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Newsletter No 59 – Spring 2017

April 1, 2017

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Newsletter No 58 – Autumn 2016

September 1, 2016




Gerry Woodcock - President and Founder Member


It is with great sadness that we report the death of Gerry Woodcock on 13 September. Gerry was a founder member of our Society together with a group of local history enthusiasts, in 1984, since when he has been Chairman, committee member and, in latter years, President. In all these roles Gerry gave wise counsel, leadership and mentor skills for our Society, both at committee and personal level. His knowledge of Tavistock and its history was second to none, and this knowledge was always freely shared with those many people seeking to know more about our town and its history. The author of many books on Tavistock including a history of Tavistock School (1978), Tavistock (2008), St Eustachius parish church (2012) and Tavistock in Parliament (2014) and, of course, the widely acclaimed and appreciated 27 volumes of Tavistock 's Yesterdays (1985-2016), plus many others. Gerry has lead many walks and given countless lectures on Tavistock, all delivered in his usual, easy-going style tinged with humour.


Born in Leicestershire in 1938, Gerry studied History at Cambridge and after some years teaching in Yorkshire he came to Tavistock in 1966, as Head of History at Tavistock School. He later became Head of Sixth Form at the School, a post from which he retired in 1995 and a post in which his pupils greatly recognised and appreciated his treating his pupils as 'grown-ups'. Cricket and jazz featured large among his many interests and he was a great walker, 'conquering' the South-west Coastal Footpath in both directions - twice. In 2007 he was given the title of Honoured Burgess 'for rendering eminent and distinguished service to the town of Tavistock'.


Our heartfelt condolences go to Gerry's wife, Norma, his children, Mark and Dinah, and his grandchildren.


Programme for 2016


Thusfar our 2016 programme has been well attended and talks and walks well-received. Of especial note was our visit to Shilstone house - remnants of a 17C house reborn with different rebuilt areas now showing the different period styles of interior design and decoration - fascinating. The remaining programme for 2016 stands as follows


Oct 04    Projects Evening

Nov 10    "Harry Hems, Ecclesiastical Woodcarver: Saint or Sinner?" - Sue Andrew

Dec 13    Christmas Social evening


Our draft programme for 2017 follows - c'est delicieux n'est pas?


Jan 10  - Devon Roads and Trackways - Kevin Dickens

Feb 14  - The Country Houses of Devon in the 21st Century - Hugh Meller

Mar 14 - AGM followed by a talk on Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) - John Briggs

Apr 11 - Looting in Wartime Britain in WW2 - Todd Gray


May 9* - walk - Chapels and Public Houses of Gunnislake - Kate Threfall

Jun 13* - Annual Outing  - Stow Barton, Kilkhampton and Bude Canal

Jul 11*  - Private tour of the Barbican - Nigel Overton

Aug 8*  - Private visit to the 15th century Church House in South Tawton


Sep 12 - Devon Conscientious Objectors in WW1 - Simon Dell

Oct 17  - Morwellham, Tavistock's Port - Rick Stewart

Nov 14 - The Trendle and its place in Devon's History - Andrew Thompson

Dec 12 - Christmas Social


Meeting places and times will be given in the Spring 2017 Newsletter


From the Chairman – Alex Mettler


Our Society has, again, had a good year to date, with attendances at talks and walks all being 30+, but bring 'em on - we would love to see bigger attendances. Our membership list mid-year was 64 members, well down on our 90 plus of 4 years ago. If anyone can pinpoint why we would be delighted to hear.


Your Programme Committee (John Davies, Simon Dell, Stephen Docksey, Alex Mettler, Andrew Thompson) have put together a programme for 2017 (see above) and we hope members will agree that the quality of our events is being kept to its past high standards; the only problem with this is that costs for Speakers and walk leaders place an increased burden on our funds BUT the Committee decision of last year to charge visitors £5 for talks and walks does not seem not to have put visitors off, and this monies helps offset these costs.


The Society has published 7 books over the last few years, the income from which has enabled the Society to fund projects which could not be afforded from member subscriptions alone eg the digitisation and oral history projects. All of these books are now reaching the end of their commercial lives and our remaining stock has been sold off to the Museum. We may, therefore, a need to publish new titles, update old ones and/or reprint if the Society wishes to do the same to bring in funds. This is an expensive exercise costing something like £2000 per publication so we will not be flooding the market. The Committee would welcome offers from any member to pen suitable new titles and offer them to the publications procedure for consideration - help is available for new authors. Offered and accepted titles can be funded by the Society but the author(s) will be required to actively involve themselves in the selling of the same.


