Category Archives: Heritage

BLACKBERRIES AND BANDAGES: CONCERT EVOKES LIFE ON DEVON’S HOME FRONT DURING FIRST WORLD WAR

Devon, 1917, and communities across the county are working harder than ever to bring food to their tables and having to find the time and energy to do their bit for the war effort, too. Women, children, key workers and older men all mucked in together while the county’s young men were away at the Front.

Blackberries and Bandages tells the story, in songs, of what life was like on the Home Front in Devon during the First World War. The concert has been produced by Devon’s community music charity, Wren Music, who were asked to create the musical element of the Devon Remembers Heritage Project, which is running for four years to mark the centenary of the 1914-18 war.

Working with their community choirs and orchestras across the county, Wren have written several songs that reflect what day-to-day life was like for folk back home.

The concert is coming to Holy Trinity Church, Barnstaple, on Saturday 24 June at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5; £3 for Under-16s.
Marilyn Tucker from Wren Music explained: “We did a lot of research during the winter, sifting through old documents at the Devon Heritage Centre and various museums around the county, finding out about the Home Front in Devon.

“We looked through newspaper cuttings, people’s diaries and other historical material and we’ve come up with about 10 songs. But we couldn’t discover the folk songs that were being sung at the time because nobody seems to have written that down anywhere and we decided that if there was no evidence that particular songs were sung on the Home Front in Devon, then we wouldn’t include them.”

Blackberries and Bandages is therefore a concert of largely new songs, with place names and people’s names in them, so the concert is really located in Devon. “The songs are all informed by the research we did,” said Marilyn. “For example, we found a poem with the theme of ‘this week’s menu’ which was quite derogatory about the food people were getting so we’ve put that to music.

“There’s also a scurrilous little verse about Dad’s Army, from the Sampford Voluntary Training Corps in Sampford Peverell. And we’ve got reports of a concert party in Exeter where there was a famous concertino trio, so we’ve chosen one of the tunes they played.”
From the research, Wren learnt more about the role that nature and natural remedies played on the Home Front, which is why the concert is called Blackberries and Bandages: “People spent a lot of their time foraging,” said Marilyn. “Many of the women who went into nursing had never worked before, they were quite genteel, not like the women who had to work on the land during the First World War. The nurses would use foraged sphagnum moss which was then dried and used for bandages because the moss has healing properties. They’d use these bandages for injured soldiers that came home but they also sent some to the Front as well.”

One of the songs Marilyn has written is called ‘The Lilies of the Valley’: “These flowers were used medicinally and they were thought to counteract the effects of mustard gas by flushing out toxins. So the flowers were foraged and used by nurses in the VAD (voluntary aid detachment) hospitals.

“The children did their bit too. They’d collect conkers to make cordite for ammunition. Anything that could be foraged was foraged, and of course all the fruit like blackberries would be made into jams and sent to the Front.”

The role of women working the land is celebrated in a song Wren have written called ‘Bidlake Girls’, about the women’s co-operative that was set up at a large farm near Bridestowe: “Up until then, they used to say ‘women can’t work on the farms, they’ll curse the land!’ Well, they had to forget about all that nonsense,” said Marilyn.
Wren found cuttings about the conscientious objectors being held at Dartmoor Prison and learnt that Devon as a county was reluctant to go to war: “We didn’t sign up like the rest of the country in the early days of the war, when it was a volunteer army,” said Marilyn. “It wasn’t until conscription was introduced in 1916 that men from Devon went to the Front in large numbers.”

Marilyn added: “It’s a concert, not a story, but at the same time I think we’ve covered most of the main themes. And we’ve tried not to be too downhearted about it; everybody knows about the First World War don’t they? So we’ve looked at it and asked, ‘What was the effect on people’s lives on the Home Front?’ ‘What about the lesser-told stories, some of the things we don’t know so well?”

The first half of each concert features a repertoire from 50 members of Wren’s community choirs and orchestras local to that area; the second half is Blackberries and Bandages, bringing together the 20 members from across the groups who have worked on the concert.
The groups involved in the Blackberries and Bandages concert are the Rough Music Orchestras of North and East Devon and Torbay, and the Voices in Common folk choirs from West, North, East Devon, Exeter and Torbay. Marilyn is the concert artistic director, with Paul Wilson and David Faulkner sharing musical direction.
The opening concert slots are being performed by the Folk Choirs of West and North Devon and The Folk Orchestra of North Devon in Barnstaple; the Folk Choirs of Torbay and Exeter and The Folk Orchestra of Torbay in Paignton; and East Devon Folk Choir and The Folk Orchestra of East Devon in Honiton.

For tickets to the Barnstaple concert, call 01837 53754.

