The Reading Rooms

The Reading Rooms were built as a centre of relaxation, education and recreation for people of Mary Tavy Parish. The land on which it was built was given by deed of gift by Mr. Henry James, a resident of Mary Tavy on 6th Sept 1909.

It was built by Mr. C. Doidge, founder of Doidges of Tavistock. The opening was a grand affair with a brass band from Brentor playing on the grass outside.

There was a comprehensive library and newspapers were delivered daily. In the 1950’s it almost became derelict, but thanks to local residents it was revived as a recreation centre again, and the funds were raised to repair the billiards table.

A generous legacy for the up keep of the rooms was left by a local resident and this is administered by nominated trustees.

The rooms are still in regular use. Snooker and Billiard matches are a regular happening, also available are a dart board and table tennis. It is also used by the Parish Council for its monthly meetings, all of which help to finance its upkeep.

Considerable voluntary assistance, helps to maintain the grounds and the general cleaning within the building.

The Railway Station

The first line to reach Mary Tavy was Brunel’s broad gauge railway in 1865 It was the furthest west that the railway had got at the time and was South Devon’s northern extension from Tavistock to Lydford. It then headed west down the Lyd valley to Launceston and beyond. (These early trains ran on track that was just over 7 feet wide. Although designed by Brunel, the railway was run by the South Devon Railway until financial difficulties in 1876 lead to a takeover by the Great Western Railway. Brunel’s broad gauge network was converted in 1892 to run on the narrower ‘standard’ 4ft 8.5 ins gauge introduced by Robert Stevenson.)

A rival railway company, the London and South Western Railway, extended its Okehampton line south to Lydford in 1874, and on to Tavistock and Plymouth in 1876 over the existing Launceston line. Mary Tavy then had two train services.  This was only until 1890 when the Okehampton line used a separate new railway from Lydford to Plymouth, which did not have a station between Brentor and Tavistock.  Those who wanted to go to Okehampton by train would then have had to change at Lydford where both railway companies had stations. 

Note that the station sign reads “Mary Tavy and Blackdown”

Our thanks to Mr Bryan Gibson for supplying additional information and corrections to the article originally posted here

Signal Box 1963

Mary Tavy Station in 1963. Photo – George Cutland

Wesleyan Chapel

The Wesleyan Chapel
Note on this card and on O.S. maps published in 1946 Mary Tavy
(and incidentally Peter Tavy) were spelt as one word

 

Post Office

This photo was taken by visitors who were staying at the Post Office when it did Bed & Breakfast in the 1960’s. They were passing by in the summer of 2007 and kindly left the photo at the Post Office. Unfortunately their name and the exact date has been mislaid. If you were those visitors, could you e-mail and we can complete this description.

Good Working Conditions

Conditions at Mary Tavy were good compared to other areas. Wheal Friendship was considered to offer superior conditions to its miners. Although 240 fathoms deep, it was well-ventilated and there were changing houses, where their clothes would be dried for them, and their housing was not so overcrowded as in other places.

The Miners Dry in 1963 – George Cutland

In his report to the Royal Commission on Mines in the early 1860’s, RICHARD SLEMAN, a surgeon at Tavistock, wrote:

“At Mary Tavy, in consequence of the habitations of the miners being adequate to the population, we do not get much fever. If you go to Bere Alston, where the number of houses is just the same, but where the population is 2,000 as against 500, you get more fever and more disease generally, and so at Gunnislake. I believe that the disease depends more on the habitation of the miner than anything else.” Later on in the report, discussing the miners disease – respiratory complaints, bronchitis, asthma and consumption – Richard Sleman wrote, “I draw the inference that the dwellings have a good deal to do with the matter from the fact that at the deepest mine in our neighbourhood, Wheal Friendship, the miners disease is not prevalent, and the cottages are not so filled.”

Thanks to Joan from Colorado for the information above. The information below about working with arsenic comes from The Chains Theme Website (no longer available)

“Two grains of arsenic are usually fatal, but…

….the men employed in arsenic works were not known for ill health or premature death. As a precaution, the men inserted a small wad of cotton wool up each nostril and covered their mouths with a cloth tied around the head. Exposed parts of the face, neck and hands were covered with fuller’s earth to prevent the arsenic entering the pores of the skin. It seems probable that arsenic workers built up an immunity to poisoning.

 

Water Power

One of the major hazards to miners is flooding but while other mine owners were instaling steam powered pumps such as would eventually be installed in Wheal Betsy, the rest of mines in Mary Tavy were turning a potential hazard to its own advantage. With as many as seventeen water wheels with two measuring over 50ft (16metres) in diameter and up to 10ft (3metres) wide. It was such an efficient use of water that even when the Owners of Wheal Betsy installed a Steam engine in 1868 it was unable to improve on the water power it was to help as the mine got deeper. It closed only 9 years later. 100 years later the engine house (seen on the home page) was given to The National Trust and restored.

For more information about water power and Bullers Wheel at Mary Tavy take this link to Gerry Sargent’s information packed website.

The Buller family once owned all the land on which Mary Tavy now stands and the Mary Tavy Inn was originally ‘The Buller’s Arms’.

Water power is still important to Mary Tavy in the 21st century.

