Listed Bovey: 66 – 70, Fore Street

When we began house hunting on our return from Bermuda, if a house was “Listed” I didn’t short-list it for viewing – the idea conjured up prolonged battles with planning offices, drafts, spiders and an endless need for money for repairs.  Two years down the line I find myself owning and living in a listed building, and still a little stunned as to how it happened.  I am pleased to say that my fears were not (quite) realised – we have discussions but not battles with the planning office, the drafts are kept out by thick curtains and we don’t have spiders – woodlice, yes but no 8-legged creatures. There is, I am afraid, a probably endless need for money for repairs!



So what is a “Listed” building? 

It began in 1882 when the need to protect England’s heritage was realised and powers to do so established in law. First listed were pre-historic monuments but then shortly after the war began a 25 year project to determine which buildings were of significant historic value.  The system of grading was introduced initially to help define whether a building damaged by bombs during the war was worth salvaging. This first survey resulted in some 120,000 listed buildings, most of them built pre-1750s.

Further surveys were undertaken in the 1960s and 1980s, increasing both the number and also the detail recorded for each property. In 2011 the full list was made available online and in 2016 a project to “enrich the list” began, where people are encouraged to add photographs and knowledge to listings.

The list can be found at Historic England 


Early 20th century


Grade 2* Listed

“Grade Two Star” – “particularly important” or “more than special interest”

Thats our home, and I confess to feeling a sense of pride as well as privilege that for a while we are tasked with caring for a nationally important property.  When in Bermuda I worked for the National Trust as a guide to three of their historic buildings – Verdmont, Tucker House and The Globe Hotel.  My favourite was Verdmont, built in the 1690s, home to a wealthy adventurer; when visitors waned then I sat in the hall imagining myself as owner dreaming in the smell of well polished cedar furniture and the creaks of  floorboards.  Living in our home in Devon is that dream – I have my own historic house, beams, creaks, oak and granite.

Yew Tree House, 1900





What makes it Grade 2*? 

Fistly it is old – built in early or mid-16th century, 1500-1550s.  In perspective: Henry VIII was crowned (1509), Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa(1505), Magellan was exploring the Pacific, Copernicus suggested the earth moved round the sun (1543).  Bermuda had not been discovered!

It is built of cob and stone, vernacular architecture, using granite from South Dartmoor and local mud!  It is thought to have been in the style of a medieval hall house with three rooms and a through passage.  The large granite fireplace in the rear wall was most likely built with the original house.

“The hall has large hollow-moulded granite fireplace with pyramid stops (at present concealed) at the foot; back of fireplace is of large ashlar blocks. Above the lintel, and partly blocked by the upper-floor beams, is a relieving arch of well-cut voussoirs, the space between it and the lintel filled with specially-cut pieces of granite.”


This original footprint is still apparent with a lower room, hall and upper room.  The through passage has to either side “stud and panel screens” – effectively wooden walls that are still standing almost 500 years after they were made. Some of the terms used to describe the features I still need to look up – for example the listing mentions “diagonal cut stops” and “ovolo moulding”.  Maybe I will tackle them in a later post.


So we have the design, the wooden panels and the fireplace all adding “special interest” but it is upstairs where most of our visitors way “wow”. The room above the hall, the middle room of the house, is open to the roof so one can see all the beams, the jointed crucks, cranked collars and butt purlins.  At the lower end of this roof structure there is evidence of a previous wattle and daub partition, the stake holes being visible on the underside of the tie beam.  That partition would have been a wall for what is commonly called a “minstrels gallery”, the upper storey room above the lower end of the house.  The other upper rooms would have been floored in later times and later still staircases put in place for access.


…with nine trusses, seven of them side-pegged jointed crucks and the other two closed tie-beam trusses. The trusses had cranked collars and three sets of butt purlins, but no ridge. The hall and lower end had one tier of well-shaped windbraces. The closed trusses, which marked off the three-bay hall roof, had a central pegged strut from collar to tie-beam,
At the lower end a second central pegged strut ran from tie-beam to upper-floor beam. It formed the centre of a close-studded partition in the second storey; the other studs, however, were halved to the face of the tie-beam and had clearly replaced an earlier wattle-and-daub partition, the stake-holes of which could be seen on the underside of the tie-beam.


