Tavistock & West Devon Branch report: Aug 2015 to Jan 2016

Our last field visit in 2015 was to Devonport. Lunch at the Column Bakehouse was followed by a stiff climb up the 125ft Devonport Tower for a spectacular view prior to a two and a half hour walking tour under the expert guidance of Nigel Overton. Devonport was re-named by George IV in 1823, having been previously known as Plymouth Dock or simply Dock. The town has very strong naval connections with both the Naval Base as well as its Dockyard. Landmarks visited included the renowned Foulston’s Grade I listed Devonport Guildhall and Column, the Egyptian House, the Redoubt, the World War II Barrage Balloon site and Scott’s Memorial.

At the Extraordinary General Meeting held in September to decide the future of the Branch, Barbara Edwards was appointed as Chairman, and with the demise of the Okehampton Branch, it was proposed and has subsequently been agreed by the DA Executive that the Branch should in future be known as the Tavistock & West Devon Branch. The evening concluded with a talk given by Chris Burchell on the work of the world famous Edwardian architect Edwin Lutyens at Milton Abbot.

In October a joint afternoon meeting was held with the Friends of the Wharf, a new venture intended to promote the DA amongst a wider audience. Dr Tom Greeves, the current President of the DA was the speaker and his talk ’40 years of Archaeological Discovery on Dartmoor’ including the rediscovery of a “new” stone row dating to the 4th millennium BC, of an early Christian inscribed stone and other exciting revelations, emphasised that there are still amazing discoveries to be made shedding light on how people have lived and worked on Dartmoor for millennia.

In November, Kevin Dickens presented a well-researched account on roads and tracks in Devon ranging from historic “roads that never were” to arterial roads of the present day. Very few remains of prehistoric roads exist on Dartmoor. It was not until the arrival of the Romans that roads really began to develop with moorland routes such as the Abbots’ Way and the Lychway linking inhabitants of the moor to their parish church at Lydford. Nevertheless roads were generally in bad condition until the creation of the Turnpike Trust in 1762 and the introduction of toll charges.

In December the Branch welcomed Barbie Thompson who gave members an inspirational insight into the life of one of Lord Nelson’s surgeons, Sir George McGrath. A complex and somewhat controversial figure, McGrath proved to be well in advance of his age in the holistic approach which he took to medicine and in the innovative manner in which he treated the sick sailors on board ship and later the prisoners at the Mill prison in Plymouth and the hospital at Dartmoor Prison. Nelson himself described him as “by far the most able medical man I have ever seen” – a high commendation.

A record gathering, including five new members, attended the annual January Social Evening. Once again the ladies of the Gulworthy WI exceeded all expectations by producing a magnificent buffet greatly enjoyed by those present. This was followed by a brief but stimulating talk on the history of coins from 650 BC to the present day, ably presented by Bryan Short.

Finally our latest meeting, another joint event, in association with the Tavistock History Society, originated in a chance meeting by one of our members with a number of Freemasons. A group was invited to visit the Tavistock Bedford Lodge for light refreshments followed by a talk on the history of Freemasonry encompassing the emergence of organised lodges of operative masons during the Middle Ages, the later admission of “lay” members as accepted speculative masons and finally the evolution of purely speculative lodges. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the visit to the Inner Temple and an insight into some of the fascinating customs and regalia associated with the organisation.

Barbara Edwards

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