If you asked people to come up with landmarks in England, Salisbury Plain’s Stonehenge would not be far from the top of the list. There is something mystical about megaliths that attracts our eye and a tactile quality about their solidity, calling us to reach out on a grey blustery day to touch their un-forgiving heat-absorbing surface. On sunny days, they willingly sharing their warmth with us as we eagerly explore the crevices and uneven textures of their surface. Sadly one can no longer explore Stonehenge as we did in childhood, coming up close to appreciate their size and impact.
Dartmoor provides many examples of granite landmarks – stone circles or lines, remains of ancient huts to intrigue the hiker, stone walls, and, of course, the Tors. I love the shapes made through weathering and lichens on the surface, adding character and apparent antiquity. Folklore surrounds many formations – the Tolmen stone (celtic for hole – stone) is said to have been used in Druid purification ceremonies and later thought to have the power to cure rheumatic disorders – if you were able to pass through the the hole the requisite number of times.
Celtic for Long Stone is maen hir. There are about 12 generally recognised genuine Menhir long stones remaining on Dartmoor but only 3 still standing, guarding the hill tops, stone beacons visible for miles around up to 3.5 or even 4.2m tall. Landmarks which guide walkers on their way but perhaps drew ancients to worship, pointing to the wonders of creation. A few of the largest have been dated to show they do originate in the bronze age, 4,500 years ago.
Some of the less grand Menhirs are the only remaining post in a row or structure, where smaller stones were likely removed for wall or house building elsewhere. Others are thought to have marked Medieval cross roads or tracks. They may have marked meeting places, perhaps for marketing goods, or been boundary markers of some sort. In our neighbouring village South Zeal, the Oxenham Arms was built around a large menhir. Others indicate ancient burial places, much as the gravestones of today, a memorial to the people or time, lest we forget.
All these Menhirs, crosses and boundary stones have been well documented by historians such as William Crossing, Rev Sabine Baring Gould, W.G. Hoskins and D.J.L Brewer as well as our own St Leger Gordons, many academics from Exeter University and others.
Sticklepath can not claim one of the giants, but we have our own ancient granite Menhirs which have attracted attention, speculation and stories: the Honest Man and the Incised Stone. These have been re-purposed over the years, likely St Andrew’s crosses added to Christianise them and more recent use as Parish boundary markers, first between Belstone and Sampford Courtenay and now Sticklepath Parish. Much has been written, often with great consternation, of the orientation and exact position of the stones. There has been natural sinking, and of necessity movement for road widening or for preservation of the stones. Both are about 6 feet tall but most often 3-4 feet of granite is visible.
The Honest Man, of similar appearance, has two stories associated with it, documented by Ruth St Leger-Gordon of sticklepath (St. Ledger-Gordon, 1972, The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor, EP Publishing, Wakefield). Firstly a ‘Good Samaritan’ story suggests it was erected by a man who had been assaulted as a memorial to his rescuer’s kindness. The second reminds us that the stone marks the Mariner’s Way, the route taken by sailors across the county when changing ships. It tells of one coming up the hill from the Inns of Sticklepath, rather the worse for ale, probably in the semi-dark, mistaking the stone for a person and asking “Be ye an honest man?”
St Leger-Gordon also speculates that it may once have been a signpost for the meeting of a pagan religious group. Page describing the stone slightly earlier doesn’t mention the name ‘Honest man’, which is likely therefore to have been a more recent innovation (Page, J. Ll. W. 1895 The Exploration of Dartmoor, Seeley & Co. London). The best photo I have found showing some markings is at https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/honestman.htm
From the Honest Man at the entrance to Bude farm, for 300 yards the Mariner’s way is also the Parish boundary. Beating the Bounds, a strong local tradition still occurs perhaps every 7 years, Covid allowing!
Sticklepath also boasts an ancient granite cross, of medieval style. This is found on top of the Wesleyan Chapel which was built in 1816. The origins of the cross are lost in the mists of time.
One Place Studies can be found throughout the world – Sue Wyatt in Tasmania has a message encouraging her readers to contribute too – READERS: DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS FOR POSTS? – it would be great if anyone with an interest in Sticklepath would like to join in… let me know if you don’t have a blog or website, I can help with that! No need to stick to the suggested topics, but please let me know so I can flag it up here too.