The concert tour in full: All start at 7.30pm, tickets £5; £3 for Under-16s.  Holy Trinity Church, Barnstaple on Saturday 24 June (for tickets, contact 01837 53754); Palace Theatre, Paignton, Saturday 1 July (01803 665800); and Beehive, Honiton, on Saturday 8 July (01404 384050).

PHOTO: Newly recruited nurses with Sphagnum moss, Princetown, 1917. Courtesy Halsgrove Publishing.

ACTOR JIM CARTER ANNOUNCED AS PATRON OF SHROUDS OF THE SOMME

The Shrouds of the Somme team are delighted to announce that Jim Carter is Patron of the project.


Jim Carter is perhaps best known to today‘s audiences  for his portrayal of Mr Carson, the butler, in ITV’s hit drama Downton Abbey, for which he has received four nominations as Best Supporting Actor at the Emmy Awards.  Jim has also worked extensively in film and television  – A Private Function, Brassed Off, Shakespeare in Love, The Singing Detective and Cranford being amongst his personal favourites.

Shrouds of the Somme is an extraordinary arts remembrance installation, depicting 72,396 hand-stitched shrouded figures laid out in perfect rows. Each figure represents a soldier who died at the Battle of the Somme but whose body was never recovered from the battlefield.

Jim says:

Last summer I was part of a very moving recital in Exeter Cathedral with Show of Hands to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Running in tandem with the recital was one of the most extraordinary artworks I have ever witnessed.  It was called ‘Shrouds of the Somme’. It was an acutely moving depiction of loss and remembrance.

Artist Rob Heard had created 19,240 individually shrouded figures, each about 12 inches tall, and laid them out in symmetrical lines that seemed to stretch forever in an Exeter park. Alongside this memorial was a tent with lists of names of those 19,240 figures – all those who had lost their lived on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

When The Last Post was played over those figures, over those lists , over those lost lives, it was one of the most moving depictions of loss and the folly of war that one could have imagined.

And now Rob Heard is working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week to complete this act of remembrance. To mark the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018, he is hand stitching 72,396 individually shrouded figures which will be laid out in perfect rows to represent the British and South African soldiers killed at the Battle of the Somme who have no known grave.

Each figure represents a named soldier. Each figure is unique.

The scale of Rob’s task is unimaginable but then so is the scale of the loss of life 100 years ago.

This artwork is stunning because it represents grief in such a graphic manner and it gives those lost lives a name and a place in our memories forever.

I support this project and would urge others to support it too in the hope that devastation like this will never happen again.

We will remember them.

Artist Rob heard is crowdfunding to pay for the materials to create the exhibition, to help support him go to www.shroudsofthesomme.com

PHOTO AT TOP: By Mark Thurkettle.

NEW MUSEUM OPENS TO CELEBRATE SOMERSET”S HERITAGE

A celebration of Somerset’s heritage is taking place at Somerset Rural Life Museum when it re-opens on Saturday 3 June. Local people are invited to join the South West Heritage Trust for opening day at the refurbished Museum, which tells the rich story of Somerset’s rural and social history.

The day will begin with an opening ceremony at 11am. It will mark 100 years since George and Louisa Mapstone took the tenancy of Abbey Farm in 1917. Their granddaughter, Margaret Shreeve, who grew up on the farm, will be part of the opening ceremony. She will be joined by children from Elmhurst Junior School in Street. Based on Margaret’s recollections of farm life the children have created a painting which is on permanent display in the Museum.

Following the ceremony, the Museum will be open for the first visitors to explore the new galleries in the farmhouse and former cowsheds, as well as to see the farmyard, the orchard and the magnificent fourteenth-century Abbey Barn. There will be traditional village games, music, and delicious local food to enjoy. Families can discover the history of the farm on a fun family trail around the site. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the museum’s first exhibition, ‘FARM’, a collection of paintings and drawings by local artist Kate Lynch who will be there on the day.

The Museum is re-opening following completion of a £2.4 million redevelopment project led by the Trust. Visitors to the Glastonbury museum will be able to explore rural life from the 1800s onwards and discover more about the county’s heritage including its landscape, food and farming, working life and rural crafts.

To mark the opening weekend the Trust is offering special free admission on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 June. The Museum, on Chilkwell Street, will be open from 11am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday and closes at 5pm.

The redevelopment project was chiefly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, Somerset County Council, the Garfield Weston Foundation and other generous funders. The Trust is also most grateful to Somerset Building Preservation Trust and the Friends of the Somerset Rural Life Museum for their consistent support. Building work was undertaken by Ken Biggs Contractors Ltd.

For more information visit www.swheritage.org.uk/rural-life-museum.

 

 

 

Kind regards,

HALSWAY FETE AND FOLK FOR ALL THE FAMILY

This year’s Halsway Manor Fête takes place on Saturday 3 June, from 12-5pm, and promises to be bigger and better than ever!

