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Newsletter No 59 – Spring 2017

April 1, 2017

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Newsletter No 59 – Spring 2017

April 1, 2017


Our latest newsletter covers some updates to the programme for 2017 along with reports on our AGM and our regular articles - Tavistock Matters, Ward and Chowen Archives and an update from the Tavistock Museum






Programme for 2017


Apr 11*             "Looting in Wartime Britain in World War 2" - Dr Todd Gray

May 09             Private visit to Great Bidlake Manor, Bridestowe - for details see below

Jun 13              Annual outing to Stowe Barton, Kilkhampton and Bude - all day vielt - see below

Jul 11               Plymouth's Historic Barbican - a walk with Nigel Overton - see below

Aug 08             Private visit to the Church House and Parish Church at North Tawton - David Youle - meet at                                               the Church House in North Tawton at 7.30pm  

Sep 12* "           Devon Conscientious Objectors in World War 1" - Simon Dell

Oct 17*             "Morwellham - Tavistock's Port" - Rick Stewart

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

Dec 12*             Christmas Social with small eats


* meetings in Tavistock Parish Hall commencing at 7.15pm


Please note that your printed programme shows the May 9th visit as "to be arranged" due to the untimely death of Kate Threlfall who was to lead us on a guided walk of Gunnislake. Our thanks to Ann Cole for making late date arrangements for a replacement event at Great Bidlake.


Visit to Great Bidlake Manor - Tuesday May 9th


Great Bidlake, a Grade II* listed manor house, is remarkable for being owned by the same family for almost all of its 750 years. It has recently been renovated in conjunction with English Heritage. Deeds in the Devon Records Office show that the first purchase of "Bidlake" land was in 1268 by Ralph le Riche of Combe. There is evidence that the estate contained the site of the Battle of Gafulford, one of a series of battles in AD823 when the westward expanding Saxons under King Egbert fought the Britons. The Bidlake estate grew to its zenith in the 16th Century when it covered around 6,000 acres in Devon and Cornwall, and the present house was rebuilt in 1594 in the Elizabethan style In the First World War, the estate at Great Bidlake was farmed entirely by women, a radical and controversial idea at the time. Marlborough House School relocated from Kent to Great Bidlake between 1940 and 1945 and in the large threshing barn the pupils created a mural of Noah's Ark that remains to this day. In the latter part of the 20th Century the estate land was sold off leaving the manor house and the remaining gardens, fields and woodland.


Meet at the Manor house, situated on the edge of Dartmoor c1mile from Bridestow village, at 7pm (OS Ref SX4946988652)


Annual outing to Stowe Barton, Kilkhampton and Bude - Tuesday June 13th - Stephen Docksey


As an introduction to our annual day out this year the following is a very brief description of places to be visited


Stowe Barton - Many members will recall seeing the Grenville Room at Prideaux Place, Padstow, (during the Society visit there in June 2015) with its late 17th century panelling recycled from the demolition of Stowe in 1739. John Grenville, Earl of Bath, built Stowe in the 1670s, replacing the earlier family house; fortunately Edmunde Prideaux recorded the buildings and gardens in 1716. Tavistock and district has its own local connections with the Grenvilles - think Buckland Abbey (owned by the Grenvilles from 1541 to 1581) and Mary Fitz's fourth husband, Richard 'Skellum' Grenville (1600-1659) of Fitzford; a turbulent marriage if ever there was one.


Jeff Cherrington, National Trust North Cornwall Ranger, whose base in the surviving stable block of the C17 house, will show us around the Barton property, pointing out the various archaeological features.


Kilkhampton Church - A medieval borough with a probably illegal, adulterine castle in the valley below. We will be visiting the C12 parish church of St James, with its Norman doorway, mainly C16 carved bench ends depicting a variety of subjects, Grenville connections and C18 memorials attributed to the local sculptor, and Grinling Gibbons' pupil, Michael Chuke.


Kilkhampton resident and local historian Richard Heard will give an introduction to the church and point out many of the many features of interest in this wonderful church.