“Landmarks, by their pure existence, structure environments. They form cognitive anchors, markers, or reference points for orientation , wayfinding and communication. They appear in our sketches, in descriptions of meeting points or routes, and as the remarkable objects of an environment in tourist brochures.” (Richter and Winter)
Landmarks are often visible from a distance, or are features which, for a traveller passing through, mark One Place as different to another. I would add to that: ‘scars’, symbols or indicators in the environment which point to the history of our place.
Ladywell is mentioned in tourist information about Sticklepath, it represents both a physical landmark and landmark in history, before piped drinking water came down the street or into our houses. I surmise Ladywell would also have been an important social gathering point where people exchanged news whilst waiting to fill their containers. (Long before lock down, so no evidence of 2m marks!)
First let’s orientate ourselves using some other landmarks. As you travel through the village towards Okehampton and Cornwall, look past the small St Mary’s Church to see Ladywell on the left. Just there, by the roadside, as you start to notice the rise of the hill under your feet, with ‘White Rock’ and its flagpole on the Mount above.
The tree and building are long gone, but find a pleasing bench on which to rest your weary legs, admire the village scene and ‘Be Thankful’. Probably not wise to drink!
In about 1820 John Pearse, wool-stapler from Cleave Mill, had the overflow from Ladywell spring piped to the present Ladywell site, for the convenience of his Mill workers and the rest of the village. Ladywell much as we see it was built in 1831 – 2 yrs after the road was widened. A concealed pipe leads to a tank hidden beneath granite blocks and from there runs out through the short pipe we see, beneath the engraved lintel, ready to fill containers, to quench a thirst and flush the roadside drains.
In fact Ladywell spring, essentially a round well 2 ½ – 3 feet diameter and perhaps 4-5 feet deep, is towards the top corner of a field known as Allermead, further up the hill on the opposite side of the road (see photo below for indication of where it is),
There has been some suggestion that this was a ‘Holy Well’ and that the origin of Allermead could be essentially ‘Hallowed meadow’. I am not aware of anything to support this but being close to the church it is possible it was at one time part of the incumbent priest’s lands.
In 1887, the villagers arranged for the Ladywell water to be piped down the village street. This is commemorated on a plaque on the wall next to the chapel. (The wall was taken down and rebuilt with the plaque re-installed, when the road was widened). Being almost ‘outside’ the Parish, certainly not the main focus of Parish affairs, Sticklepath arranged many projects like this one without input from the Parish, relying on locals and wealthier well-wishers.
Jessie Barron tells us more in her book. Referring to living conditions following the 2nd world war she says:
Her final sentence a timely reminder of the infection free, quality monitored, piped water we all take for granted, but which was a luxury innovation for our grandparents generation.
Dartmoor water whilst commonly considered ‘natural and pure’ can be contaminated in various ways, even on open moorland, due to the geology and farming – radon and radioactive carbon contamination, excessively acid and corrosive, high aluminium or other metal content, urine and faecal contamination, decaying matter upstream, and even vehicle pollution, for example.
Before moving on to the delightful subject of sewerage and Ladywell’s role, we turn to the building just above Ladywell, the shed in the foreground of Lugg’s photo:.
This substantial building with double ‘garage’ doors, is large enough to house a carriage. We can see posters on the lefthand side. This building was constructed and owned by wheelwright and carriage builder James Cook, as stated in his will. His workshop is on the lefthand side of the road part way between St Mary’s and Ladywell. The shed must have been demolished when the road was substantially widened and re-modelled here, perhaps in 1960s? We can see wood and a small cart on this photo. On photos further above there are wheels seen too around the shed.
Sanitation – A sewerage system of a reasonable standard came much later than piped water. Until then the Well was the means of flushing away household waste through the open drains on the North side of the road. Ladywell overflow ran into a ‘tip-tank’ beneath an iron grating. This was later replaced with a siphon mechanism. Waste from houses on the South side, however, just joined the leat water. Despite knowing this, most villagers on the South side freely dipped the leat for uses other than drinking, as it flowed just by their back doorsteps. Permission to use the leat water was written into most of their contracts.