View over the Count House yard with the Reading Rooms in the center of the photo & Brentor on the horizon. The white track on the left is Cars Lane. The track off to the left leads to the Count House mine offices (see below), now Glebe Cottage.

 

Count House

The Count House in 1963 – George Cutland

 

Mining in Mary Tavy

While most visitors to the West Country associate tin mining with Cornwall because so much industrial archeology remains, it began in Devon with panning for tin in the streams on Dartmoor. Here in Mary Tavy, Wheal Betsy, seen on the home page, is all the industrial heritage that can be seen by the casual visitor. The old photo below shows Devon United South mine workings sometime in the 19th century. Strictly speaking this is in the next parish (Peter Tavy) because its the opposite side of Cholwell Brook. Because the photo was found in a Mary Tavy pub, we wrongly thought it to be in Mary Tavy but because it is such an atmospheric photograph that shows what it was like when these mines were working, we’ve left it on the site.

For more information on Wheal Betsy, why not take this link to the excellent Legendary Dartmoor website. If feeling very scholarly, there is also an excellent document in Tavistock Library called “The Rise & Demise of a Dartmoor Mine” catalogue reference is 622.34. Its based on the accounts from Wheal Betsy for much of its life. From this document you will learn that the building of Wheal Betsy engine house took place, almost as a last resort to help a mine that was already beginning to fail. The additonal pumping power of the ‘new’ steam engines, still could not cope with the amount of water that would have had to be removed and kept out of the mine to enable the owners to dig deeper!

Devon Friendship (shown below) was once the largest copper mine in the world but as with many of the mines in the region when the profitable minerals were worked out, the owners turned to making as much as possible from what other minerals remained

Devon Friendship Mary Tavy

 

The Village Today

Mary Tavy is located on the western side of the Dartmoor National Park and is in the West Devon Local Authority area. It is an old mining village named after the 13th Century church of St. Mary’s and the River Tavy. Mary Tavy lies approximately 4 miles north east from Tavistock, 18 miles to Plymouth; two miles away is Brentor’s landmark church on a peak. Mary Tavy nestles on the eastern side of the Cholwell valley leading to the River Tavy. The Parish of Mary Tavy is predominately made up of Blackdown and the old village of Mary Tavy but now includes the hamlets of Horndon, Zoar and Grendon. It is a scattered village that contains open moorland within its boundaries, and approaching south along the A386 you pass Gibbet Hill and the remains of Wheal Betsy in the moorland valley.

The A386 continues through the middle of Mary Tavy and adjacent to the road is the village recreation field and the village hall, The Coronation Hall. To the west of the A386 lies the area called Blackdown. This area is now mainly residential, but has evidence of the old railway line which runs adjacent to the River Burn. To the east of the A386, turning left at the War Memorial down Bal Lane lie the remains of Wheal Friendship. Continuing down Bal Lane just past the Horndon turning is the Village School. This area is known as old Mary Tavy – rather than Blackdown and it contains one of the village’s thatched cottages. Further west adjacent to Cholwell Brook is the village’s 13th century Parish Church, Mary St. Tavy. Past the Church at the end of the lane is the Hydro Electric Power Station, which is powered by water taken from the River Tavy and the old mine leat. This lane used to be the thoroughfare between Mary Tavy and its neighbouring village Peter Tavy but is now a bridle path which runs adjacent to the River Tavy

Our Role

Mary Tavy Parish Council

The Parish Council is a small local authority. Its nine Councillors are elected for four years at a time. Vacancies occurring between elections are filled by bye-election (if requested) or co-option. Each year, the Councillors choose a Chair from amongst their number. There is also a Vice-Chair and a Clerk, who is the Proper Officer and the Responsible Finance Officer of the Council.

Parish Councils have a number of formal powers and can do things either by providing them itself, or by helping someone else, for example a charity or volunteers, financially to do so. Parish Councils have the power to improve the quality of community life by spending sums of money on things which, in its opinion, are in the interests of the parish or its inhabitants.

Councils are also the focal point for local consultation on matters such as the strategy documents of other public organisations, including the Borough and County Councils and the Dartmoor National Park Authority and on planning applications. The Parish Council can represent the village’s views to other authorities.

Mary Tavy Parish Council meets on the second Tuesday of every month in the Reading Rooms, commencing at 7.15pm with the prior 15 minutes available for parishioners to raise any points. For the agenda of the next meeting please click on the menu option to the left. Everyone is welcome to attend and see a “Grassroots Council” in action! To view the minutes of past meetings please click on the menu option to the left.

Attached below are the current standing orders for Mary Tavy Parish Council.

The Coronation Hall

Since it was built in 1961 and extended for greater use in 1973 and again in 1990. The Hall has been one of the main focal points of our village and the surrounding area.

The hall has a large stage and can accommodate 180 people. The lighting, heating and sound system are all modern. In addition to the kitchen facilites there is a Games Room and Meeting Room. The hall is home to the Mary Tavy & Peter Tavy Women’s Institute and to our own Drama and Pantomime groups. The Hall is available for hire and has been used for many varied meetings and events ranging from Wedding Receptions, Anniversary Parties, Dinners, Dances, Musical Evenings, Theatrical productions, Jumble Sales and as a Polling Station for elections.

If you need more information about the facilities then click the email below.

Or go to our new website.

www.marytavycoronationhall.com

Or please contact Diana McDowell on 01822 810709