Category Archives: Heritage


WOW! The next theme for the Pop-Up Museum’s memory workshop is the ‘World of Work’. A series of targeted workshops are running during April and May at Barnstaple Pop-Up Museum in Bridge Chambers, to gather information and stories about various aspects of Barnstaple and North Devon’s trades and industries.
The museum is calling for ex-‘Shappy boys’ from Shapland and Petter and ex-Brannam’s potters and workers to come and spend some time with them and share their memories of these well-known Barnstaple firms.

Sadie Green, Activity Plan Co-ordinator at the museum, says: “On 10 April we would love to hear from people who work, or used to work, in offices, banks and finance and the public sector. We have a 1950s BT switchboard and it would be great to meet any ex-BT workers! On 17 April we want to meet ‘Shappy boys’ from Shapland and Petter, as we have lots of objects from the company. Also, on 24 April we want to hear from any ex-Brannam’s pottery workers who are willing to share their stories. If you can’t make those dates, please call in and see us any Monday or Tuesday in April and May – enjoy a cup of tea and bring your stories to write down on the day. Our volunteer story collectors look forward to welcoming you.”

Executive Member for Parks, Leisure and Culture, Councillor Dick Jones, says: “The Pop Up is always looking for community experts – everyone is welcome to visit, especially if you have lots of knowledge about any of the workshop topics or if you used to work for one of the companies mentioned and are willing to spend a bit more time with them to share your stories.”

The Pop-Up is open to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays (except public holidays) from 11am to 3pm. Please visit the Pop-Up Museum to find out more, share your story with our volunteer story collectors, or become a community expert.  Get in touch with Sadie at the museum on 01271 346747 to find out more, or visit the Facebook page at PopUpBarnstaple.
Both photos used here are from Shapland and Petter, an outing and a group shot of Shappy apprentices, although we do not have any more details – do you recognise anyone?


Dulverton Weir and Leat Conservation Trust and Somerset Libraries Service are pleased to announce that Dulverton Library is to become an Academic Associate of the Trust in its project to save Dulverton’s medieval Urban Watermill Landscape (weir & mill leat).

An academic resource section covering many aspects of the project is now available to be perused by users of the library on: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 10am–1pm and 1.30-4pm and on Saturdays 10am-12.30pm.

Philip Hull, Trustee of DWLCT, says: “A significant amount of academic research has been done on the medieval weir and leat by the Trust, its partners and academic associates. This research will continue in the future and much of this is available on our website at But we wanted to present the research in written form in a suitable location. Our research is continuing and we look forward to sharing it on the internet and with Dulverton Library.”

Sara Long Library Supervisor, West Somerset Libraries, Somerset Libraries Service, says: “We are delighted to be offering the community this additional service to show a new insight into the historic weir and leat. We hope local people will take this opportunity to use this hands-on resource, which is particularly aimed at those without access to the internet.”


Are you going to be in Withypool on Monday morning (if so read to the end!)

As part of their new archive project, staff and volunteers at the Exmoor Society are investigating the old postal routes across Exmoor. Never the easiest place to navigate, up until 1970 post was routinely delivered on foot, by motorbike and from horseback, with walking routes of 15 miles and more. The posties were Exmoor’s main method of communication in more ways than one – as well as the post, they took with them village news, and (unofficial) deliveries of newspapers, bread, tobacco, even medicines. For farms with no road access, the postie was sometimes the only visitor in days.

Trustees of the Society are particularly interested in the old postal routes and ways of delivering mail between around 1930 and 1970. Using maps and significant material from the Society’s Dulverton Resource Centre, the Society is piecing together the history of the postal service on Exmoor.

This was a time of great change, as the telephone superseded the need to communicate by mail or telegram. No longer was the post the main method of communication as roads improved and the motor car became more common. As less post was delivered and it became quicker to get from farm to farm by car or van, walking rounds were limited to towns, and ponies and motor bikes were no longer needed.

So what was it like to walk or ride one of these routes? It’s easy enough to sit at a desk and plot them out on a map, but that doesn’t give a sense of the experience of the posties, tramping across Exmoor in all weathers, over what could be steep and difficult terrain. The Society was fortunate to be able to employ an intern during the summer, who walked some of the old routes and got an idea of how tough some of them could be. Now, the Society’s archivist Dr Helen Blackman would like to go one further and see what the ridden routes were like.

