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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Odds and Sods April 2024

Here we are in May 2024 already, reviewing what is already past. First here is a small selection of pictures from West Charleton church. It's a really old building in an area of even older settlement. Neolithic to be precise, which is anywhere from 4500 to 6500 years ago. They were building the Great Pyramid of Egypt when people were making arrowheads in West Charleton and there are remains of those people to be found in the area.

The first record of this church though is 13th century, while much of the interior is Victorian after a later restoration in around 1850. The structure today is mainly 15th century.

In parts it resembles a medieval castle more than a church with it's unusual pepper pot tower that originally gave access to the rood loft above the chancel.

The stained glass is mostly modern but of good quality. This window has a very appropriate quote from,

Psalm 107:23-31

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

I had to make two visits to the church on consecutive days as it was locked on my first attempt, so I did exterior shots on a Tuesday and interior shots on a Wednesday. The church is in a stunning raised spot above the village with a commanding view of the entrance to the estuary in the distance, giving ample warning of seaborne attack. This is in all likelihood why it in fact does resemble a castle.

"The oldest local settlements were not built at the water’s edge but at some distance inland. The reason was that danger came from the sea. Long after the invasions which some of us learned about at school – Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman, it still remained a source of danger. Others include pirates seeking temporary shelter and supplies and, in the case of those from the Barbary States of North Africa, slaves. Hundreds of Devon people were kidnapped in the 1600s and taken to the slave markets of Algiers and Sallee on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Some were eventually ransomed but others never returned home." Brief History

I will be publishing a more detailed post about the church and its history at a later date.

Nearby Beesands is right on the South West Coast Path and it is a wave and wind swept, exposed fishing village, that now features several former fishermen's cottages to rent for holiday makers.

Today it is protected by a substantial sea wall after a major loss of the shingle protection which once lined the beaches along this coast. After millions of tons of underwater gravel were extracted in the 19th century to build Plymouth Dockyards the beaches returned out to sea to fill the void, causing irreparable harm to the coastal villages. Hallsands was completely washed away in the early 20th century.

This is the tiny seaman's church of St Andrews at Beesands. Built in 1883, it is Grade 2 listed by English Heritage. More details in a future post.

The Solving of a Mystery.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet a local mystery was solved in April. After some clearing of undergrowth had taken place up the road, this long forgotten strange object was revealed. Obviously with some serious purpose, it had been placed at the side of the road and someone had gone to the lengths of building a brick wall around it to protect it.

I asked the question on a local history Facebook page and it wasn't long before some retired telecoms guys informed me that it was a telephone junction box and it turns out that it is now pretty rare as they were mostly removed when the technology developed. We now have a large green cabinet in the village through which I am sending my words on this post to a bunker somewhere in the Rocky Mountains so that you can retrieve them through your nearest green cabinet and read them.

This device is more complicated than it looks though. It is made of asbestos and has some locking nuts near the base which when loosened allow you to lift off the entire contraption to reveal all the telephone wires underneath. Of course they are all now bypassed and dead (I hope). In any case it is a nice reminder of how things used to be not that long ago and how technology has progressed. These were apparently phased out in rural areas like this, as recently as the 1990's.

In Dartmouth I took a walk along Above Town. That's a description as well as the actual name of the street. From Above Town you can look down to below town and across the Dart river to Kingswear, perched on the bluff opposite. Over in Kingswear they have the far more erudite names of Lower Contour Road and Higher Contour Road. Kingswear must have been built by early cartographers. Click on this photo to see the larger version.

Above Above Town the hill still rises steeply and the next street up the contours is Jawbone Hill, which sounds more like the spot where the gold is buried in Treasure Island. There were no zebras on Treasure Island though, just goats as far as I can remember.

Every direction up here is steps or slopes and you need a head for heights.

Even the street signs usefully advise when you are going down, in case of confusion.

It also means you are up with the birds and the roof tiles, not to mention the decorative arches on the church, through which you can catch sight of the steam train express from Kingswear, headed towards Agatha Christie's former home at Greenway, (more here).

Here is the Jawbone, in case you didn't believe me.

The older houses are built cheek by jowl and I do try to use that wonderful idiom whenever I can.

So close are the houses that you can even share a sign.

Headed down the steep slopes, I reach the church, and in the porch they don't want you to make any mistake as far as it's age is concerned. Here is a replica of the Declaration made by King Edward on the 16th February 1286. He was in town, which wasn't up to much back then, with the older settlement being up on the hill at Townstall. They wanted a church nearer sea level so they didn't have to keep walking back up that hill. In fact you wouldn't have recognised Dartmouth at all back then as most of what you see today was under water, which has since been reclaimed. Even the ancient looking market in the centre of town was a creek back then.

Notice it says Edward without a regnal number, that's because he was the first King Edward. Edward Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots. There were so many firsts associated with his historic reign that I will save them for when I post separately about the church.

The church interior is a post on its own there is just so much to see.

So I will end here with one of the highlights of the last few weeks. This is West Alvington Woods with this years stunning display of wild garlic. I have never seen it this good. I have already published another short post featuring the garlic at Dartmouth woods here.

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