“Follow the track S. W, we soon reach the head of the combe down which Middle Brook runs, and which is known as Petre’s Pits Bottom. In this are the ruins of a building in which it used to be said that the horses employed by the Red Lake Peat Works were stabled. It now goes by the name of Petre’s Pits House, and sometimes as Uncle Ab’s House” – Crossing, p.377.
On the left bank of Petre’s Pit Bottom are the ruins of Petre’s Pits House, better known as Uncle Ab’s House. All that remains today are low walls on three sides and a rather incongruous taller wall on the other and the remnants of a paddock. Originally the structure consisted of two floors, the lower one for stabling the horses and the upper for domestic purposes. Water was supplied to the building by means of a leat from the nearby Bala Brook. Several authors have suggested the building dates to around 1809 as nearby to the ruins is what is thought to have been the door lintel with the inscription ‘CB 1809’. As noted above the horses were employed to pull the carts up and down the Redlake Tramway and by all accounts were generally well looked after. However, in some of the old photographs in ‘The History of Redlake Tramway’ they look decidedly despondent and ribby. Hemery has suggested that to get to the tramway the horses would have originally crossed the valley at Bala Head Ford. In later years when the mica dam was built at Bala Head Mire they would have been able to cross the brook over its culvert. – p.60.
Whether fact or fiction there is an amusing account of old Uncle Ab’s experiences on a particular day of Brent Fair – One day the foreman was planning on a visit to Hexworthy which was a distance of some 5 miles as the crow flies from Ab’s House. He left strict instructions with Mr. Abbot, alias ‘Uncle Ab’, to send a horse over to the mine by that evening. Now that particular day coincided with Brent Fair which was a highlight of Dartmoor’s social occasions. There was no way that Mr. Abbot’s fellow workers were going to miss the occasion so no sooner was the captain ‘out of sight and out of mind’ they all slunk off to the fair. Having his horses to look after Uncle Ab dutifully refused their invitation to join them and remained at the stables. Later that afternoon a few of his co-workers returned early and thoughtfully brought with them a large amount of liquor in order that Ab could; “keep up the fair,” or in other words not miss out on a celebration. It would probably be correct to say the men well and truly ‘kept up the fair’ in true Dartmoor fashion. By the time came to take the captain’s horse up to Hexworthy all the men, including Ab, were in ‘their cups’ to put it mildly. But as always duty calls and good old Uncle Ab was determined to obey his orders. The only slight drawback was that he was too drunk to get on his horse and was in need of assistance. Unfortunately those who assisted him were equally if not more intoxicated than Ab. But ‘a friend in need’ and all that they helped him into the saddle, smacked the horse’s rump and sent it off across the moor. After a few hundred yards or so the horse stopped and began grazing. The reason for this sudden halt was that Ab had been put back to front on the horse which made it think nobody was directing it. Just at that very moment the foreman returned early as he had postponed his plans to go to Hexworthy. Imagine his amazement when he saw old Ab sitting backwards on the horse mumbling incoherently to himself. “What’s on then Ab?” he asked. Ab jerked his drooping head upwards and with furrowed brow stared at the captain in puzzlement. “Where be ee? where be ee?” Ab drawled. “Where be wat yer old fule,” the captain demanded. “Where be the ‘oss’s haid, us shuld ‘ave bin a Hexworthy ages ago, but us baint be gwain anywheres on this tu ‘eaded hoss,” Ab exclaimed. That probably was a Brent Fair Day that old Uncle Ab wished to forget!
As with many old ruined buildings there usually is a ghost story and so here is ‘Cautious Colin’s’ nightmare at Ab’s House. – The Ghost of Uncle Ab.
Hemery, E. 1991. Walking the Dartmoor Railroads. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.