culture and also worries about infiltration by German spies. Another key figure was Clara Andrews who contributed hugely to these efforts and was later awarded a medal by Belgium for her work.

From Alice Clapp’s log book, Ciaran established that the refugees were very diverse, including whole families with servants, total strangers lumped together, children and students, with occupations ranging from fishermen to state officials and businessmen.  Some men of fighting age later returned to fight in the war.

The impact on local villages was also quite varied. In Bampton one family consisted of 11 young children and some of the men found work in the nearby quarries. One man however was found to be defrauding the system by not supporting his family and the local committee was disbanded as a result. Many of the refugees did settle well into the local community and some stayed after the war including one family in Ottery St Mary. A family in South Brent returned to visit later and in Teignmouth stands an ornamental urn as a tribute of gratitude from the refugees who took shelter there.

Finally in 1919 the repatriation process began, even assisted by Germany! Huge farewell ceremonies were held in Exeter as the thousands of refugees filtered back home via London. Fortescue’s closing comments were perhaps not endorsed by everyone when he said “our committee is finally closed to the relief of all”. For many, both refugees and locals it had been an interesting experience.

Image result for teignmouth urn                                         

The Teignmouth Urn


“A Stroll of Discovery around Yennadon”

Following on in her series of walks for our Society around local downs, Liz Miall led us on a quick tour of this popular walking spot full of surprisingly historical interests. First mentioned as Eana’s Hill or Yhanadouna in the 13th century and comprised of metamorphic stone its features include railways, mines, quarries, leats, a reservoir, WW2 relics, medieval and prehistoric archaeology and fine views.

Liz started by showing some photos of troop manoeuvres on the Down in 1873 (12,000 troops passing through) and a reference to a visit here by the author Edith Holden in her “Country Diary”. As we set off, the first stop of interest through the trees was the dome of Dousland reservoir dating from 1906 and fed by pipeline from the Devonport Leat.

At the bottom of the slope we picked up the path of the 1923 horse drawn tramway and noted some of the remaining granite block sleepers along the route. Below the path a shapely stone bridge holds up a drainage culvert. A deep gulley and waste tip further along are the remains of the 1836 Meavy Iron Mine. A blocked adit and shafts and a surviving boundstone can be found further up the hill. Manganese, lignite and ochre were also thought to have been mined in the area.

We passed by the entrance to the quarry which has been working on and off since the mid 1800’s, now producing garden stone. It still employs 18 mainly local people, its immediate future now guaranteed by permission to extend.

At the top of Iron Mine Lane we encountered relics of WW2 in the form of concrete hut bases thought to be associated with a searchlight battery and then passed over a large clapper bridge on the Devonport Leat. Nearby are Bronze Age field systems and a cairn. We traced the circuitous loop of the old tramway and followed the route of the 1883 steam line to Burrator Halt. This was originally just a platform built for the workers on the dam extension in 1924. A 1st class ticket then to Ingra Tor Halt would have cost 9d. (4.5p)

As the light faded we reached the summit of the Down at 301 meters, where once stood a trig point and now a PCWW stone, one of 72 marking the 5, 360 acres of the Burrator reservoir catchment area. We ended our interesting stroll at this superb viewpoint watching the distant flickering of the Plymouth breakwater and Eddystone lights.



Yelverton Village Walk”

A gentle evening stroll led by Stephen and Claire Fryer highlighted some of the fascinating history of the village. Donne’s map of 1765 shows barely any development in the area and it was not until the mid 1800’s with the coming of the turnpike roads and the railway that major changes started to happen with shops and cottages and a pub appearing at Leg O’ Mutton. The building of the churches and the opening of the railway station, plus Yelverton being portrayed as a healthy place to live led to more houses and the village centre moved across the road to the Green in the early 1900’s.

The opening of Harrowbeer airfield in 1941 hastened further changes particularly to the road layouts and the shops and the airfield Interest Group has done an amazing job in collecting historical details on its website.

We were kindly allowed into St Paul’s church where superb examples of Violet Pinwill’s carvings (one of our previous talk topics) can be seen. Curiously the interior seating is chairs not pews. A plaque sits on the outside wall dedicated to a Typhoon pilot killed in a crash nearby. The Plymouth and Devonport leats run close by.

The Parade of shops is much changed, the most obvious feature being the lowering of the roof levels because of the airfield. Stephen explained how many of the shop fronts had been extended out over gardens and how the businesses had altered. The Co-Op however has been there since 1906. The 1826 Dartmoor tramway crossed the green and the Texaco garage now stands on the original wharf.

Our tour concluded with an exhibition of old photographs and historical documents in the Rock Inn, courtesy of the owner Sue Callow. Originally a coaching house from the 16th century, a private house until the 1880’s then becoming a hotel. The “Wet Rock” ceased to be a hotel in 1967 and was converted into apartments. Grenville Park, the housing development behind the Inn was originally pasture land for their livestock and the local Surgery stands on what was the vegetable plot. Many of Sue’s photos highlight these changes including images of the old stables, tennis courts and croquet lawn.

Close by, scarcely noticeable is a rescued sign pointing the way to the old Moor House Hotel, originally at Leg O’ Mutton and latterly blown up!




“Crownhill Fort – a guided tour”

The first thing that strikes you as you pass through the impressive front gateway is the sheer size of the place, situated high up at the head of 3 valleys but almost invisible from the busy adjacent A386, the inner fort spread over 16 acres.

It was built during the 1860’s and finally completed in 1872 after a series of delaying strikes. Britain had become increasingly concerned at the time about the build up of French military power under the leadership of Emperor Napoleon 111. Lord Palmerston’s government subsequently approved a major upgrade of the country’s fixed defences, including 10 forts and batteries around Plymouth (later called Palmerston’s follies as they were never used in battle).

However, it was used by the military up until 1985 mostly as a training venue in the 19th century, a recruitment and mobilisation depot in WW1, use by Allied troops in the build up to D Day and by 59 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers who provided logistical support to the Falklands Campaign. Its future was secured in 1987 when it was purchased by The Landmark Trust who have undertaken major restoration works to retain its Victorian layout.

Our guide Ed Donohue led us on an extremely interesting tour of the various buildings and armaments including the barracks which once housed 20 men per room, now full of their memorabilia; the officers’ quarters with an earth roof to resist enemy fire (13 roomy casements now self catering apartments); gun sheds and stables and the underground magazine and cartridge stores – an extremely claustrophobic and potentially dangerous area to work.

Walking around the substantial ramparts we were shown some of the 17 guns including the 1811 small bore with its .75 mile range and the even more impressive 1998 replica of a Moncrieff with its 4 ton hydraulic counterweighted barrel and a range of almost 3 miles! – one of only two in the world.  Caponniers are situated at each corner of the fort with its smooth bore warship guns focussed on the surrounding ditch leaving no blind spots open to attack.

The evening was rounded off by the firing of an early 19th century field gun.

Today the fort is open to the general public once a month and to pre-booked groups. An impressive and worthwhile place to visit.





“Ivybridge and the 4 Parishes”

Sheila Hancox, a new speaker for our Society, gave an entertaining talk on the birth and rise of Ivybridge, how it grew from being just a crossing point over the River Erme to the fastest growing town in Europe.

Ivebrugge was originally just a narrow 13th century packhorse bridge on the route between Exeter and Plymouth, on the boundary of the four parishes of Cornwood, Harford, Ermington and Ugborough – a total population of c4,000. Although a chapel existed nearby from 1402, it was not until the 16th century onwards that things began to change during the Industrial Revolution with the building of mills to take advantage of the strong river flow, one of which was the Stowford paper mill,  built in 1787 and becoming the major employer in the area.

Following the Turnpike Act of 1753 and the arrival of stage coaches on the daily post routes the local roads were widened and a new need arose for overnight stays. The London Hotel (originally the Swan Inn) was built along with a Constitutional Club, a church and houses on Erme Road. Further inns and a new chapel soon followed as the population began to grow. By 1834 a new bridge had been built with another road by-passing the original.

More big changes came with the arrival of the railway in 1848 and Brunel’s iconic wooden viaduct over the river. John Allen bought the paper mill and invested heavily, picking up the business of paper making for all postage stamps; the first post office opened in 1850.  1856 saw the first school and private ones soon followed.

William Cotton, a nephew of the owners of Lukesland, fell in love with the area and bought Highlands House. An avid art collector, he took an active role in the area particularly concerning himself with the eradication of cholera, forming a local board of health. By now the new village had a 5 mile border of its own.

A reservoir to serve the village was built in 1874 plus a police station with its own “Inspector of Nuisances” and the Dame Hannah Rogers School opened in 1887. By 1894 a new viaduct had been built and the village was independent of its neighbours with a population of almost 2,000 and managed by the Urban District Council. The 1911 census shows that people from all over the world were moving to the area.

Wiggins Teape took over the paper mill in 1924 and trade was booming with contracts for all types of security documents including birth certificates and pension books with their trademark watermarks. Changes in technology forced its closure after 226 years in 2013. It is currently being converted to apartments but with a heritage centre.

In 1977 Ivybridge became a Town and during the 1980’s was proclaimed as the fastest growing one in Europe. It is now the largest in the South Hams with over 14,000 residents and still growing. Overlooked by the lofty Western Beacon, it still prospers as the gateway to Dartmoor and the start of the Two Moors Way.