The Manor gardens will be filled with stalls including local foods and produce, flowers, books, plants, art and crafts. Minehead Library will be offering storytelling for children in the Summer House, Mr Mommet’s Punch and Judy will take place on the croquet lawn, and the Manor’s maypole will be put to good use with opportunities for all to join in with maypole dancing! Feeling peckish? There will be a lovely range of delicious things to eat, including cream teas, cakes, a BBQ and ice cream made especially for you by Somerset’s Brinkman’s Ice Cream!

Halsway are delighted to be welcoming several dance teams to the day as part of Sweet Coppin’s 40th anniversary celebrations! There will be performances throughout the afternoon from Taunton’s Sweet Coppin clog dancers, Taunton Deane Morris Men, City Clickers clog dancers, and Silver Flame Rapper Sword dancers; there will be a workshop too for anyone who wants to try clog, morris or rapper for themselves.

Entrance to the Fête is by donation – please give what you can; all monies raised will go towards Halsway’s Restoration Appeal, a project of essential works to preserve both the fabric of the historic Manor, and also its nationally important library collection.

Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, has been established as a Charity since 1965. Nestling at the foot of the Quantock Hills Halsway Manor provides a year-round programme of events and activities in traditional folk music, dance, song, storytelling, folklore and related arts and crafts. All are welcome. For more information visit www.halswaymanor.org.uk.

JEREMY COOPER: POSTCARDS – THREE POSTCARD EXHIBITIONS

From the collection of Jeremy Cooper comes an installation of over 4,000 postcards at Podshavers restaurant on the outskirts of Bishop’s Lydeard. Postcards by Ian Hamilton Finlay will also be shown at Watchet Boat Museum, together with an installation of postcards at Watchet’s Market House Museum. The three shows, all of which are curated by Contains Art, will run until the end of June.

PODSHAVERS
Installation of over 4,000 postcards

Pound Lane, Bishop’s Lydeard, Somerset TA4 3AD, Tel: 01823 433556
Open evenings Wed. to Sat., Sunday lunch from 12 midday.

This is the final show in a series of installations of mint commercial postcards which Jeremy Cooper has mounted over the last three years, the first having taken place at Contains Art in Watchet in October 2013. Most of Cooper’s store of over 4,000 modern postcards are mounted in flush patterns across the walls of Podshavers, a family-run restaurant in an open-beamed Edwardian milking parlour on the outskirts of Bishop’s Lydeard.

These postcards have been gathered since the early 1980s, when Cooper began the practice of buying at least two of every postcard he liked, one for keeping, the others for sending. Since 1999 he has stored the postcards in categories, seeking out over the last decade standard commercial postcards in his favourite fields, such as shoes, country churches, chairs, toys, aerial landscapes, writers, shells, bridges, and many more.

Podshavers is owned and run by Rob and Tara McNeish, chef and front-of-house, who co-founded the restaurant in 2000 withJeremy Cooper, who was at the time responsible for the financial and contractual arrangements, as well as organising a series of music recitals. They named Podshavers after the cricket bat makers who used to work in the adjacent barn, shaving willow pods. Later, due to illness, Cooper passed Podshavers wholly over to his partners.

WATCHET MARKET HOUSE MUSEUM
24 postcards of Watchet, Williton and Washford

The Market House, Market Street, Watchet, Somerset TA23 0AN
Open daily 10.30am-4.30pm.

The 24 early postcards of Watchet and nearby Williton and Washford in this select show in Watchet Market Street Museum reflect a recent interest of Jeremy Cooper’s that has rapidly become a semi-obsession: pre-1920 postcards of Somerset, mostly hand-tinted by unnamed artists either in the negative or directly onto the lithographic stone. The display includes different views of Market Street, featuring the Museum itself, and also a fine tinted postcard of the paper mills, with St Decuman’s church on the hill behind, both published by N.G. Helliker in their premises opposite the museum, now a café serving excellent fish and chips.

The harbour at Watchet continues to be a favourite subject for postcard publishers and its changing formations are fully recorded, mostly in black and white – the earliest postcard on show of the harbour is dated 1903, and the alterations to landscape and buildings, often dated by the postmark or message, are part of the attraction of postcard gathering. This museum, built in 1820 as a covered market, is shown in a 1927 postcard to be occupied by Morse’s Distempers – the building was not opened as a museum until 1979.

Of particular interest are the social activities illustrated in postcards, the different dress people wore, as well as the carriages and bicycles used in the earliest years of the twentieth century. Worth noting are postcards of buildings in their original use: the mill in Williton, now the Bakelite Museum, and the radio station in Washford, now a children’s adventure ground.

