Widecombe History Group Minutes April 2003

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A Meeting of The Widecombe and District Local History Group was held at The Church House, Widecombe on Wednesday 2nd April 2003 at 7.30 p.m.

For Farming Discussion please click here.

Mrs Margaret Steemson was in the chair and 39 people attended including Becky Newell and Debbie Griffiths from Dartmoor National Park, Muriel & Allan Rice from Chagford L.H.G., Mr Fred Willcocks who once lived at Jordan, his niece Ann and two friends Anita & Tony Knox all from Harford near Ivybridge.

Apologies:- Bessie French, Jack Elliott, Margaret Phipps, Roger Claxton and Peter Rennells.

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


Ongoing Matters:- Church Dropcloth, Lead, Librarian, still in hand. The Committee reported that the blackout curtains have now been completed and have been given to The Church House Committee for the use of all who use the building and who may wish to reduce the light for film/slide shows, they are stored in a box complete with plan of the windows for their erection. A vote of thanks was recorded to all those who had assisted with this and it is understood that a similar vote of thanks was expressed at a recent Church House Committee Meeting. Regarding the dropcloth, a centre roller will need to be made and tubes for that purpose will soon be obtained, the ladies of the group have agreed to then make a calico sleeve to wrap it. It will then be stored in The Church House.

Family History and E-mails.


March/E-01 Brownberry - more work on this needed.

MarchE/-02 The position of the Trough and Shovel Stone have been confirmed.

MarchE/-03 The word ‘Pooch’ could also be said to be ‘Pout’.


AprilE/-01 Mail from Charles Fortesque-Smythe complimenting the village and its businesses on the quality of the ice-cream sold and other food particularly the sausages.

April/E-02 Enquiry from Chris Wiecek, Australia, about family connections with Widecombe.

Names include, Knight, White, Coaker, French, Man/Mann, Crossman, Emmett, Reeve, Wilcocke/Wilcocks, Rich, Searle and Maddick. Secretary agreed to ask for this list to be included in a future Parish Newsletter requesting any parishioners with these name connections or have family tree information that could be of interest to Chris to make contact.


Ann Claxton reported that tickets are still available for Saturday24th May outing to Coldharbour Mill and Midelney Manor. Contact 01364 621232.

Guided walks

Peter Hirst will lead a guided walk around Bullaton Farm on Saturday 5th April at 12.00 noon and further guided walks are planned for the summer but if anyone has anything special that they would like organised or special dates and times for these walks, please contact Ann and Peter and they will try to set them up to suit. There are details in The Dartmoor Visitor of guided rides available, those interested can get a copy of the DNP Booklet.

Bogus Callers

The police are anxious that people should not let unsolicited telephone callers have details of their banking accounts. Hoax callers are claiming that money is held in Nigerian and other banks awaiting claims and if these details are passed to the caller a transfer can be made. On no account get involved as your bank account will be used to your disadvantage.

Crow Act - Right to Roam.

Peter Hirst reported that it now appears that the draft map will be available some time in May. All those with a legal right to any land within the area, owners, tenants, leaseholders etc will have three months when they can examine the map, their comments will be used in an effort to produce the definitive map which will then be available for all to see.


It was reported that The Widecombe Parochial Church Council have donated £25 towards the annual running costs of the site, which we run on behalf of the Parish as a Community Website.

Next Meeting will be Wednesday 7th May when Andrew Hamlyn will talk on "The Ten Tors Expedition" and he will lead a guided walk on Saturday 10th May to a tor being used as one of the check points of this years event.

Chagford L.H.G. invite members to their meetings on Thursday 24th April when they have as speaker, Ian Whittle, son of Sir Frank Whittle the pioneer of ‘The Jet Age’ who will talking about his father who lived at Chagford at one time. To be held at The Jubilee Hall at 7.30 p.m.

Moretonhampstead L.H.G. invite members to their meetings.

