Wednesday, 1 March 2017

An address on the education of idiots

All 15 pages of George Pycroft's 1883 address to the annual meeting of The Western Counties Idiot Asylum are freely available online HERE

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Thursday, 23 February 2017

Villages in Action at the Exeter Heritage Centre

On Wednesday, 6 researchers from Starcross met up with Kate Green from Villages in Action 
 and 6 researchers from Whimple at the  heritage centre on the Sowton industrial estage .
Both groups are part of the Villages in Action project to unearth the histories of our communities.

Anyone can go to this centre, which is run by the South West Heritage Trust. There is access to all the documents and books AND, online; the British Newspaper Archive AND a family history website. All you have to do is fill in a very simple form and, if you have ID with you, they give you a card which lasts 4 years. This card is also valid at the North Devon Record Office in Barnstaple

If you want to photograph the documents you discover, it costs £5 a day, or around £80 for a year's photographic subscription.

Catalogues are freely available online. Here's a link to the details of the account book of THE STARCROSS BREAD AND COAL CHARITY from 1879 to 1903.

The card indexes in the heritage centre can be freely searched. Starcross information tends to be filed under the parish - which was Kenton, until the 1980s when Starcross had its own Parish Council.

Here's some of the Starcross gems unearthed from the card index: all you have to do is ask at the desk, and someone will dive down into the archives, and bring out the map, plan or document.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

Unearthing Japanese People

 The Villages in Action 
 Unearth project has unearthed another remarkable Starcross story. Peter Halmkin, from the Dawlish Stamp Club
has provided a remarkable picture of a Starcross School play. The little girl in the centre of the front row was the headmaster's daughter.

Does anyone recognise any more of these Japanese and rabbity thespians?

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Victory in Europe Day at Starcross School

The Villages in Action  project has Unearthed some Starcross wartime stories. Here's one of them:

VE Day – Starcross Primary School logbook
– 8th May 1945

The Starcross Primary School logbook details how the school celebrated the news of Victory in Europe [VE]. It enables us to recreate the events of the day involving the pupils and teachers. The logbook entry reads:

‘The Story: May 8 VE DAY [Tuesday]

School opened today. In accordance with written information from the office school was to close for the two days following the announcement…. Mr Churchill’s on Tuesday afternoon, May 8…

The morning [of 8th May] was spent in decorating with flags & bunting which had been stored since the Jubilee celebrations.* A ceremonial breaking of the flag was held at 9.00, and the national anthem was sung.

To school was brought the distant children and 20 dinners were supplied from Dawlish. The emergency meat was used and bread and buns purchased, the ? being sent to Dawlish.

At 3.0 all the children were taken into the garden of the School House to hear Mr Churchill’s speech.
research by Jon Nichol

Friday, 10 February 2017

History of Starcross on Vision of Britain

Starcross is featured on the Vision of Britain website


In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Starcross like this:
STARCROSS, a village in Kenton parish, and a chapelry partly also in Dawlish parish, Devon. The village stands on the estuary of the Exe, and on the South Devon railway, 8 miles SSE of Exeter; was, till about 1820, a petty hamlet, known only for its cockles and its oysters; is now a large and well built watering-place; and has a head post-office,‡ a r. station with telegraph, several respectable inns and lodging-houses, and a fair on Whit-Wednesday. The chapelry was constituted in 1828. Pop., 1,192. Houses, 282. The living is a p. curacy in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £210.* Patrons, alternately the Dean and Chapter of Exeter and the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury. The church is good; and there is a national school.

The online references to historical maps of Starcross, include:

 this one from the 20th century

this one from the 19th century
 (use the dropdown menu on HERE)

land utilisation
 (use the dropdown menu on HERE)

and the street map view
 (use the dropdown menu on HERE)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

THE STARCROSS BOOT CLUB MYSTERY – ‘Doing History’ The History Detective

Many thanks to Jon Nichol for this research

Introduction 10th September, 1884, Starcross.  The flag on the jetty flew at half mast, blinds were drawn, shutters half closed and shops shut to pay deep respect to Sir John Duntze of Exeleigh House, a pillar of Starcross society for forty years.  Sir John’s funeral procession left Exeleigh House in mid afternoon, a great gathering of rich and poor and wended its way towards Starcross parish church. Heading the cortege were tenants and other residents in the vicinity; 60 members of a boot club in Starcross – of which the deceased baronet was the promoter and a strong supporter.’(1).

Sir John had been a highly active president of the Starcross yachting and boat club (2). So was boot a misprint of boat? Apparently not, for, a digital search of 100 years of some 300 British newspapers from 1850-1950 produced a random scattering of about 10 mentions of boot clubs, including Starcross’s and one in Exeter. In Hull there was a house ‘where the goose club, and the coal club, the clothes club, flourish – nay, even the boot club.’(3) Clearly boot clubs could have played a social role alongside other clubs that might supply coal, drink, clothes and even geese. Already we have a clue, an inkling, of what Starcross Boot Club might have been like.

