Category Archives: Heritage


Edward Capern courtesy of The Burton at Bideford Art Gallery Museum.

He was a humble postman whose poems, written whilst walking the rural lanes of North Devon on his daily round in the mid-nineteenth century, won plaudits from the Prime Minister and the support of the biggest literary names of the day. He was to become known nationally as the ‘Postman Poet’ and was referred to as ‘the Devonian Burns’.

Yet today, two years short of the 200th anniversary of Edward Capern’s birth, many of his fellow Devonians are unlikely to have heard of his remarkable story, let alone people from further afield.

But that could be about to change. Recognition might again come knocking for Capern (1819-1894), thanks to a collaboration between Bideford author Liz Shakespeare and folk musicians and songwriters Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, also from Bideford – the town where Tiverton-born Capern resided for most of his life.

Liz has written The Postman Poet, a novel based on the life of Capern, and at the same time is publishing 34 of his 600 poems in The Poems of Edward Capern. During her research, Liz found that some of his poems were intended to be sung and Nick and Becki have spent the past 12 months choosing which ones to set to music for their CD, the Songs of Edward Capern.

The book and CD launch takes place with an evening of reading and songs at the Royal Hotel in Bideford on 25 March, two days before they officially go on sale.

Capern was from a poor family and as a boy only went to school for four months. He was entirely self-taught but he had a local benefactor, William Frederick Rock from Barnstaple, who saw his early poems in a local newspaper and was behind the publication of Capern’s first volume of poems. Its subscribers included Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. He was also admired by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austen.

“It was a remarkable achievement for a working class man to become nationally known and I think he deserves a larger audience today,” said Liz. While writing the novel, she drew on historical research and details in the poems to tell the extraordinary story through Edward’s eyes as he struggles to support his family, a story that captures the opportunities and inequalities of Victorian North Devon.

Capern would jot down poems while he was walking on his round and he often wrote on the envelopes he was about to deliver: “He had to ask the recipients if he could keep the envelopes because he’d written on them,” said Liz, whose own cottage in Littleham just outside Bideford was on Capern’s round.

It was during his daily two-hour break on the Bideford to Buckland Brewer route that most of his poems were written. It seems that one day he was invited into a cottage to sit in the warmth of the kitchen while the ladies of the house went about their daily chores. It was an invitation he was to accept every day after that.

Quite by coincidence, while carrying out her research, Liz discovered that the cottage in Buckland Brewer is now owned by a good friend, local historian and genealogist Janet Few: “When you’re in the kitchen you can imagine Edward sitting there writing up a poem about the nature he’d seen and the people he’d met that morning,” said Liz.

When it came to Nick and Becki setting Capern’s work to music, they found that the poems had a particular rhythm to them: “You could tell he’d written them while walking,” said Nick, “because there is a walking feel to the rhythm of the lines.”

This “walking feel” was used when they composed the music, as Becki explained: “The feel informed the rhythm and we then created the melody to ‘fit’ what the words were saying. And the melody informed the choice of instruments.

“The songs are certainly folk-influenced because that’s our background and it’s probably the music Capern would sing. But it’s not traditional folk music. It’s a much more contemporary sound.”

Nick and Becki initially sifted through Capern’s collection of poems that he’d written for music in his volume, The Devonshire Melodist, only to discover his words had been disastrously misinterpreted by composer T Murby. His piano arrangements were clearly intended for the well-to-do and a review in the Illustrated London News decried Murby’s melodies as “artificial, laboured, hard to sing”.

As a result Nick and Becki have recorded just two of the songs as they were written – ‘Christmas Bells’ and ‘Come List, My Love’, and have set a third from the collection, ‘The Robin Is Weeping’, to their own music. Nine further Capern poems are set to their folk-influenced interpretation

“It’s pretty obvious that folk was his genre,” said Nick. ”We think he’d be happy with what we’ve done.”

Although he was careful not to upset the aristocracy who bought his work, Capern was keen to use his pen to champion the cause of the poor. One poem Nick and Becki have set to music is ‘The Dinner Bell’, a tale of the haves and have-nots where Capern laments the plight of families who could hear the sound of distant dinner bells but themselves had no food.

In recognition of Capern’s commitment to social justice, £1 from each copy of the poetry collection sold is being donated to the North Devon Food Bank.

Capern died in 1894, aged 75, and is buried in the churchyard at Heanton near Braunton, with his trusty postman’s handbell fixed in a niche in the headstone.

