Widecombe History Group Minutes October 2006

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A Meeting of The Widecombe and District Local History Group was held at The Church House, Widecombe on Wednesday 4th October 2006 at 7.30p.m.

Apologies:- Peter & Dylis Harvey, Fred Daw, Bessie French, John Kimber, Peter Rennells, Barbara Norrish, Michael & Andrea Venables, Richard & Valerie Casey, Audrey Lamb, Sue Booty, Mike Jones, Doug & Lyn Pidgeon.

Mr Terry French was in the Chair and 49 people attended. A warm welcome was given to Maggie Faulkner of Totnes who is looking for any members of the Irish family of Widecombe, and three members of the parish, David & Judy Lomax and Jones.

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


Ponsworthy Book

It was reported that the "One Hundred Years and More of Ponsworthy" book, launched at Widecombe Fair, is selling well and is receiving good reviews.
ISBN 1 898964 76 9 selling at £3.95.
All the papers and research materials, complete with copies of the photographs used, will be kept in the archives for the use in the future of anyone wishing to refer to, or to use for further research.

History of Widecombe Fair

The working party involved with this project have reconvened and the next meeting is scheduled for Thursday 19th October at 7.30 p.m.

There is now an urgent need for any photographs, material of any kind relevant to Widecombe Fairs Past to be collected, copied and recorded, as the proposed publication date is scheduled for Widecombe Fair 11th September 2007.

Please help us in any way you can and as soon as possible.


The collection of ideas, photographs, write-ups, pamphlets etc regarding Leusdon Church, Chapel, School, Memorial Hall and farms and cottages in this area has begun with the intention of researching this part of the parish once the Widecombe Fair project reaches a conclusion. Thanks to The Memorial Hall Committee for a resumee of their minute books, we shall need more when we start this project in earnest. We also have a leaflet about The Chapel.
Contact Margaret Phipps 01364 631 421.

Widecombe Fair

John McGreggor is continuing to metal detect the Show Field and the items found are still being received.

Widecombe Fair Heritage Marquee

Our Chairman, Terry French, began the review of our Heritage Marquee by saying that it was an outstanding success. Not only did it create a very interesting and informative display for the many visitors to Widecombe Fair, which incidentally experienced record crowds, but the interest and favourable comments from the local population made it all the more worthwhile. The result of the local interest has already produced documents concerning the parish being offered to us to either keep or copy. Particular thanks were expressed to Michael & Lorna Skinner for the loan already of some of their items.

Terry continued by thanking all the members, too many to mention by name, but you all know who you are - he said, for their help on the Monday collecting the display boards etc, and the erection of the displays, and the wonderful team effort on Fair Day of manning the marquee and the enthusiasm they all showed with dealing with our visitors and answering all the queries that arose. He did thank Peter Rennells who co-ordinated all the arrangements, the design of the interior of the marquee and the layout of the displays prior to the day, so that the setting up of the marquee went so smoothly, Rodney Cruze for storing all our display panels, and equipment and Peter & Aileen Carrett for their security duties taking care of our displays prior to the opening.

Peter Rennells listed a ‘few observations’ in a letter to the group:-

  1. The September meetings in future should be ‘Non Speaker Evenings’ so that the preparations for the Heritage Marquee and Widecombe Fair in general, can be fully discussed and the teams of helpers made aware of the time schedules for setting up the displays, manning the marquee and the dismantling procedures.
  2. Monday - preparation day - should begin at 1.00 p.m. to allow plenty of time to get all set up by 6.00 p.m. We did this this year and it worked a treat. It should be noted that openings to the marquee can be positioned every 10 feet if required.
  3. Tuesday (Fair Day). Start at 7.30 a.m. with the final arrangements of displays. Peter thanked everyone for their excellent support. We were ready to go by 8.00 a.m. and we had our first visitors at 8.50 a.m. He continued by thanking all the helpers for their excellent response and the way they all coped with the wide variety of interest, and the enthusiasm with which they dealt with all the questions posed to them. The idea of having so many chairs proved vital. They were necessary and were well used, particularly by those wishing to make use of our census data. The amount of notes taken by our visitors proved their value.
  4. There is a need for leaflets to hand out giving details of the History Group and its activities. Giving dates and times of meetings and also the forthcoming programme of events.
  5. Tuesday evening. There is a need for a removal/transportation team to be available from 5.30 p.m. to break down the exhibition and help remove it all to our stores. Thanks to all those that helped this year, it really was a brilliant team effort.
  6. Memorabilia displays were excellent and created a great deal of interest. The other displays need a ratio of 75% illustrations to 25% descriptive script. People like pictures etc to see!
  7. The repositioning of the census books and folding screens needs consideration. Being positioned in the middle of the marquee, a busy area, did cause some difficulty for those wishing to sit and study.

