Highampton Local History Group


The chairman of the Highampton Local History Group was invited back to his boyhood home in Wiltshire for the launch of a book that he had contributed to.

Maurice Thomas wrote a sizable chapter on the life and times of his father James who was the landlord of the Red Lion, West Dean, from 1940 until August 1957, when he reluctantly took ‘early’ retirement at the age of 75.

The rich history of the picturesque village has been documented and the personal memories of many villagers past and present are recorded in A Brief History of West Dean.

The first part of this fascinating book includes evidence of an Iron Age settlement, a Roman Villa and a once splendid Manor, West Dean House.

The second part of the book is given over to villagers’ personal memories, many going back a century and earlier and giving a glimpse of village life as seen through the eyes of those who lived and worked there.  The book contains wonderful old photographs of village life, many of which were supplied from the Thomas family archives that are held in Highampton.

Maurice’s parents ran the Red Lion Inn for 17 years. The Inn, which is now a private house, is uniquely situated in the centre of the village and straddled Hampshire and Wiltshire with the County Boundary going straight through the centre of the building.

Because the village was part of the Norman Court Estate owned by Washington Singer, of Singer Sewing Machines, and the presence of the armament depot which was built just before the Second World War, development within the village was restricted and it has remained in a time warp that makes it the prettiest in the area; with the river Dunn meandering through the centre of the ancient village green adding to its charm.

A Brief History of West Dean has been compiled by Sara Gruzelier and Jackie Impey.

Maurice Thomas has kindly donated a copy of the book to the Highampton History Group.  Further copies can be purchased at £14 each including postage, by contacting Sara on 01794 340303 or Maurice Thomas on 01409 231460.


The Steward to the ancient Manor and Borough of Hatherleigh, Mr Geoffrey Cleverdon, CBE, gave a most interesting talk on its history and on the history of Hatherleigh Moor at the August meeting of the Highampton Local History Group.  Mr Cleverdon was well versed to give this talk as he is also the Secretary of the Hatherleigh Moor Management Committee, a position he has had the honour of holding for over fifty years.

Deborah Laing Tengrove is the present Lord of the Manor.  Her family acquired the title from Sir William Molsworth Bt, back in 1791.  The members were interested to learn that the Manor once belonged to Tavistock Abbey and in 1220 a charter was granted by Henry III for a weekly market that is still in existence today.

In the fourteenth century, the householders of the borough were given the right to graze stock and to gather furze for their fires hence the name “Potboilers”.  These rights of usage continue to the present day but nowadays they receive an annual payment of their share of the rents paid by farmers who use the Moor but who live outside the borough.  The moor is said to measure one acre for every day of the year but in reality it has been calculated to span well in excess of 400 acres.  

Above left: Hatherleigh Marker Stone

Left: A view of Hatherleigh Moor from the Belvedere

Right: A view from Depcourt Cross

The Moor has been used twice in war time.  The first occasion was during the English Civil War when the Royalists and Parliamentarians were fighting over political and religious issues.  On 14 September 1664 there was a clash in Bloody Pot Lane that spilled over onto the Moor.

For more photographs of the re-enactment of the Battle of Hatherleigh Moor by the Sealed Knot Society see our archive photos page.

The second occasion was in World War II during the 1940s when the land was requisitioned by the Government in order to grow crops to assist the war effort.  Since then the Moor has had a reasonably peaceful existence apart from the time a group of travellers decided to camp illegally and became bogged in so deep that they eventually had to be winched out by the Highampton timber merchant, Gerald Saunders, for which he is said to have levied a charge of £5.00 for each vehicle retrieved.



For the October meeting the members were entertained to an illustrated talk by Peter Walters relating to his work on the Fishleigh Estate, Hatherleigh, and in the making of the original BBC Springwatch programmes.  These programmes were presented by Bill Oddie and Kate Humble and emanated live from the Estate in 2003 after Britain Goes Wild with Bill Oddie was broadcast from the same venue the previous year.