“The Royal Clarence Fire and St Martin’s Island

Dr Todd Gray returned after his injury last year to explain about the fire which almost destroyed the Royal Clarence hotel in Cathedral Yard, Exeter.  It began in the early hours of Friday 28th October 2016 in the Mansion House building and quickly spread to Well House next door; 100 fire-fighters tackled the fire which lasted for hours with the added complication of a ruptured gas main in the hotel.

Todd was called in by Radio Devon to give a background on the hotel to assist with the possible problems resulting from the age of the building as the fire officers did not know the history and the Council had not sent a listed building officer to the scene.  He also did many other interviews for TV and Radio.

The hotel consists of 4 buildings: the Central block is the original 18th century part with 2 floors each of stone and timber, but because the building reports had been destroyed,  copies had to be obtained to prove the structures did not need to be demolished. 

The Royal Clarence is situated in what is known as St Martin’s Island consisting of the properties within the boundaries of High Street, Broadgate, Cathedral Yard and St Martin’s Lane.  As some of the shops in the High Street are 15th century these needed to be saved.  It took 5 months just to clear the rubble inside the hotel.  Mansion House, an 1870s building designed by a dentist was completely gutted and is not going to be restored inside.  Inside the Well House (dates from 1500 or before) a well was found in 1936 and thought to have ‘holy properties’ but is now thought to have been a garderobe! 

The hotel was built on Roman and Anglo Saxon remains and, as a result of the fire, a medieval banqueting hall has been revealed.  The hotel was named after the Duchess of Clarence (Adelaide) who visited in the 1820s; before that it was called Thompson’s (after the proprietor) and called an “hotel” from the 1760s.

Inside the ‘island’ there are 20 houses with no access to the outside with the buildings well documented; amazingly untouched by the blitz.  There are a number of buildings on the High Street and there have been lots of alterations over time.  Todd went on to list some of them, showing pictures of the changes to the fronts and the heights, giving lists of the occupants and things that have been discovered as a result of the fire.  There is still a lot of archaeological work being done with many buildings changed or destroyed.

The hotel is due to be re-opened by Christmas 2019 with an extra floor; it will be modern inside.

Todd has written a book on the above ‘St Martin’s Island – an introductory history of 42 Exeter buildings’ to record his usual extensive research.



“The Roman Excavations at Ipplepen 2007-17 (coins, slate and daub)”

The discovery of some Roman coins by local metal detector enthusiasts in 2007 and a subsequent application by the farmer to put up some new buildings on the site has led to a remarkable 10 year project of tremendous historical importance.  Derek Gore related how further geo-physical surveys and trial excavations discovered many unusual archaeological features spread over a large field area near a minor road junction outside the village. The resulting project, led by the University of Exeter and funded by the British Museum has since uncovered evidence of settlements from Iron Age and Roman periods.

Initial finds included a 7 metre deep pit which suggested a Roman quarry containing slate and pottery sherds and a coin dating from the 3rd century. More coins followed and as a larger excavation got underway, trenches and prehistoric field systems were exposed – features such as an Iron Age pit dated c400BC probably used for metal smelting.

One of the most exciting discoveries was that of a Roman road 4 metres wide in places complete with wheel ruts and probably built by their army, which appeared to lead towards Haldon ridge; Derek surmised that this could have led on south westwards towards the River Dart and the coast. Within a side trench the neck of an amphora was unearthed – was this an offering to the Roman god of roads?

In 2014 more excavations uncovered bones from 37 inhumation burials carefully arranged in what appeared to be family groupings and thought to be post Roman c600-800AD. By 2016 burnt bones had been identified of a young female from the mid Iron Age; also a circular building of the Roman period, further trenches, wells, rubbish pits, building post holes plus daub clay and animal dung used in house construction and an intricately designed brooch pin. Later finds included more bracelets, brooches and Samian pottery, all normally the possessions of wealthy people.

An application in 2017 for a new stable by the farmer in the adjacent field prompted further excavations with similar discoveries but also a granary, a blacksmith’s forge containing iron workings and slag, another trackway into the fields and a burial with hobnails from boots thrown in! There was also the incredibly rare find of a pottery sherd from the Romano-British period known as South East Glazed Ware not previously found west of Wiltshire.

It was traditionally thought that Romans never ventured further west than Exeter, however the discoveries near Ipplepen show otherwise. They also show that settlements existed here even well before the Romans, providing new insights into the history of Devon itself. Further Open Days are planned at the site in the future.



“The Last Copper Miners of Dartmoor: a unique legacy.”

With the scheduled speaker unavailable through illness, Dr. Tom Greeves stepped in at short notice with another talk from his vast repertoire of researches.  Tom stated firstly that although copper made up 90% of bronze, there were fewer records available and no evidence of prehistoric mining for it on Dartmoor, unlike tin. Copper mining was in fact concentrated in 3 main areas on the edges of the Moor: Tamar/ Tavy/ Walkham valleys, Ashburton and to the north around South Zeal.

Morwellham was a very important port around 1900 for the export of copper from the nearby huge Devon Great Consols Mine and Wheal Friendship at Mary Tavy. Tom had obtained some amazing drawings of the latter which had 6 shafts more than 1,000ft deep in the mid 19th century. The remains of this mine lie hidden in thick vegetation today. Other mines of note were the Druid mine in Yarner Wood, Wheal Forest under Meldon and the Blackdown on the Redaven Brook – the only true moorland one.

Another significant mine was the Ramsley at South Zeal, although it underwent many name changes from its origins around 1780. Tom shared his collection of remarkable  images of the mine with its waterwheels , tramways and associated buildings. It seemed that despite the Oxenham Philanthropic Friendly Society being involved, the village and area had a rough reputation, sometimes known as “Irish Town”. The mine closed in 1909 with a huge auction of over 400 items.

Tom’s research does not stop at the mines and their buildings however and extends to the local miners themselves. Again with his extraordinary high quality image collection, Tom has explored their lives by talking to relatives and descendants. These pictures paint fascinating tales of how they far the miners were prepared to travel to find work. John Osborn born 1865, one of 11 children walked many miles to work each day to Golden Dagger mine, often dynamiting a few trout on the way! He also worked in Cornwall, Mary Tavy and India.

A character called Rocky Mountain George travelled to the gold mines in the US. John Newcombe went to British Columbia and Tom read fascinating extracts from postcards sent by Newcombe to his wife in Devon. Another miner joined the Navy and went off to fight in the Boer War. Others worked also in Kelly Mine near Bovey Tracey (iron mine), in coal mining in Wales and South Africa.

The tales and pictures brought to life the characters and the tough working conditions of the mines. For example, images of men with bunches of candles around their necks in preparation for the long descent down ladders in the dark, but also the women on the surface , the “bal maidens” breaking up the ore with hammers.

Tom’s excellent talk and his collection of drawings and photographs also emphasised the resourcefulness of these mining communities.



“The Fair Arm of the Law.”

From his book of the same name, Simon Dell led us through the development of women policing which has its origins in the social changes of the early 20th century, the Suffragette movement and the Great War.

There were no women in Robert Peel’s “New Police” in 1829 though wives of serving officers did have a supporting role as “Matrons”. They were given a small allowance to look after female prisoners, being given a spare key to the double-locked cells for prisoners’ protection. “Wardresses” were later appointed to deal with female prisoners in the courts. Two of these were involved in the arrest of Ethel Le Neve, the lover of the infamous Dr. Crippin, having travelled to the US to bring her back.

In 1895 the Union of Women Workers was formed and during the early 1900’s a series of Special Committees were appointed leading by 1914 to the introduction of the “Women’s Patrols”.  The War started and soldiers were billeted in local towns and villages; as a result over 2,000 of these Patrols were established to prevent “acts of immorality”.

At the same time the Suffragette movement was gathering momentum, demanding The  Vote and a bigger role for women in society. As policemen and other working men went off to war there was a huge shortage of labour at home which presented a big opportunity for women. This was especially relevant in the munitions industry, large plants being set up and staffed mainly by women (known as canaries because of skin discoloured by the cordite). For mostly safety reasons they employed their own police force. Nina Boyle, a leading suffragette, battled against the authorities to set up the “Women’s Police Volunteer Service”, assisting with the care of refugees, many of whom were often sold into slavery. Although for a long time only supported by private funds they had strict regulations, conducted their own training and had their own uniform, becoming in 1915 the “Women’s Police Service”.  

Despite all the good work during the war there was still significant resistance afterwards to the employment of WPC’s, although Commissioner Macready did set up the “Metropolitan Women Police Patrols”. The subsequent influence of Nancy Astor and the outbreak of WW2 then provided a second boost for women in employment.

In the 30 years after WW2, the numbers of women involved in policing gradually increased along with improved training and professionalism. However, it was not until the 1970’s that their role was fully defined. Their duties can now be found in all areas such as underwater and dog patrols, mounted police and traffic. In 1975 the conditions for policewomen were finally made equal to male counterparts.

From Peel’s early beginnings it has taken almost 200 years for the roles of women in policing to be fully established. Many of the police pioneers were heavily involved in the Suffragettes movement and suffered rejection and resentment, but fought hard, proving their worth during and after the two wars to be where they are today.



EVENTS 2017:


“William Spreat: a leading photographer of Dartmoor, Devon and Cornwall in the 1860’s/70’s.”

At our last event of the year, our members were treated to the customary complimentary mince pie and glass of wine, followed by Dr. Tom Greeves’ excellent illustrated talk on the works of this 19th century artist.