WATCHET BOAT MUSEUM
Ian Hamilton Finlay

Harbour Road, Watchet, Somerset TA23 0AA
Open daily 10am-5pm

Jeremy Cooper’s collection of artists’ work with postcards has been accepted by the British Museum as a gift, accession of the collection in 2019 to be marked by a major exhibition in the Department of Prints and Drawings, provisionally titled The Postcard as Contemporary Art. The collection includes over 100 postcards designed by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), printed at his own Wild Hawthorn Press in Scotland, which he set up in 1961.

Finlay was particularly keen on boats, which he incorporated in a number of works, and Cooper has gathered 14 of his boat postcards, mounted in two frames, here on their first public display as a permanent gift to the Boat Museum. All 14 postcards are in perfect condition, purchased direct from Wild Hawthorn Press, stored since each of the first edition printings of between 200 and 250. The Tate, which owns a representative group of Finlay’s postcards and folding cards, describe him as “one of the most original artists of the twentieth century”, noting that “early in his career he was Britain’s foremost concrete poet and his approach to his work – whatever material he used, whether wood, stone, neon, bronze or paper – remained that of a poet giving form to ideas.”

He was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1985, and James Campbell, in a Times Literary Supplement book review of September 2016, described IHF – he was widely referred to by his initials – as “one of 20th century Britain’s most unexpected artists”. A large number of postcards were included in the solo Ian Hamilton Finlay show at the Arnolfini in Bristol in 2013. The Boat Museum’s group of postcards were specially mounted behind museum glass to protect from fading, in frames made of cardboard by local artist Helen Knight, who has been awarded the installation residency at Contains Art in spring 2018.

SHROUDS OF THE SOMME LAUNCHES IN LONDON

Shrouds of the Somme, an extraordinary commemorative art project, has been launched in London with a crowdfunder campaign which began on Wednesday 10 May, asking people to be part of this awe-inspiring installation.

A total of 72,396 shrouded figures will be laid out in rows in London to mark the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018. Each 12-inch figure represents a British serviceman* who died at the Battle of the Somme but whose body was never recovered. Every one is bound by West Somerset artist Rob Heard into a hand-stitched calico shroud and made to a name identified by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Rob will spend a total of 15,000 hours to achieve this staggering feat. He must work for 15 hours every day to get the memorial done in time for the centenary of Armistice Day.

HM Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, Mr Kenneth Olisa OBE, said, “Shrouds of the Somme is a very imaginative and special piece of commemorative art. We are delighted and honoured that this installation is coming to London to mark the Centenary of the end of the Great War.  The Shrouds will be of huge significance.”

Last year Rob created 19,240 shrouded figures to represent each soldier killed on the first day of Battle of the Somme. These were laid out in Exeter and Bristol, giving a powerful and poignant reminder of the loss during the anniversary of the battle. Now Rob needs to make 60,000 more shrouds to represent each of the 72,396 British servicemen whose bodies were never recovered from the Somme battlefields.

Taking five years to create, Rob’s work is a feat of endurance and an act of humility.  The idea for the artwork behind the shrouds, in which figures representing the dead are laid out in rows on the grass, came to him in 2013 while he was recovering from a car crash which damaged both his hands. He began thinking about military fatalities in history and how impossible it was to visualise the huge numbers involved.

Rob said, “The idea for stitching 72,000 shrouds came when a man at the display in Exeter told me that his great uncle was killed on the first day of the Somme but his body was never recovered. He said ‘this feels like he is back on British soil for the first time in 100 years.’ That got me thinking that if anybody should come home, it should be those whose bodies weren’t recovered. Some were blown to bits, others buried where they lay with no known grave.”

As he makes the shrouds, Rob refers to a list of names of the British servicemen recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves commission and engraved on the Thiepval Memorial in France.  Each figure is associated with a name so that each one is individually acknowledged and remembered. Rob works his way down the list, crossing off a name for each figure created. He cuts and hand-stitches their calico shrouds, then covers and binds the figures in the shrouds in a ritual of creation, remembrance and personal introspection. As each figure is wrapped they take on their own form, twisting and bending into their own unique shape.

Chairman of The Shrouds of the Somme Committee, Commodore Jake Moores, said: “Rob’s work is one of the most powerful acts of Remembrance I have seen throughout my military career. This exhibition touches the hearts of all those who are privileged to witness it.”

We need the public’s help to bring this important installation to London for the Centenary of the end of the war so that the nation can experience, unflinchingly, the true scale of the losses in an extraordinary display of remembrance. The Shrouds team have chosen to raise the money through crowdfunding because it is a communal effort towards a common aim. The money raised will pay for the figures, the calico shrouds and associated costs with the project. By raising funds in this way, we will collectively honour the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for our shared freedom.