In the middle of the 17th century the whole village and surrounding lands including mills and therefore the leat supplying them with power, was in the ownership of the Lethbridge family. By the late 18th century most was owned by the Underhill family. Conveyance of the Western and Carnall Mills (Eastern end of the village just by the bridge) from Richard Underhill to George Underhill includes permission to use the leat water for up to one hour a day to water Mill Meadow, and for him and the tenants of adjoining properties to use the leat water to wash their wool on payment of 6 pence per year. The leat itself and access to it remained the property of the mill owners. (Barron). However, they and I think Cleave Mill also, had to give one hour’s notice of wool washing to the Mills lower downstream.
The W.I.’s ‘The Book of Sticklepath (Dartmoor)’ in 1955 commented that not everyone had running water to their home yet:
“Some of the modern inhabitants of the village do the same today, leaving a pail or pitcher to fill under the steady trickle while they ‘run down the village’. ”
The village school which opened in 1879 is higher up the hill than Ladywell. This caused problems for water supply and sanitation. All drinking water was carried up the hill to school. In 1938 a Ministry of Health Inspector wrote
“The water has to be carried an unreasonable distance and I recommend that this matter is given urgent attention” (Hutchison)
It wasn’t until 1952 that a pump was installed to take water up the hill to the school. School toilets could be flushed using rainwater from holding tanks above the playground, as long as it had rained and was not frozen. These tanks were only disposed of in 1970 (the year I left the school!). There were times the tanks had to be filled, for example by Okehampton Fire Brigade during summer droughts, or by a Water Board Tanker during the freeze of winter 1960-61.
The main supply for Sticklepath village now, along with Belstone’s, is pumped from Meldon Reservoir, about 7 miles away. (I remember visiting the valley before construction of the damn began in 1970, and several times since).
Lion’s Mouth deserves a mention here, purely as a source of drinking water for residents of Skaigh Hamlet, and a pleasing stopping point on a circular walk from Sticklepath Bridge, along the banks of the Taw, through the Skaigh Valley. It likely dates from 1870 in it’s current form.
Rockside, as it is labelled, otherwise known as Skaigh House, one of the wealthiest estates, at one time owned by Symington who contributed greatly to our village including the building of Sticklepath Village Hall (Next week’s #Sticklepath #OnePlaceLandmark). Again drinking this water is NOT advised, after contamination was found in 2000 by the Environmental Agency.
Additional Notes: 1. Ladywell lends its name to a house on the opposite side of the road but that is not considered here. 2. We should also note residents at the East end of the village used a different spring behind the Taw River Inn in Skaigh Lane. 3. Further photographs of Ladywell can be found in “South Tawton & South Zeal – with Sticklepath – 1000 years beneath the Beacon by Roy and Ursula Radford, pages 26 and 61 – including Chapman postcard no10049, as well as a photograph by Douglas St Leger-Gordon in the WI booklet, those detailed show the position of the standing stone in relation to Ladywell better than those shown above). 4. Water supplies to parts of the village were complicated by being part of, and adjacent to, several parishes. The WI booklet again tells us: “When six ‘council’ bungalows were built down Willey Lane in 1953, pipes for their supply were attached to South Tawton mains, on the other side of the bridge.” 5. Historic England Research Records no 444182 says no evidence was found to substantiate a medieval date for Ladye Well, though the name might suggest a pre-reformation origin. 6. Sticklepath Conservation Area Appraisal suggests a 10th century date for the Ladywell stone, though this may refer to the standing stone rather than the lintel. Conservation Area Appraisal 2017 PDF – http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk. 7. Details of the history of the water supply to Belstone is given in The Book of Belstone (Walpole p131-134) much of which applies to Sticklepath, with various schemes to use Taw Marsh water proposed and some enacted.
This is my first post for 2021, and first in a series for #oneplacestudies, #oneplacewednesday and January’s topic of #oneplacelandmarks. I would like to capture, for posterity, memories, knowledge and views of what it is or was like to live in, work in or visit Sticklepath. PLEASE comment on this post or with your thoughts about Sticklepath. I love to hear family stories, especially if backed up with sources or evidence. If this is your first or an occasional ‘visit’ to Sticklepath on the edge of Dartmoor – WELCOME! Please do come again!