Born 1816 in Exeter, he published his first book at the age of 26 in 1842 on the Churches of Devon, images of superb quality including one of St. Andrews in Buckland Monachorum. He quickly mastered all aspects of his art including landscape painting, lithography (only invented a few years before), engraving and publishing. He began to create images as stereographs – 2 prints side by side – which when viewed through a stereoscope produced a 3-dimensional picture. Annotating interesting labels such as “looming through the sea mist” he put his stamp on the reverse. He travelled extensively carrying heavy equipment to sometimes very remote locations.

In 1862 he advertised a collection of 300 numbered photos for sale to tourists and visitors at a price of one shilling each. Tom took us through a selection from this amazing work of quite superb quality images from all over the region. Some of the earliest featured coastal scenes of Lynmouth, Torquay and Teignmouth plus another of the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash with some figures walking along the railway line. He was also keen on the natural world with photos of ferns and waterfalls.

His photos were extremely varied including buildings as well as landscapes and often featured human figures in the background. They also provide great physical and historical comparisons with today and how things have changed. In Cornwall we see his picture of St. Levan church with its sash windows and a thatched building nearby – now no longer there. He labelled Botallack Mine as a “sublimity of nature”. Others included Lanyon Quoit, the Moorswater viaduct and Looe canal and the Holy Well of St. Keyne.

He was very fond of Dartmoor and these images are very interesting for the changes. A photo of Rippon Tor shows a heather clad area - not so today. His image of Fingle Bridge and gorge before Castle Drogo was built is fascinating because of the absence of the dense woodland there now. One of the earliest photos of Wistmans Wood shows it being much smaller back then. Another shows the finely balanced logan stone on Nutcracker Rock and buildings belonging to the New Inn near Hemsworthy Gate – both long gone. In the same picture the prehistoric Foales Arrishes settlements can be seen. However his picture of Manaton Green looks remarkably unchnaged today.

Tom ended his talk with probably the most striking image of them all, taken around 1865 and 40 years earlier than the next known image of mining on Dartmoor. It features a group of miners beside a waterwheel at Vitifer Mine.

Thanks to Tom Greeves for the opportunity to see photos that were published around 150 years ago to such an incredible quality and clarity.



“George Magrath: Nelson’s Forgotten Surgeon.”

There is little general information around on Sir George compared to other surgeons who served with Lord Nelson but Barbie Thompson’s detailed research has helped to highlight the career of a remarkable man. Although some dismissed him as a tall, thin, one-eyed Irishman, Nelson himself described Magrath as “by far the most able medical man I have ever seen” and wrote letters to Lady Hamilton singing his praises.

He was born in County Tyrone in 1775 and learned his trade from 1794 as a surgeon’s mate on board HMS Theseus. He spent time in the West Indies taking part in the evacuation of Guadeloupe but contracted yellow fever and lost the sight in his left eye. However, despite this he soon demonstrated his skills and was promoted to full surgeon in 1797 and joined HMS Russell. He served 4 years here including major naval action at the Battle of Camperdown in the North Sea. Casualties were huge with Magrath performing many operations including multiple amputations but earning great respect and confidence with his skills and alternative remedies.

In 1803 he joined Nelson on board HMS Victory as the flag medical officer. Nelson was very concerned about the health of his crew and Magrath’s skills soon made him a favourite. When a major outbreak of yellow fever broke out in Gibraltar killing over 6,000 people, Magrath was tasked to stay behind to help as superintendent of the naval hospital, Nelson assuring him that he would return afterwards to continue serving with him. Much to Nelson’s annoyance, he was over-ruled from London and William Beatty was appointed instead. Magrath was apparently “mortified” at not being able to share in the glory at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar.

Before the battle he had continued to exchange letters with Nelson but then became a Medical Officer at Millbay Gaol in Plymouth which housed American POW’s from the War of Independence. Unlike his predecessor, Magrath proved to be very popular with the prisoners because of his concern for their welfare and he served there for 9 years. Beatty even wrote to Lady Hamilton commending Magrath for his services.

In 1814 he transferred to Dartmoor Prison where he practised his unique cold water treatments. He treated the injured sympathetically after the 1815 riots and was later praised in many letters and memoirs from staff and prisoners. After the prison closed in 1832 he started a practice in Union Street, Plymouth, using his skills again in the later cholera outbreaks. He continued to live in Plymouth until his death in 1857.

A christening mug presented by Nelson to Magrath was recently discovered in Canada and in 2013 four of the medals awarded to him were sold at auction for over £14,000.



Dartmoor’s War Prison – Constructing, Supplying and Skulduggery.”

Due to the scheduled speaker Dr. Todd Gray sustaining a knee injury, Elisabeth Stanbrook kindly stood in, at very short notice, with a new talk, which proved to be very interesting and informative and coincidentally was a good follow up to our recent visit to the prison cemeteries and museum.

Lis told us how Thomas Tyrwhitt, Private Secretary to and friend of the Prince Regent, enclosed 2,300 acres of land to the south-west of Two Bridges and built his estate, Tor Royal.  He discovered that the land was unproductive for agriculture and had the idea to build a war prison.  At the time there were two other prisons in Peterborough and Bristol but, when these became full, prisoners were held in hulks in the Hamoaze in very bad conditions, packed in like sardines; these were French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars. 

Daniel Asher Alexander was to be the architect.  A contract was drawn up between the Duchy and Transport board; in 1805/6 they advertised for masons, carpenters, stone cutters etc.  The original plan was to construct buildings for 1,000 men, a hospital, Petty officers’ prison and barracks on 15 acres.  There were lots of problems during the building: walls collapsing, slow deliveries, bad weather etc. which delayed the finish date of 1807. The barracks were completed in 1809 and 5,000 prisoners arrived on foot from Plymouth in late May 1809.  There were further problems such as not enough bedding ordered and insufficient privies; still very overcrowded so new prison blocks were built in 1812 and American prisoners started to arrive a year later.

The water supply came from a leat taken off the River Walkham to a reservoir opposite the prison gate.  There were a number of bake houses supplying bread to the prison – some prisoners complained about ‘bad bread’ and after testing it was found to be contaminated with china clay.  Milk and dairy produce were also supplied from the surrounding area.  Pubs started to arrive – the Plume of Feathers was established in 1808.  A chapel was eventually built in 1813 and the French prisoners helped to do this.  There were lots of delays with the construction and when the French left the Americans helped to finish it.  The church became grade 2 listed, was very damp and rundown and in 1994 was made redundant; it was nearly demolished but was reprieved.

There are a number of the original buildings still in existence: octagonal store rooms, Prison no 1, Prison no 4 – with enlarged windows and now used as a cinema, the market place, three of the barracks, the Petty officers’ prison and the hospital.

Today the prison still stands as a stark reminder of the past now housing over 600 convicts. Its history can be read in much greater depth in Elisabeth’s book, on which this talk is based: “Dartmoor’s War Prison and Church 1805 – 1817”.


“A guided tour of Dartmoor Prison Museum and POW cemeteries.”

A good turnout of members enjoyed a return visit to the newly refurbished museum and cemeteries, led ably by the deputy governor and museum curator.

We were given a brief history of the prison, now the oldest operating one in the country, category C housing 637 prisoners with only 20 staff! A brainchild of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt it was built during the Napoleonic Wars replacing the floating hulks in Plymouth. It opened in 1809 with French prisoners and quickly became overcrowded later with the arrival of the Americans, at one point housing over 11,000 inmates. It lay empty from 1817 reopening in 1850 as a temporary convict prison then being re-established in 1917 as a Work Centre for conscientious objectors. Today its future is still unsure.

We were then invited into the museum for a taster of what lies within.  This is a fascinating place requiring a much longer visit, housed over several rooms and two floors a huge variety of historical artefacts and photographs. These include items such as model ships, trains, planes and dolls made by prisoners out of everyday materials like meat bones, matchsticks, soap and wood. There is a video containing scenes from the 1932 mutiny at the prison. Old maps, paintings and letters from POWs as they transferred from the hulks sit alongside details of governors’ logs and escape records. Downstairs is the creepy weapons room with displays of prisoners’ “creativity” – knives made out of sharpened toothbrushes and razor blades, escape tools like guns and miniature mobile phones from matchsticks, plus catapults for moving items around and drone hooks.

Outside, we were then guided under the "Parcere Subjectis" gateway, alongside the forbidding prison walls to the beauty & tranquillity of the two cemeteries. During the Napoleonic and the Anglo-American Wars of the early 1800’s almost 1,500 POWs died at Dartmoor Prison. They were buried in unmarked graves in a nearby field but after complaints in later years of bones regularly coming to the surface, the remains were exhumed and reburied in 1866 in the newly created cemeteries.

They stand in beautiful landscaped grounds, having been significantly revamped in 2002, both poignant reminders of the horrors of war. The French memorial obelisk is modest having been made by prisoners and in 2009 on the bicentenary of the first French prisoners of war transferring from the hulks to the Prison, a ceremony was held here attended by descendents of the prisoners of war and French dignitaries.

The American side is rather grander with an obelisk and its two marble memorial walls containing names of the 271 POWs who died, the youngest of which was only 12 years old. Names such as Placid Lovely, Dumpy Kitre and Shadrack Snell add to the sense of sacrifice.




“A guided tour of the Plymouth Synagogue.”