Members will be tired of the Committee pleading for new Committee members and Executive Officers but the problem still exists and without an active Committee the Society will die. We have had two resignations from the Committee since the AGM and Geoff Luckman and Tony Vigars have kindly offered their services, but the Committee is still three down in number and we have only one elected Executive Officer and, according to our Constitution the Chair cannot be re-elected again at the next year's AGM (see below). In order to try and ease this situation your Committee are discussing a possible change in the Constitution whereby elected Committee members can only serve for a limited period, at the end of which they cannot be re-elected immediately; the stepping down will be phased in to enable a managed turnover of Committee Members and Executive Officers. Such a situation will both force the Society to provide Committee members or let the Society die, but will also ensure that any volunteer Committee members are not 'landed' for life.


At the Society's meeting in September we had a straw poll of members present and those present unanimously declared a wish for the Society to continue - there was not, however, a deluge of volunteers for Committee or Executive.


AGM 2017


The Society AGM has historically taken place immediately before the January meeting of the Society. Such an arrangement, immediately following the Christmas festivities, causes difficulties of notifying members, getting officer nominations and completing the year end accounts. It was proposed at the Committee meeting of 27 January 2016, and agreed unanimously, that as from 2017 the Society AGM should be held before the March meeting of the Society. Moving the AGM to March does not require a change in the Society Constitution.



Where do your Subscriptions go?


Society subscriptions are loosely based on a membership, for 2016, of some 64 members at £16 per head per annum - this produces some £1024 pa. Rough anticipated expenditure breaks down as


            Hall hire                                    £  280

            Speakers fees and expenses     £  400

            Postage etc                              £    85              

            Insurance                                 £    65              

            Newsletter costs incl p & p        £    40                          

            Museum insurance contribution £  400               Total £1270


Publications profits and other sundry income eg from talks/walks given by Society members and visitors to Society meetings, maintains the Society funds at a level where we can support Society projects.


Tavistock Museum – Roderick Martin


This season, month by month, the number of visitors to the museum has exceeded all previous records, and an annual total of 8,000 plus visitors is expected to be comfortably achieved This season there are two main exhibitions:  'Commemorating the Opening 75 Years Ago of Harrowbeer RAF Station at  Yelverton' (Mike Hayes) and 'Weddings in the Past' (Linda Elliott).  Both of these are proving popular with our visitors.


Financially it has so far been a season of mixed fortunes. The museum has failed to get any grants which is disappointing, but our own fundraising efforts have been very successful with significantly increased sales of donated goods. Unfortunately much of this additional income has already been spent treating an outbreak of dry rot in the museum shop area, and subsequently replacing some of the wooden skirting.


Nevertheless, it is hoped by the end of the season to have sufficient spare funds to have a new film made.  It will be called 'This is Tavistock Museum', and last approximately ten minutes. Ten items of interest in the museum will be featured. The film will serve not only as a short introduction to the museum, but also allow anyone who cannot get up the stairs to at least gain an insight into our museum.


On the 11th September 2016 the Museum and Subscription Library hosted a joint event to celebrate Graham Kirkpatrick's ninetieth birthday and to thank him for his many years of enthusiastic support for both organisations.


The Thorington Collection – Kevin Dickens


 Well, everyone looks relaxed don’t they?  The passengers are clearly so relaxed that they haven’t bothered to get off the bus.  On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t. Still, anyone at the back would have had a splendid view of the Tamar ….…for yes, this is an accident at Gunnislake New Bridge, again. There are many Thorington photos of the New Bridge, none of them very happy. It does seem to be prone to misfortune. There is even a photograph of flooding on the bridge. How does a bridge forty feet above river level flood? I have only found one image of the bridge where all seems well and that is Turner’s painting of 1815. If you look carefully down at the bridge in this work of art, nothing at all bad seems to be going on. Perhaps it was just artistic licence




Now we are told that the foundations of the bridge require repair. Perhaps this was all those heavy lorries full of EU money rumbling across into Cornwall. Well thank goodness there won’t be any more of that rumbling now. As for buses, I must confess I do like travelling by bus. But, should I be taking the bus from Tavistock to Callington I may be checking that there’s a lifejacket under the seat.



Postscript; Over By Christmas


Over by Christmas; not a phrase with the most fortunate of connotations, but it applies just now to the Thorington project. In fact we will have finished scanning Thorington negatives well before Christmas 2016. Recently Rob Macormac has been powering through the '120' negatives, a fiddly but rewarding job given the high quality of these photograph. There has been a late discovery of fifty or sixty 35 mm negative envelopes and that, it seems, will be it as far as the Thorington negative archive is concerned. Rob must be congratulated for the work he has put in this year. Like virtually all of our volunteers over the years, with the honoured exception of Tony Dunk, he is not a member of the local history society, but his contribution has been pivotal of late.


