2017/19 Events Reports
Reports of our meetings will appear here shortly after the meeting has taken place.
16/07/2019 Dartmoor in the Age of the Black Death, Dr David Stone
The 2019 Annual General Meeting was also held
14/05/2019 Medieval Teign Valley, David Taylor
12/03/2019 Industrial Archaeology of the Teign Valley, Don Archer
08/01/2019 The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward, Katherine Findlay
13/11/2018 The Roman Conquest of the South West, Derek Core
11/09/2018 Teign Valley & Chagford Railway, Malcolm Grigorey
10/07/2018 Crime and Punishment in the 17th Century , Janet Few
The 2018 Annual General Meeting was also held
08/05/2018 Excavations at Ipplepen, Stephen Rippon
13/03/2018 Mills in the Devon Landscape, Martin Watts
09/01/2018 History of Fingle Woods, Bill Hardiman
14/11/2017 Women of Cheriton Fitzpaine, Elly Babbedge
12/09/2017 Historic Exeter, Robert Hesketh
11/07/2017 Castle Drogo, Wesley Key
The 2017 Annual General Meeting was also held.
Some Earlier talks
14/06/2016 The People of Moretonhampstead, Bill Hardiman
08/04/2014 Devon Craftsmen and their Bench Ends, Dr Todd Gray
18/02/2014 Excavations at Whitehorse Hill, Jane Marchand
11/04/2013 Exeter Cathedral, Mark Cottle
24/03/2013 Local Hero - The story of 1st Lord Exmouth, Graham Thompson
|Dartmoor in the Age of the Black DeathTalk by Dr David StoneWords by Maggie Walker|
On 16th July Dr David Stone gave an absorbing account of Eastern Dartmoor in the age of the black death.
From mid 13th Century to the eve of the black death the area had been enjoying a benign climate and life for many had been improving though there were still a considerable number of unfree peasants reluctantly labouring for their lords and a growing landless population dependent on labour for survival.
In late autumn 1348, the plague arrived in Devon and by spring of 1349 was at its height. Symptoms included putrifying boils, fever and stupor. Some would recover, many died within five days. Two thirds of the population of Dartmoor may have been lost. The area was worse hit than the rest of England.
The immediate effects were grim: stinking churchyards, devastated families, abandoned farms, unharvested crops and animals dying from neglect, but in many ways the black death changed the course of the middle ages forever. Within forty years the population had largely recovered (more rapidly than the rest of England). There was more land per head of population and it was reoccupied on better terms, wages improved and serfdom declined as Lords had to negotiate with tenants. Tin production and demand increased. The social and economic changes continued. With rising wealth came greater consumption, better food, drink and clothing, churches were gradually embellished and decorated. This incredible recovery and survival from a devastating pandemic is to the credit of the people who lived on Dartmoor more than half a millennium ago.
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|Medieval Teign ValleyTalk by David TaylorWords by Maggie Walker|
On 14th May, David Taylor took us on a fascinating journey into the Medieval Teign Valley 1066 - 1525.
Unless you were one of the very small minority of Norman nobility who had been gifted land by the King, it was probably, as David made clear, a fairly miserable time to be alive. Villeins, Bordars and Cottars were all in thrall to the ruling class. Serfs – about 10% of the population - were virtually slaves. Sheep were the main source of income, not for meat but for wool. From 10th to 14th century the woollen industry brought significant wealth to the landowners. 90% of the population was involved in agriculture.
The Agrarian Crisis (1314-22) accounted for the death of 10-15% of the population of England. Food supplies failed, people starved, cattle and horses became diseased, and crime increased. 20 or so years later the Black Death arrived - in late summer 1348. This killed 45% of the population. It was a time of terrible inequality where the rich (who were very rich) grew richer at the expense of the poor. Actually it all sounds rather familiar.
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|Industrial Archaeology of the Teign ValleyTalk by Don ArcherWords by Maggie Walker|
On 12th March Don Archer led us on a fascinating journey through the industrial archaeology of the Teign Valley defined as 'the bits of industry which have been left behind.'
We began our journey at Castle Drogo where the architect Lutyens generated electricity for the castle using a turbine on the Teign. This generator has been restored by the National Trust and now provides about half the electricity for the castle. Further down the valley, Chagford was the second town in England to have public electric lighting, generated from a turbine built on a leat diverted from the river.