Ideas of subject matter for 2007.

  1. Manors of the parish - sites, ages & lords.
  2. Widecombe at War - men, memorials, Br Legion.
  3. Bridges of the parish - clapper, fords, county and roads.
  4. Beatrice Chase - her life as well as her books.
  5. Mills of the parish - sites, uses, ages and those who worked them.
  6. Churches and Chapels - all denominations.
  7. The tin industry of the parish.
  8. The various styles of pottery - souvenir/locally made/etc.
  9. Farming history in the parish - Farms/crops/livestock/sale catalogues.

The group should consider the possibility of volunteers adopting a subject for a future years exhibition with the total responsibility of researching and getting information, pictures and items for their display. They should show the group a couple of months prior to the show what they have collected so that others can offer further material and ideas that they may have. The person would then man that display and being well versed in the subject be able to answer questions and for their part gather further information about an interest of their own choosing.

In view of the interest of so many local people in what we displayed this year in particular the farming community, Peter suggested that we should put a piece in the ‘Parish Newsletter’ stating that:-

The Widecombe and District Local History Group are attempting to research "The Farming History of the Parish"

If you possess any old documents, photographs or memorabilia relating to the Parish’s Farming Activities, Livestock or Implement sales or purchases, old style tenancy agreements, Farm/property Sales, anything at all that you would be prepared to loan us to copy so that we could use them for future exhibitions, we would be pleased to hear from you. This would eventually become an archive of "Widecombe’s Agricultural History". contact Anthony Beard, 01364 621 246.

Display Cabinets

There is a need to alter our exhibits in the very near future.

Guided Walks

A vote of thanks was recorded to Richard Wells for organising another excellent walk from Cross Furzes to Scoriton on 16th September, 13 people and 4 dogs enjoyed it immensely.

The walks this summer have been a welcomed addition to our programme of events and it is hoped that this can once again be part of our programme next year.

E-mails & Correspondence

The Devon History Society

Notice was received of the AGM of The Devon History Society to be held at The University of Exeter’s St Lukes Campus on Saturday 14th October at 10.00 a.m.

A letter has also been received from The Devon History Society asking if we could host their Summer Meeting for about 45/50 people in 2007. It was thought that Saturday 30th June would be ideal. It was agreed that we should try to accommodate them.

First we need to check that the Church House is available for that date and if so perhaps we should also book Sunday 1st July and keep the exhibition open to the public on that day.

For the meeting we will suggest that it would be best held upstairs, where we could supply tea/coffee and biscuits at 10.00 a.m. The meeting would start at 10.30 a.m. when, after their business meeting, we could give a presentation about the parish, its history, the parish records, our current projects and activities etc. A group of us would set up a display downstairs along the lines of our Widecombe Fair Exhibition plus various other documents and items of interest.

We would suggest they book their lunch at The Wayside Cafe for 1.00 p.m. and we would meet them there at 2.15 p.m. for a guided walk around the village, arriving back at The Church House at about 4.00 p.m. for a last look at the display. We would stage this free of charge in the hope that those attending may feel inclined to purchase some of our books etc as souvenirs of their visit.

We would have a bowl for any voluntary contributions that the visitors may feel inclined to make on either day. Secretary asked to organise this and send a reply.

Letter from Jean Stuart Lunde of Norway regarding the Stuart family. Replied that we can find NO Stuarts in our parish records, suggesting she contact Devon Family History Society at PO Box 9 Exeter EX2 6YP.