So how will twenty-first-century readers view Capern’s poems? Liz admits some are rather sentimental for today’s tastes but added: “The best of it is as fresh and honest now as it was then. The poems I’ve selected are those which are most reflective of his life and the locality. He loved his job, despite the weather and the long hours and it’s this love that really comes across in his work. His poems are written from the heart.”

Tickets for the 7.30pm launch event on 25 March are £6, available from the websites. Signed copies of the books and CD can also be pre-ordered now from the websites,

The Postman Poet by Liz Shakespeare, RRP £9.99 (ISBN: 9780951687949); The Poems of Edward Capern, selected by Liz Shakespeare, RRP £7.99 (ISBN: 9780951687956); The Songs of Edward Capern by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, RRP £10.  

The Rural Postman by Edward Capern (extract):
O, the postman’s is as happy a life
As any one’s, I trow;
Wand’ring away where dragon-flies play,
And brooks sing soft and slow;
And watching the lark as he soars on high,
To carol in yonder cloud,
“He sings in his labour, and why not I?”
The postman sings aloud.
And many a brace of humble rhymes
His pleasant soul hath made,
Of birds, and flowers, and happy times,
In sunshine and in shade.

PHOTO AT TOP: Becki, Liz and Nick in the kitchen at Buckland Brewer.


If you have not been to Wiveliscombe to see their memorial mosaic, Children of the Great War, then it is well worth a visit. Wiveliscombe celebrated the unveiling of the Memorial Mosaic in Jubilee Gardens in September, in an event which marked the culmination of a two-year Heritage Lottery Fund project led by the Wiveliscombe Civic Society.

In 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £10,000 to the project, which worked with children of the town to discover the memories and heritage of the local people whose families lived through the First World War. The children researched the war’s history, visited the Somerset Heritage Centre and St Andrew’s churchyard and have also spoken to residents of the local care home, Pulsford Lodge, to inspire their work on the mosaic memorial.

Local artists Jo Dove and Sara Fairfax worked with the children of the town to produce a piece that, when the green veil fell back, drew gasps of admiration from a big crowd. It is hoped the mosaic will be the focus of commemorative events for years to come.

The piece is a post, over seven feet tall, and has eight main panels made up of 96 tiles, illustrating the story of the Home Front in the Great War, including images of mules, railways, landscape, farms, fields and houses, as well as children and adults at work to support the war effort.

Forty children worked with the artists on the design and making of the tiles, learning to use the difficult techniques to create strong, contrasting images. Impressions were also created by flowers, grasses and leaves, as well as imprints of items found at Ypres in Belgium, pressed into the clay. Children were also asked to write a haiku, some of which are included on the additional, surrounding tiles.

Helping wounded tommies,

By cutting cloth

Into bandages.

Nerys Watts, the Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the South West, was assisted in the formal unveiling by Evelyn Cherry, former pupil of Wiveliscombe Primary School. Evelyn read her prize-winning poem ‘The Poppy Field’:

evelyn2The Poppy Field

By Evelyn Cherry

In the field where the poppies sprout,
Blood trickles into the cracks in the dusty soil
Where decrepit bodies smoulder deep beneath the ground.

The wind mourns the deaths of courageous men,
Who fought to save the lives of others.
Only the leaves rustle in this melancholy and lonely place. 

The sounds of gun shots cut through the air,
Feet thundering to the safety of the trench,
The squelch of mud under their feet,
100 years ago.

Now the poppies grow and grow.
They dance in the wind,
Their petals carried away on the gentle breeze.

Their colour red,
Their stalks green,
Creating a sea of blood

The poem, and other winning entries, are included in a book that accompanies the project, along with a set of commemorative postcards, and since the launch Evelyn has been asked to read at the Royal British Legion Remembrance Sunday service, and was also heard reading it on BBC local Radio.

The project website is

PHOTOS by Aga Karmolinska


A planning application has been submitted to North Devon Council for an extension at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

The museum was awarded £69,000 by the Heritage Lottery to develop plans for a £1.8m extension on the Long Bridge side of the existing museum building. Bristol-based architects, Ferguson Mann, have drawn up the designs, which are now on display in the museum.

The extension will provide a brighter and bigger entrance to welcome visitors to the museum, as well as 75% more display space, including a new twentieth-century gallery. With a new education room, improvements to the shop and tea room and increased storage space, it will help the museum be more sustainable going into the future.

