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Ivor Thompson Tragedy

Back in 1927, Ivor Gordon Thompson, aged seven years was living with his family at Redlake Cottage near Ivbridge, at the time he was described as a delicate child due to having suffered from an attack of pneumonia when he was fifteen months old. He was the son of Samuel Thompson who at the time was working for the Ivybridge China Clay Company. On Tuesday the 1st of November the young lad along with his sixteen/seventeen (depends on which report you read) year old uncle, Russell Heath were playing football with two young local girls near to Redlake Cottage.  Suddenly the two little girls ran into the house and in flood of tears told Mrs Thompson that Ivor had gone to the river. Immediately she shot outside and was greeted by one of the notorious Dartmoor mists. It’s not known what game they were playing but somehow the boys managed to lose their ball and set off into the misty shroud to find it. It didn’t take long for the thick mist to envelop them and having lost sight of her charges Mrs Thompson began frantically calling out to them. Unfortunately the wind was coming from the wrong direction and carried her voice in the opposite direction of the pair. No matter how frantically she called out the distraught mother could find no sight or hear any sound of the pair, they had simply vanished out into the moor. By then she was faced with a dilemma insomuch as she had another two infants in the house who could not be left alone but was desperate to go in search of the boys. At lunchtime Samuel Thompson returned from work and was told the news that his son was missing. He immediately returned to the mica works and told some of his fellow workers that the boy was missing and without hesitation they joined in the search. Drawing on his previous military experience Thompson had the men advance in a line fifteen yards apart in order that each one was visible to his neighbours. Even despite this precaution some of the line became separated from the main group thanks to the thickness of the fog.

Meanwhile unfortunately both boys had not found their way home and were hopelessly staggering around in the mist and were totally lost. Slowly darkness descended over the moor making it virtually impossible to navigate through the rough boggy terrain. Suddenly a large humped figure appeared out of the mist which the uncle knew to be Broad Rock which meant they were only a mile and a bit from Redlake works. He then spotted what he took to be a telegraph pole and a railway line and so realising that rescue would be at hand made straight for it. Now, anybody who has been caught in a Dartmoor fog will know that things can take on some strange appearances and having reached the so-called telegraph pole he realised it was a trick of the fog. So being the elder of the two Russell decided the safest thing to do was to find some shelter and hunker down for the night as by then they were both completely exhausted. Eventually he found a suitable rocky crevice that would provide a modicum of shelter into which they crept and wrapping young Ivor in his coat they cuddled up together and fell asleep. Come the morning Russell awoke and to his distress found that his little companion had vanished, leaving the coat beside where they lay. Immediately he set off over the marshy moorland in an attempt to find the missing boy.

Earlier that day whilst the boys were enduring their terrifying Dartmoor ordeal a much larger search party had been mustered which at the time was said to number around 500 people. It was composed of members of the Dartmoor Hunt, policemen, folk from the surrounding villages, Redlake workers and Mr. Thompson who by this time had secured a horse. A description of the boy was issued which stated that he had; “blue, eyes, fair hair, and a dimple in his right cheek and was dressed in a brown jersey, no hat, grey trousers and brown boots.” So bad were the conditions that one group of searchers got lost and another found themselves stugged in a bog. The search continued until around 8.30 on the Tuesday night when because of the fog, rain and darkness it was called off until the following morning.

At 5.30 am on Wednesday the search was resumed with the search area being concentrated around the river Erme and around the Redlake works area. All work at Ivybridge China Clay Company being suspended in order that available men could join the search. Later on that morning another 100 men from the Lee Moor Clay Works similarly stopped work and joined the hunt. These numbers were also boosted by around 100 mounted members of Dartmoor Hunt under the supervision of Commander Davey. The hunt members were kept in contact with each other by means of the huntsman blowing his horn. So big was the search party that  extra provisions had to be shipped in via the works railway. Amongst the supplies were large amounts of water and brandy with which the exhausted members of the search party were revived.

The fog was still laying thick and at the time was described by a lady on horseback as being so thick she could not see her mounts ears and to confound things hard rain and strong winds had also settled in. At around 9.30 am a party from Lee  Moor Works came across Russell Heath staggering around near Cholwich Town where he was immediately taken to Captain Bray’s house to recover. Once more the desperate searchers found no sign of Ivor despite strenuous efforts and once again as darkness shrouded the moor the search was called off until the next day.

Come first light the hunt resumed and was accompanied by Russell Heath who having recovered from his ordeal led some searchers along his previous route. Thankfully by this time the two-day miasma had lifted and the visibility was good. At 10.00 am Stanley Quest, a workman from Lee Moor Works along with his dog found the body of Ivor lying on his back near a small tributary of the river Erme with his arms outstretched. The spot where he lay was located only about three miles from his home – so near yet so far. It was reported that the little boy’s clothing was saturated but there was no sign of a struggle of any kind and it was estimated that he had been dead for at least twenty four hours. When the police examined the scene all they found were three distinct foot marks and an impression of a knee near to the top of the bank. An improvised stretcher was made from a blanket and some walking poles and the forlorn little body was carried across the boggy moor. On reaching the rail head at Redlake Ivor’s corpse was then transported off the moor by means of the clay works train which at the time became known as the “Ghost Train”. The following day the inquest was held at Ugborough presided over by the Deputy Coroner who pronounced that the boy’s death was accidental and caused by over-exposure to the cold and wet. Ivor Gordon Thompson’s funeral was held on the 6th of November at Ugborough church and was attended by over 200 mourners from around the surrounding villages along with many of the search parties. On the day of the funeral the surrounding moors were bathed in bright winter sunlight which served as a stark reminder of how diverse and at times lethal the Dartmoor weather can be. Workers from the Lee Moor Clay works proposed that a granite cross be erected on the spot where the body was found which to the best of my knowledge was never accomplished.

Strangely enough after the tragic event Samuel Thompson related how three weeks previous he had a dream in which his son lay dead by the banks of a stream and that his hands were outstretched. Another sad factor of this tragedy was that the spot where the body was found was in an area previously searched which meant despite the line of searchers being about fifteen yards apart they must have previously passed by the boy.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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