We congregated in Catherine Street outside the synagogue (or meeting house) and were given a brief history of the area by Jerry Sibley, the synagogue’s custodian.  The street was named after a visit by Catherine of Aragon and buildings have also included a workhouse which then became the police station and a public dispensary. The dispensary and the synagogue were the only buildings to survive the WW2 bombing of Plymouth but the area has been much built up since encircling the synagogue.  At one time the street was twice the length it is now with the caretaker’s house facing the street and originally attached to the synagogue, being now above the school room.  There was also a Hebrew school, the remains of which are under the Guildhall.  A new school was built opposite the entrance in the 1840s.

Jerry explained that he is ‘the slave’ who does all the jobs that Jewish people aren’t allowed to do on the Sabbath which starts at sunset on Friday. An ex-soldier, he discovered that the synagogue was likely to close due to lack of funds and had the idea of opening it to the public for free guided tours but receiving donations.  He has extensively researched all areas of the Jewish faith and now teaches at schools, 74 last year

We were shown the bath tub – deep, tiled and L-shaped and an important part of Jewish life and culture.  Men and women bathed separately once a week.

The synagogue itself was built in 1762. The hallway is an extension and holds the rolls of honour from the world wars.  Inside, the gallery was extended in 1864 and paid for by Levi Solomon – he later went to the USA, changed his name to Simpson and his son married Wallis of Edward V111 fame. In Judaism ladies are the more important and they can sit in the gallery with the children (boys up to 13 only): the men are in charge of the service and have to attend.

The beautifully ornate Ark, built by the Dutch in 1761, is on the eastern wall, made of wooden plaster and having survived the war.  It holds the scrolls which are ‘sung’ during the service.  In the centre of the synagogue is the Bimah, the platform from where the services are conducted and built by naval carpenters to look like a ship, again quite ornate with 8 candle sticks topped by acorns. 

The congregation kept on growing and at one time had at least 3,500 men with many of its members (as tailors) supporting the local naval economy.  As this diminished and houses were not built nearby after the destruction of WW2, many moved away as they were not permitted to drive but only walk a short distance to the synagogue.  As a result some moved to London and Manchester and then to the State of Israel which was created in 1948.  In 1968 the membership was so low that there was no longer a Rabbi and is now only 39 in the whole South West.

The Synagogue however is a fascinating place to visit with Jerry, a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide.





“A walking tour of Moretonhampstead”

On a very warm June evening local characters Bill Hardiman and Gary Cox led us on a highly entertaining and informative tour. Granted a market in 1207 by King John, the rent was one sparrowhawk pa. The town has seen much change over the years with a whole series of fires destroying ancient buildings, though many interesting and listed ones remain.

Passing by the restored bus depot, now the motor museum, we noticed the old courthouse, then  into Court Street the Lucy Wills Nurses’ Home and Coppelia House, once the home of the wealthy Bowring family. Shops and cottages still show signs of smoke blackened timbers and no. 16 was once the Plymouth Inn, one of the original 16 pubs in the town - only 4 left now. This is a busy street, the turnpike road having been routed through here in 1770, probably to the dismay of Chagford.

In Pound Street near the site of the old slaughterhouse, 3 cottages have been replaced by a restoration project featuring sculptures of animals, birds and legends. The sparrowhawk sculpture dominates the wall in the Square along with a plaque to George Bidder, the famous engineer. The Horse and White Hart still ply their trade as does the Bell Inn around the corner, another ancient inn which once hosted dances and wrestling matches. It also featured as a meeting place for French prisoners housed in Moreton who were on parole.

Many of the current buildings in Fore Street are replacements for those destroyed by fires in the 19C. Fire tenders had to be brought from Exeter and often prioritised those buildings which had fire insurance, plaques on some of the walls identifying them thus. Nearby is the Bowring Library, a gift to the town from shipping merchant Sir Thomas Bowring. In front stands the town’s War memorial. Also here is the old Baptist Chapel, now a Community church, a throwback to the town’s strong non conformist traditions.

The railway came to the town in 1866 and it seems that further tensions with Chagford arose as it terminated in Moreton! It closed in 1964 and is now the site of Thompson’s Transport business. The new car park stands on the site of the old animal market with the old turnpike tollhouse on the corner. Some narrow and quaint alleyways link through to Cross Street.

The eye here is drawn immediately to the almshouses but there is much to see along the way. The old Methodist Chapel is now a workshop and Ponsford House c1740 retains many original features. The 800 yr old cross now has a new tree alongside it, replacing the old oak dancing tree. The Grade 1 listed almshouses date from the 15C, once a workhouse now rented out by the National Trust.

 The path through a gate leads to the Sentry, the village green with superb views over Mardon Down. We ended our tour looking in on the 12C Grade 1 listed church of St. Andrew’s, passing then along Green Hill, site of the original market place, and the Arts and Heritage Centre.

Excellent maps and guides are available from the town's information centre, making this a really interesting place to wander around.





“Violet Pinwill: Woodcarver of Ermington and Plymouth


The Revd Edmund Pinwill came to Ermington in Devon in 1880 with his wife Elizabeth and their seven young daughters. The church there was rather dilapidated and he decided to restore it, helped financially by local landowner Lord Mildmay and the architect John Sedding. There was family background in shipbuilding and the girls’ grandfather had been a woodcarver, so their mother decided that some of the girls might like to take up the trade.


Working under the direction of Sedding, 3 of the sisters, Mary, Ethel and Violet soon became highly skilled at the craft and in 1889 set up their own company in Plymouth under the name of Rashleigh, Pinwill & Co., using Mary’s middle name to disguise the fact they were women. Sedding’s son Edmund became an integral part of the team and engaged the sisters to carry out many of his designs for church furniture. The pulpit at Ermington church, installed in 1893 was one of their early pieces, and as with all their work, was carried out using oak.


In 1900 Mary got married and moved away but the other two carried on, picking up commissions from other architects. In 1911 Ethel also moved away carrying on woodcarving in Surrey and Violet now became the sole proprietor under the new company name of V. Pinwill Carvers. She started to win commissions by herself, working from a large workshop employing around 29 other woodcarvers. She travelled all over Devon and Cornwall, mostly by train and bicycle, to meet with vicars and churchwardens to talk about the work they required. She never advertised, owned a typewriter or a car, and did not employ a secretary. It is also believed that during WW1 she worked in an aircraft factory making propellers.


Dr. Helen Wilson’s interest in her subject had started in Morwenstow where she had seen work by the Pinwills on the altar and reredos there. She explained that her research had since taken her to almost 200 churches, reading through their records,  and gaining access to Violet’s lavishly illustrated photograph albums of woodcarvings deposited at Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. She has also collected information from family memoirs, newspaper archives and English Heritage listings, postcards sent by one of the joiners, as well as from her church visits.


Examples of Violet’s work exist all over Devon and Cornwall and even as far away as British Guiana. So far, Helen has discovered 645 items varying hugely in design and from Violet’s archive, she led us on a photographic tour of some of the best.


These included a restored medieval chancel screen at St Buryan, 32 saints in the Quire at Truro Cathedral, choir stalls at Lanteglos by Fowey, the beautiful reredos at Ermington, 26 bench ends at Sheepstor, and choir stalls at Yelverton. In Plymouth, a lot of work was destroyed during the blitz, but the photographs record some of these pieces, such as a reredos in Charles Church and a gilded tabernacle top at St Peter’s.


Violet died in 1957 but examples of her magnificent work live on.


Image result for ermington church pulpit                                  

 The pulpit at Ermington                                            Violet


‘A factious place of backsides & dung-heaps - the lives & times of 17th century Moretonians’

By the 1600s the main town settlement of Moretonhampstead had just over 2,000 people and was relatively prosperous, mainly from the wool trade and some tin workings. It had an important role as a ‘gateway’ on the north-south and west-east travel routes. About 60% of the land was owned by the manorial lords and the Courtenays of Powderham Castle.

The rectors drew income from the glebe lands, tithes and payments for baptisms, marriages and burials. However, before the C17th none of them resided here, one was even given papal dispensation to be the rector at the age of 10 to pay for his education! In his talk Bill Hardiman spoke of the rivalries between Moreton and Chagford and new insights into this ‘factious place’ come from transcriptions of archives by the local History Society.

The first revelation was that the manor was regularly leased out to help the Courtenays ease their financial burdens. Sir William Courtenay (1553-1630) admitted to a lavish lifestyle and ambitious rebuilding projects led to indebtedness. However, Sir Simon Leach of Cadeleigh, a successful lawyer, lent Courtenay £3,000 in return for ‘all the lordshippe Mannor and borough of Moreton Hampstede’. This indebtedness and the misunderstanding of religious politics at the time probably also explains another intriguing development.

During the C17th Moreton became one of Devon’s foremost centres of Nonconformity, the driving influence being John Southmead, a prominent ‘gentleman’. With his son-in-law, Francis Whiddon, the self styled ‘pastor’, they set about demolishing what they called ‘the Kingdom of Satan’. They strove to curb ‘heathenish sports and pastimes, long haire in men and naked backs and breasts in women’. Difficult tensions in this relatively remote community continued and in 1672 Moreton opened one of the first Nonconformist chapels in the country which competed strongly with the local church.

The power and influence of the manorial system was still quite considerable. Tenants still paid rents to the Courtenays and had to swear fealty to the lord. Copyhold tenants had to supply the lord with a capon each year and pay a heriot or death-duty of their best beast or its value on the death of each ‘life’. The widows of the last ‘life’ had the right to stay on a tenement and could prolong this by avoiding remarriage and ‘living in public fornication with a man’.