There are many bridges on Dartmoor, primarily constructed of the local stone – granite. The earliest and simplest are clapper bridges, a single piece of granite laid across a waterway or gulley. Wider gaps would have required a central column or pier and two slabs, and so on. Many were (and are) tourist attractions, such as Wallabrook. A Clapper Bridge over the Teign, this was a favourite location for a picnic and family day out from Sticklepath in the 1920s, as Phyllis Finch’s album shows:
STICKLEPATH – There is mention of Butter Bridge, built of a massive flat stone, East of the tithe map field of this name in Sticklepath. I have no further information regards this at this time. ( 21/11/1978 King . HER number MDV20388). Any help welcomed!
Wooden bridges were also popular but have survived less well than the stone. Dartmoor ‘Clam’ Bridges were traditionally one or two tree trunks side by side, spanning the waterway, with their top surface levelled and grooves inserted to improve grip. A good clam bridge required major maintenance/replacement every 25-30 years. There was traditionally one hand rail. Many other wooden bridges were of less solid construction. Health and safety has not allowed such structures to continue and chunkier less environmentally sympathetic wood structures have almost completely replaced them. I think the original bridge across the Taw behind the graveyard in Sticklepath, now part of the Tarka trail, may have been a clam bridge. There have certainly been wooden bridges over the Taw in the Ska or Skaigh Valley Woods for many years.
Photos of wooden bridge in the Skaigh valley between Sticklepath and Belstone:
STICKLEPATH BRIDGE, sometimes called Taw Bridge, is one of many similar 2 – 3 arched Dartmoor granite bridges with cut waters and pedestrian refuges above. Many are very picturesque, often in a wooded valley with opportunity to fish along the banks and usually somewhere to sit and imbibe refreshments, such as Fingle Bridge:
Unfortunately you cross the bridge as you enter Sticklepath almost without noticing, so it doesn’t have this picturesque appeal, especially as the banks have become overgrown (at least when I last visited) and it is difficult to get a full view from a public footpath.
THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE – Henderson tells us in 1928:
“ A description of the bridge by Green, the county surveyor in 1809, makes its two arches 17 feet in span and the width of the roadway only 14 feet. “This bridge,” he adds, ” being built upon a rock, though rough, is very strong.” A sketch of the bridge and plan made in 1852 shows that the road had been widened to 23 feet. This widening was done on the northern, or lower side, and the cutwater, with its triangular recess, was obliterated. The upper side remained untouched with its two little arches and massive cutwater between them. Thus the bridge remains to-day, and if the widening could be effected on the lower side no harm would be done. The old part of the bridge appears to date from the 17th century, the arches of a nondescript character, as at Fingle Bridge. It is probable, however, that the bridge has been in existence since the 14th century”. ”
Western Times – Friday 24 February 1928 tells us that Mr T.H. Ormston Pearse and Mr J. Pearse submitted objections to the Devon Main Roads Committee their objections to the changing of the pointed arches to rounded arches in the widening of the bridge at Sticklepath. To maintain pointed arches would be more costly and they had been found to be insufficient to take the load of modern traffic. When pressed for an explanation:
“ Colonel Gracey said the bridge had about the weakest form of semi-bastard Gothic arch, and the sub-committee decided there should be an elliptic arch.” The extra cost of at least £300 was a big factor.
However, the Western Times – Friday 20 July 1934, suggests there was more to the story. Mr. Miller explained: “Here the archaeologists claim that the arch is of curious and interesting design. The increased speed and weight of modern traffic had very nearly caused this arch to collapse. The County Engineer averted this by putting in a reinforced concrete saddle, concealed from view, over the arch, which has the effect of relieving the arch of all pressure, of whatever kind. The widening has been carried out in the same design and manner as the ancient bridge, the same arch being carried through the new portion. The same stone has been used as far as possible in the abutments, and where this was not sufficient the moor was scoured for weathered granite. So that it is now impossible to see that any new work has been carried out.”
The village Conservation Area Appraisal 2017 suggests that the present structure is 18th century in origin. It is Grade II listed. Historic England list entry 1171622, National Grid Reference:SX 64354 94028, the description says:
“Road bridge over the River Taw. Probably C18. Snecked blocks of rusticated granite ashlar. 2-span bridge, each a segmental arch rising from vertical abutments. Between the two a pointed cutwater rises into the parapet to provide small refuges each side of the road. The parapet has plain granite coping. No terminal piers.”
