Highampton Local History Group


Charles welcomed back well-known Devon author, Liz Shakespeare, who gave us an interesting talk entitled ‘Reflections’, the River Torridge in Poetry and Prose.

Liz gave us a short history of several poets and authors who live or have lived in Devon and have penned works about the river Torridge.  These ranged from the Rev John Swete, born in 1752, through Charles Kingsley, Henry Williamson (the author of Tarka the Otter), Ted Hughes (at one time Poet Laureate) up to Michael Morpurgo (former Children’s Laureate and author of War Horse) who lives in Iddesleigh.  She also read out extracts from several books by these and a number of other authors, including her own book, “All Around the Year”.  All are listed below for your interest.

Rev John Swete: Travels in Georgian Devon, vol 3

Charles Kingsley: Westward Ho!

Edward Capern: Wayside Warbles

Vernon Boyle: Songs and Verses

Herbert Asquith: A Ship Sails up to Bideford

Henry Williamson: Tarka the Otter

Ted Hughes: River

Michael Morpurgo

Charles Tomlinson: The Return

Liz Shakespeare: All Around the Year

Liz also recommended to the members ‘A Breath of Moonscent’, Memories of a Devon Childhood by Allan Boxall: a lyrical memoir of wartime and post-war rural Devon seen through the questing eyes of a young boy.  Flyers for this were available giving details of how to purchase a copy and Liz also had her own books on display for sale.

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.

2019: July to December


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Charles welcomed Lisa Butt from Devon Wildlife Trust who gave us a very informative and illustrated talk on the work of the Trust to promote the protection of nature in our modern busy world.

Lisa is working on a project to improve and maintain Culm Grassland, specifically in the Torridge catchment area, and illustrated the sites locally, now and in times past, clearly showing how the areas have declined.  Since the 1950s we have lost 90% of the Culm grassland.

The soil where Culm grows is acidic and nutrient poor but is important for the wildflowers and reeds that flourish there which in turn encourage and support butterflies, birds, numerous species of insect and animals.  The Trust works to regenerate the areas through controlled burn, fencing, reseeding and scrub clearance.  Without the controlled burn, areas would quickly be taken over by scrub and particularly willows and eventually, the grassland would become woodland.

The Trust also gives advice and assistance to farmers and landowners on maintaining Culm.  Groups of volunteers help with scrub clearance, hedge laying and other tasks and any help from volunteers is always welcome.

If you would like more information, please visit the Trust’s website: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.


It was decided not to have a meeting in August as so many members were away on holiday.


For our October meeting, Charles introduced Mr Charles Chalcraft who gave us an illustrated talk on Thomas Roberts House, the first school in Hatherleigh, which is situated on the corner where High Street crosses to Higher Street.  Charles and his family had been living in Crockernwell, running a flourishing tour operating business arranging holidays in New England but after 9/11, they ceased to have enquiries for holidays for several months so pulled out of that project and looked for another.  Charles admitted that Edye’s Villa, as it was then known, had been “a wild card”.  The building, split into two 3-bedroom houses, had not been lived in for seven years but the owners of the house had kept the rayburn going to run two radiators as a means of (just about) airing the property.

Charles had researched the history of the house and gave us a brief overview of the life of Thomas Roberts (affectionately known as “old no hands Roberts”).  Thomas was born in 1771 at Tor Point and was entered as a midshipman in the Navy by his Godfather, Lord Graves, at the age of four days.  In 1780, Thomas joined Lord Graves’ ship as a young midshipman and sailed to fight in the American War of Independence.  He was involved in action against the French off Yorktown and when lobbing grenades, one went off before he could throw it and he lost both hands and sustained severe injuries.  The ship’s carpenter made him wooden hands and although he could no longer fight, he learned to write with his wooden hand and remained in the navy working as the Admiral’s secretary for several years. On his return home to England he took up a post as tutor to the children of Sir James Hamlyn of Clovelly and designed the Maritime Walk there.  He also met and married Mary Ann Brent at Clovelly.  Thomas was then approached by John Pearse, a wool merchant of Hatherleigh, who invited Thomas to become master at his new school.  At that time this was in the old vestry room but soon bigger premises were needed for the growing number of pupils and Thomas and his wife also had ten children of their own so Thomas purchased an old building, razed it and built a new school on the site, catering for day scholars and boarders.  In all, some 1800 pupils were educated at the school which Thomas ran until 1845 when he retired.  He died a few years later and is buried in the churchyard at Hatherleigh.

Charles then gave us a detailed description of the restoration of the building together with slides showing the interior and exterior renovations and the garden once the two houses had been re-established as one beautiful residence.  The family ran the house as a B&B but sold it some years ago.  However, the house continues as a B&B.

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.


For our November meeting, we welcomed the Revd Leigh Winsbury who entertained us with a fascinating illustrated talk about his Silver Wedding Anniversary “holiday pics”.  He and his wife and son travelled from Mount Ararat in Turkey, believed to be the landing place of Noah’s Ark, via Egypt and the Holy Land to Jerusalem and followed the stories of the Bible from Exodus to the time of Jesus and beyond, visiting and photographing numerous historic sites along the way.

The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session accompanied by the usual refreshments.


In place of the usual meeting in December, members enjoyed a Saturday evening of Christmas music, both traditional and modern, played by the Hatherleigh Silver Band.  Group members provided a sumptuous bring ‘n share supper which was much appreciated by everyone who came along.