Help make this vision a reality and be part of this incredible act of remembrance, find out more at: www.shroudsofthesomme.com

The short launch film is at: https://vimeo.com/214206396/7606127165

* This number includes 829 South African infantrymen

PHOTO: Rob Heard, by kind permission of Bowater Communications

GOING TO SEA IN A CORNISH PILOT GIG

The following is an article which appeared in summer 2012 issue*. As the World Pilot Gig Championships approach, it seems like a good time to repost it on our website for gig fans up and down the North Devon coast and beyond…

* We’ve tried to bring facts and figures up to date as far as is possible but if your club’s membership figures have since risen and you would like us to amend do let us know.

WORDS by Tony James
CONTEMPORARY PHOTOS by Andrew Hobbs

A strong north-westerly had blown up unexpectedly on that September Saturday and yachts – ours included – scurried towards the shelter of Ilfracombe harbour.

But riding calmly as a gull on the disorderly white water, the sleek burgundy-coloured six-oared pilot gig had no intention of making a drama out of a bit of heavy weather.

Strong, measured strokes brought Ilfracombe Pilot Gig Club’s Rapparee straight as an arrow across the waves, regardless of wind and tide and into the calm of the anchorage where a wind-blown round of applause from a few onlookers on the quay was received with studied nonchalance by the gig crew.

Far from home, the Cornish pilot gig – to its devotees the ultimate expression of the boatbuilder’s art – is becoming an increasingly familiar sight on the sea around Exmoor.  Rowing a delicately-built 32ft boat among the perils of the ‘Drowning Coast’ may sound like maritime madness but today pilot gig rowing and racing is becoming increasingly popular among Exmoor enthusiasts and is constantly getting new converts.

You need to be fit and able to handle a 12-13ft, 9¾-10lb oar at up to eight knots in a lively sea, but now hundreds of male and female enthusiasts from teenagers to pensioners are deriving enormous pleasure and satisfaction from going to sea in a gig.

There are now half a dozen thriving gig clubs along our coast, most of which are about to compete in this summer’s 28th World Championships which attracts over 2,000 rowers and 130 boats to the Isles of Scilly and constitutes the undoubted highlight of the gig-rower’s year.

“Seeing well over 100 beautiful pilot gigs on the water at once is a hell of a sight and one you never forget,” says the Hon. John Rous, current owner of the Clovelly estate and president and a founder member of Clovelly Pilot Gig Club, the first in North Devon and the only one rowing locally-built boats.

Founded in 2001, Clovelly may be one of our smallest clubs, but it’s keenly active.  As well as competing in local regattas and the World Championships, they have (like others including Appledore and Torridge Pilot Gig Clubs) made the challenging 32-mile trip to Lundy.

“We may be small but we’re really enthusiastic,” John Rous says. “We’re particularly pleased that young people are finding the sport so enjoyable.”

The regulations governing gig-building are draconian to say the least and the two Clovelly boats Christine H and Leah C, built by Appledore shipwrights Ford and Cawsey, were checked and measured at least three times by Cornish Pilot Gig Association inspectors.

The criterion for all competitive gigs was established nearly 170 years ago when a boat was launched in a Cornish creek which would make sure that rowing on the sea would never be quite the same again.

The late Ralph Bird in his gig shed, courtesy Tony James.

John Peters and his son William had been building six-oared pilot gigs, which doubled as lifeboats and salvage vessels on the Fal at St Mawes, since 1791 and in 1844 William accepted the starkly simple commission from a Newquay pilot: “Build me the fastest gig ever!”

Peters took on the challenge.  Today the Treffry (pronounced Tref-rye by those who know) is still in racing trim at Newquay and every new boat has to be a carbon-copy of her.  The Treffry was built for £1 a foot.  Today a club can expect to pay £20-24,000 for a thoroughbred racing gig from one of the West Country’s eight specialist shipwrights.

Beam on: work in progress in the late Ralph Bird gig shed.

For that you get well over 1,000 hours of craftsmanship, the finest seasoned oak and elm – and a skill and tradition which is beyond price.

The delicacy of a pilot gig is frightening – the elm planking is barely a quarter-inch thick – but paradoxically it’s the length and lightness which provide its legendary strength and flexibility and allow the boat to survive in virtually any sea.. Photo taken in the late Ralph Bird gig shed, courtesy Tony James as above.

The delicacy of a pilot gig is frightening – the elm planking is barely a quarter-inch thick – but paradoxically it’s the length and lightness which provide its legendary strength and flexibility and allow the boat to survive in virtually any sea.

The stronghold of Exmoor gig rowing can today be found behind Bideford Bar in the Taw-Torridge estuary where four clubs exist in friendly but deadly-serious rivalry.

Appledore Pilot Gig Rowing Club was formed in 2003 after chairman Len White realised that the estuary would be the perfect place for gigs.  “We had them years ago to take pilots out to ships and it seemed an ideal sport for Appledore.”  The idea took off and the club now has more than 80 members, two racing gigs, Verbena and Whitford, both from the Dartmouth yard of Brian Pomeroy, and a couple of training boats.

