2018 Meeting Reviews|
January: "Un-earthing a Dartmoor Copper Mine"
Our speaker for the January meeting was Ian Howes. Ian formerly taught history at Knowles Hill School in Newton Abbot, and used all his skills to deliver an outstanding talk on a project obviously very close to his heart.
A number of years ago Paul Heatley, a book shop owner from Ashburton, bought some woodland to be able to enjoy the environment that it provided. In addition to the trees and wildlife, was an old copper mine. Ian was invited to look into history of the mine, and using Time Team as his guide, that is exactly what he did.
The Druid Mine was constructed in the mid-1850s and today the remains of an engine and boiler house, chimney and its shaft are clearly visible. Ian set himself four objectives: to explore, to research, to illustrate and to present the mine. In a fascinating talk he explained how he completed the first three and delivered the fourth to us. The outer rim of Dartmoor had dozens of mines, of a various kinds, and close to Ashburton were a good number of copper mines. Druid Mine had six companies that tried to make it profitable, all failing it would appear.
Ian showed us what the site looks like today, as well as producing some amazing reconstructions that he has created; the ‘then & now’ pictures above are examples of this. His research produced maps which revealed a reservoir, wheel pits, and crushing house, which he then found on the ground. He discovered contemporary photographs and postcards, showing the mine working and also revealing that the south side of the engine house had a Palladian façade, which is possibly a unique feature. Between 1852 and 1878 the mine only appeared to produce small amounts of ore and certainly did not make the owners any money.
Ian’s passion for his project shone through, with an excellent delivery that delighted those present.
February: "The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight"
For our February meeting we were very fortunate to have Rich Gibby as our speaker. Rich is a former RAF pilot who flew in Tornadoes in 1990s and 2000s, and joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) as a volunteer during his last three years in the service.
Having flown as a navigator in Sea King helicopters in the Royal Navy in 1980s Rich switched to the RAF to fulfill his dream of flying jets. After a career in the ground attack variant of the Tornado he became an air instructor and this earned him his prestigious place in the BBMF.
Rich described how the Historic Aircraft Flight began with three Spitfires and a Hurricane in 1957 before becoming the BBMF in 1973. Today it has six Spitfires, including the only flying one that took part in the Battle of Britain (a Mark IIA), 2 Hurricanes (one being the last of over 14000 built), a Dakota and a Lancaster bomber (there are only two left flying in the world).
His obvious passion for both the Flight and its planes were clear to us all; he frequently talked of “these beautiful planes” or the “fabulous experience” of flying in them; he is immensely proud to have been part of the BBMF. He emphasized its mission statement: “To increase awareness of the sacrifice made in previous and current conflicts to ensure the freedom afforded by our generations.”
In his final year he was able to hand pick his flights and he told us the story of being part of the 70th Anniversary fly past of the D Day celebrations, with the Queen, Presidents Obama and Putin watching at Bayeux. The problem was the weather, which was wet and windy which meant the tail light planes could not take off from Le Harve; after a great deal of phoning they persuaded Caen Airport to take the fighters and Jersey Airport to take the bombers. So the guests saw their fly past, as did a rededication for the graves of a Lancaster bomb crew on the route.
Rich’s passion for the BBMF shone through, with an excellent delivery that enthralled those present.
March: "The Birth of the Tank"
Our speaker for the March meeting was Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Ridgway KBE, CB, late of The Royal Tank Regiment a former Chief of Defence Intelligence and Lieutenant Governor of Jersey 2006 – 2011. Sir Andrew, who attended Hele School Exeter, now lives in Bishopsteignton.
This fascinating talk related the development and deployment of the tank in the First World War. It covered not only the technical aspects but also gave some understanding of the vision of the men who developed these machines and, also, the bravery and skill of those who crewed them. What was also interesting, was an insight into the political, logistical and procurement issues involved in getting them into battle. Not everyone was a fan, especially Lord Kitchener, who described them as “A toy, of little military value”.