In the lower room there is a small door leading to the remains of a stone newel staircase set into the thick wall.  The steps are steep and have little space for placing your feet and the upper part has been lost to modernisation that occurred before listing.


The final notable feature of the house is its front door:


Four granite steps lead to what is described as an “original inner doorway” with a chamfered round-headed door frame with durn jambs and a plank door with short strap hinges.  It is what you might expect to find in a Hobbit House.


Post script: 

Woodlice – I will explain them later, but they are quite large and live in the parlour!

Cob – composed of earth and straw mixed with water like mortar , beaten and well-trodden, usually placed on a foundation of stonework some two feet thick.

Ovolo moulding is apparently just curved!

Crucks and Purlins  – now that will take a whole post to explain!





More of the Granite Tramway


The track rises from Holwell Quarry, going up about 150 feet, but then is a gentle downhill for 7 miles, a drop in height of 1300 feet.

These images are taken from the sections both West and East of Higher Terrace Drive

Carefully trimmed flange to take wheels of wagons
Grooved trackstones linked by an iron bracket
Branch Line – or points

For much of its route it is a single track, but there are extra connecting tracks to the quarry faces.


The main length of the tramway is scheduled as an ancient monument.


In the 1934-5 Ward, Lock and Co Illustrated Guide to Dartmoor, there is the description:

Haytor and the common immediately in front of it may be termed “the Hampstead Heath of Devon” for it attracts daily visitors from all over the South-Western counties and beyond.’

The volume then states that over 7 days in 1925 there was a daily average of 80 motor-coaches and 270 cars and around 50 motor-cycles.  The guide author does, however, bemoan the fact that most visitors just clambered over Haytor rocks and he urges the reader to “strike off to the right…skirting the clutter that lines the lower slopes ….noting the remains of the old grooved granite tramlines… fast disappearing“.  He would be pleased to see they have definitely not disappeared.




Green Man Festival, Bovey Tracey

It has been ages since I last wrote  post – I could say I have been hibernating, though I have actually been busy following the arrival of a grandchild. I have also been exploring and thus there are several embryonic posts in production.  I will start with the Green Man Spring Festival in Bovey Tracey, which was last Saturday.

Green Man and Twiglets with May Queen and Morris Dancers

Who is the “Green Man”? 

There appear to be several answers to this question:

  • Foliate faces, often seen in church carvings
  • A mischievous or dark figure found in Morris dances
  • The Green Knight, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood,
  • A pagan representation of fertility
  • The King of the May in MayDay festivals
  • Simply a common architectural carving
  • A relic from ancient tree-worshipping times


Bovey’s Green Man is all of these, it doesn’t require any specific beliefs or leanings to in in what was a fun day of dancing, music, food and crafts.  This is the second year the festival has had this format, closing the main Fore Street to traffic and lining it with stalls of crafts and food.

My photos don’t do it justice, but you can access some on this link:


The Green Man in our parade was adorned in the traditional “Jack-in-the-Green” form, with a conical frame of wire over the man completely covered in foliage.  This was later “defoliated” at the end of the day – the purpose to release his spirit to ensure a fruitful summer and harvests.

There is a link to the historical “Chimney Sweeps Day” held on May 1st and this too was reflected by many of the Morris dancers having blackened sooty faces.  This link is not specific to Devon, far more references exist linking chimney sweeps surrounding London to a May Day celebration.

I am old enough that I should have known that UK did not have a regular May Day Bank Holiday until 1978.  It was introduced by the then labour government (and nearly taken away by the 1993 conservative government!) Though MayDay celebrations predated the Bank Holiday by centuries.  Presumed pagan origins led to the Church banishing May Day festivities in Henry VIIIs time; they crept back into popular culture only to be banned again by Oliver Cromwell.  Charles II, known as the “Merry Monarch” revived May Day by erecting a 40ft MayPole in the Strand.

So what is the connection with the Church -is there one? 

Nobody, it seems, has a clear idea as to why so many churches have carvings of Green Men or foliated heads inside their buildings.