From Chagford we meandered down to Fingle Bridge with its corn-mill water-wheel and on to Steps Bridge where a leat still diverts from the river under the road bridge to the iron mill where the Morris family produced fine edge tools using a water wheel until 1937. The mill is still in use, now powered by electricity although the wheel is still there. A wonderful selection of the old Morris tools can still be seen in the museum at Bicton Park.
A leat from the Teign still runs beneath the old Baptist chapel at Dunsford but the old mill at Dunsford is now a block of flats. We also heard about the many mines in the valley where speculators have delved for copper, lead, zinc, silver, iron, magnetite and barytes with varying success.
Evidence of many of these mines still remains; I'm sure we all recognise the lead waste piled beside the Valley Road.
But water power was the main theme of the talk. According to Don, 'water wheels are fantastic, nice to look at, gentle, soothing – water wheel therapy'.
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|The Icelandic Adventures of Pike WardTalk by Katherine FindlayWords by Maggie Walker|
Katherine Findlay from the Devon Heritage Centre presented us with the fascinating tale of a Teignmouth man who changed the fortunes of Iceland in the late nineteenth century.
The talk was based her book called "The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward" in which Katherine has edited his diaries.
Pike Ward was the eldest son of a successful Teignmouth ship-broking family. When his father died, rather than following the family business, he headed to Iceland. Iceland had long been a place of myth and legend but at that time it was a desperately poor country governed by Denmark. Infant mortality was high, starvation was common and the tiny community lived from hand to mouth. The population was only allowed to fish close to shore and any excess fish had to be bartered with the Danish fishing companies for vital goods.
Pike Ward revolutionised the Icelandic economy by buying, for cash, the smaller fish unwanted by the large Danish companies then showing the local community how to dry, salt and preserve them. The businesses he set up thrived. Dried and salted fish was very popular in England, particularly Devon, where it was made into fish pies and a dish called Toe Rag. The cash, sometimes gold, paid by Pike Ward for the Icelandic fish, enabled the community to thrive for the first time in centuries.
Pike Ward stayed in Iceland for 22 years, only returning to Teignmouth for the harsh winters. He learned to speak Icelandic and made long-standing friendships with local people. Many Icelandic people still regard him as a key figure in the movement which finally led to Icelandic independence from Denmark.
When Pike finally returned to Teignmouth he decorated his villa with Icelandic carvings and called it, of course, Valhalla.
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|The Roman Conquest of the South WestTalk by Derek CoreWords by Maggie Walker|
Derek Core from the University of Exeter gave a fascinating talk on the Roman conquest of the South West Peninsular.
Previous studies had suggested that the Romans never crossed the Exe but there is now considerable evidence that they reached as far as the Isles of Scilly. The invading force would probably have been an army of 10,000. Half would have been legionnaires, already Roman citizens, the other half auxiliary soldiers.
The local population at that time (AD 43 onwards) would probably have been no more than 100,000, so the impact on food supplies, local resources, land and culture would have been profound. Initially the Romans would identify trouble or insurrection and summarily subdue it. Once the population had been brought under its control, the soldiers would then remain in their forts undertaking a policing role. There was little winter campaigning. Most soldiers lived in the forts from October to March unless they were needed to suppress trouble.
The picture of the conquest is still unfolding: Roman forts are still being discovered in Devon and Cornwall at, for instance, Calstock and Restormel. Aerial photography has been used to identify the classic rectangular shape with rounded corners. Some forts were built from scratch by the Romans, in other places they were erected on the sites of old iron-age forts.
Aerial photography has also revealed sites of many Roman villas or single family farmsteads. It was assumed that these single family homes, with or without surrounding ditches, were where most of the population of Devon and Cornwall lived, rather than in hamlets or villages. This view however is currently being questioned by the archaeological digs at Ipplepen which have uncovered a rural settlement from the Roman period with several homes connected by a road.
It is clear that in this field every new discovery will uncover as many questions as it answers.
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|Teign Valley & Chagford RailwayTalk by Malcolm GrigoreyWords by Graham Thompson|
On 13th September we had a talk by Malcolm Grigorey on the Teign Valley Railway. The railway occupies a central point of interest locally and is remembered fondly by the residents. Malcolm presented a series of fascinating old photographs, of great historical interest, of the trains and later pictures showed how the trackway and stations deteriorated after closure of the passenger service in 1958. Final closure to freight traffic took place in 1968.