To help with this, Helen has been in touch with the Exmoor Pony Centre near Dulverton and, with the aid of a volunteer and two ridden ponies from the Centre, she will be retracing the steps (and hoofprints) of one of the last ridden rounds on Exmoor. The round started in Withypool and went out to many of the local farms, including Lanacre, Blackland and Hillway. It was ridden by local man John Blackmore, for as Exmoor writer Hope Bourne recounted in the late 1960s, “Horsemen’s country this has always been, and still is” and horses were “the simplest way of getting round the parish, from farm to farm, before the days of tarmac”.

Dr Blackman said “investigating the old postal routes has been more than an academic exercise, it is very much a social history. We cannot really understand the difficulties of communication on Exmoor, which persist to this day, without experiencing them. And as a horse rider I’m fascinated by the role horses and ponies have played in bringing news and information across the moor. This is also a wonderful opportunity to work with the Exmoor Pony Centre and highlight how hardy and useful the Exmoor ponies are.”

Helen and the Pony Centre volunteer are planning to undertake the ride on Monday 6 November, leaving Withypool village at 10am. Following the old postal route it will be around 12 miles. If you see them, give them a wave!

PHOTO: William Blackmore, mounted postman (image by kind permission of Barbara Adams).


Initial plans are now underway to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore in 2019. The novel set within Exmoor was first published in 1869 and has never been out of print. Its popularity is witnessed not just in its book form, but in countless films, on television, in songs, a musical and even a Lorna Doone biscuit. The story incorporates wonderful descriptions of the most remote and rugged parts of Exmoor, real events such as The Great Winter and the Monmouth Rebellion, plus folk traditions of the notorious Doones and the highway man Tom Faggus.

The Dulverton edition of Lorna Doone, courtesy of The Exmoor Society.

The 150th anniversary year in 2019 provides an opportunity to celebrate the link between Exmoor and the novel, celebrating the culture, landscape and heritage of Exmoor.

Partners, including the Dulverton Heritage Centre, Exmoor National Park and Visit Exmoor, are considering a year-long themed festival around the Lorna Doone anniversary that can be integrated into existing events and activities, as well as being a catalyst for new initiatives. These can be aimed at a range of audiences from local communities, visitors and new audiences.

The Guildhall Heritage Centre in Dulverton is already planning a major exhibition which can act as a focal point and signpost visitors to other events and initiatives such as the development of a Doone Trail, guided walks, photography and arts events and much more.

Jennette Baxter, Development Manager for Visit Exmoor, welcomed this initiative. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our stunning landscapes and our links to this world famous story. We hope that tourist providers and attractions, local groups and communities will join us in thinking how they can be involved in these celebrations. We have many months to organise this special event but it is not too soon to bring people together to find out their ideas.’

Anyone who has ideas or who is interested in being a part of this project is invited to contact Katrina Munro on 01398 322236, in the first instance to feed into a workshop being planned for October.

PHOTO: A Lorna Doone Pageant that was held in July 1930. The Exmoor Society was given the photograph by Leonard Henderson in 1993.


Following a £2.4 million redevelopment, Somerset Rural Life Museum re-opened earlier this year with a fresh new look and a line-up of wonderful events offering real-life experiences inspired by rural traditions.

The autumn programme has been announced and includes seasonal celebrations, workshops, courses, talks and exhibitions. The programme offers visitors a chance to discover more about Somerset’s heritage including its landscape, food and farming and rural crafts.

Visitor Services Manager Robin Savill said: “In addition to being a much-loved museum we are now offering new hands-on heritage experiences. The former farm, with its orchard and farm yard, offers a unique and historic venue in which to learn more about the county’s heritage. Alongside our special autumn events we also have regular family fun days and Toddler Explorer sessions.”

Autumn has always been an important time for rural communities and An Autumn Celebration carries on the tradition of celebrating harvest time. On 7 and 8 October the Museum grounds will be filled with all things autumnal, from apple pressing and giant pumpkins to rural crafts and folklore.

The Museum will hold its Living History Day on 5 November when the former dairy farm will be alive with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of ancient skills and crafts. From woodworking and weaving to cookery and corn dollies, a visit will be like stepping into the past.

From 23 September to 11 November the wonderful foureteenth-century Abbey Barn will host an installation produced in partnership with Somerset Art Works and Craftspace. Gather-ing is a contemporary art exhibition exploring the use of ancient barns to gather and collect people, animals and crops.

Kate Lynch’s stunning FARM exhibition also continues until 3 December, featuring more than 40 paintings and drawings made on local farms. To complement the exhibition, Kate will be at the Museum on 28 September to give a talk about her documentary art projects.