Bovey has its own:

The head to the left appears to have a surround of leaves – this is in the porch as you enter the Church – scary!


Exeter Cathedral has one, named as “Head with Leaves”  – you will have to visit this one yourself as I cannot find a creative commons image, but I can tell you it is in The Lady Chapel.

We have some small carvings adorning our walls at home:

They are not original, but they do match the general feel of the house.

There were foliated images of men even back in Roman times and other cultures such as Byzantine had their own versions but the main period where Green Men start appearing in Christian churches in between the 6th and 11th centuries. Some argue that it was a way of keeping the peace with previous pagan practices.  It is also possible that they represent passions and desires that man needed to overcome – the origin of “grotesques” in ecclesiastical architecture; maybe foliated heads were another form of grotesque.  The use spread from church-based to secular buildings and later when printing becomes  easier then it was common to have a form of foliated head as a frontispiece to books.

Feel free to add your own pictures of the Green Man in the comments.

And come down to Bovey next Spring to join in the 2019 Green Man Festival.


Our own Twiglet

Grandmas are supposed to knit. And I do, just not very well yet.  I did however stretch to making some knitted leggings and some crocheted leaves for dressing up our Grandson.  He looked cute!



This will be our first Christmas in our “really old house” and I am excited. My imagination is conjuring images of previous occupiers celebrating Christmas – how many families have hung decorations from the beams or wooden screen panels?

I have discovered some details of past residents, just a scanty few clippings for now with a great deal of research needed to fill the gaps. For example, in 1714 our home was where the school master lived, and although I don’t have his name, another schoolmaster, William Chudleigh, lived here in 1841. The school itself was probably a little further up the street from us, though it is hard to be certain and I know from my research on Bermuda’s history that it was common for schoolmasters to teach in their own homes and some even had boarders in their own homes. By 1878 William Chudleigh must have moved on, because he does not appear on the list of residents of Fore Street (GenUKI).

Skip forward 30 years and records show that the Abbot family lived at “Yew Tree Cottage”. I will deal with the several house names in a later post, but in the early 20th century the whole building was divided into three separate dwellings, a fact which leaves us with three house numbers and an ever-so-slightly-clumsy hyphenated address. Charles Abbott was a coal merchant and was winning prizes in the Bovey Horticultural show for several years up until 1921.

I have some other surnames but am lacking detail: Fouracre, Coniam and Noakes occupying the house around the mid – 20th century. If anyone reading this can fill me in on details please do contact me. I have plans to explore the records offices in the New Year.



After several years of an artificial Christmas tree we have reverted to a natural one, this one from Dartmoor, freshly cut on Saturday morning. Our old white one found a place in a corner of the dining hall and so far the white tinsel is shedding more than the real tree! As I said in my Christmas “round robin” to friends and family, I have been knitting and crocheting decorations – crochet “paper-chains” and trees now adorn the beams.



My wanderings in history led me to the following clippings from newspaper archives, all from SW papers relating to Bovey around Christmas time:


Western Times, Monday 24 December 1917
100 years ago a whist drive and dance was held to send “cigarettes to the boys at the Front” (Western Times, Monday 24 December 1917)


Western Morning News Wednesday 5th December 1917
The start of December 1917 saw advertisements for large turkeys … and ferrets! (Western Morning Times, December 5th, 1917)


1917 Birds Custard ad
Not sure my family would appreciate stewed prunes and custard for Christmas dinner! (Western Morning News, 1917)


ashen faggot
A talk given in Bovey, actually from June 1950s: if anyone can enlighten me about this custom please get in touch!


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Enjoy your prunes and custard!

Haytor Granite Tramway

Granite tracks and the route going off to the north west side of Haytor.

Constructed in 1820 the Granite Tramway was for transporting blocks of granite from Dartmoor to the River Teign, but what I hadn’t realised until I came across a stretch on a walk around Haytor, was that the tracks themselves are built of granite.  Even more impressive is that the original track was around 8 miles long.