Bude Canal - After partaking of lunch in Bude (there is a good cafe on the wharf and the Falcon Hotel and the Brendon Arms are nearby to our meeting place) we will be meeting Chris Jewell of the Bude Canal and Harbour Society at the sea-lock for a short, level walk along the Canal. The canal opened in 1823, running to wharves near Holsworthy and Launceston, mainly for the conveyance of sea-sand for use in agriculture.


Again the Society has its own connections; long standing member Helen Harris, with co-author Monica Ellis, wrote the standard history of the canal published in 2004. The late C18 Tamar Manure Navigation at Gunnislake, begun in 1796, was intended to link with the Bude Canal, but got no further than New Bridge.


Meet - our coach outside the Bedford Hotel at 8.30am. Mid-morning tea/coffee, is provided c10am; lunch is at members' own preference of packed lunch, cafe or restaurant at Bude. Price for the whole day's outing - £20 per head.


Plymouth's historic Barbican - Tuesday July 11th


A walk led by Nigel Overton; mainly flat, c90 minutes. Meet at 7pm at the two cannon, near Dutton's Cafe. Madeira Road (beneath the Citadel at the eastern end of the Hoe).


Society Annual General Meeting 2017


The Society AGM held on March 14th last saw major changes in the Committee structure with the retirement of Alex Mettler (at the end of his two year term as Chairman), a replacement Treasurer for John Davies, stepping down after some 25 years stalwart service in that post, and the filling of the vacant Secretary and Vice-Chair posts. The newly elected Executive Officers were Simon Dell, Chairman; Tony Vigars, Vice-Chairman; Steve Mason, Secretary and Sheila Downs, Treasurer.


Committee members elected were Ann Cole, John Davies, Kevin Dickens, Geoffery Luckman, Jane Meckiff, Alex Mettler Claire Morris, Annie Pulsford. Two vacant positions remain on the Committee and in order to forestall being exterminated in the rush please notify any Committee member of your wish to be co-opted for service in the current year as soon as the overwhelming urge to join the Committee takes hold.


Facing facts (and a deviation from the Thorington Collection) - Kevin Dickens


A generation or so ago a then famous historian drew a distinction between two types of fact. There were, he said, facts about the past and there were historical facts, the latter being what interests the historian. Historical facts, it was argued, are relevant to our attempts to understand the past; they underpin, or undermine, historical interpretation. Yet the boundary between these two types of fact is blurred as the preoccupations of historians change. A nineteenth century historian pondering nationhood and the development of national identity might struggle to understand more recent interest in the history of the role and status of women.


So where do West Devon Planning Department photographs of Tavistock shop fronts of thirty years ago stand?  Are they mere curiosities of narrowly local interest or might they mean something more? I guess that, taken in a national context as part of a larger pattern, they do have significance. No single fragment of a mosaic means very much, but it plays its small, vital role in the total picture. Yet it may be better to think of these photographs, as parts not so much of a mosaic as of a kaleidoscopean, intricate but fluid and shifting pattern, driven by many factors. The strivings of individuals and dynasties, tragedies and triumphs at both local land national level contribute to the inherent instability of the streets of a small town. And if this prospect of constant, restless change disturbs us, if we long for more stability, then our fears and hopes may themselves become historical facts of interest to historians of the future.




Ed - Amongst his many other roles for the History Society Kevin also digitises other image collections which the Society own as well as the super-large Thorington Collection.


Tavistock Museum - Roderick Martin


The Tavistock Museum re-opens on Saturday 25th March 2017 and will be open 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily until the 31st October.


The main exhibition this season is 'The Bicentenary of the Tavistock Canal'. The Tavistock Canal was formally opened on Tuesday 24th June 1817, fourteen years after construction work had begun.  On that memorable day about three hundred or so invited guests embarked in nine wrought iron boats at the canal wharf in Tavistock, and were waved off by cheering crowds.  It was all very jolly as they glided through shady woodlands past Crowndale Farm and across the Lumburn Aqueduct, but when they reached the entrance to the canal tunnel under Morwell Down even the stoutest hearts must have been apprehensive.


