Category Archives: Past times


Staff at Tiverton Museum were intrigued to see a newspaper from Tiverton’s Prisoner of War camp come up for auction recently. The camp was located close to the site that Petroc and the High School occupy today. The weekly newspaper ‘Die Eule’ – or ‘The Owl’ – dates from September 1946 and features stories and articles, puzzles, jokes and reports of a football match between Tiverton and Silverton. Most of the paper is in German apart from a section about learning English. There was another camp near Cruwys Morchard which housed Italian prisoners of war. With a donation from a supporter, the museum was able to purchase the newspaper.

Pippa Griffith, Director of Tiverton Museum, says, “We are absolutely delighted to have acquired this very rare item; we didn’t even know that the camp had produced a newspaper. We hold very little in the museum about the camp, just a couple of photographs so this is an important acquisition for this part of Tiverton’s history. We would love to hear from anyone who has photographs of the camp or of any people who stayed there, or even more copies of this newspaper!

“We know that prisoners of war were driven out to local farms to help out, especially at busy times such as potato harvesting. We would also love to hear from anyone who knows about prisoners of war who stayed on and made Mid Devon their home, perhaps marrying a local woman.”

PHOTO: The Salvation Army band playing to prisoners of war. There are more photos on our Instagram feed: @exmoormagazine


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?

New film on Exmoor: The Journey of the Louisa and plans for a feature film of the Overland Launch too!

The photograph shows the Lynmouth lifeboat crew a few years after the event. No photographs exist of the original 1899 crew. The picture does include Jack Crocombe though, who was the coxswain of the lifeboat when it was taken over Exmoor to assist the Forrest Hall. He is in the centre of the picture holding the life preserver ring.
The photograph shows the Lynmouth lifeboat crew a few years after the event. No photographs exist of the original 1899 crew. The picture does include Jack Crocombe though, who was the coxswain of the lifeboat when it was taken over Exmoor to assist the Forrest Hall. He is in the centre of the picture holding the life preserver ring.

Plans are steaming ahead for the premiere showing of the new film ‘The Journey of the Louisa‘ – a story of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary deeds. In 1899, during a fierce storm, the Lynmouth lifeboat Louisa had to be hauled 13 miles, which included going over the Countisbury Hill and down the infamous 1-in-4 Porlock Hill, to launch in the more sheltered harbour of Porlock to go to the aid of a ship in distress.

This powerful new film has been produced by Ken Blakey of Lynton, using state-of-the-art computer graphics mixed with real-time footage along the route as well as narration. The premiere of the film will be shown to a full house at Lynmouth Pavilion on Friday 11 April, which coincides exactly with the 160th birthday of Jack Crocombe (coxswain of the Louisa). Copies of the film will be available to buy from Saturday 12 April.

As well as members of the RNLI, as many descendants of the original team as possible have been invited as special guests to the evening’s celebration, including the great-granddaughter and great-grandson of Jack Crocombe, together with the re-enactment crew who dragged and pushed the sister lifeboat a century years later. The granddaughter of the telegraph boy who ran the message from Porlock Weir to Porlock post office for transmission to Lynmouth has just been discovered and will join the grandson of the man who received that telegram which instigated the haul.

The event is supported by the Heritage Lottery Funded Lynmouth Pavilion Project.

In addition to this, Flat-Broke Films Ltd, in association with Next Dimension Entertainment, is delighted to announce that the filming of ‘Louisa‘, the feature film, will commence on location in Lynton and Lynmouth, Exmoor and Porlock Weir this autumn.

Directed by Simon J. Miller and with Academy Award nominated Alexandra Bekiaris and David and Maralyn Reynolds producing, this motion picture will capture the dramatic and heroic account of the 1899 ‘Overland Launch’ of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) ‘Louisa’ lifeboat.

For further information please visit

Crime and Scandal in Mid Devon

Bampfylde Moore Carew who is featured in the exhibition.
Bampfylde Moore Carew who is featured in the exhibition.

Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life has just opened its new temporary exhibition ‘Notorious; Crime and Scandal in Mid Devon’. 

The exhibition is filled with stories of dark deeds from the past such as the body that was buried under local cucumber beds, as well as tales of well-known people from the past such as Bampfylde Moore Carew and Princess Caraboo.

The museum’s spring programme of talks starts off with one from David Pugsley linking in with this exhibition ‘Murder in the Culm Valley!’ which takes place at 7.30pm on Thursday 13 March at the museum. Tickets are only £4.50 including light refreshments and booking is recommended (available from the museum).