Much of the early development of armoured vehicles had been carried out by the Royal Navy, with the encouragement of Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord. Many of the engineering and gunnery skills required, were already employed in warships. However, the conditions on the Western Front proved to be too much for these wheeled armoured cars and the use of commercial caterpillar tractors was investigated.
After a great deal of experimentation and trials, orders were placed with British agricultural machinery firm, Foster and Sons, whose managing director and designer was Sir William Tritton, who was responsible for much of the design and engineering.
Crews were found from the recently formed Machine Gun Corps and officers were recruited from other units, based on their bravery and technical skills. A crew of eight was commanded by a subaltern and conditions inside were uncomfortable and dangerous.
The development and deployment of these vehicles became a difficult secret to keep. For security reasons, as the unfinished product resembled a large water receptacle, various names were suggested such as “boiler” or “cistern”. Eventually they decided on “tank”. Sir Andrew said that he was glad of this, since he would not like to have been commissioned into “The Royal Cistern Regiment”.
The first offensive using tanks took place on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme and later Ypres. But it was not until 20 November 1917, at Cambrai, that the British Tank Corps get the conditions it needed for success. Over 400 tanks penetrated almost six miles on a 7-mile wide front. However, success was not complete, because the infantry were unable to exploit and secure the tanks' gains. The British scored a far more significant victory the following year, on 8 August 1918, with 600 tanks in the Battle of Amiens. General Erich Ludendorff referred to that date as the "Black Day" of the German Army.
We were told of “Deborah” a Mark IV tank and casualty of the Battle of Cambrai. She was rediscovered and excavated in 1998 and is now designated as a national memorial in France. We were shown and invited to examine a small, but very heavy section of her armour plate and told the story of her preservation.
The interest in this talk was reflected by the number of questions from the members and we are very grateful to General Sir Andrew for his visit.
April: "The Admirals of Bishopsteignton"
Two years ago Jenny Ridd and her husband retired to live in Bishopsteignton. They had both worked in museums and history, so one of their first walks was to look at the village church and its graveyard. To their surprise they found that four Admirals with connections to Lord Horatio Nelson were buried there; so Jenny set out to uncover their stories.
The outcome was a story of remarkable men who fought for their country in countless naval battles across the world, before settling in a small village near the sea and build impressive houses there. The first was Sir Edward Thornbrough, shown here, who was knighted for defeating a French fleet intent on invading Ireland. In the 1810s he built the 10 bedroomed Bishopsteignton Lodge (now Murley House) which was described as ‘sumptuous’ at the time, and housed 2000 bottles of wine. Then there was James Noble, a close friend of Nelson, was twice wounded and considered dying by Nelson. He lived at Clanage in the early 1800s.
Admiral Goodall won fame at the Battle of Ushant in 1779 and was involved in the court martial hearing of Captain Bligh of the Bounty. Although he actually lived in Teignmouth he chose to be buried in Bishopsteignton. Cornelius Quinton served aboard the Levithian during the war with America and in 1811 bought two cottages in the village which he turned into Seymour Cottage (now Friston House), an impressive Arts & Crafts Movement house in the Nash style. As if four Admirals was not enough there were also the stories of John Rhodes and Edward Young. Rhodes was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy but was invalided out as it was thought he was dying (he actually lived for 40 more years); he bought the grand Teignlawn and worked tirelessly with the local Vicar to build a church at Luton village and the school and its house. Rhodes fame came from his nine years in the Navy in the 1820s when he kept an illustrated journal which charted his experiences. During WW1 Admiral Stoddart also lived in the village at Wood House.
Jenny has done an amazing job with her research and plans to write a booklet on the story of both the sailors and their houses. Her knowledge, enthusiasm and evident pleasure in delivering her talk was greatly appreciated by all those present.
May: "I K Brunel and Paddington Station"
To describe this as a major coup for a village history group would only be fair really, as we were indeed fortunate to have a nationally renowned historian and author to give our May talk this year. Steven Brindle, who works for English Heritage, has written many books for them, and in his own right; notable are his books on Paddington Station and a biography of I K Brunel. His latest book is the definitive history of Windsor Castle, which retails at around £65!