There will of course be much housekeeping and checking to do, checking our accession number system and ensuring that scan files are in line with negative storage records. There is the enormous and ongoing task of identifying as many people as possible who feature in these photographs and we are about to tackle seriously the issue of proper archiving. A recent grant is allowing us to move negatives into a better and more stable storage environment. There are also many other images unconnected with Thorington which we will be scanning. Nevertheless we are about to reach a major milestone in our project and all hail to the many volunteers over the years who have quietly and persistently contributed to this achievement.


Ward and Chowen Archive - Ann Cole


Scandal at the Manor - from the Ward & Chowen collection an anonymous letter is received, the names of the people and places have been changed to provide anonymity. Typescript is true to anonymous letter as received


"Dear Sir  - its about time you knew that Mrs Bird at Dockway living in one of your cottages is keeping one of Mrs Races servant men at her house all night long there with her daughter Faith it was through her that the butler had to leave the Manor by keeping him there and fetching drink for him and going back to the Manor about midnight the worse for drink and since then the kitchen boy had to leave there for stealing money from Mrs Race and buying drink and taking it down Mrs Birds house and other things as well and now her got the other man there all the night long its about time Sir you knew it for it as been going on there with that daughter of hers for a very long time next thing this man will have to leave when he gets found out"


The letter had been sent to the Revd T Rule at Cross Rectory who, in turn, contacted Mr Frank Ward


"Dear Mr Ward - I am sending you the enclosed letter, which I received this morning re ‘conduct’ in Mrs Birds house at Dockway, Crossfield (Faith Bird is a daughter).


As you will see the letter is ‘anonymous’, but from what has ‘transpired’ & from what I hear, I fear there may be only too much, that is true, in it.


Both the late ‘butler’ & ‘boots’ at the Manor visited this house & had to leave the Manor.  Faith Bird also had to leave the Manor, about the same time as the butler: she has now I believe got a job in Launceston, but comes home every night.


Would you please take whatever steps you may think best under the circumstances?


Yrs faithfully - Rev T W Rule - Cross Rectory - Feby 5th 1935


PS When I said 'boots' I meant Rufus and the Kitchen boy. TWR"


"8th February 1935


Dear Sir - We have interviewed Mrs Bird and thoroughly investigated the grounds for complaint, with the following result:


Mrs Bird assured us that she retires for the night quite early, sometimes even as early as 9.15.p.m. Her daughter Faith is keeping company with the Butler at the Manor, but this seems to be no secret.  Furthermore Miss Bird has to be in at her employer’s house at Launceston not later than ten o’clock, and her young man cycles to Launceston with her each night leaving Dockway at about 9.15.p.m.  The Butler himself has to be back at the Manor to extinguish the lights and lock up at 10.45.p.m. A friend of Mrs Bird’s happened to call confirmed these statements, and assured us that no beer was brought into the house.  We agreed that we have received no complaints from the neighbours, and under the circumstances must come to the conclusion that the anonymous letter is merely malicious scandal.  Mrs Bird herself referred us to the immediate neighbours, and wanted to take the matter to the Police, but we consider that the matter had better remain as it is, and if any further complaints are received then we will go more deeply into it."


Oral History project write-ups published


Unfortunately, due to family and work pressures Angela Hilton has had to cease, at least for the time being, oral recording of local personalities. The interviews thusfar completed have been fully transcribed, by Angela and Derek Palmer, and are now held by the Society to deposit as hard, or digital form copy to the Tavistock Museum and others to be made available to the Society members and the public at large (distribution list to be decided). The transcripts cover interviews with the following


Gerald Cramp - Yelverton born into a Sussex family Gerald and his wife Sheila have lived in Lamerton for some 30 years after Gerald career in the Navy. Building their own house, they describe their life in the village of Lamerton.

Hilary Fielding - born in Lamerton into a long time Lamerton family Irene describes her early school days and life in Lamerton and Tavistock where she has lived on and off, mostly on, for some 60 years plus.

Helen Harris - born in Dean Prior, Devon, Helen has lived for the last 50 or so years in Tavistock and Whitchurch. Trained in agriculture Helen has been a long time Society member and publisher of many outstanding books on local history.

Irene Hicks - with her cousin Cyril Delbridge describe some 80 years of living in and around Albaston and the activities of their grandparents and parents.

Lenore Hicks - born in Mary Tavy Lenore married a Mary Tavy lad and spent time in Hertfordshire; she returned to Tavistock in 1972; the interview covers mainly her life in early Mary Tavy and in Tavistock from 1972

Stephen Horn - born near Milton Combe nearly a century since Stephen describes his early days on his Granfer's farm and his own farming experiences in the area around Yelverton.