Many tenements had ‘backsides’ - burgage plots that were originally for cultivation but were by now often filled in with buildings. There were duties to oversee the woods and rabbit-warrens, the making and retailing of ale and leather, the cleaning of the streets and King’s Highways – ‘dung-heaps’ were a particular problem and were closely regulated. Miscreants were fined and there were also frequent pleas of debt and trespass between the tenants providing useful means of income for the Courtenays or the lessees of the manor.

There were significant developments in education although the Rector of Drewsteignton warned of the hazards of teaching ‘in such a factious place as Moreton ... of fickle persons ... [whose ]minds may alter’!


“The Bishop Rock Lighthouse”

The Bishop Rock lies just 4 miles west of St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly, facing the full force of storms. Back in the 14th century it was traditional that anyone convicted of felony would be left there to be drowned by the tides, as happened to a mother and two daughters in 1302. Nearby are the dangerous reefs of Gilstone and Western Rocks where in 1707 the Association, flagship of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, was wrecked with the loss of almost 2,000 lives.

Trinity House had been set up by Royal Charter in 1514 by Henry V111 and the first lighthouse was built in Lowestoft in 1609. Various other initiatives followed though they were privately owned until 1836. Requests had been made to Trinity House by the Governor of the IOS in 1818 for a lighthouse in the area because of the dangers to shipping, but it was not until 1847 that work began on Bishop Rock by the chief engineer James Walker. The 120 foot tall iron tower with basic accommodation and a light was completed two years later at a cost of £12,500 but was destroyed by a storm in 1850.

Work started in 1851 on a new stone structure. A base and workshops were established on nearby Roseveare and Rat Islands but the construction presented huge difficulties due partly to the shape of the rock itself. Granite had to be cut and transported from Lamorna Quarry and on one occasion the boat sank in atrocious weather conditions. Stone barges and hulks were also used and despite all the problems, the lamp was lit in 1858 with no loss of life during the building work at a total cost of £34,559.

The first principal keeper was John Watson with 3 others and 4 houses were built for them on St Agnes.  Operating on a 3 on, 1 off rota, they boarded the Rock by breeches buoy. They had to buy their own food and baked bread, but were often on rations because of the weather and there were occasional pay disputes.

In 1882, engineer James Douglass and son William oversaw a new design and strengthening of the tower. With an outer casing of granite it was extended to a height of 167 feet with 7 stories including an entrance room, oil stores, bedrooms and living space, at a cost of £64,889. Once again there many difficulties encountered including disputes with contractors and of course the weather but it was completed in 1887.

Elisabeth Stanbrook went on to colourfully describe the lives and tribulations of the keepers. They had to make their own entertainment, were often in trouble, sometimes drunk, for them it was a tough life. One John Ball went outside for a smoke and was never seen again. The work was often dangerous especially the outside cleaning of the light. Huge storms meant they spent time marooned on the Rock and in 1946 a BBCTV crew had to stay there from Christmas until the end of January.

Various modifications and improvements arrived from the 1960’s onwards - fridges, TV, VHS radio and telephones. A helipad was installed in 1975 and the light was automated in 1992. Solar panels came in 2009. The lighthouse is now the second tallest (after the Eddystone) in Britain.

Elisabeth’s talk (based on her book of the same name) was an entertaining and lively account of the incredible feats of bravery and engineering involved and also the amazing lonely lives of lighthouse keepers.


“The Road to Messines: Military Mining on the Western Front 1915-17”

Rick Stewart’s talk opened with a picture of the strategic Hill 60 near Ypres. In December 1914 the Germans had launched a huge offensive in the “race to the Channel” and the small force of the British Army was under great pressure to hold the line. Sir John Norton Griffiths, (“Empire Jack”) saw an opportunity to help. He was an engineer who had developed a new “clay kicking” technique of tunnelling during his work in the Manchester sewers.

When the Germans started digging tunnels from the high ground to the east of Messines Ridge and gaining ground, Griffiths and a large contingent of men from mineral mines, quarries and collieries were sent to the Front. Throughout 1915 both sides dug masses of tunnels 30 feet down in the soft clay, working in horrendous conditions trying to outflank each other.  Mines were exploded by the British and the Germans responded with chlorine gas (canaries were carried in the tunnels as a detection device). Officers were trained to use geophone listening devices in lateral tunnels and there were many close encounters as the two sides broke through and confronted each other. Men with no experience of arms were given specialist weaponry such as daggers and truncheons for the hand to hand fighting underground. Many men died from the fighting and collapsed tunnels.

Griffiths then came up with a plan to dig deeper to undermine the enemy but a German offensive at Verdun forced General Haig to divert resources to the Somme to support the French.  Huge mines were blown creating large craters (with names like Lochnagar) but these only gave the Germans places to take cover. A new bigger role evolved for the tunnellers at Arras in 1917. Backed up by miners from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Griffiths’ men had great success digging through the chalk creating huge underground caverns and pushing through the German lines.

Further south however, the French were losing ground badly and control of the Messines Ridge became paramount. Haig resurrected Griffiths’ plan to blow the ridge by tunnelling down deeper to the blue clay, though by now the original tunnels had started to collapse, plus also the Kemmel Sands were very wet and extremely difficult to penetrate. Griffiths however had developed the “Tubbing” method, an enclosed steel tube which made this possible. This was hugely successful and when 19 mines were exploded simultaneously (supposedly heard in Dublin!) the British took the ridge and 7,000 prisoners in a battle that is hardly ever spoken of or celebrated.

Haig’s next offensive switched to Passchendaele and the tunnellers took on new roles. Here they were employed in building barracks, offices and underground hospitals. When a new offensive was started by the Germans, a further change saw them become combat engineers, blowing up roads and bridges as the forces retreated. After the successful battle at Amiens they then took on the role of mine clearance as the Germans began to retreat and the US entered the war.

 Rick’s talk emphasised how critical a part the tunnelling companies played in the defence of the Western Front. Their civilian experiences of digging sewers and working in coal mines and quarries enabled them to drive the tunnels in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, witnessing the horrors of war and deaths of many of their colleagues. They have never been officially recognised and only one of them, Sapper William Hackett received a posthumous VC. He is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing near Armentieres.


Dartmoor Prison’s Conscientious Objectors of World War 1”

Simon Dell’s talk was extracted from his forthcoming book due to be released shortly* on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Princetown Work Centre.

At the start of WW1 Lord Kitchener’s recruitment campaign was very successful with people rushing to join up to fight with the expectations of a short war. However, as the war dragged on and casualties grew, particularly after campaigns like the Somme, appetites for fighting diminished and objections increased.

The need for replacements intensified and the Derby Scheme was set up to encourage voluntary recruitment. There was a lot of resistance on political, religious and pacifist grounds. Although there was a theoretical right of objection it was actively discouraged – of 16,000 applications for exemption, only 300 were approved. Despite then the introduction of compulsory conscription in 1916 (the Military Service Act), many men still refused to sign up and were labelled cowards - the derogatory term “conchies” was born. Public sympathy was not forthcoming and objectors were regularly humiliated by the White Feather League.

After the introduction of the 1916 Act, conscientious objectors (CO’s) were subjected to further biased tribunals assessing their conviction and sincerity.  The Alternativists” were offered work of national importance such as agriculture and forestry whilst those in the Non-Combatant Corps took on alternative civilian work in the Royal Army Medical Corps or Munitions.

The “Absolutists” who refused to do any war-related work or obey military orders were sent to prison often for the length of the war. These prisons were run on strict disciplinary and inhumane systems and Richmond Castle was particularly notorious. One group known as the Richmond 16 were forced into uniform and sent to the war front in Belgium. Here they still refused to fight, were punished severely, sentenced to death but then commuted to 10 years hard labour.

In 1917 over-crowded prisons and reports of ill treatment eventually let to the set up by the Brace Scheme of two Work Centres, one of which was at Princetown. Over 1,000 prisoners were transferred here supposedly to engage in work of national importance, though in this case more likely for improving and maintaining the Duchy Estate! The work was very hard, with long shifts digging drainage ditches, quarrying, building walls and roads (eg. “Conchies Road – the road to nowhere”). Poor conditions and meagre diets meant life was no picnic. However the centre was run  by CO committees with open “rooms”; they wore no uniforms and were paid for their work,; they had common rooms and libraries, were allowed outings and visitors, performed plays and concerts and had football teams and rambling clubs. They were common sights around the village but were not popular especially as some of the villagers had relatives still away fighting in the war. There were strong protests in Plymouth and they were often set upon and abused in the village.

 When the war ended the men were not released immediately in order to give priority for jobs to those returning from active service. Although released in 1919 many were still subjected to abuse and called cowards. Did they really deserve such a label or to receive such harsh treatment?

*due to be released on March 12th.


EVENTS 2016:

The Bloudie Booke: a 400 year old tale of Bickleigh, Tavistock and Twickenham”

The Tragical End of John Fitz was retold by Dr. Tom Greeves from eye witness accounts detailed in the “Booke” of the same name. The story started in the late 16th century, a time of prosperity in Tavistock thanks to tin mining, wool and maritime industries. John Fitz Snr. was one such wealthy beneficiary but whilst visiting his estates on the moor got lost in mist (pixy led?). Finding and drinking from a spring he found his way again and built a well at the spot, now the earliest dated structure (1568) on Dartmoor. The rebuilt Fitzford Gate stands at the entrance to his former main residence in Tavistock; he held various properties around the area and was a steward of the manorial court which met at Lydford Castle – a man of some standing. However, he was deeply superstitious with an interest in astrology and visions of ruin – drops of blood are on his coat of arms!