The design is contemporary, rather than a reproduction of the previous Victorian building it is replacing. English Heritage requests that additions to listed buildings should be “of their own time” rather than imitations of the original architecture.

The current museum was provided to the town by William Frederick Rock in 1888 as the home of the North Devon Athenaeum, whose collections it still holds. Originally there was another building between it and the Long Bridge, but this was demolished in 1963 when the bridge was widened. The extension will be built on the site of the old building and as this side of the main museum building was never intended to be seen, it is the only practical option for the extension.

Red brick and slate have been chosen as the main building materials, in keeping with the existing museum building. Terracotta details, reflecting the work of Brannams and copper (which was used extensively by Shapland and Petter in their furniture) will be blended to create interest and soften the impact of the red brick. Incorporating lots of glass in the design has not been possible, as light can damage museum collections. However, as many windows as possible have been added to areas that will have a low impact on the collections, such as the education room.

A copy of the plans and a scale model of the extension are on display in the museum tea room. The public is encouraged to visit the museum and talk to staff about the proposals and make their views known in the comments box as part of the display.

Executive Member for leisure and culture, Councillor Dick Jones, says: “We are really excited to reach this stage of the project. We know not everyone’s going to like the design – it has quite a striking and contemporary look, which at first glance people might not understand. To get a true sense of the scale of the new extension and the reason behind its design, it’s important to have a good look and read through the proposals before making a judgement. We can’t replicate what we already have, but we must be sympathetic to the existing building and that is what the architects are trying to achieve. Alison Mills, our museum manager, is doing a magnificent job on our behalf to make this project happen. Come down to the museum and speak to Alison or any of her staff and volunteers to find out more.”

Copies of all the drawings and plans are also online at, under planning application number 62191. You can comment online or email, or send your comments in writing to North Devon Council Planning team at Lynton House, Commercial Road, Barnstaple, EX31 1DG quoting the planning application number.



Unspoilt moorland; dramatic coastline; Exmoor ponies; romantic Lorna Doone association; ancient woodland and archaeological treasures: Exmoor offers such a variety of scenery, attractions and experiences to meet most people’s interests. It’s not surprising that within the Exmoor Society’s archive is found a wealth of material: letters; slides; pamphlets; correspondence – all show why Exmoor is so special and together they contain valuable evidence of the ongoing changes in Exmoor’s landscape. The archive demonstrates the complex interrelationship between people and the environment within this long-established, traditional rural community.

Dr Helen Blackman, a professional outreach archivist was employed by the Society to undertake a project “Unlocking Exmoor’s Heritage” from 2014-16. Since then she has catalogued and conserved key documents and papers relating to people such as Victor Bonham-Carter and Malcolm MacEwen who influenced the National Park movement from the 1950s through to the 1980s. She has put on notable events such as the Exmoor Language Garden as well as giving many talks to local groups and writing pamphlets and education guides for teachers and students of different ages. Extensive use has been made of volunteers to undertake much of the cataloguing and so engage many people with different skills and experiences. Further information on the project and the archive can be found on the Society’s website.

Chairman Rachel Thomas said that as a result of all this activity the Society is thrilled to announce that it has started a new 2-year venture, delving further into the archive, by employing Dr Blackman to lead several new projects. These will include acting as a hub for local history and archive groups; launching Exmoor Studies, a series of shorter books inspired by the Exmoor Review the annual journal of the Society first published in 1959; a conference on Exmoor as an English outback and a book-length history of the National Park. Finally a new project just launched called Then & Now has attracted much interest.

Dr Blackman said “Of all the things I’ve done since becoming the Exmoor Society’s archivist, wading in the River Barle to try to find out exactly where a photograph had been taken some 40 years ago was probably one of the oddest. Archive training does not usually involve risk assessment in water – in fact archives and water do not mix well. But there I was, slipping around in a pair of borrowed wellies, peering intently at a bridge parapet to try to work out if I’d got the angle right (I hadn’t).”

“The principle is simple”, Dr Blackman explained – “go to the same spot an old photo was taken and retake it. In practice, it can be quite tricky. The photographs are usually labelled, but sometimes for example the label just says “A boggy place on Dry Hill” and this isn’t terribly easy to locate especially since the scene may have changed substantially over the decades. Thus you find something you think is the same spot but it looks different, and you can’t tell whether that difference is because you’re in fact standing somewhere else, or in the same place that has changed. The past, as they say, is another country.”