Haytor to Stover Canal


The granite from Dartmoor had been used for centuries to construct local buildings  – including my own home – but this was probably from stone found lying around rather than specifically quarried rock.  In the 19th century Dartmoor granite became a popular building stone for some of the finer structures in London: London Bridge (the one that now stands in Arizona) was specified to be constructed of “Light-grey Devonshire Haytor”.  So that was cause enough for establishing a quarry near Haytor.  But this doesn’t explain why the tramway itself was made of blocks of stone.


Tramways were fairly common and often used to serve canals.  One of the earliest, 1790,  was the Peak Forest Tramway which took limestone from Buxton to the Ashton-under-Lyne canal and this one did have stone slabs and stone sleepers.  By 1820 however iron rails were more common and locally near Tavistock on the western side of Dartmoor iron was used for rails in the tramway at Morwhellam Quay.  The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway was under construction in the 1820s and here the granite acted as sleepers but the rails were of cast iron.


The Templer family who owned the Stover Estate had constructed a canal to carry clay and coal between the upper Teign estuary and Heathfield where the potteries stood. George Templer developed the Haytor Quarry commercially and it appears that it was his decision to construct the tramway and cutting blocks of granite to form stone rails. It was most likely the abundance of stone that led to this decision.


The granite blocks were between 5 and 8 feet long, about 15 inches wide and 10 inches thick.  A longitudinal flange was cut and they were laid to provide a track gauge about 4ft3″. There were junctions and sidings and the track descended about 1300 feet from the quarries to the canal.  After the branches join together the main track curves along the contours and runs south east towards Bovey Tracey from where it follows the course of the River Bovey across Bovey Heath.


Today if you want to walk along the granite tramway it starts at Haytor (SX765771). though some of the route is on private land and inaccessible and parts the route were obliterated by the South Devon Railway.  There are mile markers to be found and some sets of points where tracks merge or diverge.  There are several walks that incorporate part of the tramway and further information can be found on the Historic England listing – the tramway was listed as an important monument in 1963.



The route of Haytor Granite Tramway as given in the Historic England Listing


So the Haytor granite was used in the construction of the British Museum, the National Gallery and parts of the old Covent Garden Market. William Pitt in Hanover Square stands on a block of Dartmoor granite and so does George IV in Edinburgh. At its peak the tramway was carrying 20,000 tons of granite each year.  Sadly the business did not last and George Templer struggled to control his outgoings and the quarry output fell to negligible amounts during the 1840s. The tramway fell into disuse by 1865 and although some granite was extracted from the quarries as late as 1919 (for Exeter War Memorial) it was transported by horse and cart, a much more laborious process.




Granite quarrying moved to the western side of Dartmoor and later Cornish granite proved to be much cheaper.  Now Haytor Rocks and Quarries are protected as sites of special scientific interest.   If the idea of a walk is too strenuous then you can try the virtual experience!

Sconces and Scuttles

I would never before have credited eBay as a source for learning, but today my vocabulary has increased merely by browsing to find an appropriate category for selling my two wall-mounted candle holders.

Sconce = candle holder attached to wall with ornamental bracket, from the Latin absconsus (secret, hidden)

The main fireplace in our home is one of the features specifically mentioned in the listing: 

  • The hall has a large hollow-moulded granite fireplace with pyramid stops (at present concealed) at the foot; back of the fireplace is of large ashlar blocks.  Above the lintel, and partly blocked by the upper floor beams, is a relieving arch of well-cut voussoirs, the space between it and the lintel filled with specially cut pieces of granite.  

Voussoir = a wedge shaped stone used to construct an arch

Lintel = horizontal structural block spanning opening between two vertical supports

Ashlar = square cut blocks of stone
When we bought the house the fireplace was dominated by a huge old wood-burning stove with a large hood.  It proved difficult to get anyone interested in assessing and repairing this but when we did, the stove was pronounced unsafe  – a fact that became obvious when removed as it had a hole in the firebox, which had been hidden by the hood.  We replaced it with the one seen in the picture above (a Charnwood Island II for the stove connoisseurs) – well, I say “we”, it was actually Ian who did the hard work. 