Phil Hutt - Phil died this year at the ripe old age of 101. Interviewed on 16 separate occasions Phil's story covers his experiences as a POW of the Japanese during WW2, his childhood growing up in the East End of London, and his time as Head Forester for the Duke of Bradford's Tavistock Woodlands Estate. Phil was awarded an MBE for his services to forestry.  

Michael Lapage - born Dorset in 1923, Michael had a very active war service as a Navy pilot. In1946 when he went to Cambridge University he got his 'blue' for rowing and won a silver medal in the 1948 Olympics. Ordained in 1951 followed by some 37 years ministry overseas and at home, Michael and his wife came to Tavistock in 1988, where he still lives.

Farmer & Wife - (wish to remain anonymous) Devon born into a farming family and eventually marrying a Devon girl this husband and wife team describe their life of some 60 years plus farming in Tavistock


The 25 interviews were recorded by Society members Angela Hilton, Patricia and Colin Sneddon, Barbara Fenton.


Our thanks and congratulations to our interviewers and our grateful thanks to the interviewees - other people's lives really are interesting.





It is with great sadness that we report the deaths of four past and present members of the Society


Lawrence Brodley  - A man of tall stature and a voice and enthusiasm for local history to match, Lawrence was a regular attender at Society meetings, invariably making positive contribution to discussion and debate.


Ken Cook - Ken was a long time member of the Society, making major contributions to our publications in his book Whitchurch Parish, published in 2002, and his chapter in Whitchurch Down published in 2000.


Irene Williamson - Irene, with husband Gerald, had been a long time member and was a regular attender at meetings, oft time making sure Gerald got his slides in the right order, and in the Bedford, after our meetings, for a convivial pint.


Gerry Woodcock - see tribute above


We shall miss them all and our condolences go to their families in their loss.




Dont mess with me mate


The following is a transcription of a letter, dated 17 August 1835, from Andrew Wilson, the Duke of Bedford's Tavistock Steward, to C V Bridgman re land that the latter wanted from the Duke. Wilson felt he was, again, being messed about.


"I had not heard of your illness until I received your letter. I hope you are now better. With regard to the exchange of lands, if you had shewn some degree of deviation between your first and last line in carving for yourself, in His Grace's Meadow, I think it might have been acceded to, at the same time I have a great aversion of going over the same ground so often. I beg to say that I cannot interfere in applying for the extent you desire. The meadow altho' it is coarse, is a very great acquisition to the Wilminstone (illeg), it being with the exception of the Meadow a poor dry hungry soil. When you are sufficiently recovered to leave the house, and should be in the neighbourhood of this office, and can conveniently call upon me, I will deliver the plan to you and say whether any slight alteration can be made to the line. I must say that from the conduct you have manifested towards me, more than once, you cannot expect that I should take any great interest in your accommodation - And I am sure you evinced no disposition to favour His Grace when you had it in your power to do so."


Wilson never minced his words.


"The Court was crowded to suffocation"


In the 19th century 'once married' was a 'stay married' situation and it was extremely difficult to get a divorce. However, horror of horrors, the Revd Bidlake Bray, a man of the cloth and son of Col William Bray, the Duke of Bedford's Tavistock Steward from 1816 to 1823, was sued for divorce by his wife, Julia Eliza nee Malkin, in 1827, in a case in which she admitted libelling her husband Bidlake.


Bidlake, married Julia Malkin in 1825, when she was nineteen years old  and "... had a fortune of 8000£", and Bidlake and his wife went to live in the same house as his bride's mother and uncle. To be sure, there was trouble ahead and Bidlake accused his wife of adultery with her uncle and claimed that he, Bidlake, was not the father of her child. There was also an accusation by Bidlake that his wife's mother and uncle "offered him 500£ a year if he would go on his travels without his wife. This he refused."  


This, like many such actions, was a very messy and nasty series of actions, but, of course, the public loved it. A report of one of the involved actions in the London Courier and Evening Gazette of 2 November 1827, was headed "Extraordinary and Shocking Depravity" and dealt with an action by Bidlake against his mother-in-law and her brother, "for conspiring to separate the Rev Bidlake from his wife and also to expel him from his dwelling house at Brompton, where he was then living with her on affectionate terms." The article ended with the line " .. the Court was crowded to suffocation."


The detailed report in the London Courier must have been of great interest to a scandal hungry public - nothing changes.


The only year where Bidlake Bray or Julia Bray are to be found in the census returns from 1841 to 1861 is 1861 when Bidlake is described as a 59 year old widower clergyman living in Bromley, Kent. Was he eventually granted a divorce? Did he re-marry or was his first attempt too much for him but he wished to hide it? He is mentioned in a newspaper report in 1848; apart from this Bidlake and his wife appear to be hiding. What happened to Julia heaven knows but maybe the Revd Bidlake also knows - with his personal access to heaven.


Bidlake Bray died in Kensington in 1864

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