Into the dark unknown of the tunnel they went with only the light of the lanterns to guide them.  This part of their journey was not for the faint hearted for they were to spent the next two hours in the drabness and coldness of the jagged canal tunnel while the boats were slowly poled through.  Fortunately spirits were kept alive by a band playing and various solo entertainments.  Once out of the tunnel into the light the much relieved passengers were able to walk down into Morwellham Quay to claim some well-deserved refreshments.  It is not recorded if there were any volunteers wanting to take the return canal trip back to Tavistock.


The exhibition concentrates on the exciting archaeological researches by Robert Waterhouse for a new publication on the canal, and will also show some remarkable photographs of the inside of the canal tunnel taken by photographer, James Bird.  The photographs presented on nine large boards are a revelation.  Any ideas that the canal boats could be leisurely walked through the tunnel by boatman lying on their backs are completely dispelled when you see the jagged profile of the rock faces. The boatman poled the boats against the tunnel wall using long, iron-shod poles with a double spike on one end.  This would have involved a huge physical effort.


The other exhibition is 'The WW2 Liberator Crash on Plaster Down' which has been arranged by Robert Jones.   On 30th October 1942 Consolidated Liberator, serial number FK242, was operating with 224 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command and had the call sign K 'King'. Fitted with radically new radar, it had taken off from RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire to escort ships crossing the Bay of Biscay as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. After ten hours on patrol the Liberator was returning to Beaulieu when it hit a barrage balloon cable as it passed over Plymouth. The aircraft was badly damaged and the crew tried to make an emergency landing at RAF Harrowbeer, Yelverton. It was dark and with no runway lights to guide it, the Liberator crashed at Fullamoor Farm by Plasterdown. Six of the crew died and another was seriously injured. In early April a new plaque to commemorate the lives of the airmen will be unveiled in the car park at Plaster Down.


This year the museum has a new attraction: some reproduction stocks which younger visitors will be challenged to try.  Stocks were wooden or metal devices with foot holes used as punishment from medieval times until the mid-nineteenth century.  The convicted individual was seated and had their feet and ankles locked into the device so that their legs were held straight out.  Most communities had their set of stocks usually at a prominent location such as a town centre, village green, outside the gateway into the parish church or near the entrance to the police station.  Generally stocks were used in cases of punishment for minor offences such as drunkenness and rowdy behaviour.  The objective being to humiliate the offender so as discourage them from re-offending.  For good measure they could get rotten food and other objects thrown at them. Stocks varied in size being for one, two, three or occasionally four miscreants.


The Tavistock stocks are believed to have once stood near the north archway at the parish church but later relocated to outside the police station. In 1986 the stocks were removed from the cells at the police station to the Tavistock Museum. There are other stocks now in the church at Mary Tavy, and in the churchyard at Whitchurch.





Ward and Chowen Archive


At the Society Projects Meeting in October 2017 Stephen Docksey expressed his concern "about Jim", a concern based on a series of letters in the Ward & Chowen archive from the late 1930s.


On 27th July 1939 Jim had written to a Miss Middleton in the W & C office in Tavistock explaining the progress of his absence from work caused by the local hospital removing, and part removing, some of his toe nails causing great problems with his ability to walk. Miss Middleton came to the firm as temporary staff (but stayed 30 years) and she was either acting as 'Human Resources' or personnel officer and was a shoulder to lean or cry on and our Jim was eager and happy at work and eager to come back as soon as possible. In his 3rd letter in 8 days Jim is increasingly frustrated, reporting that another toe nail had been removed and the Doctor would not sign him off.


The scene changes by 30th August when Jim's mother writes asking for a reference for our Jim "As he is in view of another job'. A reference was duly provided which could be regarded as 'damning with faint praise', but no regret at Jim's leaving, or perhaps his mother telling Jim he was leaving Ward and Chowen's employ. Such goings on obviously got to our Stephen Docksey as he ended his story with the words "Who was Jim? I'm still worried".


Ed - Who was Jim?


In the exchange of letters with Jim, an employee of Ward and Chowen in 1939, and Miss Middleton, the letters come from Dimson, Gunnislake and the person writing for Jim's reference was his mother Mrs L Richards.


