Sitting on my league two shelf of Dartmoor books is a forlorn and rapidly disintegrating red book, its spine slowly rotting away. The only redeeming feature about it is the golden engraved picture of Spinster’s Rock on its cover. Inside the first page, in fading ink, are the words; “Dr. Frost, December 11th 1903. A few pages on it proudly states that it is but one copy of a limited edition of one hundred and twenty five and it was written by T. A. Falcon. However, inside are the results of one man’s portrayal in photographic format of a Dartmoor not seen for one hundred and sixteen years. It is hard to imagine the miles the author must have tramped in order to take these portraits by they all bear witness to the fact that he accomplished such a feat.
Thomas Adolphus Falcon was born in 1872 at Pudsey in Yorkshire he was the son of Thomas Falcon who was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Thomas junior attended Manchester Grammar school and then moved onto Trinity College Cambridge. Here he studied the classics along with medieval and modern languages which culminated in a Masters of Art. In 1902 he moved to Braunton in Devon by which time he was a recognised landscape artist and silversmith. During this year he also became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and over time he exhibited 138 of his works with them. He was also a member of ; the Royal Cambrian Academy, the Birmingham Royal Society of Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.
T. A. Falcon died at Braunton in 1944.
Tor in Winter – T. A. Falcon
At some point Falcon also took up photography for in 1900 he produced a book called ‘Dartmoor Illustrated’ which was published by James G. Commin of Exeter. The book was described as; “A series of one hundred full page of its scenery and antiquities with some short topographical notes.” That was exactly what it was, one hundred black and white photographs of various landscapes and landmark feature across Dartmoor. His aim for the book was as follows; “this publication is primarily and essentially illustrative, and is intended to supplement Rowe’s “Perambulation of Dartmoor” and all other descriptive works dealing with the Moor. It professes neither to be a guide nor to enlighten, but merely to recall...”. Some 116 years later that is exactly the charm of this book, to recall and compare what the various places looked like over a century ago and what they appear like now.
The first edition of the book was limited to three hundred copies with a further and larger print run in the same year of another one hundred and twenty five copies.
As noted above each place had accompanying topographical notes and just one example of these is what he wrote about Cranmere Pool:
“It is fervently recommended by guide-books and hand-books that the clearest possible day be chosen for the desperate journey to this heart of Dartmoor. But it may be said, without disrespect, that the necessity for this is not very obvious to any one acquainted with the ordinary use of the compass and a large scale map, and with moorland characteristics. As a matter of fact, the clearest possible day brings out in the smallest possible measure the peculiar and characteristic savagery of this waste. Preferable by far is a day of streaming westerly wind and mist, with occasional sudden revelations and sudden blottings out; and, as a matter of practical detail, one is, under these conditions, less distracted by unnecessary and merely curious deviations, by reason of the straight course and strict adherence to the compass-line imposed.
In general, the terrors of Dartmoor exploration cannot be said to have been underrated. It is just as well that enthusiastic pilgrims should not be deterred from considerable pleasure by too impressive display of imagination; for it should not be forgotten that the very wildest position of Dartmoor is scarcely on a par, in actuality, with a true Highland desolation. At an average of the worst, two hours must infallibly bring one at least to the first signs of civilization and return the timorous to composure. The charm of Dartmoor, and of Cranmere in particular, lies not, to healthy bodies in any physical danger or uncertainty, but in its great aesthetic impressiveness, which is not only apart from scale and difficulty, but in actual and curious contradiction to them.”, p.27.
Now you can see why this book was not intended as a guide or enlightenment because if you can make any sense of what he’s trying to say then well done.
There can be no question that Falcon traipsed many miles across Dartmoor to get his one hundred photographs and presumably carrying some pretty heavy camera equipment. Again these early topographers would have none of the benefits or modern walking gear which made their tasks that much harder so – respect.
In 1902, still with camera in hand Falcon then embarked on photographing some of the old stone crosses on Dartmoor, these pictures were used to illustrate William Crossing‘s book; The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor. In that same year Falcon published another book called Pictorial Dartmoor. This basically was an abridged version of his Dartmoor Illustrated containing fifty photographs along with their descriptions.
With respect to Dartmoor the last piece of work Falcon completed was a paper in the 1905 Transactions of the Devonshire Association entitled – Dartmoor – A Note on Graves. It was in this that he began the debate regarding the Cater’s Beam which was one that later proved to be wrong.
As with many of these period books they can now be downloaded in amongst other formats pdfs and this one is no exception. Should you wish to get a free copy which includes all of the photographs then visit the Internet Archive website link – HERE.
Falcon, T. A. 1900. Dartmoor Illustrated. Exeter: James G. Commin.