The Museum is also running February half-term craft activities linking to the exhibition on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 February, 11am-12.30pm and 2-3.30pm. Booking is recommended as places are limited and there is a small charge.

Crime and Scandal in Mid Devon will run until 26 April.

Entry to this exhibition will cost £1 for adults and accompanying children are free.

Dig Porlock celebrations

Volunteer and artist, Clare Maryan Green (left), with her painting of archaeologists at Porlock Stone Circle. She is seen with copies of the DIG Porlock book, which was produced as part of the project and Faye Balmond, Moorland Heritage Officer.
Volunteer and artist, Clare Maryan Green (left), with her painting of archaeologists at Porlock Stone Circle. She is seen with copies of the DIG Porlock book, which was produced as part of the project and Faye Balmond, Moorland Heritage Officer.

On 12 December local volunteers came together in Porlock Village Hall to celebrate the end of the DIG Porlock project. They have spent the last year alongside archaeologists from Exmoor National Park, investigating the archaeology of moorlands above Porlock.

Faye Balmond, Moorland Heritage Officer with the Heart of Exmoor, said: “Throughout 2013 the DIG Porlock project has seen local people, schools, young archaeologists, three UK universities and one from the USA, commercial archaeologists and National Park staff work together, finding out more about the archaeology of Porlock’s moorlands. It is now one of the best known areas of prehistoric archaeology on Exmoor, and we have used a range of up-to-date techniques to record and analyse the sites there.”

Volunteers from Porlock and the surrounding areas took part in two archaeological excavations throughout the summer. One focused on the Bronze-Age Porlock stone circle, showing how the monument was built and unexpectedly unearthing a Roman link. Just up the road at Hawkcombe Head volunteers took part in organised fieldwalking of the site; from one small area they collected flint tools spanning at least 6,000 years of human occupation. Survey work also considered sites built during the Second World War  as part of military training on Exmoor’s moorland. Despite being only 70 years old, the purpose of the majority of these sites remains a mystery.

DIG Porlock was funded through the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Heritage focus for Valley of Rocks improvements

Lynton and Lynmouth Town Council has begun projects to enhance the famous Valley of Rocks, thanks to a major grant of £93,000 awarded by the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund and £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Amory and Heathcoat Trusts via the Heart of Exmoor Scheme.

Works include restoring coastal path access to the hidden beach at Wringcliff Bay, renovating the 19th-century Poet’s Shelter and installing a traditional estate railing fence at the Cricket Club, similar to the one seen in early photographs of the area. Visitors will be welcomed by a resurfaced car park, made greener to reduce its impact in the landscape. New interpretive resources will highlight walk routes and the valley’s geology, history and wildlife.

Lynton and Lynmouth Town Council’s success in raising funds has brought in more than £130,000 to match its own £40,000 investment in the projects. Councillors worked hard to listen to the community and develop suitable designs in consultation with experts in landscape, historic environment and wildlife.

Mayor Suzette Hibbert said: “This project has been on the Council wish list for some years. Thanks to the appearance of the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership and the leadership of Councillor Bernard Peacock we have at last seen the start of this major scheme. Once again we are indebted to the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund and so we say thank you to them and to the Heart of Exmoor Scheme.”

Jason Ball, Heart of Exmoor Scheme Manager, praised the initiative: “The projects cleverly maintain visitor capacity and access, yet with less clutter and tarmac – always a good thing – so it emphasises the wild moorland character and unique features that visitors find so attractive. We are proud to support this thanks to money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Amory and Heathcoat Trusts which the Exmoor Society secured for exactly this type of project.”

The changes will sensitively restore a sense of wildness while simultaneously helping people to enjoy and explore the Valley of Rocks – a favourite destination for locals and visitors to Exmoor National Park. The dramatic clifftop valley on the North Devon coast is crowned with rock features and its special geology earned it status as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). The Valley of Rocks is home to hardy free-roaming goats, Exmoor ponies and cliff-nesting birds such as peregrine falcon and fulmar. Cradled in the valley are a village green cricket pitch, a tea room and the Poet’s Shelter which alludes to poets inspired by the amazing location.

Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth and his sister, the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth, visited the Valley of Rocks as part of a longer exploration of Exmoor’s coast in November 1797. Coleridge and the Wordsworths fell in love with the Lynton area and even thought of settling there. Coleridge wrote to a friend: “We will go on a roam to Linton and Linmouth, which if thou camest in May will be in all their pride of woods and waterfalls, not to speak of the august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the Vast Valley of Stones all of which live disdainful of the seasons or accept new honours only from the winter’s snow.”