Left: The room from where Bill Oddie and Kate Humble presented Springwatch

Peter Walters commenced working as the farm manager in 1998 and became associated with the making of the acclaimed wildlife television series by advising the producers and presenters on the varied wildlife that abounded the farmland as a result of the conservation work and records of various flora and fauna at the Estate.

The then owner of Fishleigh Estate kindly permitted the BBC access to the Estate in January so that they could install somewhere in the region of three miles of cable and the special nest boxes that were fitted with concealed miniature cameras in readiness for their live transmission to go out at the end of May when the nesting season was well underway.

Left:  Blue Tit’s nest with a full clutch of eggs

Right:  Blue Tit sitting on eggs

Four months later the tranquil scenery at the entrance to Fishleigh would transform into a village of cabins containing mobile studios, canteens and the much needed kitchen facilities that were required to cater for a crew of some 100 people, plus all the other necessary heavy equipment such as electric generators, etc.

Quite a sight for travellers approaching Hatherleigh from the Meeth direction!

The Springwatch series was judged a tremendous success, beating rival reality TV series Big Brother and Celebrity Love Island in the ratings, pleasing the owner and Peter Walters no end.

Due to the change of ownership at the Fishleigh Estate, the fourth series of Springwatch moved to a new location at the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk and Peter Walters was awarded a position at the Duchy College of the Countryside in Cornwall as a Lecturer in countryside matters.


Regrettably, the planned visit to Coham House, Black Torrington, had to be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.  It is hoped that an alternative date can be arranged shortly.


Highampton Community Primary School Centenary Year

Highampton Community Primary School marked its centenary with two events with the able assistance of the Highampton Local History Group who delved into their archives for old photographs depicting the school over the past 100 years.


The first event was held on a warm sunny afternoon in July and was organised by the PTFA.  The children dressed in Edwardian clothes for the occasion and played games of that period to the delight of the invited guests.  In the school there was a display of memorabilia that included old pictures and registers from 100 years ago.


The highlight of the afternoon, however, was the school emblem turning up by way of a giant Shire horse dressed in its full finery of leather and brass.

To mark this special occasion, a plaque was unveiled by Walter Smale, a former pupil who had attended the school in the 1930s and left at the time the Second World War was declared.

The second event was a day of celebrations and reunion held in the village hall in October when 400 pupils and teachers, both past and present, were in attendance.  

This was organised by former pupils who managed to trace numerous people through Facebook.  Many of these travelled from as far afield as Norfolk to be at the festivities that ended with a barbecue in the evening.

There are more photographs of both of these centenary celebrations on our archives photo page.

The Highampton PTFA once again entered a float at this year’s Hatherleigh and Holsworthy Carnivals.  This time the tableau depicted Dr Who and was put together by the Carnival Committee.  The float won second place in its class in both carnivals and in Hatherleigh won the cup for Best Organisation for the second year running.

For more photographs of the Highampton CP School Entry and Hatherleigh Carnival see our archive photos page.

In November, Philip Jenkinson (pictured here on the right of this photograph with his fellow agricultural historian, Steve Veal, at Hatherleigh Market) gave a most interesting talk and slide show relating to his World War II exploits as a prisoner of war after being shot down over Germany.  Philip brought along numerous cherished wartime items that he had collected during his RAF days and many other pieces of memorabilia retrieved from the crash site since the war.


This address replaced his planned talk on agricultural equipment of times past which will now be given at a later date.

Christmas Social Evening

The Golden Inn, Highampton, has been chosen as the venue for this year’s Christmas Social Evening, which will be held on Wednesday, 15th December, where there will be a buffet and mince pies on offer.  The cost will be £5.95 each and will be open to all our members, their families and friends.  Please kindly let our secretary, Mrs Maureen Morel, know in advance how many are coming, either by telephone or email.  (Telephone: 01409 231292; email: maureenmorel@hotmail.co.uk)

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2010: July to December