Widecombe History Group Talk September 2008

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The Speaker this month was Felicity Goodall

And the subject based on a book recently produced by her was ‘Lost Devon’


She began by stating that many buildings and historic places of interest seemed to have been forgotten over the years, including villages that have been submerged under reservoirs, and her efforts have gone into recording some of these happenings before they get lost or forgotten forever. For instance, it s possible that some deserted sites, like Hutholes and Houndtor medieval villages, may have been a result of the great plague. Rudjard Kipling was educated in Devon at The United Services College in 1878 for about 6 years which was in a terrace of houses in Westward Ho! He came back from Bombay, where he became the editor of the school newspaper. Charles Kingsley wrote a book named “Westward Ho” based on ‘The United Services College’ which was a school for children whose parents were in the forces scattered all over the British Empire, this made Westward Ho popular. It was a non-entity of a place but entrepreneurs of the time built guest houses for people that came to the place to see what it was like as a result of reading the book. Now those houses that were the school are known as Atlantic Terrace and they too ultimately became boarding houses.  She mentioned that many buildings still in Devon have a chequered history and over the years have been used for a variety of purposes from lunatic asylums, homes and institutions. Many people locked up for life for many minor offences including single women who had children, doctors and members of the forces who returned from service abroad who were suffering traumas. Some kept in disgusting conditions.  

She considered rabbit warrens and showed a photograph of Queen Mary’s Psalter depicting a large pillow mound with rabbits illustrated upon it. These pillow mounds were artificially created by warreners in an effort to improve breeding facilities for their rabbits. The earliest one recorded was on Drake’s Island, in Plymouth Sound dating from 1123 connected to Plympton Priory. The Romans and Normans highly prized their rabbits for food supplies. In fact, in the Bayhaux Tapestries images depicting the invasion of Britain, rabbit’s ears can be seen protruding from some of the cages being carried by the soldiers. It is thought that they introduced a great many rabbits into the country.

In the records of Tavistock Abbey reference is made to money being due for rabbits from the Scilly Isles. Rabbit farming was big business during the nineteen century and in fact well into the 20C particularly during the war years.  

Illustrations showing large timbers used in the propping up of walls and ceilings in the tin and copper mines particularly refer to Wheal Friendship Copper Mine. The town of Tavistock was mentioned as being built as a model town by the Bedford family. Their wealth being accrued through minerals and sheep. 

Tuckenhay Paper Mill, near Totnes, produced quality paper at the end of the nineteen century. Each paper maker had his own recipe for making paper resulting in much demand for quality paper often of an individual standard. Some of their paper was regularly used for legal documents and some rare stamps. Details of this can be seen in Totnes Museum. Photographs of the workforce at Tuckenhay were shown. Some mills have had various uses, wool, grain, paper minerals adapted to meet the needs of the times.  

Before the days of cameras important events were celebrated and recorded by artists and painters. Some used ‘poetic licence’ but the basis of the illustration is true.  

She then showed illustrations of Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway 1840. Some details of this can be seen at Newton Abbot Railway Museum. This idea rapidly became surpassed by the introduction of steam and so proved uneconomical and so failed. Vermin also attacked the leather flaps/valves of the cylinders and all this added to the problems.  

She also illustrated considerable information about Plymouth in the Civil War Years and how the military action led to the overflow of the city’s defences in the siege of Plymouth. Much more could be learnt about that period of our history. Parliamentarians and Royalists resulted in long drawn out troubles. Freedom Fields was the site of a battle at the end of the war. So much of old Plymouth is hidden under the new Plymouth as a result of the rebuilding after WW11 and never seen again. This in itself is another section of “Lost Devon” which Felicity is researching.  

There is so much of Lost Devon including the Jewelled Hilt of a sword found on Hameldown years ago and stored during WW11 and never seen again. Possibly now lost forever! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it came to light again!  

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