Thursday, 20 April 2017

May Meeting

Wednesday 10th May

7:30pm in St Paul's Church


More Starcross Stories to Unearth

This meeting will continue to look at the stories unearthed by the Villages in Action project to unearth the history of 8 Devon villages. The Starcross research material has been given to the Villages in Action Artists, who are hard at work creating a Villages in Action happening... What will it be? What will a playwright, an actor, a visual artist and a singer-songwriter create?
A fantastic amount of material has been unearthed - but the enthusiasm to discover even more Starcross Stories won't end with this project. Villages in Action will put everything on a special website, but what else can we do? 
Could we publish ebooks aimed at the Key Stages of the National Curriculum? Should we aim for a hard copy of a book? 
Unlike an ordinary village, Starcross's history has universal appeal. We have evidence of Romans using the river. There were Roundhead v Cavalier battles fought on our shores. The remarkable Swan Boat is still within living memory, and its Victorian designer was the redoubtable Victorian; Captain George Peacock. Also within living memory is the Royal Western Counties Hospital, with its wonderful innovations for the education of idiots. Then there's the scenic Great Western railway line; still dubbed God's Wonderful Railway. And we can't forget  Brunel's Atmospheric Caper
 The online British Newspaper Archive and the Devon Heritage Centre in Sowton continue to yield more tales. These have been augmented with local knowledge from some of Starcross's more senior residents, and caches of documents and photographs from places which include Starcross School,   St Paul's Church and the village pubs.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Friday, 24 March 2017

Archives meeting

The Friends of Devon's Archives Spring Meeting will take place at the Devon Heritage Centre on Monday 3rd April.  It is free for members of the Friends and costs £4 for non-members.

The programme is:

13:00-13:30: Gather at Devon Heritage Centre

13:30-14:30: Professor Robin McInnes OBE, on historic imagery and coastal heritage management.

14:30-15:30: Deborah Phillips, SWHT Senior Archive Conservator, on how to look after your historic documents at home.

15:30-16:00: Tea or coffee.

16:00-17:00: Dr Ian Mortimer, on the Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain.

Ian Mortimer’s talk will launch the third book in the Time Traveller’s Guide series.  A table run by Waterstones will be selling advance copies afterwards and if you wish to have a copy signed this will be your chance.

The number of seats available is limited so, although there's no charge, it is highly advisable to book a place. You can do this by telephoning the Secretary of the Friends, Stuart Tyler, at the Devon Heritage Centre (01392 384253), or by emailing him at

Saturday, 18 March 2017

John Shapland Exhibition

John Shapland
1865 - 1929

View down the Exe by John Shapland

View down the Exe by John Shapland

Until Friday 24th March 2017, there's an exhibition of the artist John Shapland
in the CCI theatre at Exeter College in Queen Street
10am - 4pm week days FREE ENTRY
John Shapland Talk by local historian Peter D. Thomas
The life and work of the talented artist, creator of the Russell Brunotype and past Head Master of the original Exeter School of Art, John Shapland. Includes previously unseen images from the artist's studio.

John Shapland has been proved to have been the artist who painted the large murals in Exeter's (now demolished) Theatre Royal

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Archaeology campaign - Free workshop in Taunton on 29th April

The Local Heritage Engagement Network (LHEN) is a project run by the Council for British Archaeology and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. [The] aim is to support local advocacy for the archaeology and the historic environment, particularly in response to current threats to archaeology and conservation services in local authorities, local museums, wider heritage services and opportunities for public engagement as a result of budget cuts. Details of the project and supporting resources can be found at:

In partnership with Katie Collins, Chairwoman of CBA South West, [there will be] a free to attend workshop and training day in Taunton, Somerset on 29th April.  The event is entitled ‘Advocacy, and supporting your heritage’  and will focus on how local groups can engage in advocacy, what networks of support are available, and how this type of work can help in the difficult process of protecting the position of archaeology and heritage in local government’s affairs and in local communities. will hear from local authority archaeologists about their role and challenges and threats facing archaeology and heritage services and from community groups who are currently engaging in advocacy and seeing positive results.
This event is particularly useful for groups and societies who are considering getting involved with advocacy in the area but also for those who are already involved and may want to share their ideas with others.

To book your place... use the link below;

This is a free event but booking is essential due to limited numbers. 

The British Council of Archaeology regional group is The Council for British Archaeology South-West

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Starcross institution showed the way

The Mental Deficiency Acts - 1949 - 1959 demonstrate the negative way that people thought about those with learning difficulties.
 Here's the link an online extract from Duncan Mitchell's book Exploring Experiences of Advocacy by People with Learning Disabilities. Mitchell explains that the Starcross institution was set up with "the optimistic  belief in the educational potential of disabled children" 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Artists announced for the Unearth project

Following the interviews over the last two weeks, Kate Green and the Villages in Action team have now chosen a creative team for the Starcross Unearth project.

The successful candidates are:

The date for our first team meeting will be later this March

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Unearth project - copying your pictures and information

Sunday, 5th March 2017 from 2:00pm until 4:00pm in St Paul's Church
Please bring pictures and information about our village's past so that we may make photocopies
This is part of the Villages in Action Unearth Project

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

Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. "
It costs nothing to register for an account. Only an email address is required.

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’