Widecombe History Group Minutes May 2001

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A Meeting of The Widecombe and District Local History Group was held at The Church House, Widecombe on Wednesday 3rd May 2001 at 7.50 p.m.

Mrs Margaret Steemson was in the chair and 39 people attended.

Apologies: Rosamund Whale, Bessie French, Viv Layfield, Peter and Dylis Harvey, Fred Daw, Jack Simpson, Roger Claxton, Geoffrey Bamsey, Roderick Newbold-Young, Rodney Mortimore, Chris Mayhead.

Due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease which occurred at the end of February 2001, the March and April meetings of the Group had been cancelled. A general feeling of pleasure was expressed at the reconvening of our meetings.

The Minutes of the February Meeting were read and signed as correct.

Due also to the Foot and Mouth outbreak, the scheduled speaker Mr. John Weir, of Dartmoor National Park Authority, was unable to attend due to pressure of work. The subject of his talk was Dartmoor Artists and Writers, this will be re-scheduled.


1. Database of Parish Documents: Ann Claxton reported that this is still steadily progressing.

2. North Hall: Peter Rennells read a letter from Mrs. Winnie Harman (widow of the late Hermon French of Watergate) in which she describes visits that Hermon had made to the site of North Hall in c1976. She also stated that any other material that she finds relevant to the parish amongst her possessions which she thinks may be of interest to the Group, will be forwarded to Peter.

Reference was made to a copy of the full version of Richard Hill’s poem on the Widecombe Thunderstorm of 1638, taken from Adami de Domerham Historia... by Thomas Herne 1727 courtesy of the Bodleian Library Oxford, which has been received by the Group from Mr. Ted Fitch of Dartington. [See also old photos]. In an accompanying letter Ted expresses the opinion that -

"The first four lines on the Widecombe boards on display at Widecombe Church relating to the Sunday 21st October 1638 thunderstorm, do not appear in Hill’s poem. Presumably they were introduced by the Churchwardens originally responsible for painting them. The actual poem has 32 lines before line five on the board, the first 22 of these are an introduction to Widecombe. They mention its ancient tin works, the church, and its tower, supplying anecdotal evidence that the later was built from mining wealth. There is also mention of the ‘much decayed Great North Hall’. The next ten lines of the poem suggest a reason for the thunderstorm:

 ‘for at that time was less iniquity ....

Which since so much increased has been that to forewarn the people

The Almighty with a thunderstorm did strangely rend the steeple’

The lines that follow are the same as those on the board with minor variations in punctuation and spelling (e.g. ‘quire' for the board’s choir). There are also some alternative wordings, the only major ones being the poem has ‘toy’ (line 28) for the board’s key, ‘mercies’ (line 78 for ‘judgment’ and ‘heaven’ (line 80) for ‘time’.

The poem has an extra four lines before the final two on the board and finishes with a six line postscript.

Ted mentions, in Lyson’s, Magna Britannia VI (1822), which quotes the board version and apologizes for ‘the badness of the poetry’. He might have modified his criticism had he read this postscript:

‘Blame not the writer of these lines, they are as I command them.

I writing to plain men desire plain men should understand them.

He who in higher words doth write to those who are unlearned.

His true intent, do what he can, will never be discerned.’

Altogether Hill’s poem has 42 lines not reproduced on the boards in the Church. They do however contain all those lines dealing with the actual calamity".

3. 2002 Programme is progressing.

4. Cornworthy Book: Sue Booty has offered to type up any items produced by members of the Group with a view to compiling a Widecombe Book of similar style.

5. Inter-manorial Boundaries: Peter Hirst stated that the Committee responsible for organising this event has decided to postpone it until the year 2002, due to the current Foot and Mouth outbreak in the County.

6. Tea Rota: A vote of thanks was recorded to all those who helped with the teas.

Rota for forthcoming months:

June: Wendy Beard and Mary Pascoe

July: Rosemary and Audrey Mortimore

August: Ruby Churchward and Betty Andrews

7. Widecombe Church Fete: Scheduled for 28th May 2001 has been postponed to 6th May 2002.

Hermon French

Referring back to the question of North Hall and the letter from Mrs. Winnie Harman. The work that the late Hermon French did regarding the parish of Widecombe in the Moor was discussed further. It is believed that Andrew Fleming and Tom Greeves assisted Hermon in examining the North Hall site during the drought of the summer of 1976. Contact will be made with Andrew Fleming and Tom Greeves to see if they have any notes or memories of the occasion. It is also believed that some drainage work was done at the site in the early/mid 1980s. Comment was made of the wonderful collection of archeological and geological specimens that Hermon had in his private museum at Watergate at that time. It is understood that much of this was donated at the time of his death to Royal Albert Museum at Exeter. In view of the fact that the Group is scheduled to visit there on Saturday 17th November, the Secretary was requested to write to the Curator, Mr. John Allen, to ask if some of Hermon’s collection could be shown to us at that time.