An unusual feature is that the leat joins the river here on the higher side. ( This plays a part in one of the village tragedies so we will come back to this exact spot in February).
This tells us that the old stonework of the bridge is visible underneath, 4m wide, but otherwise no visible medieval remains are visible. (Alexander, j. J. /dcnq/14(1926-1927)115/early bridges). It also says receipts showing repairs were made to the bridge in 1629 are found in Tavistock Churchwardens’ accounts. (These and other sources from the website should be followed up in the future).
We can not know for certain when a bridge was first built here. Perhaps a Ford existed before that and I am aware there is some evidence for use of different routes through the village. We can however surmise that when built the bridge would only have been made as wide as it needed to be. Hence several alterations or re-builds have been required since. Tradition states that the carriage of King George III ( George William Frederick; 4 June 1738 – 29 January 1820, King from 1760) got stuck on our narrow bridge and that one parapet (side wall) had to be knocked down before he could proceed. (WI The Story of Sticklepath). This postcard and of Holne New Bridge illustrates the need for triangular pedestrian refuges and highlights the need for widening as vehicles grew larger and more numerous:
A Commermorative Plaque confirms the later widening in 1928.
There are two other associated stones of note. The bridge marked the transition from Sampford Courtenay (S.C.) to South Tawton (S.T.) Parish so it is the site of a parish boundary marker. (Photo 2019 showing relationship to commemorative plaque).
The sharp-eyed, walking into the village, will also spot a ‘C’ stone built into the side of Primula House about 75 yards further down the road. Legendary Dartmoor tells us:
“A statute laid down by Henry VIII in 1531 ensured that at least somebody was made responsible for the maintenance of bridges. This statute basically directed that if no landowner, City, Borough, Town, Parish etc. could be proven to be those charged with bridge maintenance then the duty fell upon the County or Shire.”
Such bridges became known as ‘County Bridges’ with maintenance and repair funds coming from taxes levied on local inhabitants.
“The act required that for every bridge, the road over it and for 300ft on either approach should be similarly maintained. In 1841 the Devon magistrates decided that the limits of their responsibility were to be marked by boundstones.” These ‘C Stones’ were about 3 feet high with an incised ‘C’ on one of the faces and placed one on either side of the bridge. (This lasted until 1880 when the newly formed County Councils adopted responsibility.)
WATERSMEET – Before we leave the physical appearance of the area, it is worth noting that I have seen no evidence that Sticklepath Bridge was ever part of the turnpike system (e.g. Burd, E. P., 1936, Okehampton Turnpikes). Watersmeet the house immediately alongside has a diagonal facade reminiscent of Toll houses, however, it is more likely the architect took advantage to maximise its footprint, whilst enabling best visibility for vehicles exiting from the Mill situated behind. (Now private dwellings including Albany House and Mill Cottage). Muriel Bowden suggested that Watersmeet was built in the early 1900s and remembered a sweet shop there run by Miss Harriet Worden, very popular with the children. Later a doctor held surgery in the two front rooms, in competition with Dr Sharp. On the other hand very early photographs do not necessary confirm it was originally built with the diagonal facades and raise the possibility that this was a later alteration perhaps after an accidental damage? I wonder if other early photographs exist? (Interesting also to see on the following photos how the right hand side of the road changes, the magnificent row of elm trees with their shadows in the first postcard disappear, the wall moves back to allow widening and a pavement and later the entrance to Oak Tree Park appears. Notice the chimney on Watersmeet appears and disappears too!)
PEOPLE AND EVENTS – A One Place Study aims not only to consider local and social history, but to connect people with places and events. If the stones of our bridge could speak they would have numerous stories to tell. It was of course a frequent meeting place, and not just for romantic couples about to wander along the Taw. The Western Times reports for example Friday 17 November 1865 that Earl Portsmouth’s Hounds meet at Sticklepath Bridge for “The Chase” on 20th. The report on Friday 04 July 1890 says:
“On Sunday week the members of this section of D. Company 4th V.B.D.R. fell in at Taw Bridge for a church parade and marched to the church headed by the band of the company.” “15 band, 35 rank and file.”
