Heart of the South Hams, Devon

Soar Mill Cove Beach


At our March meeting, we were delighted to welcome back Graham Collyer, who talked about his Gazette column “Delving IntoThe Past” and showed us some wonderful images of local views and characters. There was a fair amount of audience participation as locations and names were debated and Graham has left us with a couple of interesting Malborough photos that need a bit more research.  In due course, we will be asking for help with identification. 


At our April meeting, the History Group welcomed Malborough resident Irena Clarke (née Kossakowski) to tell us about the extraordinary life of her father, Waclaw, as portrayed in her moving book “A Homeland Denied: In the Footsteps of a Polish POW”.

Waclaw Kossakowski was a young Warsaw University student whose peaceful life was changed dramatically and with far-reaching consequences when Germany and Russia attacked Poland in September 1939.  As a Russian prisoner of war, he soon found himself a slave, working in excruciating conditions.   From imprisonment in the notorious Kozelsk prison, he was sent to a forced labour camp in the Siberian Arctic Circle, where the inmates were forced to dig runways in temperatures as low as -50°C while under constant threat from sadistic guards. 

Fate intervened and the icy wasteland was replaced by the blistering heat and dry deserts of the Middle East when, under a deal between Russia and the UK, the Polish prisoners were released to the Eighth Army.  Waclaw then fought in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna.

After the war, rather than return to Poland, which was then under Russian control, he settled in England and married an English girl.  Irena is one of a set of identical triplets – a story in itself!

Irena’s talk was illustrated by evocative photos and documents and she was proud to show us her father’s medals.  It is a fascinating and poignant story and the book is a worthy tribute to Waclaw and the many unrecognised Poles whose stories should not be forgotten.  It is well worth a read and is available on Amazon and at the Harbour Bookshop in Kingsbridge.


Do you know the origins of the phrases “a square meal” or “on the fiddle”?  No?  Neither did the majority of people in the 27-strong group from Malborough History Group who visited the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth recently.  But these were two of the anecdotes that peppered our guide Nicola’s excellent commentary.  One theory is that the first saying comes from the Navy serving their main meals to the sailors on square wooden plates.  In addition, these plates had a raised edge and, if your food spilled over the edge, you were suspected of having underhand dealings with the ship’s cook or staff to get an extra helping!

Along with humorous stories and asides, Nicola’s tour was full of interesting facts about the intriguing history of the college spanning over 150 years.  Since 1863, Dartmouth and the River Dart have been the home of initial Naval Officer training in the UK.  Today, it is the only remaining Naval College in the country, fulfilling a vital role in training Naval cadets not only from Britain but those from the Commonwealth and all over the world.

The iconic architecture is a spectacle in itself and the interiors are stunning.  We were taken into the heart of the College, from the elegant Chapel, through to areas including the Quarterdeck, Parade Ground and the Britannia Heritage Museum. The “Senior Gun Room”, where the senior cadets have their meals, is a wonderful hall with a beautiful vaulted ceiling.  Apparently, the junior cadets’ dining room is, as Nicola put it, “more like a transport caff”! 

While we were outside, admiring the fabulous view of the river, Nicola pointed out the shape of the main college building, designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1905.  You will no doubt have noticed it sitting up on its hill when visiting Dartmouth. It is very long and has a tall central clock tower.  Later in the visit, Nicola showed us a model of the nuclear submarine “Vanguard”.  By coincidence, it is the same length as the college building, and the conning tower is the same height as the clock tower!  We had no idea that submarines were so large!

The group really enjoyed their visit and we can thoroughly recommend the 2¼ hour tour.  The Britannia Association arranges public tours as well.  You can find all the details on their website.


When anybody mentions Overbeck’s, we immediately think of their lovely gardens, with the amazing magnolia, or perhaps the quirky Polyphon music box or even quirkier Rejuvenator!  What doesn’t immediately spring to mind is the interesting history of the house itself and the reasons it is there.  So the Malborough History Group was delighted to welcome Matthew Sainsbury, who has been a gardener at Overbeck’s for the last five years, to tell us about research he has been doing into that side of this local National Trust property.

In looking at old photos, maps and sales documents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became clear to Matthew that the history of this piece of land contained an early example of Nimbyism!  Salcombe and the South Hams had been opened up by the arrival of the railway in Kingsbridge in 1893 and, with the influx of visitors, land was being sold for development.  It would appear that successive owners of the property were determined to save this beautiful part of the coastline from over-development.

The original villa, called “Sharpitor”, built in 1893 by Alfred Stumbles, was demolished in 1911 by subsequent owners Mr & Mrs Vereker, who built the current Edwardian house.  During WW1 it was used as a convalescent home for soldiers and, in 1928, it was bought by Otto Christop Joseph Gerhardt Ludwig Overbeck (from Grimsby!), who lived there until his death nine years later, leaving the property to the National Trust.

We heard about weird anomalies around the gardens – unfinished walls and flights of steps, a long “eucalyptus avenue” (now devoid of eucalyptus trees) leading to nowhere, and several unexplained gateways in the walls.  Some of these may indicate that there was once a scheme to break the site up into several smaller plots.

Old photos showed the current Statue Garden as a tennis court and we heard how the lovely bronze statue now standing there originally had a bird on her hand, which was the victim of some unofficial target practice by a soldier in WW2.

Matthew and his team are still carrying out their research and, if you think you have any documents, photos or information that might help, do get in touch with him at Overbeck’s or with the History Group.

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