A tree planting ceremony which was scheduled to take place at Hutholes on Dockwell Farm on 6th March 2001 in memory of Hermon, was postponed due to the F&M. disease outbreak. The Secretary will enquire from the Dartmoor National Park as to when it will be rearranged.

Sylvia Needham then mentioned the ‘Cataclysmic Eruption of Ground Water at Kingshead Farm on 27th December 1979’ which was recorded in some detail by Hermon at the time. She has a copy of the account and she will look it out for the next meeting. Considerable discussion took place concerning this phenomenon, various members remembering the event how it left a scar on the landscape, washing away gates, posts and a considerable length of hedge. It was also mentioned that a large landslide took place on the side of Hamel Down behind Pitton Farm circa 1950 leaving a bare expanse of rock. The Secretary offered to contact David Mills, cousin of the late Simon (Ned) Northmore of Kingshead, to enquire if they have any photographs etc. of the event.

Speaker for the June meeting is Suzanne Haines, her subject being ‘The Art of Calligraphy’. Joyce Heath offered to bring a screen and Peter Hirst will supply a projector.

Vian Smith

Sylvia Needham referred to an article published in ‘Dartmoor the Country Magazine’ issue No.12, Spring 2001, written by Bob Mann, entitled ‘Vian Smith - Dartmoor Writer’. She has recently acquired a couple of books written by the late Vian Smith, one time of Totnes and Holne. Freda Wilkinson brought to the meeting two articles written by him and published in the South Devon Journal in the mid 1950s, now no longer in production, copies we believe can still be seen at Torbay Library. He wrote under various pen names including ‘Rowley’ and as ‘John Britton’ he wrote stories in Devon dialect. The two articles were read to the meeting, both concerning the locality, they caused considerable interest.

Bob Mann’s biography of Vian Smith should be published later this year.

Dinie Brickl gave the Group a copy of a hand drawn map by her Grandmother, Henrietta Mabel (Mai) Wollen. Her family lived at Hexworthy and they regularly fished on the West Dart. She also gave the Group a copy of the music score for Widecombe Fair and A.J. Cole’s ‘When Mother and Me Joined In’.

June Kernick enquired of the whereabouts of her copies of the 1851 Census returns. Members were urged to see if they are in their possession. She is also interested in the surname "Lillahan", "Lyliham", "Lillahan" "Lileham", "Lillahan" , "Linehan" or anything very similar. There is recorded in the Marriages of Widecombe a William Luky married Elizabeth Lylihan on 8th August 1814. There was a Mrs Lineham who lived at Jordan from 1959, who wrote an article which was printed in Transactions D.A. vol. XCIV (1962), entitled "A Forgotten Manor in Widecombe-in-the-Moor", with notes on its geology, archaeology and mining by Hermon French. This manor was Jordan (or Dewdon), one of the old manors of Widecombe Parish.

June had also found a reference that in February 1793 a yew tree from the vicarage garden was planted on the cross, (that is where the yew tree now stands, which can be seen by the plinth shape of the base), which yew tree died in 1860 and a young one was planted in its place. This is also referred to in Mike Brown’s book 2001.

Hedge Barton deed dated 9th & 10th October1761 and finalising 3rd Dec 1845.

Anthony Beard produced a letter received from Mrs Connie Glover of Wembworthy, near Chulmleigh in North Devon with which she included a 24 page document which appears to be a deed concerning Hedge Barton, dated 9th & 10th October 1761 and finalising on 3rd December 1845.

It has been water damaged and due to its age Peter Hirst has had it copied so that the original need not be continually handled for the purpose of studying.

A copy was given to Jim Churchward to show to the present owner Mr Tim Whitley and another copy will be kept by the group for members to examine.

Mrs Glover has no idea how or where her late husband Gordon obtained the deed but she thought it should come back to Widecombe. Secretary has thanked her for her kindness.

It must be emphasised that anyone reading these minutes, or finding them on our Website who may also have anything appertaining to this area that they do not want, we the History Group would appreciate the chance to add it to our archives for the benefit of researchers and future generations.


Foot and Mouth

It was felt that members of our community should be encouraged to write a short account of how the current Foot and Mouth outbreak has affected them. A copy of the poems written by children of Widecombe Primary School should be obtained and added to these write-ups and placed in our archives.

It was agreed that a photograph of the fenced-in village green should be put on the cover of our next news letter.

The meeting closed at 9.56 p.m.

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