I would have liked to have heard the history of who had set the service initially and what freight it carried. There are references to Great Western Railway shares in probate records of local residents. There are also a number of references to the running of the railway in the 20th century found in the book, Teign Valley Tales, copies of which are available at Christow and Dunsford Post Offices and at the Artichoke Inn. People used the service to travel to school in Newton Abbot or to go to work in Exeter. The line was used in the Second World War to transport injured soldiers to hospitals when the main coastal route was either damaged by enemy action or unsafe due to weather conditions.
The track can still be seen at various locations although houses have been built over the track at places, or turned into gardens and Perridge Tunnel has been filled in after a collapse. No one was hurt in the collapse but Exeter Maritime Museum stored boats it was unable to show at Exeter Dock in the tunnel and some of these are buried still. I wonder what archaeologists will make of that in 100 years’ time?
At the meeting a question was raised on the use of the station yard as a cattle market. Mrs Brightmore-Armour (whose records have been donated to the Archive) records some observations by Cyril Smale who told her that the market was held every 3 months after which the cattle were transported to Exeter or Newton Abbot. The practice stopped in 1951.
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|Crime and Punishment in the 17th CenturyTalk by Janet FewWords by Graham Thompson|
The talk was on Crime and Punishment in the 17th century. It was to be given by Dr Janet Few but instead she sent along Mistress Agnes, direct from the 17th century, who had greater knowledge of such things.
We knew this because not only did she give such a convincing account but was dressed in a costume appropriate to the 17th century. She had also accumulated rather grizzly objects used back then such as a hangman’s noose, an iron mask to subdue a scold, or garrulous spiteful wife, and other gruesome objects of torture. Any husband could parade such a horrible woman around the village to humiliate her. Clearly women had to obey their husband or else!
However, women generally were not presented to the courts and men comprised 85% of the criminal fraternity according to court statistics. Women’s ‘crimes’ were generally dealt with by the community who humiliated or even killed them after they were accused of adultery, prostitution. Illegitimate birth and witchcraft.
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|Excavations at IpplepenTalk by Professor Stephen RipponWords by Graham Thompson|
For our May meeting Professor Stephen Rippon, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at Exeter University updated us on the excavations at Ipplepen.
He first explained that the greatest Roman influence was in the Central Province, which stretched down the middle of England to the Blackdown Hills. Beyond that the Southwest appears to have been less affected by the Romans. There is a distinctive character of landscape and society in the Southwest. Prior to the arrival of the Romans the Dumnonii tribe was well established in Devon but it left no coins, so we understand little about them. Neither did they adopt the Roman habit of building Villas. In fact, there are only 2 in the Peninsular. They did, however, have South Devon Pottery which is found almost entirely confined to the County.
Pollen analysis shows that agriculture changed very little between the Iron Age and the early medieval period. (400 BC – 800 AD). Approximately half the cereal crop was Wheat whilst the remainder was split equally between Barley and Oats.
The Ipplepen sites sit South of the modern village. The dig began in 2012, the sites being chosen mainly after geophysical surveys. Examination shows there was an Iron Age settlement with a Romano-British field system. The sites of roundhouses were marked by circular ditches inside which were the houses. The ditch was for drainage of water pouring off the roofs. (See image) A different site showed a very well made Roman road, part of the route between Exeter , Newton Abbot and Totnes. Nearby is a Christian cemetery with the bodies being placed roughly East/West. It is remarkable that the bones survived as the soil is generally acid which would normally dissolve bones. This site may have been lined with lime blocks so raising the pH. There was, also, evidence of iron working with chunks of iron being dug up, indicating that a blacksmith operated nearby.
The site was abandoned in the 8th century when the ‘modern’ village of Ipplepen was created to the north.
More information can be seen on the Exeter University website
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|Mills in the Devon LandscapeTalk by Martin Watts|
Watermills were formerly a common feature of the Devon landscape. Many share their origins with other historic buildings such as churches and manor houses, but because they are working buildings that were frequently rebuilt or modernised, they are often glossed over in local historical, landscape and building studies. My talk illustrated the background and development of water power in Devon over a period of some two millennia, with particular reference to the Teign valley.
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|History of Fingle WoodsTalk by Bill HardimanWords by Graham Thompson|
Fingle Woods have been an important part of the local economy for generations.
Cranbrook and Prestonbury Castles are well known but recent clearing of the area along the gorge has revealed a number of prehistoric stone circles which surely were linked to each other in a Stone Age community.
At the time of Domesday the woods were divided between a number of owners who lent their names to the various stretches along the Teign Gorge; names such as Whiddon Wood, Charles Wood, Hall's Cleave, etc. St. Thomas Cleave was probably named after the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170 as a lot of land here was owned by William de Tracey, one of the implicated knights. A lot of information comes from the Exeter Domesday which is in Latin requiring lengthy translation and an understanding of abbreviations.
