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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

UNEARTH is the perfect name for our Heritage Lottery Fund project

Villages in Action report on the Heritage Lottery funded Unearth project in Starcross

As many of you will know, ViA was funded earlier this autumn to start an ambitious two year heritage project, culminating in performances celebrating the local history of 4 wonderful communities in the first year (Starcross, Rattery, Whimple and Colyton).
ViA’s Creative Communities officer, Kate Green, has been thoroughly enjoying herself supporting local history enthusiasts to dig up staggering stories and long-forgotten materials.  In Starcross, an individual from the school’s board of governors blew the dust off a very old “Punishment Log Book”. Its pages detailed the names of children who had received “3 cane strokes of the buttocks for stealing fruit…2 strokes of the buttocks for receiving fruit”. On another page, one poor soul had received 2 strokes for nothing more than “a devil-may-care attitude”. How times have changed (thank goodness), but this is the value of the project: enabling villagers to see where they live from a different vantage point and deepen their relationship with the the place they love.
As part of the project, Stacey Anderson, the director of the South West Film and Television Archive, presented a well-attended film archive night in Starcross. Villagers enjoyed footage depicting locally know figures and rural activities from the area…locals haymaking, cider making and the rest. Anyone is able to visit the SWFTA and ask to see footage recorded in their community, so wherever you live in Devon, it’s worth exploring what has been captured on film. The film screenings are happening in the other three villages, and each evening provokes more memories.
For instance, Kate heard the touching story of a nun from a neighbouring abbey with a passion for gardening. Her splendid blackcurrants were anonymously displayed at the annual show by a supportive villager and won prizes year on year…though she could never leave the abbey to collect them.
“Unearth is absolutely the right name for this project,” Kate said, “We are shedding light on so many wonderful stories and evocative objects. It makes me appreciate the rich history of Devon more than ever before.”
At the start of February 2017, Key Stage 2 children at Starcross Primary
Tony Atkin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

will become local historians when they spend a day learning heritage research techniques through the UNEARTH project. Kate is expecting lots of “wow moments” as the penny drops, and children connect the history in books with where they live now. Who knows if she’ll encounter “devil-may-care attitudes” among the kids…but she’ll certainly be leaving the cane at home!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Atmospheric Tower 1975 from the British Film Institute Player

 Film footage of Brunel's Atmospheric Railway tower in 1975 is freely available online via the  British Film Institute Player thanks to the Britain on Film Project

 This footage is between 24 and 25 minutes into the film on THIS LINK

Friday, 27 January 2017

Starcross School Dinners 1944

from Starcross School Log 1944
Nov 13
Dinners arrived today at 6 minutes past 1
The man who brought them was as usual
filthy dirty, as if he had come out
of the car inspection pit, and he spilt
half the dinners on the floor bringing
them in.
Arrival of dinners. Mon. 1.6
                          Tues  12.50
                          Wed   12.50
                          Thurs. 12.40
                          Frid.   12.50
Dinners have been unsatisfactory lately
from their late arrival. One day a caterpillar
1 3/4 ins long was found in the greens
the same day a blackbeetle was also found.
Potatoes are rarely cooked, and
uneatably hard. I have complained
... often but there is no

This gem was unearthed as part of the Villages in Action Heritage Lottery funded project to Unearth the histories of 8 Devon rural communities

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Black Forest Railway

Many thanks to The Rail Thing

Black Forest in Devon

Huge thanks to Clive Schneidau who did all the research on this very obscure line and has kindly allowed me to use his material and pictures. 

The Black Forest or Mamhead Railway started at Starcross Junction. Built in 1918 as a military timber line it ran for the most part directly on the road surface. Little mentioned and leaving no traces it is now a forgotten ghost. Even the local museum has no records of it, just blank faces. It closed in 1919 and was lifted soon after. The locomotive that ran on it was finally sold to Exeter Gasworks in 1923. The Line was worked by Italian and German POWs and a camp was situated just below Black Forest Lodge.

The original 19th C. Starcross Signalbox was in need of updating when the government agreed to the new line, so the G.W.R. modestly updated it at their expense. Of a total £909 spent on the junction, £650 was spent on a new Box, the old one had enough spare levers.

Starcross Junction Plan.

The Pumping House Yard at Starcross. The 1918 line junction was just by the white building and led down onto the road surface. Looking towards Cockwood.

Route Plan.

Laid by the side of the road. When trains ran on the line, the roads were closed by using civil and military police.

