Widecombe History Group Minutes November 2001

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A meeting of the Widecombe and District Local History Group was held at The Church House Widecombe on Wednesday 7th November 2001 at 7.30 p.m.

Click here for the initial discussion on the History of Local Transport

Mrs Margaret Steemson was in the chair and there were 36 people present. Mrs Steemson welcomed Roger and Barbara Grimley of Bigbury to the meeting and thanked them for bringing memorabilia concerning the early bus services in the area to add to the discussion that would take place later in the evening. Roger Grimley has published several books on transport. Regarding this parish two books in particular need to be mentioned and are well worth reading:- ‘Memories of the Widecombe Bus’ and ‘Tor Bus Remembered’.

Apologies:- Michael and Jenny Pascoe, Ken Hamlyn, Liz Fursdon, Dave Fisher and Arch Mortimore.

The Minutes of the last meeting were read and signed as correct.

Arising and Correspondence:

Data base: About 350 entries are now on record.

Kelly Mine Visit:

This was a very successful event. The old mine surface workings were shown to the group. Most of the equipment and machinery are now in working order. The Kelly Mine Enthusiasts demonstrated how the mining process worked. They gave us a very good representation of what went on there and they are still collecting details. A very impressive visit.

2002 Programme: Copies are now available.

Hermon French:

Secretary reported that he has at last contacted Debbie Griffiths of D.N.P. regarding the proposed tree planting ceremony, planned by Mrs. Winnie Harman in memory of Hermon and her other two husbands, it is scheduled for either the fifth, twelfth or thirteenth of December 2001. Debbie Griffiths has promised to let the group know the exact date so that we can be represented. Regarding his collection of prehistorical finds that are currently in ten or twelve shoeboxes at Parke, Bovey Tracey, there will be an opportunity to borrow them for the group to examine or, alternatively, a visit can be arranged to see them during next year. The best specimens are not in the collection, for example arrowheads, knives etc. The Secretary will try to trace them.

Tiverton Castle and Canal Visit held on 13th October:

All those that attended had a most enjoyable day. The secretary has written to both locations to express our thanks to them for what can only be described as a successful and memorable event. It is hoped that either a return visit can be arranged to examine in more detail the collection of geological specimens at Tiverton Castle, or a visit can be arranged to Widecombe, for Mr Gordon to explain and possibly take us on a walk to recognise and identify specimens in situ.

There could be a visit to Tiverton Museum arranged in conjunction with a revisit of Mr Gordon’s collection, this needs considering.

A hearty vote of thanks was unanimously recorded to Ann Claxton for arranging so efficiently such an enjoyable and successful day out.

Thanks were recorded to Peter and Eileen Carrett who have made a pictorial record of our trip to Tiverton and have given the group a set of photographs of the event. Further copies of the photo’s can be obtained from them.

Widecombe Church Dropcloth:

Secretary reported that he has discussed the possibility of storing the dropcloth for future use and exhibition with the Rector, who has promised to put our ideas to the Parochial Church Council. The idea of producing postcards of the dropcloth and of the tower complete with the scaffolding in place has also been suggested. We await with interest their reactions and comments.

Family History Society Secretary/Custodian:

There is still a need of a volunteer to take on this post. It does not entail a great deal of work but it would help the secretary to lighten the load. What would it entail?

a)Storing the micro-fiche reader and any micro-fiche we may collect.

b)Holding and bringing to meetings the booklets we receive from F.H.S. published every six months.

c)Reading them and picking out any local references and adding them to our notice in the Parish Link Newsletter.

There is no reason why two people could not do this together.

Tithe Book:

Peter Hirst has started to enter the corrections picked up by his team of proof-readers.

Bellever Day:

Contact has been made with Col. Dick Hurn of Chagford, who’s father ran the remount centre at Tor Royal during World War I. Freda Wilkinson stated all the neighbouring packs of foxhounds would meet there on the first Friday of May being the last Meet of the season. Col. Hurn related that many people and horses would attend, and horse, pony and pedestrian races would be held. People came from miles around to participate as well as watch and enjoy the day. People would arrive in jingles or phaetons with large picnic hampers on the back, many more would hack there on horseback and some would just walk to be part of what was a very social event.

He informed the secretary, that while his father was in charge of the remount centre, the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, had horses at Tor Royal. The Prince of Dubai sent him an Arab Cross Horse named Dwarka (N.B. apparently all the Dubai horses were named after stars), which was an exceptional horse, used to breed with local ponies. Dwarka’s fame lives on as being the fastest ever over a straight mile and who’s skeleton is believed to be in The Natural History Museum, London, to this day. Col. Hurn will try to find a photograph of Bellever Day which he believes is still in the family and let us have a copy. This information will be passed on to the folk at Postbridge who raised this issue.

