Anybody who has read a copy of William Crossing’s book; ‘Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor‘ cannot have failed to notice the simple black and white sketches of various viewpoints around the moor. These first appeared in the 1909 publication of his book with the purpose of aiding visitors to identify the various landscape features from certain viewpoints. All in all there were 67 viewpoint sketches included in the book which ranged far and wide from north to south and east to west of Dartmoor. The benefits of these sketches would that they allowed folk to see a vertical 2D aspect of the landscape as opposed to the 3D horizontal ones provided by the O.S. maps, (as can be seen from the example below). Over the years I have thumbed. Originally Crossing’s ‘Guide to Dartmoor’ was published in book form consisting of two volumes. This did mean that people were not lugging around a huge tome should they want to use the sketches for identification purposes. In later years these two volumes were combined into a single book which would have been fairly cumbersome to carry around with the danger of exposing the pages to the vagaries of Dartmoor’s weather.
At some unknown date to me a small booklet was published containing just the sketches along with an index of all 67 viewpoints and from where they were sketched. Then in 1994 Peninsula Press republished the booklet in a larger book form.
Over the years I must have thumbed through ‘Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor‘ on numerous occasions and never given the sketches much thought. I simply assumed that William Crossing made them himself – how wrong one can be. The sketches were the work of Philip Guy Stevens F.G.S. who was man of many talents and clearly someone who was well acquainted with Dartmoor. He attended Tavistock Grammar School and on leaving he began a teaching career in Topsham. By then he had acquired an interest in many subjects such as literature, philosophy and art. His next step along the career path was to gain employment as a clerk at Dartmoor Prison which meant he went to live at Princetown. By this time he was combining his Dartmoor explorations with watercolour landscapes of the moor. It was at this time that William Crossing was looking for an illustrator for his forthcoming ‘Guide to Dartmoor‘ book. During one of his many visits to the Duchy Hotel in Princetown crossing asked Aaron Rowe the owner if he knew of any such person. As luck would have it Stevens was very friendly with Rowe’s daughter and so an introduction was arranged with Crossing.
It was decided by Crossing, the publishers Wheatons and Stevens that the illustrations should be black and white pen and ink sketches. This was because they would be easier to print and would allow more detail of the tors and hills. Each sketch would involve travelling out to the agreed viewpoint to make the sketch, many of these journeys were undertaken either before or after a day’s work at the prison and could involve a ten mile round trip. Eventually they were finished and the ‘Guide to Dartmoor’ was published in 1909.
In 1909 Stevens married the daughter of Aaron Rowe and for the next four years they lived in various properties at Princetown. These were busy years as not only was Stevens actively producing oil and water colour landscapes but was becoming increasingly interested in geology and archaeology. Following a family move to Leeds Stevens joined the military in 1915 as a lorry driver. Eventually the family returned to Princetown where he rejoined them after leaving the service and began working back at the prison. Once again he resumed his painting but also began doing field studies of the Dartmoor Granite. Under the guidance of Dr. Alfred Brammall he undertook the fieldwork for a paper of Brammall’s which was read in 1926 and called ‘Gold and Silver in Dartmoor Granite‘. This would eventually lead to Stevens becoming a Fellow of the Geological Society. Incidentally, it was he that also designed the war memorial in Princetown. In 1922 he was promoted to a new post at Swansea Prison during which time he began writing Children’s books. At this time his inspiration for landscape painting was drawn from the rugged Gower Peninsula. His next step along the career path saw a promotion to prison Governor, firstly at Shrewsbury and then Norwich. Sadly in 1938 ill health forced him to take early retirement and move down to the Somerset town of Somerton where he died in 1944. Presumably because of his love of Dartmoor he was buried at Princetown where his grave can be found in the churchyard. His epitaph was one that he composed it simply read: “Here lie I, Philip Guy, Soon few will sigh, Then none – Goodbye.” Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, pp. vii – x.
It is sad in a way that the work of Stevens has not received the recognition of other Dartmoor painters. However, I will lay a pound to a penny that his sketches have been viewed by far more people that all the rest put together thanks to Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. In later editions of this book there are eight examples of his water colour and oil paintings, my favourite being – ‘Moorman with Sheep’.
Via the Legendary Dartmoor Facebook Page I have set a mini challenge whereby folk are asked to visit the viewpoints from the book and take a modern-day photograph, these can then be submitted to the page which can be found – HERE. The later Peninsula Press edition – ‘A Pocket Guide to the Tors and Hills of Dartmoor: A New Look at the Views That Illustrated Crossing’s “Guide to Dartmoor‘ is still available on Amazon at the moment.
Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.