“It’s a tribute to the growing enthusiasm for gigs that we can have four clubs so close together and they all get such good support,” Len White says.

By the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula.  They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.

The Torridge Pilot Gig Club, also based in Appledore since 2006, has around 75 members, two classic racing gigs, Will To Win and Kerens, and two training boats financed by fund-raising and sponsorship.  There’s a wide spread of membership, according to treasurer Juliette Hayward, ranging from juniors to rowers over 65.

“We’re pleased to see several generations of the same family getting involved.  Youngsters see their parents rowing, try it for themselves and then often go on to join senior teams.”

Bideford’s gig club was only founded in 2010 although it has been a rowing town for 200 years.  In its very first three months it raised enough money to buy a secondhand gig from Cornwall.

“It’s great just how widely the interest in Cornish gigs has spread,” says club chairman Andrew Curtis.  “You can now find them in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wales and Bristol [not forgetting Holland, which is home to a thriving passion for gigs, and even Boston Massachusetts, Bermuda and Kuwait!] and it can only be good for the sport.  We have a lovely piece of sheltered water but to prepare for World Championships conditions we’ve been out practising in Bideford Bay.”

Barnstaple also set up a gig rowing club in 2010 and within 12 months had 50 members and an £8,000 secondhand training gig from Plymouth.  Further fund-raising and a charitable trust
donation allowed the club to order a £20,000 Brian Pomeroy gig which was named Lady Freda and launched in March 2011.

“Our GRP training gig helps cater for a membership which now numbers more than 80 as interest in gig racing in the
Barnstaple area keeps growing,” says press officer Chris Walter.

Over on the Bristol Channel, Ilfracombe’s boisterous nautical past is reflected in the club’s gigs.  Rapparee is named after a cove near the town in which shackled human remains from a slave ship wrecked there in 1796 were discovered 200 years later.  The club’s second boat, Rogue, built by Brian Pomeroy, remembers a local family of wreckers known as ‘the Rogues of Rapparee’.  Rogue, Rapparee and Appledore’s Whitford and Verbena are all built, believe it or not, using timber from the same tree!  Rogue was financed by the sale of
64 shares – a time-honoured way of buying a boat.

Very little is known of the ancestry of the West Country gigs although the present-day craft probably owe something to the shallow-draught fast rowing boats of Arctic Finland and Norway. But we do know that by the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula.  They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.

On a rare day off, gig crews might row to France for a little smuggling, a round trip of about 250 miles, to bring back brandy, lace and silks.  No customs cutter could catch a pilot gig – resulting in legislation in 1850 banning eight-oared gigs.  Today’s boats still have eight thwarts but one is for the cox and the other is now traditionally called the ‘seagull seat’!

As gig racing booms in North Devon, no one forgets what they owe to one man.  In a workshop next to his Pilot Gig Cottage on a tiny Cornish creek, Ralph Bird devoted his life to building and restoring these beautiful boats and in the process became the father of modern pilot gig racing.

Over 30 years Ralph single-handedly built 29 exquisite gigs and restored some of the original iconic craft, including Treffry. Once when we were chatting in his study over mugs of tea, Ralph admitted that he was still mystified by the alchemy which differentiated a winner from a loser.

“You try to make them all the same but they all perform differently.  I honestly can’t tell you why.”  It didn’t matter: all Ralph’s gigs were winners and when he died at 67 in 2009, the new owners – a Welsh club – named his last boat Ralph Bird, a fitting tribute to a master craftsman and a lovely man.

There’s always something unexpected in gig rowing.  An Ilfracombe crew out training rescued a middle-aged man drifting half a mile off-shore in a rubber dinghy at five knots in the direction of Lundy.  “He had no idea of the danger he was in,” says Stuart Cansfield.

“Another time we picked up a gig oar which had been lost by a Padstow boat 50 miles down-channel.  We took it to the World Championships in the Scillies and gave it back to the Padstow crew.  With oars at £2,000 a set, they were delighted to have it. They never expected to see it again.”

Watch out for more in our summer issue, out in May…

LOTTERY FUNDING SUCCESS FOR BARNSTAPLE MUSEUM PROJECT

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is celebrating as the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced £868,100 of National Lottery funding towards its extension project.

Made possible by National Lottery players, today’s funding success is an important milestone, bringing the project another step closer to fruition and unlocking further funding opportunities. Last year the museum was awarded £69,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop plans for the proposed £1.8m extension on the Long Bridge side of the building. The plans were approved by North Devon Council planning team earlier this month.

A further £250,000 has been committed to the project by North Devon Council and the museum is through to the second stage of a funding bid for £500,000 from the Coastal Communities Fund. A fundraising campaign, led by the Museum Development Trust, is also underway and a number of corporate sponsors have already come on board.