Fred Willcocks said that the term ‘scawth and bind’ was used when the women gathered (scawth) into bundles the corn when cut with a sythe and the men bound (bind), with a bind/beam made from two ‘motts’ of corn wound together.

Widecombe Book

The committee reported that the book is well under way and they hope to meet the publisher on 10th April to finalise the script. A tremendous amount of time and effort has been put into this project. All those that have contributed in any way must be thanked for their ideas, those that loaned photographs of places in the parish gave the committee plenty to look at and consider. Chris Mayhead has agreed to contact the publisher to get details as to which format the photographs would be required in (digital, colour, black & white, positive or negative etc) and get the photographs ready in that format to make production easier.

The Title preferred by your Committee is:-

"All Along, Down Along - Widecombe Way".

We shall have to wait and see what is decided with ‘Orchard Publications’!

After tea and biscuits the discussion took place about "Farming in the area", and the meeting closed at 10.05 p.m.

Non-speaker Evening - discussing Farming in the parish over the years!

Oral History of Dartmoor............

Debbie Griffiths explained the idea of the project and how Becky Newell has been taken on by D.N.P. to record the history of Dartmoor from memories and interviews of people living and working on Dartmoor. These recordings have been edited into three C.D.s and produced with a booklet explaining the contents. There are two places where anyone interested can go and listen to these discs, The High Moorland Centre at Princetown and the Information Centre at Postbridge, where copies are available to purchase. It is hoped to continue this project by recording how Christmas has been celebrated on Dartmoor, how harvest has been carried on and all other social and business activities. This will be called the cultural history of Dartmoor which would include events like Widecombe Fair. It would be good if Local Communities were to be involved with this project by perhaps using a tape recorder to interview each other or members of their particular district, including those that have left the district but still have memories of how it was and when. If this idea gets the funding support that Park is hoping for, the equipment will be made available to groups such as ours and the support from Becky would then enable the transcriptions and ultimately the C.Ds. to be produced and hopefully become available to all interested parties. Debbie was pleased with the work that has already been done concerning Uppacott, the Dartmoor Longhouse that is now owned by D.N.P., and the fact that they have been able to interview and record memories about the house from people that lived there during the past one hundred years.The main plan would be to interview one or two people at a time in their own homes so that there would be no outside noise interference during the interview.

The subject of Farming in the Widecombe area.

The discussion centred around the last century rather than attempt to go back too far,and there were people at the meeting that could tell of their own experiences particularly from the 1930s and onwards.

Working with horses. Freda Wilkinson began by mentioning that she was second horseman to the late Tom Easterbrooke. She mentioned the names the horses were given, they belonged to Mr William Whitley who owned Lizwell Farm, and were called Spitfire and Hurricane, very appropriate for the years ofWWII. When being driven and required to turn left the order was ‘come yer’ and when turning to the right it was ‘hook off’, meaning walk off. The ‘hine’ Mr Rice drove an International tractor for ploughing and cultivating but the horses did most of the carting of dung and crops like turnips and hay. The subject then turned to sweeping in the hay with horses.The hay was raked into stroles (swathes or rows), then the sweep followed the row until a load was collected and then brought to where the rick was being made. The sweep was pulled by one horse, attached to the sweep by extra long chains from each side of the sweep, if the chains were too short it would limit the amount of hay that could be brought in at any one time. On reaching the rick the horse would be made to reverse a little(back back!), so that the sweep could be drawn back from the pile of hay and then made to move forward again, the sweep then tipped up over the pile so emptying the sweep and then more could be fetched. Arch Mortimore remarked that in his younger days there were ‘two horse sweeps’, one horse each side in shafts, these would collect a lot more at a time and the sweep would back out because it had wheels, this must have been quite hard work as the loads would be much greater. He could remember riding on the lap of the operator who must have had a seat attached to the sweep. Eventually tractors were adapted to this purpose with much longer toes to the sweep, these were on the front and pushed by the tractor. Jim Churchward remembered how some cars had been adapted into vans and also ambulances during the war years, after the war some were bought by farmers and by a bit of clever adaption, for instance making them grip better by using a lorry tyre, cutting sections out of the tread, fixing them over the original car tyre blowing them up again so as to make extra tread grips these cars too were used for tractors. Jim said they were traded as rescue cars. Rodney Cruze said some had the tyres all taken off and metal cleats welded on for grips. Peter Harvey said how so many of the long toes got stuck in hedges and under rocks and were broken off. Arch remarked that in one of his fields there are still several of these toes stuck under one rock even today!