It looks much neater now!   Those large logs – so hard the axe just bounces off them, so before Autumn I definitely need to source a supply of kiln dried logs – suggestions welcome.  We found the coal box in an antique shop on The Quay at Topsham.  It isn’t, by definition, a proper coal scuttle, which I believe is more usually a truncated cone shape; though apparently the word “scuttle” comes from the Latin scutula meaning ‘shallow pan’ , not at all suggesting a vertical cylinder.  Maybe what we have is a log box. 

In 1662 in England a “Hearth Tax” was introduced, at two shillings per annum for each hearth in the home.  This was paid in two instalments, on Michaelmas Day, 29th September and on Lady’s Day which fell on 25th March.   From 1155 through until 1752 Lady’s Day was the first day of the year and this is why we have out current tax year start on 6th April – which is the new Lady’s Day after adjusting for days lost due to the calendar change. Schools and Almshouses were exempt from this hearth tax and there is a suggestion that our house was used as a school in the 17th century so it may have avoided paying the 6 shillings hearth tax.  I shall explore that part of its 400 year history in a later post. In 1664 the hearth tax was amended to a chimney tax and only payable if you had two or more chimneys.  I wish council tax was that simple.  
The Historic England Listing also mentions the other fireplace, which is described as in the “lower room” – this refers to the layout which is thought to be that of a medieval hall house, more about that too in a later post. 

  • Large fireplace with granite jambs; chamfered wood lintel, designed for a wider opening, with step stop at one end. 

I would love to know the origin of the markings on the lintel.   As you can see, this stove has been replaced and the resident chimney pigeon evicted.  
The granite stone was obviously from Dartmoor, probably from Haytor Quarry.  Characteristically it has inclusions of feldspar crystals, milky white rectangles.  There are also sparkles of small flecks of quartz and brown crystals of mica. 

The feldspar crystals identify it as from South Dartmoor since the blue-granite from the more Northern parts of Dartmoor tend not to contain them.  Quarrying was once an important element to the local economy but now only small amounts of granite are removed from Dartmoor, mainly for restoration projects. 
In a neat and definitely not contrived segue I am back to the sconces – we decided the fireplace looks neater without them so now I have two candle holders that I am hoping  will find a use in someone else’s restoration project.  Four candles anyone?

Do you have ghosts?

And so we moved in….


“No, of course not!” I answered, but a restless night followed as I anticipated a visitation from “Headless Nick”.   At least “Moaning Myrtle” didn’t turn up. I have never met a ghost and am not convinced of their existence  – this I say uneasily in case denial triggers a determined attempt by said ghosts to prove something to me – but non-belief has never helped me when I lie in bed scared after watching a vampire film.  Before we moved in I might have anticipated that a house over 400 years old would “spook” me, yet from the first night I have felt comfortable here, perhaps more so than in my previous, modern homes.

It was the ‘wild card’ or the ‘mystery house’ in our house-search, a “well, why not look, while we are here” but we had made an offer within three hours of the viewing. Never before have we owned an older house – 1974 was the furthest back our home roots went. Yet, in six months of hunting, this was the first house that had excited both of us.  I should say that the day before we had been ready to commit to buying a brand new build that didn’t even have foundations at that point.  This was definitely out of character.

Our children, now adults and running their own households, were politely interested with comments like “Gosh!” And “Oh!”  Two words carrying a weight of unspoken disbelief. Their parents had, four years ago, picked up sticks and moved to Bermuda, which was strange enough, and now this was another example – at what point do you need to meet to discuss parental behaviour?

So, though we had not yet sold our other home and had no previous experience of historic buildings, we moved in and ordered a four-poster bed! This is the beginning of our next adventure, and if there are ghosts, well, that is fine, we will fit them in somehow!


Wolves and winged serpents were no strangers to the hills.

Richard Polwhele lived from 1760 to 1838, apparently best known for his poetry.  While working as a curate near Powderham, Devon he commenced what was intended to be a 3-volume work entitled “History of Devonshire”.  He actually published the second volume before the first and never got around to finishing the third.

Although the works could benefit from punctuation, better paragraph arrangements and shorter chapters, his knowledge of Devon, particularly surrounding Exeter, was comprehensive and impressive.

That Dartmoor and surrounding forests once had wolves I do not doubt, the presence of dragons might be contentious – I will let you know if I see any.