On 25 October painter James Lynch is giving a talk and demonstration in using the ancient medium of egg tempera. James has spent many years mastering this technique and his much-admired landscape painting at the Museum is a stunning example of this work.

Blighty Bushcraft will be at the museum on 24 September to lead a Foraging Course around the Glastonbury countryside. The morning expedition will explore the local hedgerows to discover what nature’s larder has to offer. Blighty Bushcraft returns on 22 October for a ‘Slab and Stick’ Stool-Making Course.

Normal admission applies to seasonal days and exhibitions with charges and booking required for workshops, courses and talks. For full details please visit

Somerset Rural Life Museum is part of The South West Heritage Trust, an independent charity that protects and celebrates our rich heritage.


Champion ploughmen and women from all over Great Britain will be making their way to Somerset this autumn when the county will host this year’s British National Ploughing Championships & Country Festival.  This unique two-day event will take place on land at Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 October.

The highlight of the country’s ploughing calendar, the event is one of the few agricultural shows which is held in a different part of Britain each year and the event is returning to Somerset courtesy of landowner Ken Coles and family who have provided over 200 acres of their prime arable farmland just north of the town of Taunton.

Around 250 ploughmen and women will take part, including past World and European champions.  At stake are the British National Ploughing Championship titles and the selection to represent England in World and European ploughing competitions next year, with one ultimate winner taking the title of Supreme Champion.

It’s not just about ploughing, though over the two days visitors will see competitions for many different styles, from the more modern reversible and conventional ploughing through to many types of vintage tractors and the graceful and magnificent horse ploughing of years gone by.  Alongside the competitions there will be demonstrations of giant steam engines, vintage and rural craft exhibits with the provisional themes ‘Welcome to Somerset’ and ‘Horse to Horse Power’, trade stands, shopping stalls and country crafts.

The Society of Ploughmen, who are organising the event, are expecting an exceptional crowd over the two days as the Championships always attract a varied mix of spectators – from farmers with a love of the land and agricultural machinery, vintage tractor enthusiasts, people with a love of horses, steam enthusiasts and those with a general interest in the countryside.  It also gives a unique opportunity for families to see how our farming heritage has changed over the past 300 years.

Chief Executive of the Society of Ploughmen, Sue Frith, said, “The interest and attention we have at the moment is fantastic after holding the World Ploughing Contest in England last year.   The support we have in the south-west of the country is especially good and clearly the decision to bring the Championships back to Somerset is a good one.”   She added, “You don’t have to be interested in ploughing as there will be something for everyone at the event, but it is wonderful to see what these highly skilled competitors can do.  It’s important we ensure these skills are kept alive as even with all the changes in agriculture, they still play an important part in the food chain as good ploughing will prepare the land well for better crops to be grown”.

There will be a wide selection of trade stands – from agricultural trade stands ranging from tractors and machinery to insurance through to the smaller shopping stalls with anything from countrywear to confectionery. Sponsorship opportunities are available for both market leaders and small companies with main sponsors this year being Bridgestone/Firestone and Bridgwater Agricultural Society.

Further information can be found on or from the Society of Ploughmen on  01302 852469 and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

PHOTO taken at Bishops Lydeard for Exmoor Magazine by Andrew Hobbs


Apologies for the late notice in posting this one! Exmoor National Park will be opening White Rock Cottage and the old Simonsbath School buildings as part of Heritage Open Day on Friday 8 September from 10am to 4pm. Conservation manager Rob Wilson-North says: “Everyone is welcome to come along to learn more about the Simonsbath Programme Steering Group’s plans for the buildings, see how these remarkable buildings tell the story of a unique landscape at the heart of Exmoor National Park and find out more about the people in the past who shaped the Exmoor we see today.

“There will be tours of the building site and part of the unfinished Picturesque gardens as well as a small exhibition.”

White Rock Cottage was built in 1820 and stands at the heart of the tiny village of Simonsbath on the top of Exmoor at the centre of what was, until 1819, 20,000 acres of barren moorland. It was built in the Scottish style and became home to workers engaged in making a great Georgian estate out of nothing but the wild moor, and who were also busy working on one of the last and largest land reclamations in England. White Rock Cottage and a small subterranean building also formed part of an unfinished Picturesque valley garden which is now overgrown.