John Fitz Jnr. inherited the estates at the age of 21 and despite being well educated in “laudable rudiments” started to live a “careless and resolute life”. His best friend was Nicholas Slanning, another man of considerable wealth, owning several local manors. They fell out over payment of rent and Fitz threatened Slanning with a knife. Slanning and his friends left for home at Bickleigh but Fitz and his pals including Rusty Jacke “galloped up and attacked” – it was said that the others were “pickt on by bloody urging” and Nicholas was “run through by Fitz”. He was buried at Bickleigh and had a tomb there until 1838 – today there is still a memorial at the church.

Fitz fled to France but later returned having been given a conditional pardon by Queen Elizabeth. However he was soon “consorting with loose prodigals” and despite receiving a knighthood in 1603 continued to engage in “riotous sur fettinge and abhominable drunkenness”, quarrelling and fighting. His wife Mary (nee Courtenay) left him.

 The Courtenays were a leading noble family in Devon and along with the Slannings were not happy. Fitz was aware of this and became paranoid that they were out to get him. When staying in London seeking a full pardon, he couldn’t rest easy being kept awake at night by “every stirre of a rattle”. He fled to “Twicknam” putting up in a victualing house called the Anchor. Later, in a panic thinking he was about to be attacked he accidentally killed the landlord Daniel Alley and then fell on his own sword “gored himself quite through the body” like “a pig lately sticked”. He was persuaded to leave £100 to Mrs Alley and as he died shouted that he was going to be “blown up by gunpowder”.  He was buried in Twickenham “a gentleman borne and of good kindred”!

His wife Mary inherited all his wealth and later went on to accumulate even more along with lots of bad luck, with a series of four husbands including the sadistic royalist Sir Richard Grenville who treated her badly. She became known as the infamous Demon Bride Mary Howard suspected of murdering her husbands…..another story. Mary is said to haunt the moor riding in a coach of bones with a headless horseman and black bloodhounds……

This amazing tale of historical families of the area was brought to life by the colourful, almost Shakespearian language of the eye witness accounts and Tom’s own entertaining portrayal of these incredible events.

“Reputation and Slander in Devon: How to Swear like an Elizabethan”

Sub-titled “Strumpets and Ninnycocks”1 Dr. Todd Gray’s talk was at times both shocking and hilarious as he captured the 16th century age of invention for the art of rich language and insults, which often got their transgressors into court. Todd’s extensive research provided evidence of many defamation cases brought before Exeter’s Diocesan Court and other Civil courts.

Insults in this period differed greatly from today and words were used to mock, ridicule, scorn or embarrass and referred to poor behaviour, low intelligence, unusual physical attributes and sexual practices – their existence tells us a lot about society at that time. Much use was also made of gestures such as showing of backsides, cocking of legs and sticking out tongues.

Reputation was very important and damage through rumours could result in losing your job or a wife being thrown out of her home; hence the reason for the many defamation cases.  A baker’s customers in Bow refused to buy her bread when she was rumoured to have syphilis and trustees of Axminster’s almshouse had the right to evict residents defamed with drunkenness, adultery, fornication, theft or brawling. Exeter’s puritans would often prowl the streets at night listening at doors for signs of these misbehaviours and rumour was everything.

Insults came in many forms with men and women also having their own specifics. Witness statements from the court records also suggest that these differed according to local pronunciations. Being called a drunkard was a common one with terms such as sots, tosspots, drunken sows and scurvies. Poverty attracted the words beggars, knaves and rogues. Women were called jades, pocky whores, rotten and ill favoured witches. A considerable number of words applied only to men; a mazed rogue, a pattick (mean and spiteful), pickthank slave (tale teller) and beefeater (well fed menial), cuckoldy roastmeat (ridiculing), varlet (dishonest). Accusations of low intelligence carried terms such as fool, ass, ninnyhammer and mooncalf. Blinkard, crookback and cripple were used to ridicule physical deformities.

Women were most often slandered as strumpets, whores, giglets (cheeky), copper nosed (syphilis related), hollow mouthed (lacking teeth) and scolds (disturbers of the peace – the public ducking stool being a common punishment for this crime).

Sexual misconduct and allegations of incest, adultery, illegitimacy and diseases featured highly in the insults and court cases. Favourite insults for men were ninnycocks (under endowed), cucumbers (sexually redundant), cuckolds and wittols (complicit in wife’s adultery). Bawds and panders were what we call pimps today. Scab, maggot arse and poxy whoremonger were aimed at women. Many unprintable insults referred to certain body parts.

In the period between 1540-1640 theft, dishonesty, drunkenness, illicit sexual behaviour and witchcraft were serious crimes. Anyone being wrongly accused of such would take to the courts to clear their names and protect their standings in the community. A poor reputation could ruin lives and have serious implications for marriage, housing and employment. Another unusual topic from our speaker in the series “history that hurts” which provides a fresh and unique way of understanding Devon at the time of Raleigh and Drake.

 1 From Todd Gray’s book of the same name, a strongly recommended read.

“Church Houses in Devon: Community, Continuity & Change over 500 years”

Sue Andrew kicked off our autumn series with a fascinating talk on the origin of these houses and how they have changed over time.

Devon is a particular stronghold many of them dating from the 15th and 16th centuries in a time of piety and purgatory when the church was very popular. Although often built as an extension of the church, they were used for secular activities including brewing of ales and baking.

Usually 2-storey and constructed of local stone and cob they had an external staircase with the aim of separating the activities within. Downstairs was functional with a kitchen and brewhouse, sub- divided by oak screens whilst upstairs were used as feasting halls. Celebrations were held at various times in the year and Church Ales were sold raising funds for the church or the parish. However during the late 17th century Puritanism took over and drinking was banned and the role of the church house began to change – many were closed and demolished. Many good examples prevail in Devon however and Sue illustrated how these have changed and survived.

Some of these are open to the public such as the recently restored Poundstock Gildhouse (Tudor cob built Grade 1 listed).  This became a schoolhouse then a poor house and finally parish meeting rooms for exhibitions etc. South Tawton is another fine example also recently restored and Grade 2 listed. Built of local stone and thatch – smoke blackened – it faces south with no windows on the north and west. It also typically has the one big chimney with a huge internal fireplace and cloam oven and the external granite staircase. Closed for ales in 1603 it went on to become school rooms, poor house and parish hall. It was reopened in 2003 with a new specially brewed ale.

Throwleigh is unusual in having a small internal spiral staircase. Drewsteighnton was restored in the 1980’s and has a layer of cob on the roof which helped the thatcher tie in his materials. Two old church houses have taken on a bit of artistic licence – the Rattery Inn claims to be of the 11th century but there is no evidence to support this date and the one at Torbryan sports an Arthurian pub sign!

There are other fine examples at Sampford Courtenay (1549) and Widecombe (1540) with its ground floor arcade supported by seven granite pillars – once an almshouse and school, now owned by the National Trust. The Royal Oak at Meavy - originally the Church House Inn – is still owned by the local parish.

Sue finally came around to her own home – the Walkhampton Church House. Situated unusually along with the adjacent church on a hill some way out of the village it was an inn until 1895. Earliest records date back to 1506 when a local John Atwylle was accused of heresy but survived. There was also a case of an Antony Giles restrained in the Church house for sheep stealing. It was also used for distribution of penny loaves and as a manor court and a school.

After being separated into two dwellings it was put back as one by Sue and her husband and lovingly restored. Sue related the amusing tale of flipping coins through her gargoyle in the wall!

An excellent well illustrated talk detailing the importance of these houses over the centuries, also dispelling the myth that they were built solely to house the church builders.

 Church Cottage, Buckland-in-the-Moor (Nigel Rendle)

A guided walk on Ridding and Crownhill Downs

On a warm but breezy evening about 35 of our members met at Tolchmoor Gate, near Lee Moor, for a walk led by Dr Tom Greeves. 

Crownhill Down has undergone a traumatic change in modern times due to the China clay works and the new works at Hemerdon.  It is an ancient landscape with many prehistoric, medieval and industrial artefacts.  The walk began on Ridding Down which was moorland but has been subject to ‘improvement’ over the last few years by the farmer - despite being legally protected no-one noticed the change. As we walked over the Down we turned to look back at the site of a cairn which used to be on the open moorland and was one of the finest prehistoric cairns on Dartmoor.  

We walked on to the top of Crownhill Down with the view of Hemerdon Ball (a rounded hill) where tungsten and tin are being excavated and the white hills of the Headon china clay works. We also visited Broomage farm made up of a house and 2 barns but now a ruin, documented in 1249 and abandoned in the 19th or early 20th century.  A public right of way runs through to Broomage Wood where there are prehistoric huts and circles. Next stop was the site of a medieval longhouse (discovered by Sylvia Sayer) above Knowle Wood which was occupied in the 13th century, maybe earlier.  It was thatched and single storey, about 40 feet long and on a slope with the shippon below.

We walked on to get a view of the Torycombe valley where there have been clay workings since 1835.  The Herreschoff kilns are managed by the French-owned Imerys, and the remainder of the site by the Belgian firm Sibelco. At this point we crossed over a prehistoric boundary and passed a marker stone engraved LM 1887 with southward views across to Plymouth Sound and the stunning landscape of Dartmoor behind.

Further on we got our first view of the huge Drakelands mine which is on the continuation of Crownhill Down and also of the solar panels on the former Mica dams. We stopped at a ‘mystery feature’ which is believed to be a bomb crater from the Second World War: there is no spoil surrounding it so it is not a mine shaft!