An understanding is needed of what a 'wood' was. It was probably a collection of trees with areas of cultivated grass between rather that a continuous stretch of woodland. Confusion also arises with the non-standardisation of measures of length so a rod may be anything between 18 and 24 feet in length (5.5 - 7.32 metres) but these problems can be overcome to assess the size of Fingle Woods.
Cultivation of such a steep sided gorge was never going to be easy and tree planting was the only option.
All schoolchildren will have heard of the murder of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The knights involved misunderstood their king's wishes and when they discovered their error tried to make amends so in 1173, some years after the event, (did he take some persuading?!) William de Tracey gave 1500 acres (St Thomas Cleave) to Canterbury Cathedral to help the monks' income and assuage his guilt.
Customs of the Manor
Each manor established customs or rules on how much access the peasantry was allowed and what they could do in the manorial estate. The parish of Doccombe has particularly good records. It lists who could collect items from the wood, graze animals there or carry on an industry there - for a charge. This created tension between the landlord and the peasant. So, a wood warden would be appointed each year. The only way to get out of this was to appoint (& pay someone else to do it.)
Today we look on woods as being tranquil places in which to walk and to admire the scenery whilst walking the dog. In earlier days they were a hive of industry. E.g: * Tanners used bark in the process of making leather. If too much was stripped off the tree, the wood would die depriving the other villagers and the landlord of their living. This had to be controlled. * Large trees were not common because the soil was thin, and rain would wash away what there was exposing the roots. Therefore, coppicing was practised. Young trees had their stems cut down to act as poles. * Colliers, of which there were 7 at one time in Moreton and not to be confused with coal miners, leased places to set up their Charcoal pits. Charcoal was used in fires, smelting tin and heating wool combs among other things. * Tourism, started taking hold in the 19th century when railways arrived as it was now easier for the ordinary individual to travel distances. Previously only the richer parts of the population who saw countryside estates as a place for hunting and shooting, had been involved. * At Fingle Bridge a café was opened. However, the plans for a railway to Chagford as a branch of the Teign Valley Railway never came to fruition.
By this time Fingle Woods had had a variety of owners and often were somewhat neglected but the Elmhirsts took over in the 1930s with definite ideas on how to develop the area. Dorothy Elmhirst was a very wealthy American whilst Leonard had an interest in forestry, a subject just beginning to take off.
They started with the Dartington Estate which was run down at the time and went on to create a large number of independent business concerns. One of their wishes was to buy lots of woodland areas and sawmills whilst researching how to best grow trees. Their wealth allowed them to do this without constraints of time to make a profit. One of these areas was Fingle.
It is difficult now to understand how badly-off Devon was economically at the time. They had what today we would call green credentials but they were also passionate in providing employment for local residents. In addition, they were keen on education, and tourism.
These ideas were successful for a while with demand for pit props, which was enhanced by the war effort, fencing materials and later, Christmas trees at high levels. After the Second World War the businesses started to suffer as foreign competition proved too great and Devon's population started to plummet. For example, that of Moretonhampstead dropped from 2200 to 1300. In retrospect it was thought that the minimum area for forestry to be economically viable was 10,000 acres. Add to that the costs of maintaining small patches of woodland separated by up to 25 miles and the writing was on the wall. The end was hastened by removal of tax incentives and then the death of both Leonard and Dorothy.
The various businesses were sold and Fingle had several owners of varying degrees of involvement until, in 2013, the National Trust and the Woodland Trust took over stewardship and are developing various aspects of the woods, so a good future now seems assured.
For more information Section 1, Understanding the Heritage, of the Fingle Wood Management plan has a great deal about the history of the area - some 36 pages in all.
More information on Fingle Woods can be fond here.
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|Women of Cheriton FitzpaineTalk by Elly BabbedgeWords by Graham Thompson|
Elly Babbedge told us about her research into the way the residents of Cheriton Fitzpaine looked after their fellow villagers in the 18th and 19th century.
They were years ahead of everyone else in the way they dealt with 'lunatics' sending one of them to a Doctor Southcombe in Rose Ash 15 miles away. He 'did not hold the insane person responsible any more than if he had a fever and held the opinion that madness could proceed from either the wounded spirit or a disordered body'. He, therefore, held 21st century views some 250 years before in contrast to his colleagues who incarcerated anyone with a mental illness living in towns and cities in places like Bedlam. The terminology has now changed of course.
