Widecombe History Group Minutes February 2005

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A Meeting of the Widecombe & District Local History Group was held at The Church House, Widecombe on Wednesday 2nd February 2005 at 7.30 p.m.

Apologies :- Richard Casey, Margaret Steemson, Peter & Dyllis Harvey, Fred Daw, Phyllis Pascoe, Sylvia Needham, Bessie French, Roger Whale and John Kimber.

Peter Rennells was in the chair and 42 people attended.

The group welcomed some visitors to their first meeting and expressed the hope that they will become regular members of our group.

The minutes of the January meeting were read and signed as correct.


The lead paperweight project is still waiting to be begun.

The church drop-cloth still needs permanent fixing.

The Ponsworthy Project is going well with regular meetings taking place to record all that can be found out about the village.

The Widecombe Fair Project is well under way and information is beginning to build up. Peter Rennells has seen a copy of an illustrated 1899 publication about Widecombe Fair and is currently awaiting the receipt of a C.D. showing its contents. Sticklepath features strongly in this book. He has also obtained copies of the 1841-51-61-71- & 81 census of the parish for our records and hopes to get the 1891 & 2001 soon.

Anyone wishing to be part of either or both of these two projects should contact Anthony for dates and times, and they are welcome to participate.

Librarian Richard Wells reported that cataloguing of our archives is going well. If Richard needs any help with this he is asked to request it. Richard reported that Freda Wilkinson has given the group a copy of The Register of Marriages, Baptisms & Burials of the Parish of Widecombe, covering the period 1574 - 1837. A sincere vote of thanks was expressed to Freda for her generosity.


Jan 05/01 Enquiry about the Hext (Hex) family. This will be passed to Frank Hext to deal with.

Jan 05/02 Enquiry about the Townsend family from a Maureen Smith (nee Bray). Anthony has returned information, confirming Elizabeth Townsend bapt, 03/01/1831, d of James & Katherine of Torr. James Townsend m Catherine Witheycombe on 30/10/1827. They also had a daughter Ann bapt, 20/07/1828, son John French bapt, 19/01/1834 & daughter Emmeline bapt, 12/05/1836. N.B. Katherine sometimes spelt with a C.

Suggested to Maureen, The Tree House, Kings Street, Exeter for her research.

Other Local Groups announced their future activities.

Ladies Circle - A talk on Guide Dogs for the Blind - Thursday 10th February.

Social Group - Grand Easter Draw, tickets will soon be available.

Grand Social Event at The Rugglestone 13th August.

The Dartmoor Run raised £2,500 for The Social Group, thanks to all who helped.

Peter Rennells thanked all those that had collected tokens from The Western Morning News, to enable less well off families to get a special holiday at some local holiday establishments. Enough tokens collected locally for 47 families, excellent!

North Hall. We are still hoping to get some advice from Sean Hawken.

A. J. Coles film still being pursued.

Ann Claxton produced a full itinerary for our Annual Outing on May 14th 2005.

Coach leaves Widecombe 8.15 a.m. to Calstock by 10.30 a.m. to catch ferry to Morwellham for coffee. Spend whole day exploring Morwellham including tram ride into the old copper mine at 2.15 p.m., plenty to see, visit, explore, including walks and nature trails. Coach leaves Morwellham at 5.00 p.m. arrive Widecombe 6.30 p.m.

Cost. £18.00 ( coach, ferry, coffee & entrance fee). Book early to avoid disappointment.

Facilities at Morwellham for lunch/tea/snacks etc or take your own packed food, that is your choice!

Chagford Group: Meet at The Jubilee Hall, Chagford on Thursday 17th Feb at 8.00p.m. for a talk by Dr Tom Greeves, Sue Andrews & Chris Chapman on their recent research into “The Three Hares Symbol”.

Our Next Meeting is Wednesday March 2nd 2005 at 7.30 p.m. when the speaker will be Chris Kelland and the subject “Underground Mining in Devon”

The April Meeting is scheduled as a Discussion Evening. The Topic to be decided at the March Meeting

The May Meeting is a talk by Trevor James entitled “The History of Dartmoor Prison”.