The focus of Steven’s talk was Paddington Station and Brunel’s role in designing it and the Great Western Railway. Steven is a renowned expert on the work of Brunel and was involved in the recent restoration of Paddington Station; it is a building that he has a great admiration for. He outlined Brunel’s early life and the construction of the GWR, which as he explained, was mainly built by the businessmen of Bristol to help them compete with Liverpool as the main provincial port, and obtain a major communication link with London. He used many of Brunel plans to explain how remarkable was the construction of the GWR.
The need for a major terminus in London for the GWR led to the creation of Brunel’s three arched metal and glass construction. He recognized his lack of experience in this field and consequently brought in Fox Henderson, the company who built the Great Exhibition, and Digby Wyatt who interpreted Brunel’s ideas on the detail and made them happen. The vast station was for both passengers and goods and worked 24 hours a day; Brunel also included offices, a carriage works and locomotive sheds on the site. To ensure that the station had a link with the new underground system that was being built the GWR bought a ⅓ share in the Metropolitan line.
To complete Steven’s talk he related an account of the bridge he discovered and saved. During his research, looking at Brunel’s papers, he found references and drawings of a canal bridge that nobody knew about; it was Brunel’s first ever iron bridge. When Steven looked he found that it had been clad in 1930s brick work and once revealed it stopped a £64m plan that had intended to demolition the bridge. Eventually it was agreed to remove the bridge and re-erect it further down the canal, sadly the latter part has still not happened.
This was one of those talks that left the audience, many of them railway enthusiasts, wanting more; the applause was rapturous, as it was appreciated that they had witnessed a real expert at work.
June: "The Amazing Delights of Peru"
This was a rather different talk for AbbPast, more of a travelogue than pure history, but fascinating all the same. We welcomed back a regular speaker for the group in Colin Vosper, who regaled us with the details of a trip to Peru and to the legendary mountain site of Machu Picchu, but as Colin said, more of that later.
In 2009 Colin and his wife joined an organised group for a visit to Peru and he took his camera with him. The trip first took them to the capital city of Lima, a place he likened to Bournemouth, but with fog; so much fog that they harvest it with huge nets to collect water for irrigation. He showed us the examples of the poverty there as more mountain dwellers head for the city looking for work. Next they headed down the coast, to the Nazca desert and the weird Nazca Lines, the shapes cut into the desert, made by moving stones, that show pictures but only from the air! How they were made 2000 years ago nobody knows.
The next trip was to the Ballestas Islands with their huge colonies of sea birds and where they harvest their droppings for guano, used as fertiliser, before heading into the Andes Mountains and arriving at Cusco at 11 300 feet. His photographs of Lake Titicaca and the reed islands were quiet brilliant, with the amazing coloured clothes worn by the local people who harvest reeds to keep adding to the floating islands, to keep them floating. The buildings at Cusco showed what skilled builders the Incas were with huge stones cut to fit together exactly, to make buildings such as the Saqsaywaman Fort. The Inca Empire of the 15th century, with its remarkable gold decorative pieces, was eventually overwhelmed by the Spanish who wanted all that Inca gold.
The highlight of the talk was, without doubt, the shots of the Inca mountain settlement of Machu Picchu, shown in the picture above. Re-discovered again in the early 20th century by Hiram Bingham, it has been cleared and some buildings renovated to show how the Incas lived, complete with sun temple where they sacrificed animals and humans to the Gods. The views across the mountains were breathtaking.
Colin showed us so much of Peru, with its people featuring in his photographs as well as the sites, such as the strange Maras salt pans high up in the mountains. It was a great mixture of history and travel and much enjoyed by the members.
July: "To Sail No More: a Story of a West Country Ketch"
AbbPast welcomed back Ron Howell from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. As Ron explained they are a group of amateur divers who have been together for 40 years and whose mission statement is “History From the Sea”.