Elly went on to describe how the village supported Humphrey Winter throughout his 52 years of life. He was orphaned and had no family to care for him so the parish paid his board and lodging providing him with clothes but not apprenticing him as was the usual case. Why this happened is a mystery but he was presumably not felt capable of such work.
It looks as if the absentee landlord, somewhat unusually, had great affection for the village as he paid for the erection of the Church House, the longest thatched building in Devon, which housed the poor, had a room for the Vestry and court and later the school which only closed 5 years ago. In addition he donated a field for 'physical recreation' although this is now a car park!
There are many more examples of how the village cared for its parishioners falling on hard times which are described in Elly's book 'Cheriton Fitzpaine, A Sense of Community', available on Amazon. Their enlightened attitude contrasts with how towns managed.
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|Historic ExeterTalk by Robert HeskethWords by Graham Thompson|
There was a bit of a scramble to find a speaker at our last meeting in September when the booked speaker told us he had double booked the evening! We were very grateful to Robert Hesketh who was able to step in with 48 hours' notice.
Robert gave a very interesting talk on Tudor & Regency buildings in Exeter. Most of us scurry round the city looking at eye level into the shops and fail to notice what's above us. Once you learn to do this you discover so much more. Exeter is blessed with many buildings from yesteryear. It is impossible to list them all.
He started with Moll's Coffee House (1596) and its neighbour, Tea on the Green, but the largest collection is on the High Street with their Tudor and Stuart facades above eye level. Some of the buildings are narrow as they had to fit the Burgage plots behind or had upper jetty floors which hung over the street.
The second part of the talk involved Regency buildings. There was rapid expansion of Exeter between 1800 and 1840. This led to major overcrowding with 70,000 people crammed into 3000 houses. This was clearly a health hazard. The sewage which had previously flowed down the street was confined to covered culverts. Trade grew, roads were widened and the obsolete city gates were removed. Water was taken from the Exe upstream to avoid pollution. These improvements led to a lot of new building in the Regency style which attracted travellers unable to holiday abroad due to the Napoleonic Wars. The terraces and crescents are to be seen in Southernhay, Barnfield Crescent and Pennsylvania.
The moral of the talk was that it is important to look up when appreciating the huge wealth of ancient buildings.
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|Castle DrogoTalk by Wes KeyWords by Graham Thompson|
Wes Key was our speaker on 11th July. He is a Master Mason but having gone away to gain a degree in Building Surveying he took on the job of looking after the National Trust buildings on Dartmoor, not least of which is Castle Drogo.
He gave a very thorough account of how Castle Drogo was built and why this led to massive repair work to overcome the various leaking problems. The illustrations he used brought home what a massive job this has been. Julius Drewe had made a fortune in business and asked Sir Edwin Lutyens to fulfil his dreams of designing a castle as his home.
To give an idea as to how extensive the work has been 600 windows have had to be removed, repaired and replaced.
Completion of the work is expected next year.
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|The people of MoretonhampsteadTalk by Bill HardimanWords by Graham Thompson|
Bill Hardiman, the local historian from Moretonhampstead spoke to us in June on the history of his town in the 17th Century. It was a very detailed history and I cannot possibly do it justice in the space available. The only answer to this is for you to become a member – the advantage is that you then get to help choose the subjects discussed.
Moreton’s parish registers go back to 1603, the year of Elizabeth 1’s death. At the time the law said that at burial bodies should be wrapped in ‘woolen’ to protect the wool trade. This helped Moreton considerably as they were in the forefront of the woollen industry. Other documents show that King John awarded the town a market in 1207 which made it a borough. A problem arose that Chagford was also awarded the right to hold a market a few years later which resulted with both towns hurling insults at each other ever since!
No older buildings exist nowadays as a result of a number of fires but pictures survive of jetty houses in which the upper floor projected beyond the line of the ground floor.
In any historical research it is important to go back to original sources to test the myths and legends that grow up with the passage of time. Bill with volunteers have been able to look at numerous documents. This is the advantage of local history over the rather general overview that occurs in national history.
The geographical extent of Moreton depends on which areas looked at. For example, the Manor of Moreton is mentioned in the Domesday Book but this only constitutes about 60% of the Parish with about 20% attributed to Doccombe Manor. Sir William Tracey left the Manor of Doccombe to Christ Church, Canterbury for a monk to take over its affairs. Maybe he did this in recompense for being involved in the murder of Thomas a’ Becket. He never implicitly admitted this but the attribution of St Thomas to the churches in Dunsford and Bovey Tracey does suggest a connection. On the other hand, Bovey historians, Viv Styles and Frances Billinge, have not found any documentary evidence for the connection.