The meeting closed at 9.50 p.m.


Prior to the February meeting we were given a talk by Dr Sandy Gerrard on the effect of bracken on Dartmoor Archaeological Remains, with particular reference to a ‘Round house’ recently excavated at Kes Tor.

The impact of Bracken on prehistoric monuments had not been properly explored until recently when a hardworking group of volunteers spent the years 1999 - 2004 carefully with toothbrushes and teaspoons, excavating a round house at Kes Tor.

This site was chosen for several reasons but primarily because the site itself was heavily overgrown by bracken, but the surrounding area was comparatively free from this innocuous weed. There are about 5000 round houses (hut circles) on Dartmoor but this one appeared to be the ideal for such an examination. Dating from about 1500 B.C.

The roots of bracken are known as ‘Rhizomes’ and the stalks are known as ‘Stipples’ and the leaves are known as ‘Fronds’. It is the activity of the rhizomes that were in this instance being investigated, the effect that they were having on the stones, soil, and perhaps most importantly, how their activity was shifting or displacing the smaller artefacts within the soil, by actually shifting the position of these small items, (i.e china & pottery shards, flint flakes, implements & tools within the layers of soil). This activity was emphasised by the finding of pieces of plastic deep down in the soil.

First the numbers of stipples were counted, 2200 within the house, most were about 1.6 metres in height but some reached 2.3 meters.

The first stage of excavation showed that in the last few hundred years 0.33 metres of soil had been deposited over the site, due mainly to erosion from the land higher up the hill. This was calculated, as the remains of a layer of decomposed turf was found at that level. Within this top layer was the most dense population of rhizomes and as the depth increased so the number of rhizomes decreased. At 0.44m depth considerably less and so on through 1.56, 0.64 until at 0.78 very few strands were in evidence. Various forms of excavation were employed, one method of following a square metre to this depth provided 325 metres of rhizomes in the one square metre. In all it was calculated that 7.6 kilometres of rezones were traced within this one small building.

There was also evidence at the lower levels of a previous infestation of rhizomes that had died and decomposed. This was concluded by the evidence of the pattern of a previous root structure within the soil, corresponding in style to the pattern of today’s infestation. There was also some evidence of rabbit workings, tunnels and runs, their activity had also affected the movement of the soil and the artefacts, as well as other rodent’s activities. One thing not mentioned was the possibility of action by cattle and other animals on the surface ‘poaching’ the ground to various extents depending on the weather, this could easily affect movement up to quite a depth.

As well as careful recordings of the rhizomes, the position, depth, and even the angle of slope of each artefact was recorded. The angle of slope could be the result of action by animals or the rhizomes themselves. The total number of ‘items’ found and recorded led to the conclusion that this proved to be an excellent site for examination, resulting in the richest site ever examined of the 250 plus sites excavated over the last 150 years or so.

The deepest layer was attributed to the Middle Bronze Age (1500 B.C.), above which a layer dated as Late Bronze/Iron Age (1000 B.C.), and above that a layer dated as Roman Period (A.D.100). The latter identified by the shards of pottery which source were traced to Exeter, North Devon, Dorset and France. This it is claimed shows that trading was taking place over a large area as the last millennium was beginning.

The rhizomes have had the effect of even shifting some of the large stones used to construct the round house in the first place, several of the smaller stones had been displaced, was this considered to have been all to do with the activity of the rhizomes? We await with interest further examination and consideration of the evidence.

There can be little doubt that bracken has a lot to answer for. Not only as a plant, but with the ticks & insects that also live within the bracken infested ground carrying diseases that can be trouble to man and beast, and the problems for livestock associated with eating it, and also the way that it can affect our understanding of our history due to its ability to move some of the buried evidence which could confuse our interpretation of the finds.

Pieces of plastic, ‘strimmer wire and yoghurt cartons’, were found quite deep in the soil so we should also not underestimate the action that animals, worms, natural erosion and the disturbance that the bracken can have, on our interpretation of the evidence that excavations can uncover.

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