Letter from Julie & Peter Newman of Canada thanking us for hospitality shown to them when they joined us for The Peter Hirst Memorial walk, and

Thanks also received from Peter Hirst’s family in Yorkshire, for the photographs we sent to them of that occasion.

Oct 06/01 Re: Sept06/05: Contact from Bruce Kitchen for further details regarding the Hannaford family. Secretary has sent all he knows.

Oct 06/02 Re; Sept 06/02: More details on this. Simon Dixon is hoping that a member of our group would undertake producing an article of 3000 words about the activities, professions etc of the population of Widecombe in the 18th century. In 1722 there was Jacobite revolt against King George I, and during the period May - December 1723, it was decreed that people should swear their allegiance to the King. Citizens of Widecombe had to go to Ashburton to do this, and a list of about 130 that did this has been sent to us. Questions that Simon would like answered are; What percentage was 130 of the adult population of Widecombe at that time? What were their main occupations? What was the way of life here at that time? Anyone interested in taking this on please contact secretary.

Oct 06/03: Contact from Kate Partridge looking for details of the Johnson and Dailey families of Widecombe 1813 - 1837. Secretary replied; can find no reference to these family names in our records of that time.

Letter from Neil Peters. Does anyone know of a property named HIDENPCOTE in this parish? He is researching a Elinor Forwell who was tenant of this property and her eviction resulted in a Chancery Complaint in 1579 against a John Peter who forcibly evicted her and then leased the property to Elizabeth Tamlyn. It was suggested that the ‘COTE’ may refer to a cottage? Could it be ‘Hidden Cott’? We have no idea.

Letter received in August from Jeffrey Wilson with regards to military activity in the parish. He has written a definitive book on "Somerset Homeguard" (A Pictorial Rolecall) ISBN 0 948 975 71 7. In view of his interest in this we have decided to get a copy made of our "Homeguard Exercise Manuscript" and send to him. Other information has been passed on to him by telephone.

A newspaper cutting from The Western Morning News of Tuesday 12th September will be explored and details will be given to the November meeting.


The Two Moors Festival Fringe Concert of Opera Highlights with The Chagford Singers will take place at St Michael’s Church Ilsington on Saturday 14th October at 4.00 p.m. admission £8, under 18 £2. Tickets from 01643 831006 or at the door on the evening.

Notice from The Widecombe Parish Social & Entertainment Club of a Grand Fireworks Display in Great Close, next to the Fairfield on Saturday 4th November. Tickets £4 Children £2.50. Bar & BBQ available. Details and tickets from Sharon 01364621294 or from the gatemen on the night.

Grand Autumn Whist Drive at Leusdon Memorial Hall Saturday 28th October at 7.30 p.m. Excellent prizes, bumper raffle. Please help us to maintain our hall.

All those present signed a get well card for Tessa Rennells and a birthday card to wish Bessie French a happy 90th Birhday for Tuesday 17th October.

November 1st Meeting is a ‘non speaker evening’ when we hope to discuss and record stories about "Farming in the Parish". Please bring your memories, artefacts and stories as we make a start on this oral and physical archive.

December 6th meeting we will welcome The Wren Singers who will give us a talk with Folk Songs inspired by the Rev Saline Baring Gold Collection.

January 3rd 2007 will be our Annual New Years Party Evening when members are requested to a ‘bring & share buffet". The liquid refreshment will be supplied by the group.

The 2007 programme of speakers and events is being prepared

The meeting closed at 10.00 p.m.

The Stone Men of Dartmoor

by Paul Rendell

A very well illustrated talk was greeted with great enthusiasm which to all intents and purposes was a look at granite. The first few illustrations were pictures of Tors and various granite formations and Paul posed the question - ‘Are these granite men or granite shaped by men or natural phenonenum?’ There are several unique granite features to be found Dartmoor and one of the most striking and well-known is Bowerman’s Nose near the boundary of Widecombe and Manaton. Legend has it that Bowerman the huntsman was turned into granite by a witch living in the area. So many visitors to Dartmoor are amazed at the natural granite formations that are known locally as tors. This name could well have arisen from the fact to the casual observer they appear like towers.