Ron’s story began with the bricks shown here; an unusual place to begin, as they were an accidental find whilst the group were working on their two important wrecks at Salcombe. This main site, known as the Salcombe Cannon Site, was producing rare Bronze Age finds and gold galore, but also bricks scattered across the site. This intrigued Ron who set out to find out what these were, and that is the story he told the members on a hot evening in Church House.
Ron was told by a local fisherman that the bricks were from a pre-WW1 wreck, and so by studying the ‘Board of Trade Casualty Returns’ he discovered the wreck of the Lord Napier, which had been hauling a load of bricks from Exmouth to Kingsbridge when it sank on 25 April 1911. His historical juices were flowing now so he set off to find out about this ketch and unearthed its sad story. It was actually built as a single sail ‘smack’ in Sussex in 1864, being 56’ 4” long, and was used in the Ramsgate fishing fleet until 1898 when it was sold to William Hall of Galmpton, who rebuilt it as a twin sail ketch. By 1904 it had been sold to the Trout Brothers of Topsham who bought old vessels for transporting goods around the coast. On the fateful day the Lord Napier was hauling a load of ‘hot bricks’ from the Exmouth brick yard to Baikwell & Co in Kingsbridge; as it sailed passed Salcombe it appears that the bricks, being warm, began to absorb water and the boat began to flounder. The two crew members began throwing bricks over board to try to save the vessel (hence the trail of bricks across the bay), but this failed and down she went with her uninsured cargo of 22 000 bricks. The two men calmly rowed a dingy into Salcombe to report the wreck.
The story might have ended there but Ron decided to follow the bricks to Exmouth and there discovered that the Trout Brothers firm is still working, and talking to the family he unearthed a sad story. Owner Henry Trout was lost aboard HMS Monmouth during the Battle of Coronel of Chile in 1914 and then his son, William, was lost his life in WW2 when HMS Bonadventure was torpedoed by an Italian submarine.
Ron tells an excellent story and the members were treated to a tale of the sea, diving and research that will only end when Ron brings up some bricks which he intends to deliver to Baikwell & Co (which is still in Kingsbridge) just 107 years late!
September: "Campaigns You've Never Heard of"
It was the turn of AbbPast member Nick Nicholson to entertain the group once again this month, using his own experiences in the Devonshire & Dorset Regiment to tell the story of two of the lesser known campaigns of the British Army since WW2.
Peacetime military history is really about the effect that the army has on people was how Nick began his account of the British Guiana in 1964 and Libya in 1967 campaigns. Until recently there have been few years when the British army has not been active somewhere in the world, and as a signaler in the D & D’s Nick witnessed a some of these.
He related the political situation that saw an 18 year old arrive in the tropical heat of British Giana, when the army had been called to the South American colony to restore order following race riots in the country’s second city Mackenzie. The country is a mix of peoples, with immigrant Asian Indians and ex-slave Afro-Caribbeans being the largest groups in a country known as ‘The Land of Five Peoples’. Following an ‘unsatisfactory’ election that gave power to a group considered too left wing, by the USA, the British Governor had taken control, but politically motivated race riots saw the Indian population targeted with beatings, rapes and destruction of property. Nick’s ‘C’ Company where sent to help restore order, which they did. Nick’s description of this and the life of a soldier at the time provided an evocative story. His description of entering a bar just after an explosion and being a lone 18 year trying to restrain the locals was fascinating.
Having returned to their base in Northern Ireland and then Germany his next story was of the Devons involvement in Libya during the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ between Israel and Egypt. The D & D’s were in Libya on desert training and, when Israel launched its attack, the other Arab nations joined Egypt’s cause. The European and American oil workers and their families, the teachers and security forces were in danger. Nick described the 230-mile cross country journey his Company made to reach Benghazi and secure the safety of the ex-patriot people there, following anti-Jewish and Western rioting. They brought them all into the army base for security before things settled down and a few weeks later and Nick’s unit was relieved.