The hay had to be ‘pitched’ up to the man making the rick. Rick building was a very skilled job, as if the hayrick was not built correctly it would easily tip over. As mechanisation came more evident, elevators were introduced and ‘haypoles’, the haypole was like a telephone pole with a boom, that had attached to it by a wire rope, a set of grabs that were stuck into the heap of hay, a horse at the other end of the rope walked forward to raise the hay which when swung in over the rick, a trip was pulled and the hay landed on the rick. There was needless to say a lot of ‘tom foolery’ with this as the trip was often pulled to make the hay land on top of the man on the rick. Roger Whale reminded us that the hardest job was cutting out the hay with a ‘hayknife’ in the winter. The hay rick was thatched either with straw or rushes and later c1960s, sheets of galvanised iron were used, in the winter the roofing was gradually removed and the hay had to be cut out in blocks to be carted in to the barns and sheds. Hay harvest was a very social occasion, and anyone and everyone helped, they did not expect to be paid, as long as the farmer fed them, tea in the harvest field, and then invited them in at the end of the day and gave them a good supper and some cider, they were happy. Eventually balers were invented, at first stationery ones that were used to bale, often a complete rick was uncovered, baled and then the hay taken in to a ‘dutch barn’. Untimately a pick-up baler that followed the stroles and baled it direct from the field. Much later came the round baler and then large square balers that could bale between five and ten hundredweight of hay into one bale, this method was then used to bale green grass and wrapped to make silage. The question of The Land Army - ‘Land girls’ was raised and Freda told the meeting that she was one, and there were several in the parish at different times. Prisoners of War were employed in some areas of the country.

The ‘Little Grey Ferguson Tractor’ was mentioned, this was like an industrial revolution, and the success story was that a wide variation of implements were specially produced to fit that tractor, ploughs, cultivators, grass machines and earth scoops, just to mention a few! There was a haysweep designed which was hinged in front of the tractor and with two good wagon ropes it was possible to fold the sweep up in front, tie the ropes to hold it up and shift from field to field even along the roads with out unhitching.

Memories then turned to WWII when all farmers were told to plough all ground that they could, this meant very old ‘pasture land’ that had not been ploughed in living memory was brought into cultivation. This old turf(ream), was tough and in many cases the top two inches were taken off first, using a velling or skirting share, about eight inches wide, this turf was then allowed to dry out and then cultivated or rattled over with a ‘chain harrow or chain brush’ to shake out all the soil and the remaining turf ‘beat’ was then burnt, then the field was ploughed properly. Now it is the old pastures with wild flowers and herbs that are being preserved as Environmental Sensitive Areas.

Freda remembers her husband Clarrie, possibly the last man in the area to cut a field of oats with a scythe, Arch remarked that to cut an acre a day was good going. The corn was then made into sheaves by hand, a ‘beam’ was made from a few stalks of the straw and wrapped around the bundle as it was reaped. Many fields had large rocks in them so the corn had to be cut around these before any machinery was use. A mechanical binder was introduced from Massey Harris of America in the mid twentieth century, that was ultimately succeeded by the combine harvester, a machine that did the whole harvesting process at once, cutting the corn, theshing and separating the straw from the corn, at first bagging the corn but gradually the machine was fitted with a tank and the corn taken back to the barns loose in bulk. When binders were first introduced the headlands were always cut by scythe first so as to avoid the horses trampling on it, gradually this was not done so that at the end of cutting the field the binder did a cut back around the field to pick up what had been driven over.