The bridge has been crossed by many people of note: Charles I, with his Army in 1644 pursuing the Earl of Essex in Cornwall, availed himself of the courtesy of the bridge, as perhaps his wretched Queen Henrietta had done a few weeks before, when she fled from Exeter to Launceston. Prince Rupert too rode through to quarter his troops in Okehampton, some we know were billeted at Coombehead Farm (the story is told that fearing detection they cut off the head of the cockerel to prevent it crowing and raising the alarm!).
“Many were the coaches that rattled over the bridge when Falmouth became the great Packet Station of the West, and the most famous characters of the 18th century must have been jolted from their slumbers as their postchaises or coaches took the dangerous bend.” (Henderson)
As noted in an earlier blog, in 1805 Lieutenant Lapenotiere set out to from his position off Cape Trafalgar, to deliver his vital dispatches to the Admiralty in Whitehall. His journey across the sea in the HMS Pickle, was beset with trials – rough passage such that the guns had to be thrown overboard, then be-calming. On reaching Falmouth, Lapenotiere would have taken the first possible post-chaise express carriage passing over our village bridge on his way with the news of the triumphant battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson.
Much more recently, in 1916, it was at the bridge that our village policeman arrested a man accused of molesting young girls (neither he nor his victims from Sticklepath, the constable had been given a description and correctly identified the man). The Western Times of Friday 07 May 1937 reports a lesser crime:
“STICKLEPATH MAN AND PAYMENT OF FINES. Summonses “for failing to observe a Halt” sign at Sticklepath Bridge on April 18th against Edgar Leslie Gibbs, of The Stores, Sticklepath, were dismissed at Okehampton Sessions Wednesday on payment of costs. Asked to show cause why he had not paid 12s. in respect of fines inflicted him on January 13th he said he had been out of work. At one time he drove a lorry and managed his own business. Now his only income was 2s. a week on a paper round. He was quite prepared to pay 5s. per month.” (1934 Road Traffic Acts and Regulations handbook had introduced the ‘Halt at major road ahead’ sign, precursor of the ‘Stop’ sign).
In 1950 (Western Morning News – Monday 22 May) Douglas St Leger-Gordon wrote about people gathering on the bridge to admire the increasingly rare red squirrel which was visiting it’s nut store close to the bridge daily, and had almost become the village ‘mascot’.
So far I have only had access to secondary sources, but I would be pleased to hear of any access to primary sources or other information.
Unfortunately there are several “Sticklepath” bridges, and it is not clear if all stories relate to ours. The Western Morning News – Wednesday 15 February 1928, points to just such a confusion between what is now known as Grenofen Bridge and our village bridge.
1307 – “BISHOP’S MONEY FOR REPAIRS. Thomas Bytton, cf Exeter, who died in 1307, was prelate renowned for the munificence of his charities. In his will he left a large sum of money for charitable purposes, and desired his executors to journey throughout his Diocese of Devon and Cornwall distributing it as they thought fit. The executors performed their task without sparing themselves, for they journeyed almost to Land’s End. When they returned, in 1310, they made out a long account of what they had distributed. Among other items find the gift of £6 13s. 4d. for the repair, of the Bridge at “Stykelepath” under the “view”or direction of “Robert the Monk there.” This was a large sum for a little bridge, whichever Sticklepath is meant, and we may suppose that Robert the Monk, in his hermitage by the riverside, touched the hearts of the executors by his devotion. Perhaps they had some difficulty in crossing the torrent owing to the ruinous state of the bridge, and Dan Robert, in giving them aid and comfort, was able to point a moral. The incident conjures up a vignette of wayfaring life in the Middle Ages”, and Henderson goes on:
“It is not surprising to find a monk taking charge of the building of a bridge, for in the Middle Ages bridge-building was generally under the auspices of the Church as a work of Christian charity. If the executors had styled him “Frater ” and not “Monachus” one would have regarded Robert as a member of the Order of Pontist Friars, specially formed for the building and maintenance of bridges.”
The Chantry Priest in our village at that time was one Robert de Esse so by my reckoning we have good grounds on which to claim this tale as our own.
ALL COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
References / Bibliography (other than those quoted in full above)