Time Teign present Earth, Wind and Fire

TimeTeign Presentation

Monday 16th January 2017  7-9pm
 Kingsteignton Community Hall, Rydon Road,TQ12 3LP
Speaker - Bill Horner, Devon County Council Archaeologist
 Earth Wind and Fire Elements of archaeological work in Devon during 2016
 Contact TIMETEIGN on 01626 351953 for details
Members £3, non members £5, students £2

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Starcross at the Movies

Historical display in St Paul's

Great turnout tonight to see the South West TV and Film Archives footage: about the SWFTA, from Devon and Cornwall and STARCROSS. This was part of the Villages in Action project; "Unearth" which is working with 4 Devon communities to unearth their histories.
Films were both professional and amateur. Some of the SWFTA  archives are accessible online; via  the British Film Institute Player as part of the Britain on Film project. 
Films shown included haymaking, cidermaking and village life. The Starcross footage included a demonstration about the Starcross School buildings, the Royal Western Counties Hospital and the last conductor-operated bus through Starcross. Conductor Norman Holwell, Driver Tom Rote and Inspector Les Cann were interviewed at the main bus-stop, with the Devon General AEC Regent double-decker.
An online search reveals no films about Starcross, but SWFTA's collections are available to all. Visits to SWFTA in Plymouth are to be arranged. We will be shown how to research their archives. and discover some of their extensive range of films about Starcross.

During the interval, we looked at a collection of historic material from Starcross which was on display. The Punishment Book, dated 1911, from Starcross School contained records of how many strokes of the cane children were given for "talking in the classroom" "stealing an apple" or "receiving stolen fruit". Photographs included the Penny Farthing bicycle which used to be in the hedge outside Penny Farthing Cottage,

The core group of researchers were delighted to find that new information had been added to the collection; on the paper provided on tables: memories of Magic Lantern shows in St Paul's, and a project to research the famous, prizewinning, Powderham herd of South Devon cattle which was sold after the tragic death of the herdsman John McMahon.

Starcross Primary School is involved with the Unearth project. Children were allowed in for free, although it was quite a late night. Headmaster Iannis Ireland, and history lead Georgie Lax are very supportive of the project and are excited that the children can be involved and learn about the history of their village. They have already been part of two Starcross History projects. They made feathers for the sculpture of The Swan of the Exe and they made peacocks' tails for the Peacocks' Tails Trail.
Kate Green, from Villages in Action, will help Key Stage 2 children to research Starcross history, and teach a group of 8 students how to use digital equipment, so that they can interview and record stories.

The next event in the Unearth project will be Starcross Stories on Wednesday afternoon, 25th January in St Paul's Church; from 3pm until 5pm. Invitations are being sent out to key people in the community, and refreshments will be provided. More Starcross Stories will surely be unearthed.

The completed research will eventually be used to create a multi-media production about Starcross, probably in July.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Open days at Newton Abbot St Leonard’s Church; the new future location for the Museum and Town Hall

Open days at Newton Abbot St Leonard’s Church; the new future location for the Museum and Town Hall
All are welcome…………..Isambard Kindom Brunel will be present

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


 Historic Map covering Staplake Mount hand-drawn in 1888 - 1904 by the cartographers of the Ordnance Survey

Francis Kain was the youngest son [1] of a successful London ship owner and coal merchant, Joseph, who owned numerous coal barges [2], extensive buildings, houses, warehouses for storing coal, stables, wagons, 22 horses, a flour mill with a steam engine and a wharf at Ratcliff, Poplar on the river Thames [3]. Joseph had two sons, George and Francis [4]. Until 1830 Francis and his brother were partners, also as ship owners and coal merchants [5] until their business closed around then. apparently due to insolvency although the evidence is unclear about this [5].

We do not know why Francis moved to Devon soon after. In 1831 he and his wife came to live at Staplake Mount on the outskirts of Starcross. They seem to have chosen well - their home stood in 48 acres of land – it seems idyllic:

This delightful Villa stands on rising ground near the centre of the Estate, on a Lawn well ornamented with forest and other trees, commanding a fine view of the river Exe and the British Channel; is substantially built of the best materials, is well sheltered and in excellent repair.

The House has spacious and airy rooms, and no expense has been spared to render it a most convenient and comfortable residence for a large family.[6]

The highly detailed Tithe Map of Starcross [7] shows Staplake Mount standing in its grounds overlooking the Exe estuary with farmland on all sides: within a decade the building of Brunel’s atmospheric railway had somewhat obscured the view [8].

On arrival in 1831 in Starcross Francis made an immediate highly positive local impact as a charitable figure. In January 1833 a local newspaper reported he:

has very liberally distributed to the poor of that parish [Starcross] a quantity of prime meat, under his own superintendence. This much-esteemed gentleman, who has resided but two years in the neighbourhood, last season benevolently supplied the want of the poor at this season of the year and such is his general attention to the condition of the need in that place that he is already looked up to by the destitute as their benefactor and friend.[9].