North Devon Council Executive Member responsible for culture, Councillor Brian Moores, says: “What incredible news! This is a massive boost for the museum and we’re overjoyed. This brings the amount of National Lottery funding up to £937,000, which is half of the overall cost of the extension project.

“We now wait with bated breath for the results of the museum’s bid for Coastal Communities Funding. The museum staff, volunteers and the Museum Development Trust are working so hard to drive this project forward, they should be very proud of what they have achieved so far.”

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said: “For nearly 130 years, this museum has been open to the public, telling the story of North Devon – from arts and manufacture to social history and ordinary moments captured on film.

“Now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the museum has taken another crucial step towards transforming the way people can access their heritage, with an outreach programme and the creation of space for community activities set to make the museum an even more valuable part of North Devon life.”

If you would like to help support the project, you can donate online at mbndtrust.org. For more information about corporate sponsorship contact the museum on 01271 346747 or email museum@northdevon.gov.uk.

 

BARNSTAPLE APPEAL FOR FIRST WORLD WAR STORIES

A memorial plaque is planned for a plinth in Rotary Gardens, Pilton next year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

North Devon Council is appealing for people to come forward with stories, pictures or letters back home of any men or women from the Pilton area who served, fought and survived; or relating to one of the 39 Pilton men who lost their lives in the war.

Executive Member responsible for parks, leisure and culture, Councillor Dick Jones, says, “This is an opportunity for local people to get involved and share memories of the war with the wider community in a lasting memorial to commemorate local heroes who fought for our country.”

Local ward member for Barnstaple Pilton, Councillor Mair Manuel, who has been heavily involved with the project, says, “I have been pleased to be involved with this project from its inception.  This will be a public recognition of the sacrifices made, and I hope that any family which suffered will feel able to contribute their story.  The plinth will also be an easily accessible point where people can pay their respects in future years.”

Local ward member for Barnstaple Pilton, Councillor Brian Greenslade says “I welcome this very much. We must never forget the carnage of the First World War and what it meant for so many individuals and their families. My grandfather fought in this conflict in the general area of Ypres. Thankfully he survived and lived until age 84. One experience I treasure is being able to be in Ypres on Armistice Day some while ago and being able to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate during the remembrance event. I am sure many brave people from Pilton also took part in these battles and it is right that “We remember them.”

Martin Haddrill, a volunteer for the project, says, “Pilton, the original settlement of Barnstaple, has a great sense of history as shown by the success of the heritage archive ‘The Pilton Story’.  Before it is too late, we hope to collect stories of some of the men and women from Pilton who fought in the conflict and, in some cases, did not return.   Their stories will be told on the fourth plinth in the centre of Rotary Gardens.”

If anyone has any information they would like to share, please contact the parks department on 01271 388326 or email parks@northdevon.gov.uk.

 

THE AGE-OLD SONGS THAT STILL CONNECT THE WEST COUNTRY AND NEWFOUNDLAND

If ever you are to visit Newfoundland, the chances are that you’ll meet quite a few locals whose roots are planted firmly in the South West of England. There’s also a great chance that those roots would be somewhere among the fishing communities of the North Devon coast.

While there, you might also get to hear some of the traditional songs that are part of Newfoundland culture, songs which had arrived on boats from this area generations earlier – and stayed there.

It’s estimated that over 60% of people living in Canada’s most easterly province can trace their ancestry to South West England, and Devon in particular. It’s a link that spans 3,500 miles and hundreds of years, and today, the Devon-Newfoundland connection lives on not just through a sense of shared history, but through song. When they left these shores for good, the settlers – largely fishing folk – took the songs they’d learned at home with them.

Centuries later, it’s in the relatively remote towns and villages of Newfoundland where these songs have survived in their fullest form. In Devon, they’ve been shortened over time – but the tunes and the similarities reveal unmistakably that the songs share the same origins.

People in Devon will get the chance to hear for themselves in April, thanks to a collaboration of folk musicians from both sides of the Atlantic as part of The Devon Newfoundland Story, a series of events organised by The Devonshire Association.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson from Okehampton-based charity Wren Music first met Newfoundland folk singer Jim Payne over 30 years ago and they’ve worked together a number of times since. They’ll be travelling around the county with ‘Shore to Shore Revisited’, a concert, recital and lecture tour. The tour includes a 7pm concert at Palladium Bideford and a 1pm lecture recital at the town’s Burton Art Gallery & Museum, both on 11 April.

If you take a look at a map of the world you’ll notice there’s a horizontal line between Devon and Newfoundland. It was a line followed by Devon fishing folk as early as the 1500s, when communities would spend the summer season working in the rich fishing waters off Newfoundland.