The Society has found that attempting to rediscover the same place hones your observation skills and enables a deeper understanding of landscape quality. There are over 1500 slides depicting locations across the moor so the task is enormous and the Society is seeking people to help retake them. The Then & Now photographs will enable the Exmoor Society to influence future landscape change by providing evidence of how the moor has evolved.

The Society’s Resource Centre is open to the public 10-4 Monday to Friday. To use the archives please make an appointment. And if you fancy doing some detective work and seeing how Exmoor has changed, please contact the archivist on or 01398 323335 for details of the project.

PHOTO: A linhay at Huish Barton, 1977.


A selection of local film archive featuring footage shot in Simonsbath, Exford, Winsford and Withypool and dating back as far as the 1890s will be screened at St Luke’s Church, Simonsbath, on Saturday 29 October at 7.30pm.

The fascinating and highly entertaining selection of film comes from the South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) and covers a wide range of footage from local Exmoor villages and the surrounding area.

From an advertisement for Daz shot locally in the 1960s to the highly acclaimed 1970s documentary entitled The Staghunters, the selection of film reflects the variety of life on Exmoor over the past century and more. It includes footage of haymaking and harvesting in the 1930s, Clive Gunnell’s captivating interview in 1965 with William Watt, who lived in the highest inhabited dwelling on Exmoor, as well as coverage of the Lynton flood disaster in 1952 and Barnstaple Fair in 1965.

The oldest footage to be screened – which is the oldest in SWFTA’s collection – was shot on a hand-cranked camera in 1898 and shows a steam train on the Barnstaple to Ilfracombe line.

The full programme runs to 90 minutes. Tickets cost £5, with free admission for under 14s, and may be booked in advance by contacting Marian Lloyd on 01643 831451 or email Refreshments including wine will be available and a locally-baked Cornish pasty, costing £4, may be booked in advance for the interval. Tickets costing £6 may also be available on the door. Proceeds from the evening will go towards Simonsbath Festival.

A message to readers: I apologise that this is a late notice story but Turtle the Editor’s Cat is very poorly so the week has gone a bit wobbly. Hopefully some readers will still see this in time. Best wishes, Naomi

PHOTO: The Barle at Simonsbath Meadow by the late Brian Pearce, by kind permission of Elaine Pearce.


The iconic installation commemorating soldiers who fell on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, which captivated millions when it was displayed in Exeter, is to be shown again.

After hundreds of requests to extend the exhibition, organisers are bringing the breathtaking display to the grounds of Bristol Cathedral where it will be on show from 11 to the 18 November this year, marking the Centenary of one of the bloodiest battles in history and remembering all 127,751 British soldiers who lost their lives.

The display was created by West Somerset Artist Rob Heard,  who wrapped and bound each figure in a hand-stitched shroud, crossing the name of every soldier who fell on that fateful first day off a list sourced from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

“The Shrouds, along with the Poppies at the Tower, are perhaps the most memorable WWI commemorations this country has ever seen,” said Mel Bradley MBE, Project Manager. “The public response to the shrouds from around the world has far exceeded all expectations.

“We have a visitors book from Exeter with hundreds and hundreds of personal and emotional remarks from people trying to express the impact the Shrouds has had on them.

“This is reflected on our Facebook page with thousands of comments and video clip views of more than 10 million. It had a huge impact on the City of Exeter and has the potential to be even bigger in Bristol. The personal and community impact cannot be underestimated.”

Commodore Jake Moores OBE, Chairman of the Shrouds of the Somme, added: “The exhibition was one of the most powerful Acts of Remembrance I have seen throughout my military career and subsequent time as President of the Royal British Legion for Devon.”

“The raw emotion it produced in countless numbers of people, many of whom were in tears, some kneeling and praying and others stood rigidly to attention, was extremely moving. Without doubt this exhibition touches the hearts of all those who are privileged to witness it.”

Donations from the exhibition, which will be opened on Armistice Day, will be donated to Forces charity SSAFA, specifically to their Bristol branch supporting servicemen, veterans and their families in the Bristol area in times of need.

Shrouds of the Somme has been shortlisted for a Remember WW1 award, results to be announced on 2 November.

The Shrouds of the Somme Project ran in Exeter from 1 July 2016 for one week. 65,000 people visited the exhibition. £38,000 was raised for charity.

The Bristol Exhibition will be open from 11 November 2016. There will be a closing ceremony, led by the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, at 6pm on Friday 18 November marking the end of the Battle of the Somme.