Moreton Manor was owned by the Courtney family between 1300 to 1890 when it was sold to the Smith family founders of WH Smith, the stationers. Sir William Courtney married a rich heiress and when she died he married Sir Francis Drake’s widow so financially he was well set up. However, he was dissolute and tended to spend beyond his means. He upgraded Powderham Castle but was always in debt. He probably had conflicting thoughts about religion. He grew up in disturbed times with the constant two-ing and fro-ing of allegiance to either Protestant or Catholic churches. His Grandfather who brought him up was Catholic but it was dangerous territory. Several of his estates were forfeit to the crown but he managed to hang on vast estates in Ireland.
Despite his large income he found it necessary to mortgage Moreton Manor to Sir Simon Leach in return for £3000. Leach was bale take all the income from the Manor and to hold the advowson, the right to appoint Rectors to the church. Simon Leach's father was a blacksmith who probably made the gates at Crediton Church. Simon was sent to train as a lawyer, a very lucrative profession and which set him up to purchase property. Later when John Southmead took over the advowson he appointed Francis Whidden a puritan to the living of the church. He tried to ban games, Maypoles, Ale houses (as there were 16 of these he may have had a point!) and castigated tradesmen for Sunday trading.
The place of Moreton in the Civil War is controversial as although there are reports of people from the town being involved did this mean the whole town was for Parliament? It probably served as a centre for surrounding villagers to congregate in banned Conventicles or meetings. If discovered such people were fined.
Manor life was controlled quite fiercely by the Lord of the Manor (at least if he was resident and this continued until the Copyhold Act of 1926 when ownership law was altered. Before then regular courts were held to settle disputes and tithes were collected to pay both the Lord and the rector. There are a lot of documents regarding Timber sales. Wood was valuable source of building materials and other trades and was strongly regulated so Tanners and charcoal burners leased the right to bark and some wood.
Here I will have to leave it but it would prove interesting to explore further life in the Teign Valley to emulate the research in Moreton. I hope to set up a group to this end so please contact me if interested. I wonder if this is something local schools would be interested in?
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|Devon Craftsmen and their Bench EndsTalk by Dr Todd GrayWords by Graham Thompson|
When a medieval craftsman devoted hours of his time to carving out the end of a church’s bench or pew he did so as part of his service to God.
This service is largely forgotten as their names are rarely recorded. What is quite remarkable is the fact that there don’t appear to be any repeated carvings. Such craftsmen must have kept to a very localised area. I am sure the carvings are virtually ignored by us when we visit one of the many parish churches within Devon.
As a result of a detailed exposition of these carvings by Dr Todd Gray, Research Fellow from Exeter University, members of the Teign Valley History Group are now a lot more conscious of them.
Dr Gray, who talked to us in April, has visited every parish church in Devon (where there is the largest collection of Renaissance carvings in the country) & most others in the Greater South West of England. He has also seen a lot in East Anglia . Unfortunately it is not possible to do full justice to Dr Gay’s talk because we cannot reproduce his vast array of photos here. His book, Devon’s Ancient Bench Ends published by Stevens Books in Exeter, gives much more detail.
There is a significant difference between those carvings in East Anglia & those in Devon, probably because of influence from those countries trading directly with East Anglia i.e. Germany & Holland & with Devon from France & Italy.
The earliest example he has found comes from the 15th Century but there are earlier records e.g. in the Exeter Synod records they are mentioned in 1287.
The styles of carving are difficult to interpret but include variously religious or decorative styles. Indeed they may be a result of the craftsman just having fun & feeling able to express himself without regard to any rules. Dr Gray visits each church to record & photograph them before returning to the Exeter Cathedral archive or Devon Heritage Centre to find written references. Because of the periodic rebuilding of church interiors bench ends are not always situated at the end of a bench but incorporated in some other structure such as a screen.
One of the myths associated with the seating arrangements is the view that everyone stood in the medieval period but initially there were seats in the form of stools or forms. Around 1400 backs were added to forms to create benches. Later, in around 1600 the gentry wanted to separate themselves from the ordinary folk so benches were built at a raised level & doors to their benches were added. By 1820 it was felt that such separation was un-Christian & that everyone was equal in the eyes of God so benches were brought back to the same level. Victorians have a reputation for destroying these seats but in fact they did a lot to save them. By the 1980s upholstery was added to make sitting in church more comfortable.