Alas, the final newspaper mentions of Francis are three notices of his death seven months later on 3rd September 1833. One describes his general character and reinforces the impression of him the January 1833 account conveys:

In him the poor have lost a kind benefactor and a real friend, as he was ever ready to relieve; and never more truly happy, than when the severity of winter called forth the active exercise of his bounty in administering to their general wants. [10]

Within two years of his death Staplake Mount was sold and Francis’s wife married a Mr. Bond of St. Thomas, Exeter [11], who may have been a solicitor.

Francis Kain and his wife now disappear from the record of Starcross’s history, but I am sure fond memories of him lived on in the minds of the poor of Starcross and his friends and neighbours who held him in high regard.


See page 3.

‘DOING LOCAL HISTORY’ – Francis Kain of Staplake Mount, Starcross, 1831-33

The Topic

Barbara’s request to the Starcross History Group was crystal clear I would like to know if one Francis Kain is known to you in any capacity. He lived in Starcross, at Staplake Mount, for only about three years, possibly, up until 1833 when he died there…

Asking Questions

‘Doing History’ means we have to ask questions. No questions, no answers.  So, to respond to Barbara’s query a stream of initial questions suggested themselves: What can we find out about Francis Kain? Who was he? What was he like? Did he have a family? Where had he come from? What job did he have or had? We then used answers we could find to some of these questions to ask new questions to widen our search to find evidence to create imaginatively a fuller picture of him and his life.

Searching For, Finding And Investigating Sources

To answer our questions we needed to find and investigate sources. We had just discovered one such mind-blowing source to explore: the on-line British Newspaper Archive [BNA] of newspapers from around 1700. Its millions of digitised pages contain information about hundreds of thousands of people, including Francis Kain.
Using key words, we  can search all digitised pages for references to them. MAGIC.
So, we typed into the BNA search engine for newspapers published from 1830-1833 the following clues - key words: Staplake Mount, Starcross, Francis Kain.

In addition, we studied two maps: the highly detailed 1840 Tithe Map of Starcross and the 1890 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map, both showing Staplake Mount. I also did some fieldwork - looking for surviving evidence on the ground.

The Sources’ Evidence About Francis Kain

There were five newspaper entries about Francis Kain in Devon newspapers: one about his charitable activities in January 1833, three reporting his death in September 1833 and a detailed account of the sale of Staplake Mount in 1834. These sources gave ‘facts’ about how long he had lived at Staplake Mount, who his father and brother were and where they lived. The family ‘facts’ enabled us to further search the BNA for evidence to answer questions about Francis’s family background as coal merchants and ship owners from Ratcliff, Poplar in London.

The maps gave a clear indication of the location of the Staplake Mount Villa where Francis lived; a walk provided clues about the building of a Victorian later lodge on a new entrance to Staplake Mount perhaps to give better access to Starcross railway station built in the 1840s. The walk also revealed the survival of the iron railings that marked the boundary of Francis’s estate mentioned in the 1834 notice for the sale of Staplake Mount, railings now buried in hedges and the old entrance to the drive from the Exeter road to Francis’s villa – coincidentally opposite where I live.

Creating A Story: Writing The History Of Francis Kain at Starcross

The clues in the evidence about Francis enabled me to weave together an initial, brief account of his Starcross life from 1831-33 using deduction, inference and even the informed imagination to answer tentatively some of our questions about him.


(1)     7 September 1833. The Guardian and Public Ledger. British Newspaper Archive [BNA]
(2)     18 June 1833. Morning Advertiser. British Newspaper Archive               
       The evidence is indirect – his son, George Kain’s trustees advertised for sale a dozen coal barges in the Morning Advertiser; George was Francis’s older brother.
(3)   12 September 1833. The Guardian and Public Ledger. BNA
(4)   7 September 1833. The Guardian and Public Ledger. BNA
(5)   23 June 1831. The Guardian and Public Ledger. BNA [to be checked]
(6)   23 May 1834. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette. BNA
       Detailed advertisement for sale of Staplake Mount
(7)   c. 1840. Kenton Tithe Map. Devon Heritage Centre http:/
(8)   Paul Garnsworthy, ed. (2013) Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway Featuring the Contemporary Watercolours of William Dawson. The Broad Gauge Society
       This magnificent book contains the highly detailed watercolours of the railway’s route. The one for Starcross shows the railway running on top of an embankment built along the shore above the high tide level with a wall running along its estuary side.
(9)   19 January 1833. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette. BNA
(10) 12 September 1833. The North Devon Journal and Advertiser. BNA
(11) 18 December 1844. The Exeter Flying Post. BNA