Further on we came to a linear barrow cemetery - a series of ridges which are prehistoric burial places, around 10 or 12 have been identified here and are legally protected. There are lots of different designs including a flat topped circular one though access is restricted because of a fence through the middle of the cemetery. We passed the largest barrow on the walk which was four and half thousand years old and along the ridge we passed a hut circle in the midst of the gorse.

This 2 mile long stretch of moorland has never been included in the National Park but it deserves to be and will hopefully be restored when the mining is over. Thanks to Tom for an enjoyable and informative stroll.



“A guided walk around Devon Great Consols Mine"

On a warm summer's evening Rick Stewart followed up his talk in April with a lively and entertaining walk around the ruins of the old mine. Another large turnout of members gathered at the iconic arsenic flue chimney of Wheal Anna Maria, named after the 7th Duke of Bedford's wife, and one of the 6 main mines which worked the 2 mile copper lode. Although some parts are covered in thick vegetation much can still be seen particularly of the later workings.


First stop was the now capped main engine shaft, originally 138 fathoms deep, its engine coal driven at first but later replaced by water power with a flat rod system. Regular flooding meant the relocation by some 2 miles of a huge pumping engine. The site in places is now heavily wooded, an initiative of the Earl of Bradford, but Rick pointed out the sites of old reservoirs and the incline plane of a narrow gauge railway connecting across to Wheal Fanny.


The first scramble down into a deep ditch and the lifting of a heavy cover exposed Blackwell’s Adit which was part of the system which connected the various reservoirs by a series of leats and tunnels.  Good water management was essential as clean and dirty water had to be kept separate to facilitate efficient working of the various engines. Emerging from the woods, we enjoyed superb views over the large tailings heaps and beyond as Rick recapped on the history of the operations, from becoming the largest copper mine in the world to the largest producer of arsenic.


The next scramble down loose scree challenged the fittest of us but was worth it for the feeling of being in the heart of the old workings. An old 20th century crushing device sits in the shadow of the large copper dump. Part of the old processing mill which pulverised using ball bearings and washed the ore and the only survivor of its type in the South West, it lies rusting and partly vandalised, surely deserving of much more careful attention. One of the original ball bearings was found nearby.


Tunnels can be seen driven into the sides of some of the arsenic waste heaps supported by wooden timbers, thought to be for ventilation purposes. Remains of trestles for tramways to transport material to the tops of the heaps can also be seen. Back up on level ground we stood on the 1850’s Haldon’s dressing floor, now cleared away apparently as part of the sale agreement when the mine closed in 1901.


Our final stop had arguably the most impressive features still standing in some recognisable form.  Remains of the once 3 storey building which housed the 1850’s beam engine, trommel for sorting the ore and roller crusher are still evident. Redeveloped in 1920 as an arsenic works, this area of the site has recognisable relics of the time, such as Brunton calciners, reverberatory furnace, flue and condensing chambers.


Rick explained the process of how ore known as mispickel was fed into the coal fired furnace and roasted producing fumes which were drawn up through the flue into the condensing chambers.  The vapours cooled and condensed on the chamber walls leaving a soot where it was scraped off by workers wearing little more than gloves and a mask. Further refining took place to leave pure arsenious oxide in the form of white crystals. This was dug out, ground to powder with millstones, packed into paper-lined barrels for storage and shipment – to places as far away as the USA.


A fascinating place to visit especially as an addition to Rick’s previous excellent talk – see below.








“A visit to The Royal William Yard”

40 members and friends enjoyed a 2 hour stroll around this iconic site under the expert guidance of Nigel Overton.


Built for its easy sea access on the rocky Stonehouse peninsula 1826-35 and replacing an earlier site at Sutton Pool, it became the major victualling depot of the Royal Navy occupying an area of around 16 acres. It’s an awesome place with its huge Grade 1 and 2 listed buildings made of locally quarried limestone and Cornish granite.


Nigel described how the surrounding area was completely changed by the development of the yard and how convict labour had helped to clear the old quarry site. We passed through the huge entrance archway with its carved ox heads and crossed anchor symbols and the 14ft statue of King William IV into the old abattoir with its muster bell on the roof. Although designed for processing up to 80 bullocks a time it was never used to its full capacity – a feature of much of the yard. On the left of the entrance is the Guardhouse and Police quarters which were permanently staffed to reduce endemic pilfering.


Nigel’s tour took us systematically through the various buildings and along the waterfront with its quayside furniture of cranes, hoists and cast iron bollards. The Mill and Bakery originally housed 2 huge steam engines driving millstones to grind the flour for bread and biscuits with iron pillars and beams designed to protect against fire risk.


The Basin was constructed as a deep water facility for the barges with its Horsley Bros. swing bridge of 1883. The Brewery next door and its steel louvered roof is another impressive building though never used for its original purpose following the end of naval beer rations in 1825. Subsequent uses included an abattoir (1885) and stores for rum, meat and vegetables (1891), armaments (1936), submarine torpedoes (1971) workshops and an HQ for the Raiding Squadron of the Royal Marines (1972). Probably the grandest building is the Melville, designed as a general storehouse and the admin centre notable for its attractive façade with clock, cupola and weather vane over the archway. Plans exist now for conversion to a hotel.


In a large courtyard stands the original Cooperage built to house up to 100 coopers making and repairing barrels but this was relocated to a smaller building after wooden barrels were phased out – the building was used subsequently as an ammunitions workshop. A narrow gauge railway used to link to the Long Store (Clarence) - for storage of wet vinegar then weapons – now luxury apartments. Separating the yard from Devil’s Point is the high retaining wall of Back Alley built from left over quarry stone with its coal stores and workshops and their corbels, fireplaces, hoists, ornate brackets and chimney breasts. The reopened tunnel through to Firestone Bay was an alternative entry route for materials when sea conditions were difficult.


Our tour ended back near the entrance alongside the attractive houses of the original Yard Superintendent and the Chief Clerk.


The Yard closed in 1992 and has been converted and restored by Urban Splash into an upmarket mixed used development – an absolutely superb place to visit for its historic buildings and recreational activity.



“The Siege of Plymouth and its Environs in the English Civil War”

Philip Photiou brought the past of 17th century Plymouth to life with an enthusiastic and detailed account of how the town became a brutal battlefield during the Civil War in the mid 1640’s after siding with Parliament against the rule of King Charles 1.


Much of Philip’s research has been gleaned from the diaries of John Syms, a Puritan minister and curate of Sheepstor who fled from the Royalists. Syms details the twists and turns of the siege and the resolve of the town’s inhabitants to hold out for over 4 years against up to 14,000 of the King’s men. The local population including women and children were employed to build new defences in an arc around the north of the town from Stonehouse Creek to Lipson as other towns around the South West fell to the Royalists and Plymouth became surrounded and besieged by the King’s army.


Refugees fleeing from the other defeated areas flocked to Plymouth bringing overcrowding, disease and food shortages with living conditions becoming unbearable. When Drake’s Leat bringing fresh water to the town was also blocked, they still refused to surrender and even sent out raiding parties to take on the enemy, including one all out attack on Royalist forces who were stationed at Modbury.


People were often prone to changing sides and Syms’ diary tells of one particular betrayal. Alexander Carew, the commander of Drake’s Island a key defence of the town, decided to change his alliance. Fortunately the plot was discovered in time and Carew despite protesting his innocence was executed.


When King Charles made his HQ at Widey House expecting surrender, the town refused and he tasked Prince Maurice to break the siege. However one of the town’s biggest victories came in the Sabbath Day fight when Maurice’s men were defeated in the mud of Laira Creek where extra defences had been built. A commemorative monument to this battle still stands in Freedom Fields.


Maurice withdrew leaving a legacy of plague which killed significant numbers of the population. In 1644 Richard Grenville (a brutal and corrupt man and another to change sides) took over the siege attacking in force with over 6,000 troops. Despite being pounded by Royalists cannons and repeated incursions into their defences, the town held firm aided by bad weather which hampered the enemy advances. Small skirmishes continued on the outskirts of the town on an almost daily basis.


Plymouth was finally victorious and the Royalists withdrew. Following the King’s execution in 1649 however and the restoration of the monarchy, Charles 11 ordered retribution on the town and many of its inhabitants were arrested and imprisoned on Drake’s Island.


Philip related many other interesting, sometimes amusing tales from Syms’ diary. Also of great interest is the proliferation in Plymouth place names today which have strong associations with the time of the Siege.


Devon Great Consols – a new History”

A hugely informative and entertaining talk was hosted by Rick Stewart; author of a comprehensive study on this once important mine.  First documented in the 1530’s as a tin mine, it went on to become a world class copper and arsenic mine  employing around 1300 workers at its peak in the mid 19th century.


After earlier exploitation of tin down to a depth of 100feet, underneath a rich copper lode was discovered in 1844 eventually extending to 2.5 miles in length. Early resistance from the 6th Duke of Bedford who didn’t want it interfering with his pheasants was overcome by his successor the 7th Duke realising the substantial financial benefits this might attract. Devon Great Consols (DGC) was formed and very soon divided into several subsidiary mines including Wheals Anna Maria, Josiah and Emma, named after some of the original shareholders. Two years later the original £1 shares were being offered at £800! By 1850 the area was the biggest copper producer in the world.


