Highampton Local History Group


January’s meeting marks the commencement of the oral history project.  A large array of archive material was laid out for members to look at and Maurice asked if anyone could put names to faces or had any memories of events which we would like to record.  He started the ball rolling by telling his own story of his arrival and life in Highampton.  Charles also told his story of life on the farm and there were memories of times past recalled by Mary, Alma and several other members relating to village life and the demise of the local railway line.  Over the coming months it is hoped that we can amass more memories and stories of Highampton residents to form a history of the village.  Would anyone interested in recording their own memories of life in Highampton please contact a Committee Member or use the Feedback form.


Copyright © site designed by the late Simon Ward and managed by his wife Carole



At the February meeting we were joined by Peter Walters who is a lecturer at Duchy College.

Peter gave a fascinating PowerPoint presentation on the benefits of gamekeeping.  He touched on the economics of the industry, the direct and indirect numbers employed together with the value to the economy – currently £1.6bn.  Peter also spoke of the amount of money spent on conservation by shoot providers, currently £250 million!  The group was surprised to learn that Game Keepers manage 7.3 million hectares of land – about the size of Scotland.  A 20 minute film about a Grouse Shoot in Yorkshire touching on the impact to the local economy completed an interesting and informative evening.


At the March meeting the Group was entertained to an illustrated talk by Paula Clarke, Audience Development Officer at Castle Drogo.

The Castle was built between 1911 and 1930 for the Drewe family.  Julius Drewe was a self made millionaire and proprietor of the Home and Colonial stores.  His dream was to build a Castle and this dream was bought to life by eminent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.  Problems with rain penetrating the building were apparent from the beginning together with the problem of intersitual condensation, and over the decades attempts have been made to rectify the situation with little success.  Paula explained that over the next five years an extensive refurbishment of the Castle will take place, costing £11 million!  The renovation will be in two stages.  The whole building is to be taken apart and rebuilt, the windows are to be refurbished and the granite blocks are to be re-pointed using lime mortar.  The final stage will be to seal the flat roof (a major challenge as there are 30 different levels) using The Bauder Roof System. The National Trust will use local craftsmen wherever possible for all the works.

During the work the Castle will remain open and it is planned that there will be a viewing platform so that visitors can oversee all the renovation work as it progresses.  The money for the project has come from central funds and the Heritage Lottery Fund, but there is still a shortfall which Paula is working hard to cover.


The Group’s Annual General Meeting was held on 25 April.  The Chairman, Maurice Thomas, reported another successful year in which the members enjoyed a number of very interesting talks by well-known local personalities.  One of the highlights of the year was our evening of ‘local memories’, the first step in our oral history project.  This proved a great success, one which it is hoped will be repeated in the coming months.  

Maurice thanked all the members for their kind help and for the interest shown over the past twelve months.  He especially thanked Charles Dumpleton for chairing the meetings during his absence in hospital and for the months afterwards while he was recuperating after a major operation.  He also thanked the other officers, all of whom were re-elected for another term of office.

Following the AGM the members were entertained by Dennis Bater who gave a fascinating and moving illustrated talk on his recent visit to the Western Front, with photographs of places of interest including many War Grave Cemeteries, remaining trenches and memorials.  He recounted a number of interesting stories and facts relating to the men who fought in this area during the Great War.


At the May meeting, a film was shown outlining the controversy caused over the closure of Burdon Grange Nursing Home, on the retirement of Maurice and Joan Thomas in 2001.


Highampton is blessed with many talented people who range from artists to writers, musicians and even a film-maker, who also happens to be a sculptor with a distinguished reputation for creating bells in various mediums and sounds.  These bells are now being rung out around the coast of the British Isles, which was the basis of Marcus Vergette’s fascinating talk at the June meeting.

The members heard that Marcus became deeply interested in bells after hearing John Baker tolling the church bell at Highampton to mark the end of the dreadful foot and mouth disease that had affected so many farms in the area.  As a result, the sculptor cast his first bell and presented it to the people of Highampton.  The bell hangs in the grounds of Highampton Village Hall.

This proved to be a hugely interesting and entertaining talk that was well illustrated with photographs and natural sound recordings from around the coast of Britain.


At the August meeting Maurice introduced a fascinating film entitled “Making of the Doomsday Book”.  The film gave a very interesting and informative insight into this milestone of British history.  This great land survey was ordered by William the Conqueror and completed in 1086.  It is interesting to note that Highampton, at the time, had land for 10 ploughs.  In demesne for the Lord of the Manor were “2 ploughs and 9 slaves; and 19 villans and 3 borders with 7 ploughs”. There were 60 acres of meadow and 4 furlongs of pasture and woodland “half a league long and as much broad”.


At the July meeting the Group was introduced to Paul Rendell, the author and local historian, who gave a fascinating and informative illustrated talk on the history of picture postcards spanning a century of artwork and photography.  He explained their purpose in capturing events and illustrated their importance in social history.


There was no meeting in September but October was a special month for our Group.  On the 4th October members enjoyed a very private visit to the historic Tetcott Manor at the kind invitation of Sir William Molesworth-St Aubyn, Bt. and his wife, Lady Caroline.  


The author Helen Harris tells in her informative book, “A Handbook of Devon Parishes”, that the estate has been in “the same family ownership since 1550 when it was bought from the Earl of Huntingdon by John Arscott, who built the present manor house and added the tower to the 14th century Holy Cross Church.  

The property passed from father to son until 1788, then to the last John Arscott’s cousin, Sir William Molesworth, forbear of the later Molesworth-St Aubyn family.

Sir William, the 16th Baronet, welcomed us and kindly outlined the history of his ancient lineage and the great estate which has been in his family for many generations.  He highlighted several items of interest including the restored granary in the grounds, an inverted gravestone bearing a celtic cross which had been set into the wall of the kitchen and the barrel ceiling in what was once the wig room and then gave us free rein to look over the house and gardens.  At the end of a delightful afternoon, our generous host invited the Group back to the family dining room for tea and refreshments which was much appreciated.


At the meeting in the village hall on 24th October, the Chairman introduced the author and local historian Mr Simon Dell.  Simon gave us a highly entertaining and informative talk about Lundy and its history, giving us a unique insight into life on the island now and in past times through old and contemporary photographs.

We look forward to welcoming Simon back in October 2013.

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The chairman introduced Janet Few to our meeting in December.

Janet, an author, who is also known as Mistress Agnes of Torrington 1646, gave a fascinating insight into the lives of our ancestors, how they lived, ate, drank, the clothes they wore plus 17th Century hygiene tips, and much, much more.  

The fashions of the time were modelled by committee member Carole Ward and made for an insightful, interesting and informative evening that was enjoyed by all.

Afterwards our speaker was kept busy signing copies of her recent book Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs.

The evening ended with our members enjoying festive fare followed by a Christmas draw.