Book Reviews

BookimageDevon Great Consuls – A Mine of Mines. By R.J.StewartPublisher: The Trevithick Society, 435 pages, Paperback £24.99 and Hardback limited edition £42.99.

Review by Stephen Docksey.

“At long last a comprehensive history of Consols; Rick Stewart has done the old mine proud.

A short introductory chapter covers earlier tin-working on the sett, for which there is documentary evidence in the Bedford papers and humps and bumps on the ground, before the opening of the copper and arsenic mine in 1844. The bulk of the book is concerned with Consuls proper, beginning with the application for and granting of the lease and the discovery of the Main Lode. Subsequent chapters cover each decade down to the final closure and the scrapping in 1900-1905. The final chapter is an account of twentieth century re-working, the most recent closure being in 1985, the year of the tin crisis. Each Chapter had notes enlarging the text and full references. Appendices cover management, workers, welfare and housing; geology and lodes; production figures 1845-1904; and most important of all for those who like to go and have a look, a gazetteer indicating where surface remains are to be found with grid references. A bibliography steers one towards further reading.

This is not a book for use in the field. Fortunately, I have a superficial ground knowledge of the sett so that, when reading the book, I was able to locate the features being referred to. A series (it’s a large sett) of self-guided walks a la Brown and Acton would be welcome, provided one is not discouraged from going off piste by the current management’s mania for fences and no-entry signs. An alternative is to join one of Rick’s walks, when his knowledge and enthusiasm will encourage you to do your own exploration.

The book is written by a mining historian, with underground experience. It is not an overview essay such as those by John Goodridge, Hamilton, Jenkin and Frank Booker. In the absence of surviving DGC papers, Rick has relied mainly on reports of company meetings and from captains in the Mining Journal. He gives a very good account of the progress and decline of the mine as a mining concern, referring to features on the surface but very much concentrating on sinking and driving underground.

The book is well illustrated. It is surprising how few photographs there are of DGC in palmy days or later; there is a panoramic view from the west which has only recently been discovered and one hopes that the publication of this book will encourage a search for other images. There are nineteenth century sections of the mine and elevations and plans of some of the machinery, together with reproductions in colour of Symons and the Bedford Estate maps of 1867. Annotated versions of the 1883 OS cover the railways, DGC in relation to neighbouring mines and, most valuable, the use of water on the mine, one of the most interesting of the surface features on the sett.

This is a very readable account of the mine for which many of us will be indebted to Rick. A slight light editing and proof-reading would not have gone amiss, but one soon adjusts to the punctuation and minor glitches. Don’t let my editorial pedantry put you off.”

Stephen Docksey

Tavistock Area Support Services ‘Memories’ accounts


The life stories project has produced a number of books and this review concerns memories from elderly residents in the Tavistock area. Two dozen or so people have written their stories or told them to Val Vines who has edited and grouped them under three titles:
“Childhood Memories” will be remind readers of how hard life was. Large families and low wages caused great poverty. But the message you get from these stores is that people made the best of things and rose above the conditions.
“Working Lives” include stories from a hotel worker who was befriended by Laurence Olivier, a translator / interpreter who worked in Iceland, an MS sufferer who set up the first computer business in Tavistock and an ex-bomber pilot who helped set up Laker’s, of Berlin air-life fame.
“Memories of World War II” cover Chamberlain’s famous radio broadcast in September 1939, through the events on the Home Front: rationing, air-raids, Anderson shelters, doodle-bugs and V2s; to life in the Armed Forces and finally the Victory Celebrations.
People who lived through these times will wallow in nostalgia while children who are studying history will benefit from reading these fascinating tales.

Copies are available for a donation to TASS from the Anchorage Centre in Tavistock next to the Bus Station in Plymouth Road.


Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Howard Street, Sheffield, S1 1WB;

ISSN 1354-0262
ISBN 978-1-904098-55-3
PRICE £30.00

War and Peat is a fascinating compilation of recent research on the military and ecological heritage of moors, heaths, bogs and fens. Wars, political and economic unrest and extreme weather have all affected peat landscapes. Harvesting resources like peat and moss have also had an impact on the landscape and ecology. Conversely, the peat wetlands have themselves influenced battle strategies, outcomes and resources.
The moorlands of Southwest England, such as Dartmoor and Sedgemoor, have long been used as military training grounds, or sites of military campaigns. Dartmoor still has military training grounds at Okehampton, Willsworthy and Merrivale.
The moorland has also provided materials essential to wartime activities such as peat, horse litter and sphagnum moss for wound dressings. In WW1 there were collection centres for processing the moss into dressings at Princetown and other collection depots at Mary Tavy, Tavistock and Okehampton.
Sedgemoor in Somerset has also had sites of military activity. King Alfred the Great had an isolated stronghold on the Isle of Athelney, surrounded by marshes. From this retreat he went on to defeat the Viking attack in the Battle of Eddington in 878 AD .
In 1685 The Battle of Sedgemoor was fought on the Somerset Levels at Westonzoyland, near Bridgwater, between James Scott, First Duke of Monmouth, and troops loyal to James II. Victory went to the royalists and Monmouth escaped, but was later captured and taken to London for trial and execution.
There was also a military airfield at Westonzoyland, Sedgemoor near Bridgwater during WW2, of which remnants still remain.
War and Peat (with apologies to Tolstoy) came from an international research conference held at Sheffield Hallam University in 2013. The papers are written in a popular style and each provides a fascinating insight into the history and ecology of these important moorland landscapes.

Review by Dr Ann Pulsford

*Professor Ian Rotherham will be giving a lecture on War and Peat in the 2016 series of Lunchtime Lectures at the Wharf Tavistock