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Mother’s Meeting

In the June of 1884 a party of women from Tavistock treated themselves to a day trip on Dartmoor. Amazingly enough this was to be the first time some of them had been up on the Moor despite living just a few miles away.

“We were told that this year our outing was to be at Dartmeet. What a thrill that gave most of us. We had of course heard of Dartmoor, in fact many of us had slept under its shadow all our lives, but very few had really been on the moor. And so, our hearts beat with delight, for days before, at the thought of going on Dartmoor, of seeing its tors, watching its rivers, and above all taking in its pure air. It cost something I can tell you, for some of us to leave soapsuds and elbow grease behind even for 12 hours; but “all work and no play” applies to us as much as Jack. Well on Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock we were ready to the minute at Brook Street School Room where we meet one afternoon a week. I say we were ready, but some were there, after staying up nearly all the night to get forward with their work, and others could only go on the condition that their “incumbrances” went with them.

Outside the room four carriages were in waiting; inside we found a nosegay of flowers which some little girls had gathered and tied up for every one of us. The thought like the scent of the flowers was almost overpowering, but we took it all in faith and started with hearts beating high. Our first pull up was at the bottom of Pork Hill, up which we were asked to walk in order to ease the horses, a task we cheerfully complied with. When we reached the top, we were actually on Dartmoor and what a view it was laid out before us. The great hill to our left we were told was Coxtor, while to the right we could see a long way off the Tamar spanned by the Saltash bridge. Looking back, we saw dear old Tavistock so cosily settled down among the hills and looking so peaceful. But the bracing air, and the golden heather and the tinkling of the sheep bell and the broad expanse of moor spreading out before us, tor after tor rising up as we drove along the common produced feelings we shall not easily forget. Vixen tor was pointed out to us as we rattled along, then we came to Merrivale Bridge where we crossed the Walkham and then to foot it again because of the steep hill. When we reached the top, we found ourselves not exactly up in a balloon but in the clouds, and the sensation was rather curious. This was our first, and as it turned out our only check, for it looked as if we were in for a wet day, but a cheerful spirit assured us that it was only a taste of Dartmoor mist, and we should still have a fine day.

On reaching Rundlestone, it was determined we should go a little out of our way to see Princetown and get a glimpse of the convicts, but we were unfortunate, as the fog and the dinner hour had gathered them all within their cells, and we did not see one all day. We saw, however, stately prison walls high walls, huge gates, and armed warders all over the place. We left Princetown with a shudder, and soon arrived at Two Bridges, where we were to halt for our lunch. By this time the clouds had rolled away, and we found ourselves dropped in a lovely valley, by the side of a winding river, with the mountains towering up all around. It was new to most of us, grand and impressive to all. The landlady of the “Saracen’s Head” made us very comfortable and we soon found ourselves at home. A field adjoined the inn, and here most of us ate with a keen appetite our lunch, well, we preferred calling it dinner, for at half past twelve, women who work hard in daily life are ready for their mid-day meal. The repast having been enjoyed the order was given for Dartmeet, which we reached in about an hour after leaving Two Bridges, having travelled through some of the grandest scenery which we cannot describe, and the like of which most of us never before saw. Here the horses were taken out, and we had pour final halt. Some of us climbed the hill beyond where we caught a glimpse of Torquay and portions of the south coast; others wandered up the valley watching the fish sport in the stream, or admiring the lovely tints in the woods reaching down to the water’s edge; while the remainder were so charmed with the bridge where the East and West dart joined, that they sat lazily on the green turf, until reminded both by the demands of their appetites and the lengthening shadows that it was time to leave, not however before we felt that it was a place, which above all others, we should like again to visit at some future time if spared. On our return to Two Bridges, we found that the ladies who had arranged the trip had provided high tea, which we thoroughly enjoyed, thanks to the bracing air and the frequent change of scenery. After lingering about for another hour we received our final order for “home,” reaching it just after none.

The memory of such a pleasant outing will long remain with us, and brighten life’s journey, when hard work and its trails are pressing sorely upon us. When we reached our homes, our husbands and the children who were not gone to bed, looked on us with wonder, as if we had been great travellers, for we had actually encountered the peril of going to the centre of the moor, and had returned safely!” – The Tavistock Gazette, June 27th, 1884.

As with many of these excursions what these ladies saw cannot be replicated today which is why they are always fascinating reading. You are hardly likely to hear sheep bells anymore and likewise see armed warders patrolling around Princetown. It is also strangely unbelievable that one of the reasons for visiting Princetown then was the hope of seeing some of  the convicts. For may years to come people visited the town in order to see the prisoners, so much so that steps were taken by the authorities to ensure the privacy of the inmates and to stop the lurid onlookers from seeing the spectacle. Also just imagine merrily trundling along in your horse drawn carriage and on reaching the foot of the steep Pork Hill being asked to dismount and walk up it to give some relief to the horses. Then at Merrivale having to do the same up that hill in order to get to Princetown. Its surprising that no mention was given for the prehistoric remains that the women would surely have passed by, clearly not of interest at that time. There is also the hint of “a woman’s place is in the home” by the way the author noted that all the household chores had to be done before they were allowed out for the day. I like the way the husband and children stayed up until their wife/mother returned safely from their formidable moorland excursion.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

One comment

  1. I can remember, in 1965 , visiting the Merrivale Inn with my friends Jim and Freda Williams, who farmed at Urgles in Goodameavy, for an evening meal.
    As we drove towards Princetown, we saw a gang of prisoners returning, wearing prison garb and carrying tools. Suits with the arrows designating convicts. I was seventeen years old, but it was like travelling back in time to the nineteenth century and I have never forgotten it, as it was so bizarre.

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