Granite is a natural resource which has been used by man for thousands of years. In prehistoric times it was used to construct their hut circles (round houses), burial mounds, standing stones, stone rows, cists and much more. As man progressed into more substantial buildings what better material could be used than the natural granite. The first houses were constructed of the stones in their natural form (rubble construction). As man produced tools he found that he could shape stones to meet his requirements. By the late eighteenth century a method was used of drilling holes into which he placed dry wooden wedges which were then soaked with water causing them to swell resulting in the stones splitting along the line of the holes. By the mid-nineteenth century by drilling a row of holes with a iron jumper (a long metal bar incorporating a large weight), these holes could then be drilled quite quickly. Into each these holes were placed ‘feathers and tares’ (two or three small pieces of iron placed into the hole and into the centre of which was fixed a metal bar). By hitting these metal bars with a hammer they gradually tightened, and as they tightened they began to ‘sing’ (ring) and with experience the stone mason could cut the granite with a great deal of accuracy.

As the Stone mason’s skills improved the rough stones were cut and shaped and examples of this can still be seen in old farm houses and buildings. Eventually reaching the standard of cut stones in buildings like the Church House at Widecombe and Widecombe Church Tower, all hand worked. With the eventual mechanisation of quarries and use of diamond-tipped saws, granite could be cut with great precision and polished. Examples of this can be found on headstones in many Churchyards in Devon and even further afield. These beautifully cut stones meant that door-ways and windows of many grand house were surrounded with finely cut lintels and magnificent mullion window frames.

Granite quarries can be found all over Dartmoor. Swell Tor, King Tor, Foggintor, and of course the large quarry at Merrivale which closed in 1997. At one time over three hundred men were employed at Foggintor. On Staple Tor examples of sett makers bunkers, benches where stone masons worked cutting granite sets for the paving of the cobble streets of Tavistock and Plymouth, etc. On Staple Tor alone more than one hundred of these bunkers can be found, where in the 1860s a man was expected to produce 40 setts a day being paid one penny per sett. Many of these men came from Peter Tavy and Mary Tavy, walking across the Moor in all weathers and the remnants of a sett makers path can still be seen today leading to Staple Tor. In the 1850s/1860s the Duke of Bedford, who owned a great deal of Tavistock, also owned Pew Tor, where many local stone masons worked, he decided to restrict their activities, by what would be seen today as an act of conservation, he had a series of marks (a circle with a cross in it) engraved around the Tor within which the locals were not allowed to take stones thus preserving the Tor. Around Roos Tor he had 13 upright stones engraved with a large ‘B’ for the same purpose.

One of the most successful quarries was the Haytor Quarry, set up by Templar in the mid-nineteenth century to supply granite of the highest quality for prestigious buildings all over the country. The main problem facing him was how to transport the finished blocks of stone from Haytor to Teignmouth for shipping around the coast. He built the unique Haytor Granite Railway. Constructed from granite stones of six to eight feet in length and about a foot square, onto which were carved grooves for the wagon wheels to run, he built the track all the way to the river Teign, from where the stones were transported by barge to Teignmouth and then by sea to places like London, where some were used to construct London Bridg (now standing in the Arizona Desert in America), the British Museum and many more grand buildings. He built a village at the quarry for the workforce but very little evidence of that can be seen today. Like so many disused quarries the quarry pits now stand full of water with just a few remnants of the quarry machinery remaining.

Paul showed several pictures of the Stone masons brilliant work including some wonderful buildings in Tavistock, beautifully shaped apple crushers, gate posts and many other artefacts crafted from this local stone. He briefly mentioned the China clay deposits at Lee Moor which is a result of the decomposition of granite over thousands of years. The use of granite to protect the lime stone used to build the Plymouth Breakwater was also mentioned. the fact that Castle Drogo built of granite from several different quarries, now needs several millions of pounds spent on it to protect it from the ravages of the Dartmoor weather and water seepage associated with it.

As one walks across Dartmoor the skills of the old Stone masons can be still seen. There are granite troughs, crosses, mill-wheels and much more that were abandoned. We now wonder why, as most of them appear intact. There is very little granite quarrying done on Dartmoor now, so much is imported from Holland, Portugal and even China, where due to cheap labour costs the finished product can be produced at less expense.

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