When Devonian explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed from Plymouth to St John’s and annexed Newfoundland for Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, it became England’s first colony. The first permanent settlement was in 1610 and many more settlements grew up during the centuries that followed. The links are particularly strong in Devon’s ports and fishing towns such as Bideford, Barnstaple and Appledore on the north coast and Teignmouth, Dartmouth and Plymouth on the south.

It was during an event in 1983 to mark the 400th anniversary of Gilbert’s annexation that Jim first met Marilyn and Paul. Jim recalled: “It was only when I heard Paul sing a couple of Devon folk songs that were also part of my own Newfoundland repertoire, songs that I had learned from people within my own family, that I realised those folk music connections still had a contemporary relevance in that many of the songs brought to Newfoundland by early settlers from the West Country had survived intact in Newfoundland over several generations.

“In Newfoundland, there was so much material that came here with early settlers, but then there was locally composed material that emerged from out of what the early settlers had brought. Song lyrics changed to reflect the circumstances of life in the new world, even while melodies remained the same.”

One example is a song about logging, ‘The Double Sledder Lad’, which is a Newfoundland version of the Devonian song that Paul sings called ‘Jim, the Carter Lad’.

Although some of the words may have changed in Newfoundland, Paul says: “If you want to know what Devon songs sounded like and Devon tunes and fiddle-playing sounded like in the past, go to Newfoundland. I can think of 30 songs off the top of my head that went across to Newfoundland from Devon that are still alive now but I’d say there are easily over 100, possibly 200, that are common to both. The songs migrated over there and took root.”

For Marilyn and Paul, seeing how the songs were such an integral part of Newfoundland culture was hugely influential in Wren Music’s work in bringing Devonian songs to the fore again: “I was actually quite envious of the traditions in Newfoundland music and we learnt a lot from that. We’ve gone about things in a different way by establishing groups around the county, but the aim has been the same, to bring these songs forward so that they and their stories are heard in the communities where they came from.

“And thanks to this project by the Devonshire Association we’ll hopefully be reaching new audiences.”

Learning that versions of old South West songs are very much alive in Newfoundland has literally been a voyage of discovery for Paul: “I’ll play a song and Jim will say ‘I’ve got a version of that and it goes like this’ and vice versa.” At some of their past concerts together they’ve done a ‘mash-up’ of both Devon and Newfoundland versions. Paul explained: “Jim sings a song called ‘A Tale of Jests’, a song of exaggeration which we know and sing as ‘The Lying Tale’. We do a verse from Devon and then a verse from Newfoundland and we tell the story together. We go across the Atlantic and back again about five times in the song, it’s absolutely lovely and it works really well. But with most of the songs, we’ll sing one version and refer to the other.”

The concerts will feature songs that represent the larger collection: “There are love songs, nonsense songs, funny songs, and there are lots of ballads – big story songs of murder and other dark tales,” said Paul. “And there are some very significant sea songs; the sea is what links us and the sea will feature in these concerts and the talks.”

One of the songs from Newfoundland is ‘Come and I Will Sing You’. In Devon it is sung as the ‘Dilly Song’ and was passed down by a servant girl in Horrabridge: “The first line of the ‘Dilly Song’ is Come and I Will Sing You, so it’s the same song but it’s very different,” said Paul. “There’s also a classic ballad which in Newfoundland is called ‘She’s Like The Swallow’, but here it’s ‘On Yonder’s Hill’ and is associated with Bampton in Mid Devon.”

Among the songs Paul will be singing is ‘Captain Ward’, which is a pirate song from the era of Peter Easton, a pirate who operated off Newfoundland. “These are wonderful songs and we’re really looking forward to playing them,” said Paul. “They’re full of guitars, accordions and fiddles and the choruses have huge harmonies.”

Paul has a personal connection, too, as his grandfather moved to Newfoundland and was the first vicar of Great Falls – a town built up around the logging industry: “It’s one of the reasons why this project means so much to me. Newfoundland is very close to my heart. Their traditions are amazing.”

And, as Jim says, the roots of those traditions haven’t been lost through the passage of time: “Many Newfoundlanders still fly the Union Jack, the accents of Devon and Dorset can be clearly heard in many Newfoundland conversations, a large number of dialect words here come directly from the West Country. So the connections are still highly relevant today.”
www.wrenmusic.co.uk

PERFORMANCES IN BIDEFORD:

CONCERT:
Tuesday 11 April, 7pm
PALLADIUM BIDEFORD
1 Lower Gunstone, Town Centre, Bideford, EX39 2DE
Tickets £8
Booking through Wren Music:
Email info@wrenmusic.co.uk; 01837 53754; www.wrenmusic.co.uk

LECTURE RECITAL:
Tuesday 11 April at 1pm
BURTON ART GALLERY & MUSEUM,
Bideford, EX39 2QQ
Free entry / donation

ILLUSTRATION at TOP: Bideford Newfoundlanders in a Fair Gale – copyright Mark Myers, 1977.