In the 1939 census for England (Find My Past) in Dimson, nr Gunnislake, we find


Richards, James T           bn 14 Nov 1887                    Storeman coal and grain yard heavy workr    marr

Richards, Lily J                bn 11 may 1882                     Domestic duties unpaid                           marr

Richards, James T junr    bn 9 Jan 1922                       Check Auction & Survey Office  



The above facts fit for a Jim Richards working at W & C office in August 1939 although Jim would only have been 17 and would have worked there since the age of 15 - perhaps that is why his mum wrote and asked W & C for a reference.


In addition members can speculate on the added bits of information


  (a)     a James Thomas Richards died in St Germans in early 1998

  (b)     a James T Richards married an Adeline L Strick in Kerrier in Cornwall 4Q 1940 - could be our man

  (c)     a James Richards married a Lily Pyne in Liskeard 3Q 1925 - could be Jim's parents but then it was a distinctly                      'premature' birth of Jim in 1922!

  (d)     there is a 45 year old Edith M Middleton b 6 Jun 1891 living at No 6 Parkwood Rd in 1839 census, a land                          agent's clerk, single, who is possibly the motherly Miss Middleton mentioned in the Richards' correspondence.


Indexing of Tavistock's Yesterdays


Following the sad death of our President, Gerry Woodcock, last September, the Society Committee was approached by Simon Dell with a request that the Society undertake a project to complete the indexing of all 27 volumes of Tavistock's Yesterdays, a task commenced by Gerry himself over the period 2015/16. At the Committee Meeting of 30 November last it was agreed that the History Society would head a joint project with the Subscription Library and the Tavistock Museum to produce a full index of all 27 volumes as a tribute to Gerry Woodcock and his monumental work undertaken from the issue of No1 in 1985 to the final volume received in September 2016.


A project group comprising Tony Vigars (for Tavistock History Society), Simon Dell (for Tavistock Subscription Library) and Roderick Martin (for Tavistock Museum) has been agreed and initial discussions held with Norma Woodcock, who is very enthusiastic about the project and has loaned the Society Gerry's uncompleted index notes as a base for working. Simon Dell has agreed to act as Chair reporting back to the Society Committee on progress. At the Committee Meeting of 25 January it was agreed in principle to support the publication of the final index subject to final estimates received for the publication. Funds are available for such works from the History Society Publications funds and it is anticipated that the costs of publication would be recovered from sales.




No 1 Church Lane, Tavistock - Alex Mettler


Members will doubtless have noticed much recent activity at No 1 Church Lane, the ex Ward and Chowen office, as this building is undergoing restoration work as part of the Tavistock Townscape Heritage Initiative, an initiative undertaken with the full support of the our Society. In the February/March 2017 edition of Tavy Links I am quoted as saying that "There are also rumours ... that the small building in the yard was part of the [telephone] exchange network ...". Russell Woolcock, late owner of Ward and Chowen who had worked at the firm since 1944 and became a partner in 1961, kindly rang me recently and assured me the 'rumours' were incorrect. The little concrete building was built in the early days of WW2 and was used for storage of the company records to protect them from possible incendiary damage. During the working day records were retrieved as required and returned to the safe protection of this little building at the end of each day's work schedule, thus assuring safe keeping of records of payments, legal agreements etc.


Russell also went on to say that the first Tavistock telephone was installed in the Ward & Chowen offices and there was public access to use this facility by simply knocking on the office door and requesting permission to "use the telephone please". The green cabinet in the back yard of the office was the West Street junction box for telephone lines from early days.


Henry Bowser Wimbush - ex Wikipedia


The 'intro image' to this Newsletter is a Tuck postcard dated c1905 from the Thorington collection. Tuck issued a series of such cards. Thanks to Wikipedia we can enjoy a tad more information on the artist.


Henry Bowser Wimbush (11 March 1858–5 May 1943) was an English landscape painter, book illustrator and postcard artist. Born in London, Wimbush first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888 and went on to mount several other exhibitions there over the years. He also exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and Royal Society of British Artists in London, and in other cities in England. Working initially in oils, he made the switch to watercolours, painting throughout England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands. He provided illustrations for several books published by A & C Black and was the leading artist for postcard company Raphael Tuck & Sons.