The question was posed:- Did Jonas Coaker ‘The Dartmoor Poet’ ever write about this subject?

It is important to note that Huccaby Races, Dunnabridge Races and Bellever Races are three entirely different events held at different times of the year.

Rodney Cruze has a scrap book with some photographs of some of the above races and he will look them out.

Phyllis Pascoe is moving into Ashburton and the meeting wished her all the best in her new home and hopes that she will be able to continue to attend our meetings, perhaps getting a lift with some of our Ashburton regulars!

Ordnance Survey have been contacted to get official clearance on what we can and cannot do with the reproduction of their maps, for example with field name recording, educational uses for school, beating the bounds and inter-exchange of information between similar groups, provided that it is not for financial gain.

Widecombe Fair:

An enquiry from a Tony Foxworthy of London, who is compiling a book on traditional Fairs of England seeking information about Widecombe Fair. The secretary will send him a copy of Widecombe Fair Programme which contains a ‘pocket history’ of the Fair. He will pass details on to the secretary of Widecombe Fair, Geoffrey Bamsey, in case he wishes to take this further.

Personal Memorabilia:

Bessie and Terry Frenh brought a poster advertising a Gymkhana being held on June 16th 1945 detailing the programme of events, prize monies and a dance at Leusdon Memorial Hall that evening.


An evening at Widecombe School to raise funds "Desert Island Books" 7.30 p.m. Friday 9th November.

A Portrait Day at Widecombe Church House on Sunday 18th November. Family photographs, groups etc can be taken by Chris Mayhead (one of our group), and the profit will be donated to the School Funds for added equipment for the children. Treasured family memories!

Tea Rota:

December, Phyllis and Jenny Pascoe

January, Betty Andrews and Ruby Churchward.

Letter from America:

Margaret Phipps has passed to the secretary a letter she received from America regarding a Richard and Mary Hext Hamlyn, who were married at Widecombe in 1837 and went to live in America in 1851, querying the Hext family, who may have lived at Sherrill and Uppacott. The letter will be given to Freda Wilkinson as she may be able to help with the queries. Bessie French told the meeting that the Hamlyn-Whites left Babeny in 1909 and moved to Sherrill (the first house on the left on entering Sherrill), which was vacated at the same time by the Turner family who moved to Corndonford. In c1880 Turners lived at Higher Uppacott.

Outing to Exeter Museum Saturday 17th November:

Mr John Allan the curator of the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter, has agreed to give a guided tour partly behind the scenes of the museum from 10.30 a.m.- 12.30 p.m. during which time it is hoped to see some artifacts relevant to this parish and the surrounding area. Mr Allan is an expert on pottery.

Widecombe Craft Fair Sunday 9th December:

There will be a craft fair at Widecombe Church House on Sunday 9th December 2001 from 10.00 a.m. till 4.00 p.m. It is being held in aid of Widecombe Tower Appeal and it was suggested that we could have a stand to sell our books and leaflets as our contribution to the Appeal. A rota needs compiling at the next meeting.

Dartmoor National Park Fiftieth Anniversary:

A service was held in Widecombe Church to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of The Dartmoor National Park on Thursday 1st December 2001. The Chairman gave the Group a copy of the service and the secretary has asked John Earle of Rowden, Widecombe, for a copy of the address he gave at the service to add to our collection.

This is a report of our first "Discussion Evening on a theme which is:-

Transport of the Area through the Ages

The discussion began with Peter Hirst requesting that we should all speak one at a time so that the transcription of the evenings input recorded on the tape recorder would be easier for Wendy Beard to type up. Roger and Barbara Grimley’s collection of memorabilia was open for examination during the tea break and they would be delighted for anyone to talk over details with them during this break.

The discussion started with a look at transport from the agricultural angle. Here on Dartmoor the indigenous Dartmoor pony was the principal means of transport for most people. The Dartmoor Pony has evolved into a real ‘workhorse’ for the countryman with its strong legs and ability to carry considerable heavy loads, as a packhorse it really was indispensible. Not only for riding and carrying,it was also capable of pulling traps, floats for bakers, milkmen and other delivery businesses, and can still be found on the showfields of Britain being used for driving classes with jingles and sometimes even four-in-hand with a four wheeled carriage. Versatility is and was the name of the game!

