Widecombe History Group Minutes April 2005

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A Meeting of The Widecombe and District Local History Group was held at The Church House, Widecombe on Wednesday 6th April 2005 at 7.30 p.m.

Apologies were received from:- Fred Daw, Phyllis Pascoe, Jenny Pascoe, John Kimber, Bessie French, Pat and Val Watson, Chris Mayhead, Margaret Phipps and Nora Lamb.

Peter Rennells was in the chair and he welcomed some new members to the meeting, 40 people attended.

The minutes of the March meeting were read and after a couple of amendments they were signed as correct.


Projects; (a) Jim Churchward offered to help the secretary begin the production of the Lead Paperweights.

(b) Roger Whale, Roger Claxton, Peter Rennells, Arch Mortimore and Rodney Cruze will help hang the drop-cloth. Secretary to contact them when a suitable date can be arranged.

(c) Ponsworthy - see below.

(d) Widecombe Fair - see below.

Librarian. Richard Wells is continuing the logging process.


March 05/01 Enquiry from Janet Armstrong for details of Frenchs’ of Rowbrook. This will be passed on to Terry & Bessie French and also Ruth Parnell. Promised Ruth a copy of our Oct ‘02 minutes. We to date, have not received a copy of family tree from James Hylton Tuckett of New Zealand (Frenchs’ of Rowbrook). Must follow this up!

March 05/02 Enquiry from Michael Stephens regarding the Hannaford Family. Will pass this to June Kernick hopefully she will be able to help!

March 05/03 Enquiry from Linda Phillips regarding Leamans and Newhouse. Will pass to Mike Leaman for Leamans and June Kernick for Newhouse. John Kimber also Leaman connections?

March 05/04 Enquiry for Heather Cooper regarding Newhouse and Leamans. Will do as above.

March 05/05 Enquiry G. W. Honeywill regarding Honeywills and Mortimores. Can confirm marriage between Richard H & Joan M at Widecombe 18 April 1737. She died and Richard wed Elizabeth Smerdon of Buckland on 12 April 1743.

March 05/06 Enquiry from Peter Smerdon of Plymouth regarding Smerdons. Will pass on to Ena & Michael Smerdon, it may fit into their family.

Other Local Groups

Ladies Circle. A film show by Val Watson will be held on Thursday 14th April at The Church House.

Social Group. Still progressing.

Widecombe Parish Council Annual Meeting held on 23rd March was a great success when representatives of many of the groups and organisations in the Parish gave an account of their various activities.

Sponsorship. It was reported that Margaret Phipps and her friends held a very successful sponsored walk and raised about £3000 for autistic children.

North Hall Project. Watch this space in the Autumn.

Nicholas Keen (Keene) film show. This may be planned for 2006.

Annual Outing. A further 10 people are required to fill the coach for this event on Saturday 14th May. The outing is to Morwellham.

The late Peter Hirst. A gathering to scatter Peter’s ashes will be held on Saturday 9th April at Yar Tor at 10.30 a.m. All members of the Group are invited to attend and there will be tea/coffee and some light refreshments afterwards at Brimpts Farm at approx. 11.a.m.

The next meeting will be on Wednesday 4th May 2005 at The Church House at 7.30 p.m.

The beginning of the evening will be The Eighth Annual General Meeting after which our regular monthly meeting will take place when the speaker will be Trevor James and his subject will be “The History of Dartmoor Prison”.

The following Saturday 7th May the group will visit The Princetown Prison Museum at 11.00 a.m. It has been decided that it is best to meet at the Museum Carpark. After this, we shall progress to the entrance to the Yellow Mead Farm track, from where it is hoped that Richard Wells will lead a guided walk past the farm to Foggingtor Quarry and a little further if the group of walkers feel fit!

The June Meeting on Wednesday 1st June will be addressed by Sheila Phillips on The Pengelly Caves of Buckfastleigh. This will be followed by a visit to the caves on Friday 3rd June at 7.00 p.m. Meet at The Centre.

The July meeting will be on Wednesday 6th July for a talk by Mike Perriam on The Moorland Erme.

Mike has agreed to lead a walk along part of the Erme on Saturday 9th July meeting at 12.00 noon at the carpark near Cornwood map ref: 625611 for a picnic followed by the walk.

Reports on the activities of the two working parties currently involved with our History Projects.

(c) Looking into the History of Ponsworthy.

(Presented by Roger Whale).

With particular reference to the last 100 years but also picking up some earlier items of historical interest.

The group involved with this consists of :- Roger Whale, Peter Rennells, Mary Pascoe, Sue Booty, Bessie & Terry French, Ena & Michael Smerdon, Wendy & Anthony Beard.

Further input has come from Barbara & Leonard Norrish, Marjorie & Geoffrey Weymouth, Malcolm & Pauline Whiteside and Edith Helley.

