Bideford Branch report: Oct to Dec 2017

The autumn meetings kicked off in October 2017 with local historian and author, Paul Rendell from Okehampton, describing his fascinating work as a Dartmoor Guide. Known as ‘Dartmoor Paul’ he has been a Dartmoor National Park Guide for over 21 years and started working for the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust leading walks and doing conservation work at Bellever near Postbridge. This talk really came from the heart and was very warmly received. He is now a member of Moorland Guides who lead walks, courses and rambles. His talk recollecting his activities, his knowledge of history archaeology and of course the ponies was beautifully illustrated with slides. He described some history and legends of the moor, a National Park since 1951, and gave some useful tips on safety and reducing the risk of getting lost.

The November meeting gave the sad announcement of the passing of Dr Chris Cornford on 4th November. He was a much appreciated member of the Association.

In the talk that followed, John Bradbeer described his work on the North Devon Tithe Map. Before retirement, he taught human geography at the University of Portsmouth. This survey was part of his contribution to the heritage handbook. He described his project on the Tithe Survey of c1840 and a reconstruction of early Victorian agriculture in North Devon, ‘The North Devon Tithe Map’. His illustrated talk described the changes following the introduction of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. Until then tithes, originally a tenth of the harvest, were paid annually in kind to the rector of each parish. This became cumbersome to administer and increasingly unpopular. The Act replaced this with payments based on the land quality and its use at the time. The survey covered all parishes where tithes were paid, lists of land parcels, their size, use and the owners and occupiers were recorded.

At the last meeting of 2017 Stephen Hobbs described the community archive of the Hartland Society, a local history group founded by his father. The Society has a large archive of materials some very fragile, and his work extends over 20 years. Realising the potential of computers and digital images, in 2000 he successfully applied for a Millennium Award from the National Lottery. At that time, digitizing images was in its early days. He described the work at Clovelly and Hartland Abbey and explained the processes. This included scanning pictures and printed text to optical character and facial recognition processes all placed into datasets. In all, there are some 600,000 images. Following this Stephen was engaged by North Devon Athenaeum for five months and processed around 100,000 items. Once the archive was created, exhibitions were held, publications issued along with the use of social media, walks and talks. He noted that people tend to look at historical records in the context of the landscape they are standing in.

The Branch Committee have been very active during the year with five committee meetings held. However, it is also looking for other members to join a team that sadly, are not getting younger!

Michael Wright

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