PHOTO: Rob Heard, by kind permission of Bowater Communications


A new exhibition opens today, Saturday 1 October, showcasing a collection of previously unseen watercolours by Clara Peters of Arlington Court.

Clara (Chrissie) Peters joined Miss Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court as a paid companion from 1912 to her death in 1939. Her botanical paintings are part of the North Devon Athenaeum collection on long-term loan to the museum and this could be the first time many of them have been on public display.

Executive Member responsible for leisure and culture, Councillor Brian Moores, said: “Clara Peters’ delicate watercolours feature some of the plants and flowers in bloom at Arlington Court and around the local area in the early part of the last century. There are over 166 watercolours in the North Devon Athanaeum, with a selection of the best chosen for display in this latest exhibition at the museum – a treat for both art and nature lovers.”

The musuem is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, admission is free. The exhibition runs from 1 October to 5 November. Keep up to date with news and events at the museum on Facebook or Twitter.

Pictured: Field poppy, Clara Peters (1914) and Tree mallow, Clara Peters (1915).


In 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Wiveliscombe Civic Society £10,000 to work with the children of the town on a two-year project to discover the memories and heritage of the local people whose families lived through the First World War.

The children have researched the war’s history, visited the Heritage Centre and the churchyard and spoken to residents of the local care home to inspire their work on a mosaic memorial, sited in Jubilee Gardens in the heart of the town.

After the unveiling on 24 September (10.30am to 12.30pm), the memorial will be a focus for commemorative events for years to come, and it is hoped that locals and visitors alike will also enjoy the booklet that will accompany it. Children from the local primary school wrote poems and prose and drew pictures to show what the conflict meant to them, and the booklet is full of their work, alongside photos of the tiles they worked on for the memorial.

Visit and


In September 1945 a Handley Page Halifax of RAF 517 Squadron on a meteorological mission crashed into Crowcombe Park, killing all nine airmen on board (of an average age of 24).

On 6 September 2016, a memorial located close to the actual crash site will be unveiled by Air Vice-Marshal Richard Knighton, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, and Professor Dame Julia Slingo of the Meteorological Office.

The memorial, which has been erected in the Park by kind permission of Anthony Trollope-Bellew, is being donated by the LG Groves Prize Award.  Louis Grimble Groves was one of the airmen who lost their lives that fateful day, and his parents established the LG Groves Prize in his memory.  Every year for the last 70 years, it has been awarded for the best RAF innovations affecting air safety, and for the best Met Office innovations in weather forecasting affecting air safety.

“Although the crash was a great tragedy, it has saved many more lives than were lost as a result of the innovations enabled by the awards programme over the last 70 years,” says Anthony Groves, President of the LG Groves Prize Awards.

At precisely 12 noon on 6 September there will be a low-level fly-past over Crowcombe Park on the approximate route that the original Halifax took and the RAF will provide an Honour Guard salute.

The fly-past will be led by an RAF Hercules C-130 aircraft followed by an RAF Dakota, the plane that played such a vital role in the Second World War.   All 250 previous winners of the LG Groves Awards have been invited to the event, as well as  relatives of all nine of the aircrew.  Any members of the local community who wish to attend are also very welcome, although they are asked to email in

A number of local schools are being involved so that they can share in marking an important part of local history.

This will be an impressive event for the Quantocks and the family hopes that everybody will be involved in some way.


An architect and designer have been appointed to develop plans for the ambitious project to extend the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

Bristol-based architects, Ferguson Mann, will be working alongside designer, Jeff Bellingham of Scribble and Nonsense, to draw up plans for the proposed £1.8m extension on the Long Bridge side of the building.

Alongside this, a fundraising and consultation team has been set up to support the project. A public consultation is underway, giving the community the opportunity to help shape the design of the new gallery. You can vote for your favourite ideas at the museum reception.

Executive Member responsible for leisure and culture, Councillor Dick Jones, says: “The museum’s exciting project for a new extension is gathering pace, with a full team now in place to allow them to apply for the next round of funding. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the designer and architect produce in terms of design, which we hope will both enhance this important historical building and provide a useful and inspiring space fit for the museum’s needs.”

In January, the museum was awarded over £69,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund which, alongside match-funding from the Museum Development Trust and existing museum budgets, is being used to cover the costs of the development phase of the project. Once detailed plans and costings have been drawn up, the museum will be able to apply for further funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, North Devon Council, Central Government, and private donations, to deliver the extension project.

Follow the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon on Facebook for more news as the project progresses.

PHOTO: Bridge End House, which was demolished in 1963.