A boot club – what, where, why, how?  A London law case provides further  illumination as to what membership of Starcross Boot Club might have involved.
A portly , middle-aged woman informed Mr. Lane of the North London Police-court yesterday, that she had joined a boot club, run by a boot dealer of Hackney. She had 2s. 1d on her card and the shopkeeper refused to repair her boots.
Mr. Lane (examining the card} “What is a boot club?“
Applicant: “You pays in what you like and you has out what your like.”
Mr. Lane: “That sound very nice.” (Laughter) “What do you complain of?”
Applicant: “I sent my boots to be half-soled and heeled, and now her refused to return the boots unless I pay 1s. 6d.  Now her’s got my boots as well as my money.”’(4)

Running a boot club Other newspaper evidence suggests individuals like the Hackney boot dealer founded and ran boot clubs like Starcross’s (5)(6). Each club had an owner or manager, and might even have a secretary and a treasurer (7). Boot clubs probably had a set of rules including the entering of members’ subscriptions on their boot club cards to pay for their boots and shoes. The owner or manager could profit from supplying the boots bought from a boot maker for boot club members, as in the case of a Mrs Pitt, who received a commission of ‘1s 6d in the £’ [7.5p in a 100p]. (8)

Charitable boot clubs. Boot clubs could also be charitable with donors’ payments contributing towards boots and shoes for the poor. One such was the last recorded English boot club, ‘the Coventry Children’s Boot fund, founded in 1893, when the backstreets of Coventry, like many other industrial cities, were packed with youngsters wearing rudimentary footwear or no shoes at all. The CBF is still providing free shoes for between 400 and 500 low-income families every year.’ (9) It is not clear whether Starcross Boot Club was a charitable body with Sir John Duntze as its benefactor.

Conclusion Starcross Boot Club seems to have played a major part in shoeing the people of Starcross.  So, as the 60 members of the Starcross Boot Club walked behind Sir John’s coffin as it processed through Starcross to the parish church, Sir John could rest happy knowing that they wore well polished boots and shoes, see picture A, a fitting tribute to him as Starcross Boot Club’s promoter and a strong supporter.’(1).

The Well Shod People Of Starcross In Late Victorian / Edwardian England

The Well Shod People Of Starcross In Late Victorian / Edwardian England

A booted ragged child, probably a Victorian or Edwardian photograph

A booted ragged child, probably a Victorian or Edwardian photograph


Step 1: Starting point  - A topic/subject that interests, intrigues you….
I was researching the life of Sir John Duntze, owner of Exeleigh House where we live. The mention of a boot club in the newspaper account of his funeral fascinated me. Fascination turned into solving a history mystery when I could find no one who knew what a boot club was! A perfect mini topic to illuminate what ‘Doing History’ involves.

Step 2: Questions: Asking questions: without these there is no history!
A number of questions flooded into my mind, starting with: what was a boot club? and what was the Starcross boot club? who belonged to it? who owned it? how was it run? Throughout it was important to highlight the key question, the first two.

Step 3: Finding historical sources that might help answer the questions and trigger off new ones
An Internet search came up with one source, number 9 in the references below, a great help, but there was nothing else. Also, I consulted textbooks and monographs on Victorian England and its social history and local history books and pamphlets about Devon and Starcross. No mentions of boot clubs. These background secondary sources proved to be a dead end. But, they provided the Victorian historical context.

So, having joined the on-line British Newspaper Archive [BNA] that has digitised every page of over 300 newspapers, original primary sources, on the Victorian period. First I searched our local newspaper, the Exeter Flying Post from 1850-1900, unearthing a statement that there was also an Exeter boot club, but nothing else.  So, Starcross Boot club was not alone.  Next, a blanket search of the BNA’s 300 newspapers from 1850-1950 threw up about fifteen mentions of boot clubs that I printed off.

Step 4 – Searching for clues containing evidence in the sources
Bearing my questions in mind, the next step was to work on the sources to extract clues buried in them, possible evidence, to help solve the mystery. I collated, analysed and organised the evidence, while speculating, hypothesising, deducing, imagining and seeing connections, patterns to answer the questions about the Starcross Boot Club.

Step 5: Writing about Starcross Boot Club in the context of Sir John’s funeral
The final stage was to think about the nature of Starcross Boot Club in the context of Sir John’s funeral. Here the creative, informed imagination came into play, enabling me to draft and redraft the essay on the first page, weaving into it what I had discovered in general about boot clubs and so solve The Starcross Boot Club Mystery.

(1) Exeter Flying Post: 17 September 1884, BNA BL/0000103/18840917/026/0006
(2) BNA  Exeter Flying Post:: 2 September 1863  
(3) BNA Hull Packet: 26 December 1856
(4) BNA The Nottingham Evening Post: 5 August1894
(5) BNA Dundee People’s Journal: 15 May 1858
(6) BNA Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail: 7 August 1885
(7) BNA The Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter`; 24 April 1875
(8) BNA The Nottingham Evening Post: 5 August 1894
(9) Chris Arnot,  (2007) The Guardian, ‘Charity Boot Fund Is Still Good For The Sole’

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

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