Sunday, 20 August 2017

Starcross Unearthed - The Villages in Action Show

What are the stories that make Starcross such a unique place? Who are the characters that have lived over the centuries in the village? Playwright Lucy Bell, actors Charlie Coldfield and Kirsty Cox, sculptor Peter Margerum, digital artist Kate Green plus folk musician Jim Causley have woven local stories into a fascinating evening of song, drama, interactive art, sound and archive images

The performance is on Friday, 15th September at 7pm (doors open at 6pm ) in St Paul's Church, Starcross.
Tickets from Westbank Charity Shop, or from Alison
£7 adults
£4 under 18s
£18 per family
There will be a bar and a raffle

Friday, 18 August 2017

Exmouth from Starcross before the railway

This is a reproduction of an 1850 print from the Illustrated London News. It shows 2 sailed fishing boats and 2 rowed boats on the foreshore at Starcross.  Another 2-masted sailboat lies at anchor on the Exmouth side. A few white-sailed sailing dinghies are dotted around the Exe estuary.

Friday, 26 May 2017

FREE Lectures at Powderham

Lectures at Powderham

 There is no charge to attend these lectures at Powderham Castle

Powderham Castle (Daniel Maudlin 2016)

Fri 26 May, 1pm          

 'Design and the Future of Heritage Apps',
James Brocklehurst, Programme Leader, Graphic Communication,
University of Plymouth

Mon 29 May, 1pm             

'Conserving the Robert Adam Interiors at Saltram House',
Louise Ayres, House and Collections Manager,
Saltram House, Devon (National Trust)

Tues 30 May, 1pm          

'Built Heritage as Virtual Reality',
Rob Giles, Team Leader, Faculty of Business Information Technology,
University of Plymouth

Wed 31 May, 


 'The American Interior in the Eighteenth Century',
 Laura C. Keim, Penn Design, University of Pennsylvania


 'Place-Making for the Imagination: Horace Walpole and the Landscape of Strawberry Hill', Dr Marion Harney, University of Bath

Thurs 1 June, 6pm              

  Histories of the Unexpected Live:
'The Material World of Powderham: a castle, a horn, a bookcase and a chair',
James Daybell and Sam Willis, Histories of the Unexpected

Mon 5 June,


  'US Approaches to Cultural Landscapes and Conservation Planning'
   Prof Randall F. Mason, Chair in Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania


  'The Restoration of the Belvedere at Powderham'
   Philip Hughes, Philip Hughes Associates Building Conservation

Tues 6 June, 1pm                               

 'Heritage and Historic Buildings',
Richard Hewlings, Senior Properties Historian, Historic England (retired)

Wed 7 June, 1pm              

   'The Georgian Country House',
Richard Hewlings

Thurs 8 June, 1pm              

 'Managing a World Heritage Site in the Twenty-First Century',
Deborah Boden,
Director, Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscapes World Heritage Site

Cornerstone Heritage with Plymouth University


Cornerstone at Powderham Castle

The History department at Plymouth is currently engaged on a two-year project at Powderham Castle, Devon, in partnership with the Historic Preservation program at the University of Pennsylvania. The project has several strands including community projects, field studies - commencing in June 2017 - to investigate the historic fabric and material culture of the castle and surrounding landscape, cataloguing the castle library; producing a database of archived documents relating to the castle and Courtenay family (held in the castle and at local and national archives), and,the development of new  heritage interpretation content and platforms (including digital media).

Powderham Castle and the Courtenays are part of Devon's long history, our  project focuses on the later eighteenth century and the transformation of the castle into a Georgian country house. Both our research activities and outcomes are intended to enrich the understanding of the castle and Powderham estate for the benefit of the local community with local groups, schools and the international members of the Courtenay Society involved.
Archival work is already underway and the first field study is scheduled for June 2017 when a group of staff and students from Plymouth and UPenn will be working at Powderham.
For more information contact Daniel Maudlin or James Daybell.
programme of Cornerstone Lectures at Powderham

Saturday, 20 May 2017

HarMONICA and mouthorgan workshops

Starcross History took part in the Thankyou for the Music event today in St Paul's Church. The display of photographs and information about Starcross included a file of recently Unearthed material.