Riding ponies and packhorses were the only real means of transport available before the coming of the wheel. Freda Wilkinson told the meeting that the wheel only became part of this rural area’s scene from about the mid 1800’s. Miss Mann and Mrs Snow of Ponsworthy House used to tell that their grandmother would never have a pair of wheels on the farm because they ‘cut up the grass ground and got stugged in the groot ground and was for ever knocking down the gate posts’, she had sledges on her farm for the heavier loads and packhorses. The next generation, her daughter or daughter-in-law, however kept a lot of pigs in the woods and supplied pig carcasses to the victualling yards in Plymouth, and the journey to Plymouth from Ponsworthy was a long trip by horse in those days. She would ride side-saddle to Plymouth accompanied by her workman who drove the horse and cart with all the pork loaded in it, and he would often take his wife with him on the cart to do some shopping. Having reached Plymouth, sold their wares, did their shopping, they headed for home. On one occasion, as they reached the edge of the moors some ‘foot-pads’, (robbers on foot as compared with highwaymen who would be on horseback), tried to highjack them and steal their shopping and money, - "Ride on Missus" shouted the workman to his employer on the horse - she of course had all the money from the sale of the pork - and his wife stood up in the back of the cart with the horse whip to beat off the robbers, and they escaped. Adventurous times in those days!

At the Chagford end of ‘Long Lane’ there is a place known as Watching Place where the ‘footpads’ of that area used to wait and watch for people returning from the potato markets knowing that they would have money with them. in

At many places across the roads on Dartmoor there were ‘moor gates’, these were kept shut to keep the animals from straying off the moors, and the local children would often stand by the gate and for a halfpenny or a penny, they would open it saving the driver from dismounting and struggling to open it himself while still controlling the horse or horses. There are still a few of these gates about in position but most have disappeared, some have been replaced by cattle-grids, while most with the arrival of the motor vehicle became a nuisance and were removed, or deliberately left open and damaged.

A story concerned a Dinah Tuckett who took her produce to Newton Abbot in a pony and trap. Once when returning from town and reaching New Bridge, where there was on the Ashburton side of the bridge a gate across the road, who incidentally did not agree with giving away a halfpenny, she refused to give the children anything so they hid the stick that was used to prop the gate open. In temper she unhung the gate put it in the trap, took it up on the bridge and flung it into the river.

Concerning packhorses it was said - "He got no more manners than a hos with a pair of panners". Meaning panniers hanging each side of a packhorse, and that is why on many of the ancient bridges there are those recesses where people could get in out the way of the loaded packhorses to let them by as they were quite wide, now of course they are still of use to avoid being hit by a car!

In an article in a volume of the Transactions of The Devonshire Association written in 1930’s Aish at Poundsgate on the higher side of the road, Vane Lane, was reputed to be last place where the sledge was in general use due to its steepness. A description of a sledge used at Bittleford Parks in 1940’s was mentioned - two large pieces of oak about 8-10 feet long stood on edge 4 inches wide by 10 inches high by with an iron ‘shoeing’ along the four inch wide bottom edge, held about 5 feet apart by six inch square pieces of oak and held together by a couple of iron rods with nuts on the end and a chain fixed in front for pulling, this one did not last for long after it was pulled by the first tractor that arrived on the farm, too much power and too heavy a load was its demise! Sledges were excellent as they were so close to the ground they were easy to load, stable when pulled across the side of a hill, and for example after ploughing a field when sometimes a large rock had been dug up it could be easily loaded and was then taken to where a piece of hedge had fallen down to be readily available next winter when the ‘gap’ would be rebuilt!

So many of these sledges were let to rot particularly when the tractor and trailer arrived on the farms of the area, it must be remembered that horses were still common place on farms into 1960’s. The name ‘Whitechapple’ was a term used to describe a carriage that had two horses in tandem with each other used by salesmen to carry their samples but more often a conveyance used for shooting parties to carry the game and convey those involved with a shooting party. Ponies and traps were used for leisure as well as delivery. Sylvia Needham’s family c1920 had a donkey and a little jingle (cart), this was far better than trying to push a cart or barrow as the condition of the roads or more precisely tracks were poor and muddy. Trains were running from Ashburton, Buckfastleigh, Moretonhempstead, Bovey Tracey, Chudleigh and of course Princetown and many more small rural stations until Dr Beeching came along in 1961??? and closed so many branch lines. Many of these now would be wonderful tourist attractions if they were still in existence. Another piece of farm equipment was the ‘butt’ sometimes with two wheels at the rear and a skid on the front which acted as a brake when going downhill but when being pulled up hill would either be carried above ground level or would slide along, these were used to draw earth from the bottom of fields to the top, a way of compensating for the effect of soil erosion, this was often in the tenancy agreements that when the field was ploughed this had to be done. A comment was passed which caused much laughter was that the lazy farmer get over this by throwing the earth downwards over the hedge into the next field, ‘drayin aith’ in the dialect!