Nick’s personal accounts of involvement in history, that many members will remember, were really interesting, with photographs and stories of the everyday events of campaigns that have quietly slipped away as the British Empire has disappeared from memory.
October: "The Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre"
AbbPast welcomed Viv Styles from the Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust for this month’s meeting. When Viv moved to Bovey in 2002 she thought it would be good to become involved with the Heritage Trust, and as is often the way, it has taken over her life.
The Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust was formed in 1995 and set itself two tasks; to collect and preserve evidence of Bovey’s past, and to display it in their own building. Now this is quite an undertaking, AbbPast just opted for the first, but with a population of 8000 Bovey Tracey believed it could do both. At first they obtained a building up some stairs behind a bakery, which, unsurprisingly, did not really work very well. However, they were then offered the old railway station by the Town Council, for the princely sum of £1 a year. But of course the bills add up and the initial renovation cost £100 000; a Heritage Lottery Grant was awarded to cover this problem and a great deal of effort has gone into creating the excellent Heritage Centre. It is always a huge undertaking to maintain an old building, and certainly a worthwhile while one, as the costs have to be raised every year.
The Trust has gathered a huge amount of pictures, documents, and reminiscences which they have displayed and are working hard at collating and digitizing. The railway and pottery works have been great sources of material, and have both been feature displays in their Centre. Since 2014 they have had an ongoing WW1 display and each 100th anniversary of a Bovey man’s death is marked by sticking a poppy to their wall display, trying to find a family member or person whose work was the same to add the poppy. They have meetings, talks, organise walks, as well as opening the Centre daily from Easter to the end of October.
Viv was wonderfully enthusiastic, showing us a number of the Trust’s books, that they have produced and describing their vision of their local history. It is great that each community comes up with what suits them and is therefore different, and hearing about it is something our members enjoy.
NOVEMBER: “REMEMBERING WORLD WAR THROUGH ITS WAR MEMORIALS”
Speaker: Peter Wade - local historian and AbbPast Member
Subject Summary: with the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War having been the day before Peter choose to end AbbPast’s ‘Role of Honour Project 2014-2018’ with a talk that explained how war memorials came about and used photographs of local examples, such as The City of Exeter Memorial shown below, to describe some of the styles that were created.
War memorials have existed since before WW1 with examples from the colonial wars such as the Boer War and Indian Wars being commemorated. Peter explained how the earliest post 1918 memorials were individual ones or ones created by companies such as the GWR. Next came the creation of Rolls of Honour/Duty often placed in churches such as at Luton and East Ogwell. Perhaps the most important name in war memorial design was Sir Edward Lutjens, and his Cenotaph and the Thiepval Memorial on The Somme were hugely significant in creating the climate for the war memorial movement to grow.
The styles of memorial that we see locally are crosses, Latin and Celtic, ornamental styles such as at Denbury and Shaldon, or the obelisks at Teignmouth and Paignton. Peter also told the stories of our own memorial in the church and the one in Newton Abbot; these were examples of the upset that could be caused by the creation of the memorials.
2017 Meeting Reviews
December: "Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey & Coifs:
the lives of our 17th Century Ancestors"
This was a new departure for AbbPast, with a costumed interactive presentation on life in 17th century Britain. Mulled wine, sausage rolls and mince pies preceded Swords and Spindles’ presentation, which proved to lively, informative and funny. There were many everyday expressions explained, such as the ‘upper crust’ rich, because they ate the top of the loaf, whereas the poor got the burnt bottom crust. We were taken through the details of a household, complete with a member being dressed to show what a working girl would have worn; from shift to coif (bonnet). She had her bodice laced up with a criss-crossed design as the lacing across, favoured by the puritans, provided the ‘straight laced’ pattern to show proper behaviour of religious young ladies. We also learnt about the herbal medicines that were used and also how they were used to make the food less bland and boring. Most working people ate pottage, a stew which had anything put into it .
For the last meeting of the year the members really were given a treat, in more ways than one.
2017 Meeting Reviews
**For the rest of the 2017 Reviews go to Meetings Archive**