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Widecombe History Group Talk April 2002

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Widecombe History Group Talk on Local Transport (2)


The discussion on transport of the area continued with a look at bridges and highway stones.

Peter Carrett started the discussion by mentioning ‘stop stones’.

Until the early 1900’s there was only one route from Liverton to Ilsington, little more than a cart track, and very steep (1 in 4), for a distance of about 400 yards, this was Town Hill. It was a very difficult ascent for a horse and cart, and to assist the Carter, ‘Stop Stones’ were placed at intervals up the hill. The stones were about 2ft 6inches long and about 1ft square and erected in the near side hedge/bank of steep hills. The carter would drive past the stone and then gently run back until the nearside wheel rested against the stone, enabling the horse to take a rest before continuing up the hill. There are at least four stones still in situ on Old Town Hill. These stones were set with the base a foot or so from the bottom of the hedge and sloping in against it at the top. They resemble a ‘prop’ but in such a position were strong enough to hold a considerable load. Examples were mentioned that are still in situ :- i.e. on the road from Sandypark to Chagford, four on Town Hill, Liverton. Are there any still in this parish the meeting wondered?

In the early 1900’s with the increase of the number of visitors to Dartmoor some hills proved too steep for horse-drawn carriages. The passengers often had to walk up the hill letting the carriages go up empty and rejoin at the top.

This then led to ‘Take Off Points’ sometimes marked by a stone, where at the top of a hill a fore horse, "Vore ‘Os", a horse that had been harnessed in front of the horse in the shafts, and used to help the load up the hill, was removed from its position and returned to the bottom of the hill to serve the same purpose again when another extra heavy load came along. The farmer who owned such a horse and lived at the bottom of a hill could hire his horse for such a purpose and thus create a small source of income. The practice if having a metal shoe for the cart/wagon wheel to fit into was mentioned. This was used to stop it turning and thus act as a brake for going downhill.

It was noted that some hills still have a ridge running across the road. These were the old courses of ‘leats’ that crossed the road and were driven through like a small ford. Other roadside stones of various uses were then mentioned. Mile stones that were erected during the Napoleonic War was another cause of interest. These were used to define the extent that Prisoners of War, generally Officers, were permitted to wander from the middle of the town or Village in which they were being held. Our very own ‘1Miol’ stone, (note the local spelling), opposite Stouts Cottage, on the Natsworthy Road, was mentioned with pride. Others can be found near Glendennings Quarry, Gages Farm and Tweenaways all concerning Ashburton. Moretonhampstead and Tavistock have some and there may well be more that can be added to this record in the future.

The discussion then turned to bridges. What a variety of sizes and designs there are! The early ‘clapper bridges’ like those at Dartmeet, Postbridge and several off the beaten track, crossing rivers and streams, were mentioned and Peter & Aileen Carrett showed the group a book they have:- "Old Devon Bridges" by Charles Henderson and E. Jervoise, printed by A. Weaton & Co in 1938, in which several bridges are described and photographed, including some in our parish.

The county "C" stones placed approximately 150 yds each side of a County Bridge, generally on the lefthand side of the road, to define the extent of the road that the county were responsible for maintaining, were mentioned. When the Beating of the Bounds took place in 2000, one such was noticed on the Poundsgate side of Buckland Bridge. There are also two associated with Ponsworthy Bridge, Holne Bridge has in fact three, one on the old road near Holne Park. Holne Bridge and New Bridge have pedestrian recesses built into the sides above the four massive cutwaters, these originally for folk to stand in out of the way of packhorses when they were crossing the bridge, they are equally useful today to avoid being hit by speeding motorists. It was stated that New Bridge is believed to be the most regularly damaged bridge in the Country. There are records that Newbridge, thought to date from the 15th century, was always needing attention. In 1645, the bridge needed £13.00 to be raised to cover the repairs. New Bridge is also the centre of controversy today as restrictions of its use are being considered. During World War Two at both Holne Bridge and New Bridge the army constructed "Bailey Bridges", just up-stream in both cases, in an effort to conserve the originals as the risk of damage from military vehicles was very great, particularly the large American vehicles. Terry French informed the meeting that a small amount of the concrete foundation can still be seen at Newbridge. Jim Churchward related once driving the Ashburton Ambulance across Newbridge much to the consternation of holiday makers looking on, the ambulance was a simple flat back truck with a canvas covering. Dartmeet Bridge has a stone dated 1792 in such a position that one needs to stand up-stream in the river to read it.

Ponsworthy Bridge with its 7ft. 6ins restrictions has a very interesting history, built into it are stones dated 1666 when it was repaired, and in 1792 there were further repairs done. It was subject for many years to seating restrictions for the local bus service. Starting at buses with 14 seats gradually increasing to 21 but now restricted by width alone. At one time Wilfred Beard the local bus operator needed a fresh bus, however 20 seater buses were difficult to obtain, so he bought a 29 seater and took all the seats out and rearranged the seats for 21. The local constable did not approve of this action but the Traffic Commisioners did and so the bus service and school bus service continued! During 2001 a local man, Leonard Norrish, noticed that part of the footings to the structure under the bridge had collapsed. If he had not been so observant, it is likely that a heavy load could have caused the bridge to collapse.

