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.
2017 Meeting Reviews
July: 3000 years of History from the Sea - The Salcombe Wrecks
Our speaker for the July meeting was the Secretary of the South West Marine Archaeology Group, Ron Howell, and what an amazing talk he gave; it is not exaggerating to say that the AbbPast members were spell bound by his story.
In 1989 a group of Northampton divers visited the Erme Estuary and discovered an unknown wreck that produced a number of interesting finds, including cannons. They formed themselves into the South West Marine Archaeological Group and have been together ever since. A second find produced Roman tin ingots, which won the group the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal, and the first of four visits to Buckingham Palace.
In 1995 the weather so poor in the Erme Estuary that they decided to try their luck in the sea off Salcombe, and the rest as they say is history. Almost immediately they found gold coins and jewellery scattered on the seabed; these proved to be of Islamic origin, dating from around 1630. The wreck created huge media interest and soon the British Museum were holding an exhibition and SWMAG became famous. There have been various ideas on what the ship was; a Barbary pirate ship and a Dutch merchant vessel being two of them. Despite being offered £2m for the gold the marine rules forced them to sell the haul to the British Museum for £100k.
Remarkably in 2003 they discovered another wreck close by and this turned out to be even more remarkable as it was a Bronze Age vessel that was carrying bronze axes, swords, gold bracelets and a tiny bronze figure that proved to be from Sicily. This meant the wreck became the first proof of trade between Britain and the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age. Later they found the first copper ingots ever discovered in a British wreck.
The sheer excitement of Ron’s story was quite amazing and as his group’s story unfolded the audience was totally transfixed, culminating when he produced one of the original gold coins that he had brought up from the seabed in 1995; what a story.
September: Sabine Baring-Gould
Our speaker for the September meeting was Bob Mann, who is a publisher and performer from Totnes, whose great passion is the life and work of Rev. Baring-Gould. Bob described him as a “creative artist and an individual”. He was from Lew Trenchard in Devon and would spend his life writing a huge number of publications on all manner of topics; he is perhaps most well known as the composer of the lyrics of Onward Christian Soldiers.
Bob explained to the meeting that Sabine (pronoun-ced Sabiene) was an Anglican priest, hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist, folk song collector and eclectic scholar. His bibliography consists of more than 1240 publications. Born into a family of landed gentry his first 10 years were spent travelling around Europe with his parents, he did not have a formal education. Against his father’s wishes he entered the church and became a vicar at Horbury Bridge in Yorkshire where he met a 15 year mill girl and had here educated to become his wife; they had 15 children.
His first book in 1860 was ‘A Trip to Iceland’, which was a country few visitors travelled to, was written when in Yorkshire, as was Onward Christian Soldiers. After a spell in Essex where he wrote his first novel Mehalah, he inherited his father’s estate and took the living at Lew Trenchard. His writing was a way to earn money, since little came from his estate, and he would write for hours stood up at his desk. He also set out to collect hundreds of folk songs from the local Devon men; he always sought the oldest to capture old songs believing these men to be the heirs of medieval minstrels.
Bob’s enthusiasm for all things Baring-Gould was evident to the members, who appreciated his knowledge and depth of understanding for such a complex individual, and one with such a breadth of work to call upon. He read Baring-Gould’s description of Abbotskerswell, which was not complementary of the church’s renovation. Bob also showed us Rebecca Tope’s new biography of Sabine.
October: Newton Abbot's Railway History 1846 to the Present Day
Our speaker for the October meeting was AbbPast member Alan Reddish, who was persuaded to reveal his knowledge of the railways of Newton Abbot. Alan has been an observer of the changes to the station and the Locomotive Works for many years, and used his own photographs, and information from the Newton Railway Library, to tell his story.
This story really began on 30th December 1846 with the opening of the Bristol – Exeter Railways extension to Newton Abbot; on that day a railway town was born. Engineered by I K Brunel, it became the South Devon Railway, as the tracks went on to Plymouth shortly afterwards. The failure of Brunel’s atmospheric propulsion system meant that the Broad Gauge line, the tracks were 7’ 0¼” apart, would see steam locomotives hauling trains up the steep South Devon banks. How many of you remember the loco ‘Tiny’ that was the last example of a broad gauge one, that used to be on the station platform until 1980?
The station has had three different phases. The first had two different ‘train sheds’ (as stations were known then), an up and a down one and were staggered along the line. When the extensions to Kingswear and Moretonhampstead were added the station soon could not cope, and was therefore rebuilt in 1861, with a single train shed and 400 foot long platforms. At the same time 150 houses were built, showing how important the railway was becoming to the town. Other things changed in the coming years, with Newton Junction station becoming Newton Abbot and the broad gauge being replaced in 1892. By 1905 yet another station rebuild was planned, although it took until 1927 for the present station to be completed. By then 25% of the town’s working population was employed at the station, or in the shed and works.
By the 1950s the shed had 75 steam locomotives allocated to it and 150 passenger trains and 85 freight trains would pass through the town in a day. However, the 1960s brought change, the steam locomotives being replaced by diesels, the works and sheds slowly wound down, and were finally closed in 1973. The 1980s saw a remodelling of the track layout in the station, with two lines taken out, new signals and big car parks added.
Using many of his own photographs Alan showed the changes, as well as a number of the accidents as well. His enthusiasm for a topic dear to his heart was evident and the packed audience enjoyed a splendid evening.
November: "Fieldwork and Excavations at Ipplepen 2007-2017"
Our speaker for the November meeting was Exeter University archaeology lecturer and author, Derek Gore. Roman expert Derek has been a speaker at our meetings on a number of occasion, and this was a much anticipated event, which brought a number of visitors from Ipplepen and Denbury.
The site is on the left hand side of the Totnes Road, above Ipplepen and the story of the Roman excavation begins in 2007 when a farmer wanted to put up a barn; he was required to have an archaeological survey on the site and this produced Roman finds. A slate quarry containing Roman pottery sherds, a coin, bone and charcoal were all unearthed. Thankfully the landowner agreed to a dig, and the rest is history!
By 2009 a geophysical survey of the site had been conducted and a number of features emerged. Also around that time a local metal detector found a hoard of Roman coins which interested the British Museum and Exeter University. 150 coins have been unearthed on the site, ranging from 100BC to 300AD. In 2011 a series of small trenches were dug and a Roman road and the site of timbered buildings discovered. In 2012 a larger excavation, on the south side of the site revealed an Iron Age hut, in fact the site has material from the Neolithic period through to the early Middle Ages. The 2013 dig uncovered a large section of the road, showing it to be 3.65 metres wide and had four different levels; it was almost certainly originally built by the Roman Army, and contained the top of an amphora dating from 43-70AD.
The site has also revealed 37 graves, since in the Roman period people were buried on roadsides, so people could see the graves and remember the people. Wells, rubbish pits, evidence of smelting and high quality pottery all suggest that this is an unusual site, and almost certainly a town of around 23 acres, rather than the usual one family farmstead. Artefacts found include brooches, coins and the daub from the buildings. Unfortunately the land has passed to a new owner who is less enthusiastic about the digs, but in 2017 he wanted to put up a stable, so had to agree to excavations which revealed another Iron Age hut and an incredibly rare piece of pottery.
The future of digs on the site is uncertain, but Derek showed us a fascinating story in his usual knowledgeable and excited manner.
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.
2016 Meeting Reviews
**For the rest of the 2016 Reviews go to Meetings Archive**