In addition to the changes in seating design there was a time when the position you sat in the church was decided by the amount of Church Rate you paid so the richest sat in front, the middling sort behind & the poor standing right at the back. However a different arrangement seems to have held sway in Devon in that women sat on the north side of the church (the colder side) whilst men sat on the south side. Todd suggested (tongue in cheek I think!) that women were more prone to excitement & hysteria so needed to be kept cool. Men on the other hand were much more calm & collected so were able to sit in the warmer part of the church without injury!
In North Devon the designs almost exclusively follow religious themes. This may be because in the North there was a greater wish to remain in the Catholic tradition. In the south of the County the constant change in the Sovereigns’ allegiance may have generated a wish to hedge bets; it was quite expensive to create new furniture so parishioners would naturally be reluctant to completely replace something they had installed last week every time the monarch changed. It was much safer to have something neutral which would not offend the religious tone of the day. As it was, some felt it necessary to remove all signs of faces on figures to avoid the charge of worshipping idols.
The individual styles in Devon are made up of Medieval, Renaissance & Gothic. Unlike other counties there is a secondary design added by using a punch to create uniformity. These are usually a round shape but don’t appear to be the same design in different churches. This points to a man & his boy working away from other influences & the man passing on his expertise to the boy.
This is all very interesting but why does it matter?
It matters because we in the 21st Century are losing bench ends & other ancient carving as churchwardens try to make better use of the space to reduce the amount of seating for play areas & toilets etc. There is clearly a conflict but don’t let it be said in 200 years time that we, in the 21st century, were responsible for the loss of our heritage & the incredible amount of work put in to create such works of art.
Go into your parish church & have a closer look. Write in the visitors’ book of any church you visit that you congratulate the church wardens for looking after their bench ends because otherwise they’ll think no-one thinks they are worth saving.
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|Excavations at Whitehorse HillTalk by Jane MarchandWords by Graham Thompson|
Last month I wrote about the excavations at Tottiford reservoir. Now I am covering that part of Jane Marchand’s talk on her remarkable finds on Whitehorse Hill. It is difficult to convey every part of her talk in such a short space so this is very much a précis.
One wet & windy day in winter Jane had a phone call from a Dartmoor Range Warden telling her that he had found a cist (stone lined burial chamber) on Whitehorse Hill. It is quite isolated being away from any roads, very boggy & in the firing range. It is 600 metres above sea level & the views are panoramic. It is also surrounded by the sources of 5 rivers which may be significant. Because the cist was in danger of falling apart & to protect it from interference from local walkers a wall was built in front of it & it was scheduled by English Heritage. It appears to date from the early Bronze Age & possibly the Neolithic Age.
When the lid was lifted red fur & fragments of bone were seen. As this was lifted out a bead fell from it so it was realised that this was a significant find. The light was failing & the weather was atrocious: the fur had to be wheeled down to the road on the northern edge of Hangingstone Hill in a wheel barrow & the next day was taken to a Wiltshire laboratory to a conservator. It had to be treated quickly as it would have deteriorated in the air. In Chippenham it was found that there were four layers to examine. Firstly cremated remains with charred pieces of bone were removed. The red fir had been used to wrap up grave goods. There was a flattened bag which contained a large number of beads underneath which was a leather & textile object beneath which there was a base made of Purple Moor Grass, still to be found on the moor. About half a skeleton was recovered but it had been heated to such a high temperature in the cremation that it destroyed the DNA. The skeletal remains suggested a slight person, aged about 18-25. Both Oak & Hazel were identified which were carbon dated to 4000 years ago. The second layer contained the basket which was sent to the British Museum where expert stitching was demonstrated with cow or possibly Aurok hair. It was exquisitely made using a coiled technique from Lime bast i.e. the inner fibrous part of the bark. It was there to hold all the belongings. The leather object is probably calf skin & has a fringe of tassels & is joined to woven nettle. It is probably a portion of a cape & denotes a high status burial. A necklace of clay, amber & tin, a beautiful & intricate wrist band & large wooden ear studs were assembled.
The team then moved onto the environmental information: a 160cm sample of peat was extracted & revealed 5 layers of volcanic ash covering the period 2000 BC to 900 AD. This was the dust from volcanic eruptions in Iceland. These were all known eruptions but for some reason did not include those from Hekla, the most active Icelandic volcano. Research is still ongoing in pollen analysis & fungal spores which will give evidence of animal involvement.
