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Widecombe History Group Talks
Since the formation of our Group we have always been interested in the Social History of the County and this resulted in a talk which really looked at this subject and how things have altered over the years.
Steve Bowditch gave an illustrated talk entitled 'Pictures from the Past'
He has collected items to do with rural life for many years and questioned whether he was a collector or a hoarder. All his life he has been interested in items used particularly in rural life. Agricultural and other rural tools have always fascinated him and he felt that this possibly was due to his grandfather’s influence. He would always say ‘don ‘ee throw that away it might come in useful one day’.
When starting work at Norringtons of Axminster he found many old tools and equipment stacked away at the back of the yard and an interest in old machinery developed from that. He told us that at one time he had as many as 800 items stored on his family farm. As the acreage reduced so he had to reduce his collection, currently having 4 tractors on 6 acres and 200 other small items. When he gave up active farming in 1976 he joined the ambulance service and has always enjoyed meeting and talking to people. This meant that he was an ideal candidate to talk at meetings about the ambulance service and defibulators .
Reverting to his interest in the rural community he produced three small items for us to name,
a. this was a tool for stripping bark off oak trees to be used in the leather tanning industry
b. an unusual shaped horse-shoe, known as a ‘keyhole’ patterned shoe, due to its shape, made of wrought iron and dating from the 1780s.
c. a Mule’s shoe with logs at the rear to help the animal grip on slippery surfaces and roads made of smooth pebbles.
At one time he worked on a rubbish dump and found a book relating to the Monmouth Rebellion c. 1685 and within its text the names of many craftsmen appeared. From these names many surnames developed and he quoted - Carters, Ploughmen, Weavers, Fullers, Dyers, and Barkers, which referred to the previously named tool in (a). Other professions were mentioned, Doctors, Surgeons and also four lawyers which in the text stated ‘off no use at all’.
Steve showed us several old photographs, one being his grandfather who at an early age decided to join the Navy. He walked from Lyme Regis to catch the train to Plymouth only to be told he was unfit for the Navy due to colour blindness, so he caught the train back home, went into town and joined the Royal Artillery. In this era farm work was done by horses and the last one left the family farm in 1955. Ministry of Agricultural records of horses in agricultural work have now been lodged with the Heavy Horse Society. Among the photographs Steve showed us were horses ploughing, haymaking and doing other agricultural work. His humorous talk was illustrated with some humorous pictures, a miniature wagon with a little boy on board being pulled by two tame lambs, a dairyman’s handcart on which was painted the works ‘cow keeper’, the old milk churns and measures clearly visible, a bee-hive maker showing wooden hives and the early straw skeps and a butchers shop with sides of beef clearly visible with prize livestock in front of the shop already for slaughter.
Sales catalogues also interested Steve, one showing agricultural machinery (a ‘tormentor’ - new price £8.10s.0d) Medicines of the era i.e. ‘Scott’s Emulsified Cod Liver Oil’ and other booklets and sales magazines and catalogues. He mentioned the many agricultural horses that were taken off farms to help fight WW1, also the horse brasses worn as part of the harness, many with suns, crescents and stars on them and even a military horse brass dated 1870 with Queen Victoria’s name on it. He produced a tile depicting Queen Victoria with several quotations on it, salvaged from a derelict building.
He emphasized how postcards and photographs were often personalised with comments written below the picture and explained how postcards developed over the years. One of the last ones he showed us depicted a well-to-do squire sat on his horse looking down at an old tramp, the caption read ‘What are you doing?’ the tramp replied ‘I haven’t had a job since Easter’. The squire replied ‘What are you then?’ to which the tramp replied ‘A Hot Cross Bun maker!’
Steve whetted our appetite to search out these humorous cards which in turn showed the social history of yesterday and today.
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