Comment was made that the nation required all this old pasture land to be ploughed to produce more food. Now any old pastures that are left are the wonders of the environmental lobby. Anthony remarked that you had to do this in the 1940s, and if you did not want to, the ministry inspectors could force you to and in extreme cases take over your land, now it is the other extreme and Arch stated that if you left hedges unpared and did what some environmentalists demand today, you could have your tenancy terminated for breaking your agreement as you would be considered a bad farmer. Fifty years and the whole industry has been turned ‘head over heals’! Sylvia Needham mentioned that in the rocky fields where you could not get in close with a drill or similar implement you took a cocoa tin full of turnip seed with a small hole in it and sprinkled some seed around the rocks or in the case of corn some was broadcasted by hand so that every inch was used for cropping. When sowing corn by hand, it was spread from a ‘sallop’, a container carried at waist level hung from a strap around the neck, then came a fiddle, a bag below which was a spinner operated with a bow. Eventually the corndrill was invented, the root drill and a grass seed barrow on a big wheel which was pushed forward and back across a field. Anthony said that drawings and photographs are needed to help to record all this equipment for future generations. Some grass seed barrows worked on a horse hay rake and were even made to fix on the ‘three point linkage’ instigated by Harry Ferguson for his tractors. If you double sowed seed or fertilizer you could make patterns in the crop, Roger did this with grass seed once to produce his initials RW and this reminded members of a field opposite Seale Hayne Agricultural College near Newton Abbot, which was once sown ‘Sulfuro XXX’ as an advertising scam. The ‘agistment of stock’, the annual bringing of stock out from Denbury, Marldon, and the like, to summer on the Forest of Dartmoor, was mentioned, up to 1500 bullocks each year were brought out to Postbridge, and in contrast the Dartmoor farmers annual purchasing of swedes and a grass run for Dartmoor sheep, in country, for the winter feeding for their sheep. Before the last war South Devon cattle were brought out to Runnage and put into the Newtakes. Most of the cattle were branded for identification in the horns, the branding irons were still at Runnage up to recently, this could be worth checking. Galla/Galler/Gawler Newtake was used for the heifers that ran with two bulls so they were ‘in-calf’ by the time that they went home for the winter. Big Stannon Newtake and the open moor that ran up to White Tor known as East Quarter. John Hamlyn and Adolphis Coaker would visit the three groups of stock in turn to check and examine twice a week, no stock were seen on Sundays. The same cattle came out for three or four years before maturing and many generations of the same stock did this. This happened at various other areas of Dartmoor until WWII put a stop to it all. The purpose of this system was to enabled the ‘incountry farmers’ to cut more hay and grow more arable crops. Some of these crops were utilised by moorland farmers, who took their stock incountry for the winter, particularly for sheep, three acres of turnips and a ten acre grass run, that would last them for several weeks. The Blackfaced Dartmoors as they call them now (originally Scotch Blackfaces) were introduced because they did not need to be removed from the moors except in severe weather conditions. Farming is nowhere so labour intensive as it was and there are very few fulltime farm labourers now. During the War there was a great demand for milk and every farm produced a churn or two each day. The remains of the old churn stands are at the top of most farm lanes and outside most farmyards today, should they be photographed and recorded as part of our heritage? In the early days the farmer supplied his men with free milk as part of their employment. He also supplied the cottages nearby. Gradually regulations were brought in, the Agricultural Act of 1947 brought in restrictions and rules that concerned hygiene and the conditions of the shippens had to be improved. This churn collection was superceeded by bulk milk collections and all dairy farms had refridgerated tanks to store the milk prior to collection, now no-one in this parish produces milk.The retail milk rounds of farm produced ‘untreated milk’ ceased in 1986.

