Tavistock & West Devon Branch report: Sep 2017 to Jan 2018

In early September an intrepid group of members took part in the last of our summer walks from Fernworthy Reservoir to Sittaford Circle led by Alan Endacott, who has the unusual distinction of being the first person in 4,000 years to have discovered a previously unknown Dartmoor circle. This was a challenging walk but one full of interest thanks to Alan’s excellent guidance. A relaxed and well-deserved lunch in Chagford proved to be a fitting finale to all our exertions.

At the first meeting of the autumn season, we welcomed Richard Sandover, currently working with the Dartmoor National Park Authority’s “Moor than meets the Eye” project, a study involving the reconstruction of the mediaeval landscape and farming methods in a number of Devon parishes. Postulating that perhaps the single most important invention in farming before the tractor was the mediaeval heavy plough, Richard demonstrated how the implement caused the Saxons to make fundamental changes to their farming methodology which, in turn transformed the landscape of much of the county. Indeed the extent to which these modifications to farming were imposed upon Devon was the subject of much debate in the immediate pre and post-war period.

Alan Endacott, who is also a specialist in architectural stained glass and leaded lights, returned as our speaker in October. By combining the study and the techniques of mediaeval, Victorian and modern stained glass in a City & Guilds course in Decorated Stained Glass, Alan developed his own distinctive style inspired by the landscape and very special heritage of Devon and Cornwall with which he grew up. Stained glass is the only art form to harness the magic of transmitted rather than reflected light to reveal design. Alan delighted us all, not only by talking us through the various stages of what is a highly complex process, but in providing us with a hands-on illustration of how it is done – an altogether awe-inspiring yet fascinating exercise.

The first joint meeting of the Tavistock Branch of the DA with the Devon History Society in November was a significant occasion and well supported by members. Featuring “Dartmoor Art from the 18th to the 21st century”, this talk by Peter Mason explored the way in which Dartmoor has been portrayed from the time when it was described as a ‘dreary mountainous tract’ through its place in the ‘picturesque’ movement to the contemporary artists who are using it as their inspiration today. This was a masterly talk which provided an introduction to a major exhibition entitled ‘Dartmoor: A Wild and Wondrous Region’ currently running at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.

In December an inspirational talk by Dr John Davey on the recently discovered archaeological project at Ipplepen gave us much food for thought. When the Romans landed in AD43 their impact was widespread. However, until recently, scholars widely assumed that Devon had not been affected by Roman rule or, if it had, that the invaders had not ventured much further than Exeter. The unexpected discovery by metal detectors of the site at Ipplepen challenged all these assumptions. Over 150 Roman coins have subsequently been recorded, together with the remains of a Roman road through the settlement. The project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter, the British Museum, Devon County Council and other local bodies.

Finally in January over 40 members and guests attended the Branch’s annual social evening and buffet supper, followed by a short but illuminating talk by Andrew Thompson on The Trendle, a little known Iron Age settlement, one mile to the north-east of Tavistock. This informal and convivial evening offered an ideal opportunity for members, old and new, to become better acquainted and was much appreciated by all those who attended.

Barbara Edwards

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