Roger gave the meeting a presentation outlining the progress that has been made so far and how the project is expected to proceed. In the past twelve months we have had several meetings and drawn together newspaper reports, diaries, memories, from families and friends. We have looked at the censuses of the late 19th century and the latest one available 1901. Currently the group are looking at 26 properties in Ponsworthy and the immediate neighbourhood. These spread from Sweaton, Primms Cottage, to the Higher Linchaford Cottages. Roger has a collection of old postcards of the village that he is prepared to share with the group and these prove to be very interesting as the development or should we say the alterations in the village can be seen on close examination of these images. Family stories and reminiscences, funny stories of happenings, tales concerning the characters that once lived there are all being collected to paint a picture in a comprehensive booklet about a delightful village that has changed from being virtually self-supporting, full of businesses and craftsmen, to a community where many of the properties are now holiday or second homes.

(d) Looking at the history of Widecombe Fair.

(Presentation by Mary Pascoe & Audrey Mortimore).

The group involved with this project includes:-

John Kimber, Arch & Audrey Mortimore, Sue Booty, Mary Pascoe, Peter Rennells, Anthony & Wendy Beard, Margaret Phipps, and Michael Smerdon.

Further in-put has come from Jean Nosworthy, Barbara & Leonard Norrish, Christine Lamb, and many others that will be credited when the project is complete.

Material has been sourced by John Kimber from The Western Morning News, and other Local and National Newspapers, also cuttings, articles, and photographs from private collections and Local and County Archives. Widecombe Fair is currently held on the second Tuesday in September each year. The earliest written record found so far appears to be about 1850 when a celebration dinner was held at Widecombe. The minute books of Widecombe Fair from 1923 to date are available for reference, and through reading them we are building up a very interesting picture of the history of the last 100 years. We are of course still researching farther back to see what we can find out about this world famous event. In 1923 the number of sheep brought to the fair was decreasing but more activities were introduced making the day more of a sports day, with children’s races and pony classes. The sheep participation also became a show as well as a sale. A decision to cancel the fair was taken at a meeting held on Tuesday 5th September 1939 due to the outbreak of W. W. II and it was not restarted until 1945, when a modified fair was quickly organised after the end of hostilities. This modified fair consisted of children’s races, gymkhana, sports and tug of war and all the profits of that fair was given to the “Local Welcome Home Fund”. The fair has continued on these lines with a gradual increase in sheep and pony classes to this day. In 1989 the pony classes were cancelled due to an outbreak of Equine Flu, terrier races took place instead and they have continued to be part of the fair ever since. In 2001 the fair was cancelled due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

Various celebrities have attended the fair over the years ranging from Sir Harry Lauder in 1934 and in more recent years stage and screen stars like Kathy Kirby, Ken Dodd, Leslie Crowther and in 2004 Pam StClements who has a long standing connection with the Parish since childhood paid the fair a visit.

The fair has been held on several different sites in and around the village including the Village Green. The group is collecting a list of these with appropriate photographs. The next obvious subject is a list of the different men who have portrayed Uncle Tom and the corresponding years. It appears that Beatrice Chase encouraged Edward Dunn in 1929 to start this custom. 1933 was the first year that stalls were allowed on the show field and they were to be handicraft and country craft types. In 1982 the local children were encouraged to compete in wild flower arrangement and painting competitions and this proved so popular that the Widecombe Primary School children still partake in various classes to this day including Maypole Dancing demonstrations.

It is generally agreed that the characters in the song came from Mid-Devon and in 1996 Sarah Nosworthy and Sarah Mortimore decided to re-enact the reputed journey from Spreyton to Widecombe on horseback, they completed the journey in one hour and seventeen minutes, not bad for a 14 mile ride!

The pre-mentioned Beatrice Chase, local authoress, had a book stall in the 1930s at the fair selling her own books, today local writers and publishers have a stall on the field keeping this activity going.

Another childhood memory is of a girl riding her pony to the fair, and being impressed by the Bovey Tracey Silver Band in their smart uniforms with their lovely silver instruments playing at the fair, due to their limited repertoire, they had to play hymns for the musical posts competition. Two young ladies were so excited by all the excitement of the day that when Uncle Tom went into the bar to get some refreshment they ‘high-jacked’ the Old Grey Mare and rode her around the village much to the consternation of Uncle Tom!

Peter Rennells has been researching The Mid Devon Advertiser. He has also discovered a book in the Devon County Archives depicting the story of Widecombe Fair written published and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith in 1899. Only 500 copies were produced. We need further information on this lady and any other publications credited to her. We believe she had some connection with Helen Terry a music-hall artiste and actress who once lived at Chudleigh! The group has been able to get the book scanned onto C.D. and the images were shown to the meeting. The detail in the drawings created a great deal of interest and discussion. Much more research needed here too!

We would like to make an appeal to anyone who reads these minutes who has anything connected to either Ponsworthy or Widecombe Fair that they can share with the Group to contact us on:- history @ widecombe-in-the-moor.com

We can then arrange for the article to be photographed copied or archived according to the owner’s particular wishes.

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