Fruit and flower growing in the Tamar valley


During the Society's evening walk in 2016 along the Tamar valley from Calstock Stephen Docksey mentioned the past importance of the fruit and flower trade in this area. The following is an abstract of an article by the late Ronnie Pymm from Tamar Journal (8); 1986


"The history of fruit growing, on a commercial scale, in the Tamar Valley commenced over one hundred years ago. As reported in the Tavistock Gazette on the 22nd February, 1957, an interesting lecture was give by Mr G E Cradick of Calstock, to the Tavistock Branch of the Devonshire Association, on fruit and flower growing in the Tamar Valley, and in particular the threat envisaged by the local growers, if the free Trade European Market became a reality. It is interesting to note that Mr Cradick told the meeting that "the founder of the industry in the Tamar valley was a James Henry Lawry of St Dominick. He had farmed land rented from the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, which included slopes going down to the river.


About 1868, during a visit to London, he saw strawberries being sold in the streets at 6d a punnet. He found that these strawberries were grown under glass at Worthing, and he decided to grow strawberries on his very early land and send them by rail to London. That was the actual beginning of the strawberry growing industry in the Tamar Valley."


Ed - Work begins to record Tamar Valley’s historic daffodils


The recently announced Heritage Lottery Funded project, to record and raise awareness of the special historic daffodil varieties growing in the Tamar Valley landscape, is now underway - see Tamar Valley AONB Newsletter for further information


Devon Great Consols 30 April 1846 - a good day


On 30th April 1846, in a letter to Mr Haedy, the Duke of Bedford's Auditor in London, John Benson, the Tavistock Steward, has the occasion to report some really good news. Benson writes


"I am glad to have to tell you that a discovery has been made this morning at the Wheal Josiah Mine which is said to be quite equal to Maria - consequently leading to the conclusion that the mine extends from one to the other nearly a mile. Should this prove as supposed the mine must last for many years I should think far beyond the extent of the present term. Though they keep taking it away as fast as they can - they have 1600 Tons to sample tomorrow - & will produce about £12000. Last months sales were over £10000 - the outlay is about £3000 a month - so that all the neighbourhood is in a prosperous state from it - and we can hardly get material carried for our buildings."


Ed - £1000 in 1846 was worth some £60000 in today's money and the discovery cemented Benson's views that the mines on the Duke of Bedford's estate at Gulworthy were to be a long term success.


That little blue pill  - Alex Mettler


In the 21st century reference to having to take the 'blue pill' leads to all sorts of ribald comments but in the nineteenth century the 'blue pill' was used for different medical purposes. In February 1852 Mr Jones, the Bedford Estate Surveyor in Tavistock, was feeling far from well and unable to work. Whilst being under Dr Harness's care Mr Jones, in his usual bullish style and dislike of having to take orders from anybody, was stating that he would no longer take orders from Dr Harness. On 17 February a letter from John Benson, Tavistock Steward to the Bedford Estate, writing to Christopher Haedy, the Estate chief auditor in London, in the estate correspondence writes


"Mr Jones is not so well today and he tells me he shall discontinue some of the medecine (sic) which has been prescribed for him - Blue Pill, to which he has always had an aversion, although I heard Dr Harness tell him only last week that he should on no account omit for more than a week at a time - in reply Mr Jones wish (sic) to leave it off or take it less frequently - and I fear that the consequences will be that he will retrograde as fast as he has recovered ..."


Curious to know why Jones refused to take his medicine, apart from his usual belligerence, I found a reference to 'blue pills' in a reference to the Letters of Charlotte Bronte in 1852.


"'Blue pills' containing mercury were prescribed for 'liverishness' with constipation and headache; usually given at night and followed the next morning by a purgative 'back draught' and infusion of senna. In Graham's Domestic Medecine, the blue pill is described as 'mild and valuable' in cases of digestive disorder or diseases originating in 'obstruction', but nor 'generally applicable to the stomach and bilious complaints' if the stomach is 'much inervated and .... very irritable."


Just for once I have sympathy with Mr Jones.


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