Memories were stirred of the coming of ‘The Little Grey Ferguson Tractor’ and this was a tremendous leap forward in the agricultural machinery as it also had hydraulic lifting arms, power take off to drives the mechanisms and with a variety of implements to fit the tractor including the earth scoop which was so designed that the tractor kept going forwards and without stopping scooped up the earth which was carried to the top of the field and could be emptied again without stopping.

When Pancras Hamlyn was blacksmith at Poundsgate, Mr Caunter of Sweaton who was the first to have a ‘market trap’ in the district and having tipped over three times between Ponsworthy and Poundsgate because he cut the corners to tight and the wheel going up the side of the hedge asked to borrow his lad to lead the horse as ‘tis a trade to be learnt tis’ meaning the skill of driving the thing!

Bill Miners’ name came up several times in discussion. His father before him and then he and his brother Sam carted stones for road maintenance by horse and cart and then they acquired a lorry and cars and tractors. The lorries were the beginning of a very successful haulage business that eventually travelled across to France via the Roskoff Ferries from Plymouth to Roscoff in the 1980’s but by the mid 1990’s had ceased to exist. Some of the escapades with the taxi business, taking far too many people in one car to Newton Abbot to the pictures (cinema), dances and other functions around the area, one tale of there being too many to fit in the car so some rode on the runner board outside. Several of his children learnt to drive the tractors for his agricultural contracting business was also mentioned. Jim Churchward, who’s family ran a grocery business in North Street Ashburton, told how they delivered around the area. His father after coning out of the army where he had learnt to drive ‘model T fords’ worked for firm ‘Vigers’ of Torquay selling cars. In c1924 he was sent to teach H.H.Hannaford of Southcombe Farm, Widecombe, to drive. H.H. had deformed hands and could not manage to drive what was in fact the first car in the parish. H.H.H. persuaded Mr Churchward to stay and he became the chauffeur. When he bought it he had Mr Churchward bring the car into the village and take all the school children, five or six at a time, for ride around Venton, Dunstone and back to the village as a treat. He took local farmers to grass sales and markets at times. (N.B. H.H.H. was a member of the Congregational Chapel at Dunstone and it was he who had built the little stone shed on the left of the Widecombe Dunstone road just before you reach the chapel to house his pony when he went to chapel). He was also a leading light in the parish, councillor, school manager and the like. Bessie French related that H.H.H’s son John Hannaford came to Leusdon School in a pony and jingle and tie it up outside the school gates, come into school and read the school registers on occasions. Edith French from Spitchwick Farm married John Hannaford of Southcombe and she was latter to become widowed and married Hermon French. After her death Hermon married his second wife who is now Winnie Harman. She has instigated the tree planting at Hutholes in December 2001 in memory of her three husbands. Mention of Owen Harvey who had the bakery and post office in the middle cottage of-------- and delivered bread in a pony and trap. The story of the district nurse tipping over her Austen Seven at the top of Eastern Lane and Sidney Beard who lived at Bittleford Parks went up and physically uprighted it by hand. Many stories of when folk that had been horsemen all their lives bought a car or tractor said whoo-up to the vehicle and could not understand why they did not stop. The early driving instructors told them how to start but never taught them how to stop. Many a gate was smashed and gate posts hit as a result!

The discussion went off on a tangent about the fun and games experienced with handling horses. Rodney Cruze remembered being a child of about six years left in charge of his grandfathers horse and trap. This horse was as good as gold with one exception it did not like trains and if ever one passed near it would start going backwards. On one occasion near Gara Bridge a train passed and Rodney being far more interested in the train was counting the coaches only to look around and find the horse had gone and was up in the top yard, luckily with no no harm done. The afore mentioned Owen Harvey had a parrot which learnt that by making a clicking noise any horse parked outside the bakery would start away and end up in the village square. The practical joke of when the owner went into the pub for a pint of cider the youngsters would take the horse out of the shafts, thread the shafts through the lexes of a gate and then replace the horse. Imagine the confusion when perhaps a ‘little worse for a pint or two of cider’ the owner came out to go home!!

These early vehicles had either a car body built on the chassis or the equivalent of a ‘pick-up’. These were used on Mondays in towns to collect the laundry from hotels and take to washer women at their homes to wash and iron and then collect again on Tuesday.

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