Unwrapping long-lost Exmoor Christmas carols

Please click on the poster to view it full size and find out more.
Please click on the poster to view it full size and find out more.

Traditional Exmoor Christmas carols, some of them not heard since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are being revived by South West-based music charity, Wren Music – and you could have a part to play in their rebirth.

Wren Music, who are based in Okehampton in west Devon, are holding an all-day event entitled Come Sing for the Season this weekend, on Saturday 7 December, when they’ll be teaching some of the carols.

The event, at Halsway Manor near Crowcombe just outside Exmoor National Park in Somerset, aims to pass on the long-lost local carols to a new generation. A book of ten of the Exmoor carols is being published by Wren on the same day, following the earlier publication of fifteen of the rediscovered carols.

The songs being learnt this Christmas are among 150 Exmoor carols which have been collected during three decades of research by South West folk song researchers Bob and Jacqueline Patten, who will be appearing the event.

Musical director at Wren Music, Paul Wilson, says local carols thrived on Exmoor because of the area’s remoteness: “The whole tradition goes back to the Wesleyan era, when preachers would visit these rural areas in the 1780s and 1790s,” explained Paul.

“They wandered about, teaching other carols and they would settle in farmsteads, so in very remote places like Exmoor, the tradition carried on, whereas in other parts of the country, it died away.”

Strongholds of traditional local carols remain in parts of Yorkshire, the Peak District and Cornwall – such as Padstow: “In these areas the carols have survived in vigorous form but the Exmoor carols haven’t been as well known because there hasn’t been as much research done – until now.”

Some of the carols which the Wren Music team will be teaching will not have seen the light of day for many years – they’ve literally been kept in the dark: “Some of them are hand-written, some of them were done using old-fashioned printing, some of them are typed and some of them are a bit mouse-eaten from being stored away in old church chests for many years!” said Paul.

“The Christmas carols that everyone knows about are just the tip of the iceberg. There are loads more that have local connections, like the Sans Day Carol from Cornwall, which is a version of The Holly and the Ivy. One of the Exmoor carols we’re doing was written in the 1880s by a guy from Porlock called George Hawkins. It’s a setting of Hark the Herald Angels but it’s his own tune and it’s absolutely brilliant. Dennis Corner of the traditional Porlock Carollers was inspired to give us this music at the end of our first Carol Day in 2011 and we’re putting it in the book this year.

“The vast majority of these old carols are completely different to the ones we all know and sing every Christmas; I’ve never heard many of them before.”

The local carols featured in the event are from areas including Chittlehampton, Lynton and Bratton Fleming in Devon and Roadwater, Dunster, Exford, Wheddon Cross and Porlock in Somerset.

The tradition of Exmoor carols might not be as widespread as it once was, but it has been kept alive by a handful of characters and local communities, including traditional carolling parties like The Dunster Carollers, who will be singing at the Halsway Manor event: “Their visit will be a really special part of the day,” said Paul.

The carols collected by Bob and Jacqueline Patten are remarkably complete, with music, words and harmonies laid out – although versions circulating in oral tradition tend to grow their own features as they’re passed around.

Bob and Jacqueline, who now live in Morchard Bishop in Devon, carried out most of their research while they were based in north Somerset: “Once our interest in the local carols became known, people came forward with manuscripts and others said ‘oh you should speak to so-and-so’ and it just grew,” said Bob. “We’ve got around 150 of them now – some in different versions – and I think that’s most of them; I don’t think there are many more out there.

“We’ve done this to raise awareness about the local carols and for local groups on Exmoor to perhaps take them on.”

One of the discovered carols, ‘Once More Behold’ by John Bawden of Exford, dates back to 1884. The manuscript was found in Exford and Roadwater and the carol is thought to be unique to Exmoor.

This is the second Come Sing for the Season organised by Wren Music. The inaugural event was in Porlock in 2011 and the next one is already planned for 2015 so as not to clash with the well-known Sheffield Carols event which is also held every other year.

Paul said: “We’ll have a whole day – revealing and exploring some of these old carols – some of them won’t have been heard before by people who attend, others might be slightly better known. We can accommodate around 50 singers and musicians for the workshops during the day.

“There is instrumentation written down with some of the carols, so we’re looking for musicians to come along as well as singers. Let’s see these local carols thriving again; we want people to be singing them in their homes and their pubs – and it would be lovely if local churches introduced them too.”