A photograph exhibited at the meeting taken by the late Beatrice Chase showed two local ‘lengthmen/council roadmen’ believed to be Bill Bray and George Ford. Mary Pascoe also showed the meeting photographs she had taken of some local bridges and she mentioned the great thunderstorm of 4th August 1938 when the bridge at Buckland-in-the-Moor was washed away. Henry Pascoe had just crossed the bridge with his lorry when it collapsed. It started to rain and thunder 2.30 a.m. and stayed dark until 3.00 p.m. that afternoon. The road at the top of Bonehill Lane was also washed away to such an extent that people could walk upright under the moor gate there. Cattle being driven to Ashburton Fair the next morning from the Widecombe area had to be taken to town via Pudsham Down and Deadman’s Corner as it was impossible for them to pass through Buckland.

The question of ‘moor gates’ was then raised by Roger Claxton and this caused great interest and discussion. These gates were positioned to keep livestock on the open moors and had been of very long standing. They were positioned at every point where access to the open moor was available. At many places cattle were turned up on the moors in the morning and they would return to the same gate at evening time where they would wait for the farmer to come and fetch them. The war really saw the end of these gates, the large military vehicles knocked down many of the gate posts and they were never rebuilt, the gates were smashed and never repaired, and with the increase of the motor car and motor coach "charabanc" after the war, the moor gates became a nuisance to the motorist. This resulted in them continually being left open, broken and left unrepaired, unhung and dumped, taken away and in many cases the associated gate posts and walls knocked down and even removed, the benefit to the farmers that they had served for generations was lost for ever.

Where were all these gates positioned?

There were six gates between Corndonford and Postbridge, there are still two at Jordan Manor, of the last to be removed were Rowden Gate, Scobitor Gate, Hemsworthy (White) Gate, Some of these gates have been replaced with cattlegrids and some of the more recent cattlegrids have been positioned to compensate for several lost gates, i.e. at Church Lane Head the grid secures most of the Buckland Parish, in conjunction with the ones at Stone Gate and Deadman’s Corner and now in 2002 with a grid now placed on the Poundsgate side at Buckland Bridge, where the River Webburn joins the Dart.

So many places were mentioned and to list them all is quite a task but here are several and any others can be added in time.

Natsworthy Gate (Parish Boundary), Thornhill Lane, Bonehill Lane, Widecombe Hill, Rugglestone, Venton(2), Scobitor, Stone Gate, Bowden Lane, at the top of Southcombe Lane (there were 2 about 50yards apart creating a holding place very beneficial at pony drift time), Dunstone(2), Eastern Lane, Bittleford Lane, French’s Lane, Dockwell (4, two creating a secure farm yard), Jordan Manor (2), Shallowford (3), Corndonford, Broadaford Cross (2), Cator Court, Middle Cator (2), Cator Green, Bellever Bridge, Pizwell Bridge (Parish Boundary), Grendon, Sousons (Parish Boundary), Blue Gate (Parish Boundary), Buckland Bridge (Parish Boundary), Hemsworthy Gate (Parish Boundary), Newbridge (Parish Boundary), Corndon Down side of Lower Cator, at Lower Cator (another 2 creating an enclosed yard).

Mention was also made of the ruined hedge running from Dockwell Field hedge - across the Bittleford Down Road - up to Wind Tor - turning right and going down to the top hedge of Great Dunstone Fields. Where it crossed the road there was a gatepost each side and these too were knocked down by the army during WWII c1942. Bessie French reminded us that there were three gates between Lower Town and The Glen as the road passed through the fields. Haines Down still has two gates near Bowerman’s Nose.

The engraved roadside stones, dates and details of bridges, and the sites of the now lost moor gates need recording and it is hoped that by the time the Group next considers this subject more details will be to hand.

The design of gate posts was then raised and before hangings were fixed in gateposts there were a couple of different styles with each pair of posts:-

a. One post had five rectangular sockets approximately 6inches x 2inches cut into it and its partner post had similar sockets but the top of each socket was sloped in from the top. These gates were more like stiles made simply with four or five rails. Each rail would have one end pushed into the socket and the other end dropped into the shaped socket.

b. One post as above and its partner post has "L" shaped sockets, slide the second end ‘in and down’ so as to fit more securely.

There are still examples of these type of post that can be seen on various sites in the Parish.

c. There are some old gateways that have bottom and top stones protruding out slightly, with holes in them to hold the head of the gate and so enable it to swing open, as a hinge!

Mention of the Beech trees on Cator Common planted as windbreaks, similar Fir trees above Blackaton and at Water Rushes, Ruddicleave Bridge, and other places, resulted in the name of Firth, once of Cator and Blackaton, being raised. It was him who had the river between Blackaton and Grendon straightened out. He also had ‘Straight Mile’ built, the road that runs up to Challacombe from the Postbridge road, this continues on to Grimspound and the Moretonhampstead Road. The little bridge under the road at Grimspound Corner is known as Firth’s Bridge. Firth did these works for his own benefit as he regularly journeyed to and from Moretonhampstead.

Margaret Steemson gave us a copy of a photograph by Beatrice Chase showing Bill Bray and George Ford working on the roads, using ‘stone forks’ to spread the cracked stones. Could this have been the Bill Bray who was killed while felling trees at Bag Parks during the war?

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