Heart of the South Hams, Devon

Soar Mill Cove Beach
Meetings Reports 2014

A COUNTRYMAN'S GLIMPSE OF THE 20TH CENTURY -- Delia Elliot, David Balkwill

At our History Group talks, we like to offer a variety of subjects, all linked by having historical and local interest.  Thus, in the past few years, we have welcomed, among others, an archaeological expert Danielle Wootton, Roger Barrett with his broad knowledge of the history of the local coastline, and Malcolm Wesley on Overbecks.

Always popular, though, are the tales and anecdotes brought to us by people who have grown up in the area and have a lifetime of experiences to share with us.  So, at our last meeting, we were delighted to welcome David Balkwill, accompanied by two of his daughters and his faithful Jack Russell, Trix.

David’s ancestors settled at Yarde Farm in Malborough in 1750, and he has been a farmer at Court Barton near Aveton Gifford all his life.  He has written a book, “A Countryman’s Glimpse of the 20th Century”; and Delia Elliot and Ros Brousson from the Aveton Gifford Parish Project Group, which put the book together, gave us a very interesting illustrated talk about it.

The stories were mainly about life on the farm, which was very much the centre of village life, including the tradition of giving the farm workers part payment in cider – the photos of farm workers in the fields often included various large stone jars!  Dogs came into it, naturally, with a lovely anecdote of David’s sheepdog trying to herd a flock of ducks.

The war affected the area, of course, and a young David was out in the fields ploughing with his horses when a bombing raid was made on Aveton Gifford, hitting the nearby church and rectory, and causing a great deal of damage to the village.

We received a lovely message from David following the meeting, which read:
“On behalf of my daughters and myself may I thank you for the warm welcome you gave us on Wednesday.  It was a privilege to be among you.  To meet so many old friends some going back to Young Farmers Club days and to talk over the old times.  Its little wonder why my ancestors settled in the Malborough district in 1750 as they must have received the same welcome.  I hope the History Society continues to promote the countryside and its traditions which I am so passionate about.”


Our tour of Royal William Yard in Plymouth was well worth braving the chilly June wind!  The 16-acre site was built in 1825-35 as a Royal Navy victualling yard and included its own slaughterhouse, bakery, brewhouse and cooperage.  When the yard was closed in 1992, it passed into private hands, Grade 1 listed, and is now an award-winning development of apartments, commercial buildings, restaurants and shops.  English Heritage has ensured that the Georgian buildings retain their character and our guide really made them come to life, with tales of 10-year-old ships’ biscuits, watered-down rum or ‘Grog’, lime juice to prevent scurvy, and sailors’ under-garments!

SALCOMBE STORIES - THE VALUE OF ORAL  HISTORY -- Ken Prowse, Salcombe History Society

The amount of work that the Salcombe History Society volunteers put into preserving our local heritage is amazing.  They have databases of information and photographs (around 9,000 to date) and make the maximum use of social media.  Their Facebook page is a very popular forum and has attracted input from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
One vital aspect of every history group’s work should be to put on record the stories and reminiscences of local folk.  Various recordings have been made over the years by Harry Fulcher, Stephen Pedrick, Tim Skillman and others, but Ken Prowse and his team wanted to expand on this and applied for a National Lottery grant to make a DVD.  A couple of years and 26 hours of recording later, the hour-long DVD is complete and Ken brought it along to the Malborough History Group meeting to show us.
It is full of lovely memories and anecdotes, from 15 Salcombe contributors, illustrated by period photographs, starting in the early years when houses got their water from a standpipe in the road, heated it on a Lidstone range and went down the garden or across the road to the privy.  There were photos and recollections of going to school (and the bullying tactics of one particular teacher!), picking up coal from the beach, and the story of one local man who used to take his nanny goats by boat and Austin Seven from the town to Overbeck’s, to be ‘served’ by a pedigree billy goat.  There were many tales of life during the years of the Second World War, about spies, bombs, evacuees and, of course, Americans, not to mention the popular delicacy of “Ham, Spam and Scram” and the ‘official transport’ of the Home Guard (the local milk float).
If you missed the meeting and would like to see the DVD, it is on sale at Spar in Salcombe for just £5.


We were delighted to welcome National Trust volunteer, Malcolm Wesley, in February to tell us about the “History and Mystery of Overbeck’s”.  Malcolm traced the history of the house at Sharpitor since its first incarnation in 1893 and subsequent rebuilding in 1911, through its work as a convalescence hospital in WW1 (local nurses were employed there and 15 marriages resulted!), and its purchase in 1928 by Otto Overbeck.  I don’t think many of us realised that the wonderful polyphone was purchased by Otto from the Royal Oak for £5.  Malcolm brought along Otto’s famous ‘Rejuvenator’, that reputedly made his fortune, but none of us was willing to have a go with it, so Malcolm became his own guinea pig, with no visible after effects!  When Otto died in 1937, he left Sharpitor to the National Trust on the condition they call it Overbeck’s.  Malcolm brought lots of local interest into his talk and it was an intriguing and most enjoyable evening.