The evening features a concert of the newly-learned carols by all participants and the Wren musicians, and is rounded off by an informal sing-song in the bar – admission to these is free of charge to the public.

Visit the Halsway Manor website to sign up for the day’s workshops – £30 for adults and £5 for under-16s accompanied by an adult. The volume of Exmoor carols, ‘Come Sing for the Season – Book 2’, will be available to buy on the day and afterwards from Wren Music.

Behind the scenes with Barnstaple Fire Brigade

red watch first pageThis is Barnstaple Fire Brigade past and present – taken from an article which goes behind the scenes with Barnstaple’s Fire Service in the current issue of Exmoor Magazine by Avril Stone. Find out all about the history of the brigade and how they train on Exmoor for every eventuality – with the help of all of our other fantastic local service – ambulance, Exmoor Search and Rescue, RAF rescue helicopters, the RNLI and the Coastguard – and that’s not to mention a wooden dummy horse! See pages 41-43 of your magazine for more.

Ancient stone discovered by West Down teenager

stoneInquisitive teenager Jack Lawrence of West Down has upturned a stone in his garden and discovered a ‘missing link’ in history. As damp earth dried in the sunlight an inscription was revealed, commemorating an ancient Celt. Only one other stone like this from the Dark Ages is known to have survived in the region.

“Jack’s perceptive eye has led to a discovery which casts light on an otherwise obscure period,” said Terry Green, who heads the archaeological society in North Devon where the stone was found.

In September 2012 Jack spotted score marks on a flat loaf-shaped sandstone boulder in his garden in West Down near Ilfracombe and used a pole to lever it over, with help from his father Guy.

Said Jack, now aged 15: “The marks made it look strange and interesting. Later I found an old photograph of me aged five when the stone was leaning against a wall. No one knows when it fell down.”

The name on the stone was ‘Guerngen’, a Celt who probably lived during the seventh century. “He was presumably in the upper ranks of the highly stratified society that existed then because his family could afford an expensive monument,” explained expert Dr Oliver Padel, who used to teach medieval language at Cambridge University. At the moment it is impossible to tell if the stone marked his grave, the boundary of his territory or cattle grazing rights.

Other Celtic stones have been found in Cornwall and Wales. In Devon they are far fewer in number and mostly found on Dartmoor.

A cross has been scratched into one end of the stone, leading authorities to think it was once incorporated into the local church. Rubble was removed from the church in renovation work more than 200 years ago. There’s also damage on one end from a gate pin, so it was probably once used in a farmer’s fence. Planning records reveal that a garden wall was knocked down in 1997 before Jack and his family moved in to their cottage. It’s thought that’s how the stone landed up on the property.

Jack, who was 13 when he made the discovery, has hopes of being an archaeologist. “His discovery of this stone is really important for us”’ Alison Mills, curator of nearby Barnstaple Museum, explained. “These things don’t turn up very often. To find one like this means there must be more out there in the landscape.”

The stone is being kept at the Museum for the time being before being returned to West Down permanently.

New group explores historic buildings in West Somerset and Exmoor

The Historic Buildings group of Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS) is launching a new initiative, supported by the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund, to involve the people of West Somerset and Exmoor in making their wealth of unrecorded traditional and historic buildings more widely appreciated.

On Saturday 19 October at the Dunster Tithe Barn the West Somerset & Exmoor Historic Buildings Recording Group will be launched with a full day workshop introducing the many aspects of building recording.  It will show how everybody’s individual skills can contribute to generating a complete picture of buildings’ histories and the way local peoples’ lives changed.  Everyone is welcome, but should register in advance with the SANHS office – there is a small charge to cover catering etc.  Details are available on the SANHS website:

Jerry Sampson FSA, President of SANHS, author and the county’s foremost buildings archaeologist, said: “SANHS members have seen that many people living in west Somerset and Exmoor love the area where they live but want to know more about the history of the homes they live in.  The story of our buildings can cast a new light on what the people who lived here before us did and what they valued.  SANHS Historic Buildings group’s new initiative has my whole hearted backing and good wishes.  I can imagine no greater pleasure than examining traditional buildings and I would urge everyone who is interested in the history of their area to join in.”

Anyone interested in unlocking the secrets of the area’s buildings, is urged to book into the workshop Dunster to hear about the many aspects of building recording.  Alan Hudson, SANHS Historic Buildings Committee chairman, said: “You can choose which parts you attend according to your interests.  They will be illustrated by visits to local buildings and then there will be a chance to feed back your views and to guide the progress of this exciting project.  We are delighted that the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund is giving us financial support for this important new initiative.”