Musical workshops Monica presented were an invitation to play the glass harmonica
wineglasses filled to different levels with water

and to make&play the Comb&paper Mouthorgan

Quite a few of the grown-ups could play one. Maybe, with a bit of practice, we could have a Starcross Comb Band??

The event continues tomorrow with a Pet Service at 2:30pm followed by Cream Teas

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Potted History of the Violet...

Violet posy
Violets used to be cultivated in Starcross. The leaves of the flower known as Butterburr were used to make posies, which were boxed and put on the trains to Covent Garden Market. All that remains of the violet industry in Starcross is the almond-scented Butterburr; abundant in the Starcross hedgebanks.
Butterburr is also known as Coltsfoot. During World War 2, the leaves were dried and smoked as a tobacco substitute. Was Butterburr more or less likely to cause cancer than tobacco? 

Starcross Butterburr hedgebank Petasites fragrans

Devon Violet Nursery at Ottery St Mary is one of the few nurseries in the country who specialise [today] in growing sweet violets. [They] also have many other gifts for sale such as hand-made Devon Violet Soaps, Bath Bombs/Salts, Violet Perfume, Essential Oils, Candles, Incense, Napkins, Glassware, Pots and associated dried grasses.

 A Potted History of the Violet...  
The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially. It was noted that they were for sale in Athens 400BC being grown in specialist Nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries Violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume which scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities which are still being researched today (eg. Viola Yedoensis).Most perfumes of Violets today are synthetic of course but the perfume evokes such nostalgic memories for so many people. Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of Violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market every day. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years the land was requisitioned for the growing of food,and Violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return. Until now. A lot of the old varieties have been lost, but [the Devon Violet Nursery is] are slowly bringing back as many as [they] can into [their] catalogue every year, so [they] are doubly proud of [their] efforts to reintroduce this nostalgic little flower back into our gardens and preserve a little of our English History at the same time.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Starcross Cattle Market

Here's the Starcross Cattle Market on a Bernard Chapman postcard
This was in the days of the Starcross abattoir, which was next to the Spar Shop. The buildings were used for many years as the village youth club - "The Peacock Cookson Centre" , sponsored by the Peacock Cookson family. The buildings were sold, and the monies used towards the youth facilities in the new Starcross Pavilion.

The Peacock Cookson Centre has recently been converted into a bungalow.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

More Starcross Stories Unearthed

No admission charge. No membership. Everyone interested in Starcross history is invited. We have a raffle to cover expenses, so please bring a raffle prize

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 to augment the 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.

information sought about The Wills family

The Wills family bike repair shop in Well Street

Jack Wills; bike repairer

Pennyfarthing Cottage Bike repair shop in 1900s. Note the Pennyfarthing in the hedge

Well St Starcross in 1900s

I have visited Starcross today and enjoyed wandering around the village that was once the home of my paternal grandmother who was born around 1878.

Her name was Bessie Wills and, as far as I recall, she had two sisters and two brothers - Em(Emily I am guessing), Nance, Jack and Frank.  Her brother Jack was born with what we would now call polio and for a living he repaired bicycles - hence the penny farthing which always stood at right angles to the cottage which now bears that name. (At that time the gardens for the three cottages extended to the right (where the newer house now stands) with three adjacent lavatories with wooden bench time seats at the end of the garden.

I was interested to see the bicycle still on display outside the cottage.  An adopted daughter (although possibly not formally adopted) , Floss, looked after Jack in his later years and moved to New Road after he died - in the 1950s.

Her brother Frank worked at the asylum cutting hair, I believe - he married and had a daughter Betty who was born around 1923.  The two sisters moved to Cardiff and Chepstow where they had families and my grandmother moved to Paignton where she married Alfred Gibson and had three children, one of whom died in infancy.

I wonder whether you have any more information about the Wills family - I believe her father may have worked at Mamhead House.  She used to talk of Sunday evening walks after church to see the boys in Kenton and was very affected by once seeing a black man who had drowned and was washed up at Starcross.

I had hoped to find a Wills grave in the churchyard as I am guessing many of her family would have been buried there, although they would not have had a great deal of money and therefore there may be no headstone. 

If you have any information about any of the family I would be very interested and appreciative to hear from you

Many thanks

Janet Reed (formerly Gibson)

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.