Initially coal was brought in from Wales to work the pumping engines though this proved to be very expensive and as the workings went deeper additional resources were required. Steam engines were introduced and water came into use with the construction of 3 huge leats taking waters from the local rivers, powering massive waterwheels - one in particular was 40feet in diameter (33 in total) and using powerful flat rod systems. A mineral railway was built to replace road transport, taking the ores through to the port of Morwellham, connecting to the quays by means of an incline plane. Rick showed a fine photo of the extended docks around 1868 – one of the few photos available of the period.


However by the middle of the 1860’s the mine was getting too deep and expensive to work despite the use of “man engines” to lower miners to the depths. Competition grew from overseas with a resulting drop in copper prices and labour relations deteriorated as wages were reduced. So DGC diversified into the production of arsenic which was in great demand as a pesticide (particularly in the US to counter the cotton boll weevil) as well as in tanning and dyeing. Big processing plants were built including roasting ovens known as calciners with long flues to take away the fumes. This prolonged the life of the mine for the rest of the century.


During this time, the management also thought they saw a future in reviving tin production based on the experience of Dolcoath Mine in Cornwall which had discovered a fresh layer of tin way down below the copper lodes. Unfortunately costly excavation down to 1800 feet found absolutely no tin. New owners with experienced management tried again later on but with no success.


Big floods in 1895 affected the mine badly and demand for arsenic also began to decline. By 1905 the mine had been stripped and the port at Morwellham had died.  The mine lay idle for about 12 years until in about 1915 underground mining was resumed at Wheal Fanny for arsenic and at Wheal Frementor for tin and tungsten. Despite the decline in mining during the post WWI slump in 1921, some picking over of surface dumps continued until about 1925, although mining at Frementor continued until 1930. Fresh investors tried further deep drilling but found little and by the 1980’s crashing ore prices defeated any further plans to start again.

Much of the industrial archaeology can still be seen at the site today dating mainly from the early twentieth century working, including two Brunton calciners and some enormous waste tips. We have a site visit planned with Rick in July.


“The History of the Bedford Hotel”

Alex Mettler brought our talk topics back to a local level with his well researched history of this prominent Tavistock landmark, also now published in book form entitled “A Devon Gem”.


The first major changes to the site occurred in 1719 when the Abbey House was built close to the Higher Abbey Gate, the work of Jacob Saunders. However, he was not particularly popular for his demolition of parts of the original abbey (now a Scheduled Ancient Monument Site) including the Chapter House, Refectory and Cloisters.


In 1821 the site was purchased by the 6th Duke of Bedford and a year later the Abbey House was converted into the Bedford Hotel . The Duke was later to go on and make many improvements to the town of Tavistock itself. The architect for the project was the renowned Jeffry Wyatt (later Wyatville), born at Endsleigh House and well known for his work on the remodelling of Windsor Castle. He was knighted for his works in 1828 by King George IV.


A few years later in 1830 the ballroom was developed from the original Abbey kitchen by Plymouth’s leading architect John Foulston, recognised for various works in the city including the Royal Hotel and the Athenaeum. A stable block was added and then a third floor with billiard room followed around 1894. Interestingly, the middle floor had been constructed of shillet and rubble whilst the other two floors were of the local Hurdwick stone. A veranda was added in 1910. The ballroom was converted into bedrooms in 1931.


Over this period there were 7 different leaseholders from various professions including a coachmaker, horse lover, malster, linen draper, school teacher and an actual publican!  One of these, a William Blake also played football for Plymouth Argyle. A double room in 1916 would have cost you 42.5p and a bowl of soup 5p. By 1947 accommodation had increased to 70p. Around this time the Hotel was the hub of social life in the town especially amongst the well dressed “country set”.


Unfortunately heavy estate duties following the tragic death of the 12th Duke in 1953 forced the sale of the hotel, which was purchased by Trust House Forte at an auction in 1955. In the hands of THF the hotel established a reputation for high standards being decorated by Charles and Diana as a “best girl hotel of good value”. However they were not always popular with the locals closing the Bedford Tap in 1976 which had been the home bar of the Rugby Club – they also demolished the stables. After being taken over by Regal Hotels in 1996 the hotel suffered a decline becoming known more for its poor maintenance and service.


In 1999 a Welsh newspaper publisher who later sold out to Robert Maxwell bought the hotel. Philip Davies was already the owner of the Two Bridges Hotel and was a co-founder of the Dartmoor Brewery at Princetown. His ambition was to restore the hotel to its former glory and among his changes Gallery 26 was rebuilt, lift access installed and some of the original abbey windows have been uncovered.


Today the hotel is known for the high quality of its facilities and service, with long serving staff and loyal patrons.


“The Lees Cottage Story – a Study in Victorian Landscape History”

Phil Planel’s talk related to the East Devon AONB Parishscapes Project, one of the objectives of which was to digitise the tithe maps for the area and make them available to local councils and local history societies on disk, and to the community online.


The feature which attracted the most interest was the existence of several houses

and farms in each parish which had completely disappeared from the landscape. In conjunction with Devon Historic Environment Service, a recording form was developed to begin recording the sites and remains of these houses. Although the 1841 Census gave an indication of names, the precise location of the various dwellings was not clear.


Efforts were concentrated in Northleigh Parish where there was a cluster of disappeared farms and houses. The landowner was willing to allow work to proceed and a study area was defined. Volunteers carried out historical research and attempted to marry the census data with the tithe apportionment

data. It turned out that all the houses were abandoned by the end of the 19th century. Lees Cottage was identified as the smallest of the houses and was selected for partial excavation by volunteer labour under professional supervision.


Excavation amongst the boggy and overgrown area revealed that tiny and ‘primitive’ as it was, the occupants of Lees Cottage were able to afford a reasonable standard of living, as revealed by the small finds. A fragment of an inscription on the hearth, reading Lee, established that this was indeed Lees Cottage (the name appears in the census data but not on the map). The Census also revealed that a Mr Dunning, a tailor, had lived there.


The discovery of poignant artefacts such as a hearth, kettle handle and chain, bread oven and a rare example of a lime ash floor, brought a human element into the narrative and raised questions about the circumstances under which this and the other families had left the valley. People don’t normally leave without good reason but by 1881 all had left the valley – probably because of the late 19th century agricultural depression and the loss of communal grazing and enclosure of the Summerdown above the valley.


The report was put on the AONB website and immediately attracted the attention from the descendants of the Dunning family, the last occupants of Lees Cottage, who were tracing their origins prior to their migration from East Devon to the industrial centres of South Wales. Several members of the family subsequently visited the site.


Phil’s talk emphasised the importance of tithe maps and tithe apportionments as they fit into various Parishscapes projects, especially since the digitisation process began whereby records previously held on parchment are now being transferred to a computer database, available to all. A wealth of historical information can be built up about one’s own parish and the people who lived there.


“The Impact of the Normans in Devon"

Kevin Dickens' talk started off with the events following the Norman invasion of Britain and the battle of Hastings in 1066 as depicted on the famous Bayeux tapestry. A somewhat colourful illustration, it conceals the horrors and carnage that followed.

By 1068 William 1 had extended his domination and control into Devon with the siege of Exeter and the subsequent construction of Rougemont Castle as the centre of Norman Law and administration. The Normans rampaged through the land evicting the locals and burning crops and took over Tavistock Abbey. Land belonging to the local Saxon thegns were seized and taken over by the invaders as William systematically dispossessed the English landowners and transferred their property onto his followers. Names of the manors were changed from Anglo Saxon to the French equivalents, male names such as Robert (eg of Sampford Spiney), Richard and William became common. The impact on place names however was less significant. (By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, less than 5% of land in the whole of England was still in English hands). Despite this, the Abbot at Tavistock was able to retain his office until he died some 14 years later.

There was still resistance however and the sons of the late King Harold raided the south coast burning villages and crops laying waste to the new Norman manors. A new system of rule called Mudrun Law was introduced to stop the killing of Normans by the locals – basically you had to prove that anyone found dead was not a Norman! Undoubtedly the peasants suffered most in the turmoil whilst the townspeople seemed to accept their fate more gracefully, though most Englishmen were removed from high offices in Government and the Church.

The “biggest smash and grab in English History” continued with more and more land seizures and the rapid construction of motte and bailey castles. These were fortifications with a stone or wooden keep on a raised earthwork (motte), and an enclosed courtyard (bailey) surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Kevin’s map showed how widespread these were, with over 800 dotted around Britain at strategic points in towns and the countryside.

Houses were swept aside to make room for these fortifications. In Exeter alone 47 were destroyed to make way for the building of Rougemont Castle. In Lydford 40 houses had to make way. The rest of Kevin’s talk was accompanied by a photographic tour of around a dozen of the remaining castles in Devon. This was a mixed bag of those that are still in good condition and can easily be visited, to those on private land and totally neglected – Barnstaple being a good example of the latter.

Of the former, Rougemont, Plympton, Okehampton and Totnes stand out as fine examples, peaceful now yet symbols of the brutal Normans and their desire to terrorize the local population. Blackmoor Rings in the South Hams is well preserved and is built inside an earlier Iron Age fort – probably a campaign castle for William on the move. The one at Burley Wood is also next to an Iron Age fort.

One of the most interesting examples is one at Highweek in Newton Abbot. Surrounded by houses in a private garden, it even has its own model railway!

A fascinating talk to start our year on a topi

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Talks are held on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at Meavy Parish Hall. Outdoor visits and walks take place in the summer at various locations in the area.



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Contact: Peter Snopek, 28 Colston Close, Plymouth, PL6 6AY.


The journal is published periodically depending on contributions from members.


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