Widecombe History Group Talks November 2008

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"The Dartmoor Village ........ a glimpse at its past and future".

A talk given by Jenny Sanders

She began her talk by asking the question:

"What makes a Village?"

She listed:
(a) The Pub,
(b) The Church or Chapel,
(c) The Village Shop/ Post Office,
(d) The Village Hall,
(e) The Village School,
(f) Public Transport Service. (bus or train service).

So many villages have lost some, (in some places all), of these facilities and during her address she looked at the past one hundred years of five different parishes.

First. Walkhampton.
It has its 15th century Church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, 85 feet high tower, but it is not in the village. It is situated on the top of a hill about half a mile from the village centre. Most churches are built on high ground, and a one hundred year old photograph, shows it very clearly, but now it is surrounded by trees, the old field system around it is still evident. The village itself is built close to the river. Surrounding farms date from the 11th and 12th centuries. The village had a mill and the associated mill leat is still evident. The other facilities are still there but some of the old shops have disappeared over the years. The Church House dates from 1698 and records show how it was leased out by the Churchwardens and the Overseers of the Poor. It also has a ‘Town Farm’, many villages have such a holding within its boundary, sometimes right in the centre of the village.
Foggingtor School was at the north end of the parish. This served the children of the miners and quarrymen of past industrial activity of the area. The school now closed and demolished, the site now renamed ‘Four Winds’. Why do they do this? In years to come the fact that there once stood a school at the site could easily be lost. 70 children once went to school there, Mr Stoyles was Headteacher there during the whole length of its existence. There was another school at Merrivale within the quarry perimeter. The village has its Hall and is much used by the community.
Jenny also pointed out the value of headstones in the Churchyard. The information that can be obtained from them is most interesting. The names of the people, their ages, there original places of residence, and in some cases the cause of death. Two young people who were killed when out in charge of horses at a very early age is but one example. Some people from Widecombe crossed the moors and settled at Walkhampton, including Hamlyns and Smerdons. The village cross is another important item within a parish. A good old drinking trough is still in the village centre.
Second. Whitchurch.
Situated on the edge of Tavistock with its church dedicated to St Andrew. Part of this parish was transferred to Tavistock in a boundary review several years ago. Basically the heart of the village, a detrimental action. In recent years the parish has attempted to claim it backwithout success. The old Church House is now the Whitchurch Inn. Farmers could drive their stock to Tavistock Market from here. There is a sign in the village that says ‘welcome to Tavistock’ and that annoys many of the villagers. Merrivale Quarry is in this parish and was closed in 1997.
Third. Peter Tavy.
With its Church dedicated to St Peter, the tower built in the ‘perpendicular style’ as are several on the moors including Widecombe Church. This was a very industrial area with mines for tin, copper and ochre recorded in its history. All the fundraising functions held in the parish are always divided equally between the church, chapel and the hall.
Fourth. Lydford.
This was and still is a large parish. Its history connected with Stannary Laws and its prison bring many tourists to the village now. Lydford Castle which has been well researched, is part Norman, used as a prison and very much a tourist venue now. At one time it had two railway stations. Its Church dedicated to St Petroc. Jenny showed interesting photographs including one of the village pump, a large granite drinking trough that still remains in spite of an attempt to shift it. Villagers need to make a stand when parts of their heritage is threatened. There is a ‘Silver Street’ which refers back to the days when it had its own mint. Lydford Gorge is another attraction well worth a visit.
Fifth. Holne.
This village is a neighbour to Widecombe and part of the current joint benefice. The Church dedicated to St Mary has recently had the rood screen cleaned and the colours of the Saints portrayed now show up quite beautifully and only one or two of the faces have been damaged. This village has lost its school but the building is now used as the village hall. The ‘pub’ named so appropriately The Church House Inn, stands next to the Church and it has a lovely old settle. Town Farm, a shop 'cum' cafe, all helps to make for an active community.

In conclusion village life is so very important. The facilities need to be nurtured and maintained to secure an active community. More effort needs to be put into keeping village life alive, but underneath the surface there is a lot still going on. This talk showed how villages can change, how important services to a rural community can effect living standards particularly for the very young and the old.  How a way of life can be disrupted and the community changed beyond recognition in some cases by the ruthless attitude of outside forces. Perhaps more thought should be given to the effects of change rather than ‘change for the sake of change’.

That saying ..... ‘if it works don’t fix it’. Village life does work, just let it be!


Widecombe and District Local History Group produced a booklet “One Hundred Years and more of Ponsworthy” in 2006.

ISBN 1 898964 76 9 and retails at £3.95 (plus p&p).

contact: history@widecombe-in-the-moor.com for more details.

This book looks at how a village can change in 100 years. Once a completely self contained village with shops, mill, wheelwright, carpenter and undertaker, shoemaker, blacksmith, bakery and builder .......... now nothing but a redundant red telephone box.


The information on this page was last modified on March 18 2013 12:56:01.

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