During the war, ministry officials visited farms to check that farmers were doing what they were required to do, and the thing that upset most hardworking farmers was, when they found out that many of these so called ’experts’ who were telling them what to do, were bankrupt farmers from other areas - believe you me this did not go down well at all! According to the size of farm so many potatoes were to be grown, so much cereal and so on, there were cases that some potatoes were never harvested as no-one wanted them after they had been grown. Early examples of ‘supply and demand’. Some farmers in places like Kent and further north who were considered ‘poor farmers’ had their land conviscated and someone else put in to farm the land, we can not remember this happening in Devon. Perhaps this only applied to tenant farmers, but there was a thought that some owners had this happen to them too, in many cases the land was NOT returned to them after the war - this would need further research.

This led on to the subject of the evacuation of farmers from the South Hams so that that area could be used for training the military before the D-Day Landings. American troops were also stationed here on Dartmoor. There were two searchlights in this parish and members of the Trant family came to Widecombe from that area due to this policy. Some of these evacuated farmers returned to their farms after the war. The land had rested, the hedges were in a terrible state due to tank activity, many houses and buildings were ruined by gun practice. Some however did return and gained well out of the experience. The war days conjured up the stories how school children could get a certificate to be off school and work on the farms particularly in harvest and tilling times. At some schools the classrooms were taken over by evacuee children during non school hours, at others the evacuees integrated into normal school classes.

Freda then read an article from the Spectator newspaper concerning Lake Farm, Poundsgate, which was to be sold on Wednesday 9th April 2003. Lake Farm is an original Dartmoor Longhouse and a catalogue of the sale particulars should be obtained for our local history archives. The article, written by a reporter from the ‘Spectator’, proved very amusing as it was a town dwellers view of the farm. A copy should be obtained of this too, and placed with the particulars.

Wool, this was an important ‘crop’, however it went through some poor periods when it was virtually impossible to sell. The wool was stored for several years sometimes in the hope that the price would improve. This led to the discussion of how farmers with limited capital got involved with a system called ’half-crease’, this was when someone would put up the capital to buy some sheep, the farmer would feed, keep and tend them for the year, and they would then divide the proceeds of the sale of the lambs and wool. It was generally felt that the farmer had half the lambs and all the wool as his part of the contract and the ‘capitalist’ would have half the lambs as a form of interest. The breeding ewes still belonged to the man who bought them. A form of share farming.

Becky and Debbie said how much they had enjoyed listening to the group exchanging memories and how each person had added their own little piece into the conversation. This is exactly what they are hoping for, and to record these stories for posterity . The only thing is that at a large meeting, such as this, there is bound to be cross conversation so the recording would not to be clear enough for reproduction. It is however a fine example of what this project can succeed in producing.

It was felt that when recording for the proposed scheme, that is, if the finance becomes available, two three of even four people gathered together, so that they can feed one from the other would be ideal.

The meeting agreed to consider this at the May meeting when a decision would be made on who would be involved.

There were at the meeting those that have been farmers all their lives, people that never had anything to do with agriculture and those who have all the skills needed to maintain the countryside like shearing, hedging, walling etc.

Debbie Griffiths then offered to the group a set of the C.Ds. for our members to listen to so as to get the feel of what would be required. We were then offered three copies of the booklet that comes with the C.Ds. so that three different families could have one at a time rather than one family sitting on all three for a long period.

Becky and Debbie said that had both enjoyed the experience of attending our meeting.

It was stressed how important it is to record who was being interviewed. Like photographs, the names make a much more valuable item.

Anthony reminded the meeting of what Sylvia Needham said when we started the group, "The most important thing that we can record is the social history of the past one hundred years" ,perhaps now is the opportunity to do just that. There are still people living today with long memories.

As we closed the meeting Margaret mentioned cream - that’s another item for another day!

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