In summary here was a cremation of a highly regarded member of the community, probably a young female, which contained a lot of organic material which has excited the interest of many archaeologists around the world. Jane Marchand expects more information to come to light in the next year.
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Talk by Mark CottleWords by Graham Thompson
The History Group recently heard Mark Cottle of Explore History in Chudleigh talk about the history of Exeter Cathedral.
There was a period of cathedral building between the 11th to 16th centuries which has never been equalled. Architecture changed as the years went by but there are 4 main styles recognised: Norman, Early English, Decorated Gothic of which Exeter is the best example in the United Kingdom, & Perpendicular Gothic.
The Fabric Rolls survive in an almost continuous run telling us what work was carried out & who did it.
The stone mason, Thomas of Whitney, had to calculate the various angles of the masonry to make sure the stone fitted accurately & the fact that it stands after almost 1000 years suggests he got it right.
So why did the cathedral exist? In the Norman period it demonstrated Religious, Political & Military might. The Bishop demonstrated his power by erecting the largest throne in the country.
By the time of the Gothic period the religious theme had come to the fore. Building took place between 1133 to the end of the 14th century.
On entering the cathedral you are struck by its 300 foot length only interrupted by the organ which is in the best acoustic position. Look up & admire the Gothic vaulting with exquisite palm like fronds held together by the roof bosses. Enthuse over the floods of light. Take a closer look at the roof bosses which are incredibly well carved, colourful & detailed. The carpenters demonstrated their skills by carving the miserichords with meticulous detail in about 1316
The Exeter Book is an Anglo Saxon Codex dating from 970 AD & is one of only 4 surviving copies & is likely to be on display when the refurbished Cathedral Library is re-opens soon. It is important because it gives an insight into thinking before the Normans took over.
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|Local HeroTalk by Graham ThompsonWords by Graham Thompson|
Did you know that the best seaman of the 19th Century was connected to Christow?
Those of us who attended the excellent talk given by Graham Thompson at the Teign Valley History Society heard an interesting story of a Cornish boy who led a life worthy of a blockbuster movie. Edward Pellow later Vice Admiral of Great Britain and 1st Viscount Exmouth rose to virtually the top of the Navy due almost entirely to his expertise rather than by patronage; an unusual attainment in the 18th and early 19th Centuries.
Even as a lad Edward was mad about the sea. At 13 he joined HMS Juno in 1770. HMS Juno was sent to the Falkland Islands to see off the Spanish who claimed sovereignty by virtue of an ancient grant by the pope and who had evicted the British garrison. Sound familiar?
He was given his first command of HMS Hazard.at the age of 23. After 8 months he took command of the HMS Pelican. With this boat he raided the coast of France. The admiralty was so pleased they promoted him to Post Captain in May 1782. .He continued rising through the navy fighting the French.
When a ship called the Dutton was sinking in Plymouth Harbour he immediately took charge using his sword to maintain order among the drunken crew. He saved the lives of many women and children. For this action he received the Freedom of the Borough of Plymouth and created a Baronet.
During a rare period of peace he became MP for Barnstaple.
War was again declared in 1803 and in 1804 he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the White & to the East Indies command. In India Pellow’s job was to subdue the pirates, privateers and the French fleet as well as protecting the East Indiamen. Whilst Edward was away he left his wife to buy an estate and she bought Canonteign Estate in 1811. He appears to have tried living at Canonteign Manor but grew bored with watching the wheat grow! Lady Pellew also bought West View House in Teignmouth, now Bitton House which Edward came to look on as home. He preferred sea views!
In 1814 he was promoted to Admiral of the Blue and became Baron Exmouth of Canonteign. In 1815 he was sent to deal with to liberate the Christian slaves and to punish the Dey of Algiers. His action was very successful.
He retired on 8th October 1816 never to return to sea but he became Port Admiral at Plymouth for the next three years. For the rest of his days he lived in Teignmouth where he could look out at the shipping & across to Shaldon.
John Croker, First Secretary to the Admiralty, wrote: ‘The better you become acquainted with heroes the less you think of them’. However, on Lord Exmouth’s death he said: ‘He was a great man and, what is now still more satisfactory to think of, a good man.’
He died on 23rd January 1833 and was buried in Christow, the pall being draped with the flag under which he fought at Algiers church and which showed shot holes from the battle.This report does not do justice to a fascinating talk with many anecdotes about this ‘action man’.
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