In 1857 Simonsbath school was set up to teach the children of Exmoor farmers, and the old schoolroom forms part of the group of buildings. Sadly, the village school closed in 1970. The buildings are now in a very sorry state after years of neglect. They are scaffolded, sheeted and only partially roofed. Plans are being developed to breathe new life into them. For further information please contact Rob Wilson-North on 01398 322280, or visit 


Over the past 18 months, Contains Art, an arts project in Somerset, has been working together with organisations across Watchet and Somerset on a heritage and creative project to celebrate and commemorate Wansbrough Paper Mill, which closed at the end of 2015, ending more than a quarter of a millennium of papermaking in this small coastal town . The project has been made possible by National Lottery players through a £26,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

In the months before the closure in December 2015, artists, photographers and filmmakers began capturing images and memories from the Paper Mill, resulting in a large body of work. A creative exhibition took place last year at Contains Art and the Wansbrough project culminates this September with a Heritage Lottery Fund supported exhibition displayed along the Esplanade for the whole month. The exhibition includes history, photos, images, memories and more. It provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the history of the Mill, its importance to the town and area, its people and its legacy.

The exhibition will be displayed outdoors so it can be viewed at any time during September. Saturday 23 September sees a free Community Event from 2pm-5pm on Watchet Esplanade with papermaking, paper craft, paper bunting – fun for all the family.

The Wansbrough project has included, alongside creative and heritage exhibitions, a comprehensive photographic and measured recording of the buildings on the site with a laser drone survey and laser surveys of special hard-to-access parts of the site.

The project team, supported by dozens of volunteers, have also compiled an archive of documents found at the Mill. This will be deposited at Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton as a permanent resource for the future. Contains Art also invited members of the community to bring along their own documents relating to the Mill. These included an amazing number of wonderful photographs, press cuttings, samples and documents, which have all been scanned and logged and will be deposited with the rest of the work from the project at the Heritage Centre.

In partnership with Watchet Market House Museum, the project has recorded oral histories from former mill workers, capturing their memories and stories from the Mill. A CD of these oral histories has been created alongside a listening station in the Museum where you can hear extracts.

As well as the temporary exhibition, the project will culminate in a booklet detailing much of the history, stories and memories as well as the photos and documents we have discovered. The final piece of work is a permanent Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) website, which will be launched later in the autumn, where you will be able to explore the site in 360 images, and view lots of the photos, films, oral histories and images we have collected during this project. The QTVR will provide a permanent legacy for Watchet Paper Mill and a unique opportunity to view the Paper Mill for years to come – a modern conclusion to a heritage project.


As part of their new archive project, staff and volunteers at the Exmoor Society are investigating the old postal routes across Exmoor. Never the easiest place to navigate, Exmoor’s post was, up until 1970, routinely delivered on foot, by motorbike and from horseback, with walking routes of 15 miles and more.

The posties were Exmoor’s main method of communication in more ways than one – as well as the post, they took with them village news, and (unofficial) deliveries of newspapers, bread, tobacco, even medicines. For farms with no road access, the postie was sometimes the only visitor in days.

The Society is particularly interested in the old postal routes and ways of delivering mail between around 1930 and 1970. This was a time of great change, as the telephone superseded the need to communicate by mail or telegram. No longer was the post the main method of communication, as roads improved and the motor car became more common. As less post was delivered and it became quicker to get from farm to farm by car or van, walking rounds were limited to towns, and ponies and motorbikes were no longer needed.

It is claimed that the last route to be ridden on Exmoor was undertaken by John Blackmore around Withypool, including farms such as Ferny Ball, Landacre and Blackland. Interviewed for the Exmoor Oral History Archive in 2001, Blackmore spoke about Eisenhower’s visit to Withypool and how the great General took tea with his sister. Unable to serve in the Second World War because of his health, John continued to deliver the mail on Exmoor using his horse, Shamrock. The pair were photographed for The Picture Post in 1941, wading through the River Barle.

Exmoor Society archivist Dr Helen Blackman said, “The old postal routes and stories from the posties make an intriguing history. They tell us much about the moor and the difficulties of communicating in the days before tarmacked roads and telephones. The posties and the village shops were vital to remote villages and even more remote farms.” The Society, with the help of a grant from the Malcolm MacEwen Fund, was able to employ an Exeter University student during the summer to investigate the routes and to walk some of them. Re-walking them helped give a sense of what the posties were coping with and, since many of the routes were ridden, plans are afoot for Helen to ride one of the routes on an Exmoor pony.

Rachel Thomas, the Society’s chairman, said, “If you have any stories about the old postal routes we would love to hear from you. Dr Blackman and the Society’s volunteers are preparing a publication which includes details of the paths taken, so if you would like to get involved, please get in touch using the information given below.”

Rachel Thomas – 01271 375686 or Exmoor Society Offices – 01398 323335.


PHOTO: Withypool Post Office, by Tom Troake, 1970.



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.