This page will have all of the written reports that have been generated on topic discussions and topics of interest.

Posted by TPC-ADMIN on November 8, 2015

Norman Conquests in Devon

The Norman Conquest of 1066 is well known to all of us but we are less familiar with its impact on Devon. Mr. Kevin Dickens gave members a remarkable insight into the terrible suffering which Devon had to endure.

In 1068, William the Conqueror besieged Exeter (known then as Escanceaster). Heavy losses were inflicted on the invaders before the town surrendered. Rougemont Castle was built soon after to help the Norman’s keep control of the local population and many more fortifications, in the form of Motte and Bailey Castles, were built subsequently in the rest of Devon. The town centres of Plympton, Totnes, Okehampton, and Lydford were all fortified to subdue the peasants and the high ground above Lamerhooe was included as it commanded a good view of the winding Tamar which had been chosen as Devon’s boundary with Cornwall. In the towns, the Normans demolished all of the homes around the fortifications to ensure a clear view of any attack.

The peasant population suffered greatly in the ensuing partisan struggle and the later full-scale civil war. Their houses were burnt to the ground and their crops and livestock destroyed resulting in severe hardship, poverty and hunger for these desperate people. The Saxon elite were treated with equal harshness and contempt to the extent of being virtually wiped out.

Tony Dunk thanked Kevin for his talk and for enlightening members on the significance of the many lumps and bumps (sites of castles) around Tavistock. The December Probus Club talk is entitled “The Holdfast Rubber Highway” and this is followed by the club’s Christmas lunch.

Anyone interested in joining the Tavistock Probus Club may contact the secretary on 01822 615669.

Posted by TPC-ADMIN on October 8, 2015

Developing Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a spectacular landscape and this is especially so in the Simien National Park where mountains rise to 4,500 metres and the scenery is truly awesome. Our speaker, Mr Ian Gasper, gave a picturesque talk on his trek through the park promoting Water Aid.

Ian set off for Ethiopia together with a group of young and not so young trekkers from all parts of the UK and embarked on a walk which was not for the feint hearted. The temperatures varied from -4oC at night to +30oC during the day and altitude pills were needed by many in the group. The park, in spite of its vast area and inaccessibility, provided good food and shelter, the daily diet consisting of meat and teff pancakes. Rare and unusual animals live in the park – the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex and Ian’s presentation included fascinating photographs of these and their habitat.

Coffee was invented in Ethiopia; coffee ceremonies are part of the culture of each village and an invitation to the ceremony is a gesture of friendship. The group made lots of good friends on their trek and drank lots of coffee!

Water Aid has proved to be of tremendous benefit to the villagers. Ian recounted a tale of children playing excitedly in clean water which they had never seen before. Fifty children die each day in Ethiopia from drinking dirty water and yet it only costs £100 to provide a well to reach water far below ground level.

Peter Brinsden thanked Ian for his talk which he said epitomised the spirit of adventure. The subject of the November meeting of the Tavistock Probus Club is “The Normans in Tavistock”.  

If you would like to join the Tavistock Probus Club, please contact the secretary on 01822 615669.

Posted by TPC-ADMIN on October 8, 2015

The Life and Times of a Submarine Engineer Officer

HMS Aurochs

The workings of a submarine are beyond the knowledge of most of us and to be the officer responsible for the engineering maintenance and repairs while at sea would be a daunting concept. At this month’s meeting of Tavistock Probus Club, members were entertained with some insights into the complexity of such work by Capt David Wixon RN who joined the submarine service in 1963 as the engineering officer on HMS Aurochs.

The Submarine

It is hardly surprising that an important qualification for such a role is a ‘Sense of Adventure’. NATO exercises can be very demanding and danger is ever present, as on one occasion when a steel pin snapped in the engine drive shaft causing the submarine to dive ever deeper. The submarine returned to Portsmouth for repairs and was subsequently scrapped.  NATO exercises do, however, offer opportunities for lighter moments, for example, a ‘Gib Jolly’ on the island of Gibraltar.

Life of a submariner away at sea 

Space on board was adequate if limited and a sense of urgency prevailed. This was especially so when exiting the hatch as the last one out got very wet. Sailors would always rush to their positions and there was a degree of rivalry between the front and the back of the boat.

John Newcombe, on behalf of members, thanked David for his most interesting talk and for providing members with such a fantastic review of his career. The subject of the November meeting of the Tavistock Probus Club is “RAF Harrowbeer”. 

Anyone interested in Tavistock Probus Club may contact the secretary on 01822 615669. We are always happy to welcome new members to the club.

Posted by TPC-ADMIN on September 8, 2015

The Bedford Hotel

The Bedford Hotel features strongly in Tavistock’s history and it was a delight to hear this month’s Probus Club talk detailing the history of the hotel. Alex Mettler has spent many years researching this history and he provided members with a life story of one of Tavistock’s architectural centerpieces.

Abbey House, part of the Tavistock Abbey complex, was converted into the Bedford Hotel in 1822. Five years later, a stable block was added to the east and in the early 1830s a new ballroom, designed by John Foulston, was built to provide Tavistock with an elegant venue for social events. Around 1900, a third floor was added and over the following 100 years, the fortunes of the hotel varied greatly.

In 1910, the hotel was taken over by William Lake who added the veranda and a billiards room and subsequently converted the ballroom into bedrooms, losing Tavistock its historic public meeting place. During the following war years, Lake, who was a rather stern gentleman, suffered the indignity of a £2 fine for allowing lights of the hotel to be shown in the blackout.

In 1986 the hotel became part of Trust House Forte whose notable achievement was the closing of the Bedford Bar to the anger of many locals. THF was later taken over by Granada and a period of decline ensued until the Bedford was rescued by its current owner Philip Davies, heralding a new and promising future for the hotel.

Our talk included many anecdotes and old photographs of the hotel taken throughout the 1900s to the present day and gave members an insight into the history, the ownership and the development of this much-loved building.

Mike Edmonds thanked Alex for his fascinating story.  The subject of the October meeting of the Tavistock Probus Club is “Developing Ethiopia”.  

If you are interested in joining Tavistock Probus Club, please contact the secretary on 01822 615669.


Posted by TPC-ADMIN on August 8, 2015

Tavistock Canal

Tavistock meadows are pleasant and peaceful but how many of us know the history of the canal which borders those meadows? Dr. Ann Pulsford gave Probus members a fascinating talk on the construction and early use of the Tavistock canal.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the mines around Tavistock were producing 25% of the world’s copper ore and the only way to transport it to the port at Morwellham was by packhorse – an expensive and slow process. The solution was to build a canal connecting Tavistock to Morwellham and a young and very talented engineer by the name of John Taylor was put in charge of the project. Taylor’s chosen route was 4½ miles long including a 1½ mile tunnel under Morwelldown.  Water for the canal is taken from the River Tavy at Abbey Weir where a filter prevents salmon from entering the canal. On its way to Morwellham, the canal drops at a rate of one foot per mile creating a flow which powered waterwheels along its route and is still used to produce hydro-electric power at Morwellham Quay. The ores were carried to the quay in wrought iron boats which were then used to bring imported goods back to Tavistock.

Wheal Crebor Mine was successfully developed from the tunnel exploration and contributed to the canal’s running costs. The canal was profitable for some 40 years until the arrival of the railway. It was eventually sold to The Duke of Bedford.

Peter Lane thanked Ann for her colourful and informative presentation on this important aspect of Tavistock’s history. The subject of the September meeting of the Tavistock Probus Club is “The Ghosts of the Bedford Hotel”.

If you are interested in joining the Tavistock Probus Club, please contact the secretary on 01822 615669.