Welcome to Mary Tavy & Peter Tavy. We are twin villages and you may have wondered how we got our names. Well it is quite simple really. St. Mary’s Church on the river Tavy and St Peter’s Church (also on the river Tavy). The two churches are a mile apart and you can reach them by walking along a pretty bridle path with a bridge over the Tavy called the Clam – Mary Tavy Clam if you live in Peter Tavy and Peter Tavy Clam if you live in Mary Tavy. Each village has a famous beauty spot. There is the Peter Tavy Coombe, where the villagers have dammed the Colley Brook to make a swimming pool and the beautiful Tavy Cleave.
Years ago mining was the main industry and the whole are around the Coronation Hall and much further afield was a hive of activity, with many deep shafts and seventeen huge water wheels working the heavy machinery to process the ore and to pump the water from underground. Many hundreds of men and women were employed. The women were called Bal Maidens and their job was to break up the mundic with hammers for which they were paid one shillling a day. (Mundic is also known as pyrite or iron pyrites and was sometimes found in tin and copper mines. A waste product used as aggregate in concrete, when the desired mineral was tin, copper, silver or lead but once mined out of the more valuable ores, mundic, also known as arsenical pyrites, was and the source of another valuable mineral – ed.) Bal is the old word for mine and we still have a Bal Lane in Mary Tavy.
The Largest Mine in the World. Wheal Friendship was at one time the largest copper mine in the world. Later on arsenic was processed and you can still see the flues and calciners on the hillside to the East outside the Coronation Hall.
There was a huge market for the arsenic in the Southern States of America to kill the Bol Weavil in the cotton fields. They say that there is enough arsenic clinging to the inside of the flues to kill millions of people. (A recent report tells that the crops being grown on these fields in the USA now contain traces of that arsenic, a progressive poison that once ingested does not get removed as waste matter. The build up over years of eating contaminated food has been sited a possible cause for many illnesses – Ed)
In earlier times the copper and tin ore was taken by pack horse through Peter Tavy and out on the old road to Tavistock that comes out by Mount Tavy on the Princetown Road. Then on through tracks to Morwellham where it was shipped to all parts of the world. John Taylor, when he was manager of Wheal Friendship, built the Tavistock canal to make transport easier. that was completed in 1817.
The Ancient Right of Common
Those of us who own land in our village have an ancient right of common which means we can graze ponies and cattle and cut peat and turf on Dartmoor.
The whole of the village of Mary Tavy was at one time owned by the Buller family until it was sold of in 1891. The name of the Bullers Arms was recently changed to the Mary Tavy Inn. The old mine shafts called after the families of the mine owners or their captains. There was a Wheal Hope, Wheal Caroline, Stephen’s Shaft, Curtices Shaft, Brunton’s, William’s and Maddock’s. There is also a Wheal Jewel, Kent’s Shaft, Taylor’s and Bennett’s. Most of them had huge water wheels and one, ‘Buller’s Wheel’, was the largest in the world.
In the close-knit community of the village where lots of people had the same name, nicknames were common and were carried on for generations, succeeding generations adding to the old one. They still continue with some of the older families. There was a Billy Go Deeper, Sammy Knacky, Kingy, Tibbet, Neil Weep, Joe Buck, Weeze Buck and Arch Buck Feedo, Jan Scuse, Gentle Annie, Beat Chank and today there is still a Romeo Chank.
World Travellers Made Wealthy
For many years folk had travelled the world as miners or mine captains. My husband’s father started the first mine ‘Tarquo and Obosso’ on the Gold Coast of West Africa. His grandfather mined in America. Other families had their men go off to Mexico, India, Brazil and Malaya. The women folk left at home in the villages reared their families with their husbands away for a year, then home for three months and then of again for another year. They became quite wealthy by village standards and bought houses for themselves, naming them after the foreign places they had worked. There is a Wyoming and an Ohio, and Mrs. Sargents house ‘Broomassie’ is named after the gold mine in West Africa where her father-in-law and other Mary Tavy men worked. They travelled out in the big liners that used to stand off the breakwater at Plymouth Sound. They went aboard by tender and then had a perilous journey journey ashore in rowing boats when they reached Ashanti. The natives had never seen working tools and when they had been taught to use them they were paid a silver three penny bit a day. Most of the men who travelled to those far corners of the world had never previously been further afield than Tavistock!
Our village of Mary Tavy is very scattered and spread over a wide area. there is the original settlement around the church and there is the much larger development both sides of the main road. Of course, until 1817 there was no main road, that was made to relieve stress when there was a period of great unemployment.
Tokens for Money
There were two distinct communities in the Village – Mary Tavy & Blackdown and both names were on the railway station The chapel was of course, Blackdown Chapel. Then there is Zoar Chapel and St, Joseph’s Church at Horndon. Harford Bridge is part of our parish and then there is the West Blackdown area near Brentor. The cricket field has now become Felling field and I can remember when there was no Warren Lane or council houses in Bal Lane or bungalows in the Brentor Road. A community of gipsies used to camp every winter on the Burrows and there was no Body’s Garage. The present shop was there but the Post Office was in a house near the War Memorial called Birches. there was also a shop where the present restaurant is (This has since closed and become a private house). That had been there for many years and used to ake mine tokens instead of money in the old days. The Smithy for shoeing horses was at the top of Lane Head Hill, now part of the Mary Tavy Inn.
A doctor held a surgery twice a week in the sitting room of one of the station road houses. The butchers shop was up past the Royal Standard and we had several carpenters and masons The Duke family ran their newsagents business from No.1 Standard Court. Com. Hare lived in what is now Moorland Hall and started D.M.T – Devon’s early buses. My uncle, Herbie Minhinick, ran a coal and forge business from Laburnam House (now renamed after him) with large sheds in the fields at the back on what is now Laburnam Villas.
At the top of Mary Tavy was the silver and lead mine, Wheal Betsy. The old engine house is still there. The mine was once called Prince Arthur and the mine Captain lived in Prince Arthur House. The Royal Standard provided refreshements for Queen’s son, Prince Arthur, in 1862.
All of the mines had gone ‘scat’ as we say, by the nineteen twenties and the last one to work was the Devon United on the Peter Tavy side of the Tavy in 1925.
The Cholwell Brook winds its way down through the village from Wheal Betsy until it enters the Tavy at the power station. That is worked from an old mine leat that starts at Tavy Cleave.
On the western boundary is the Burn River, along the valley which used to run, and then we had a station. This area is the Manor of Warne and the old manor house was once an orphanage.
How the Elephant Gots Its Nest
I know a lot of pubs, having been brought up in the Peter Tavy Inn and keeping the Royal Standard for 25 years but I know the story of how the Elephant’s Nest at Horndon got its name. My husband was visiting the then landlord, Charles Ossington, and he said to Charles (he was a great big man sitting behind his tiny counter) “You look like an Elephant sitting on a nest”. So there and then Charles decided to change its name from “The New Inn” which it was then called to “The Elephant’s Nest” and it has been famous for its unusual name ever since.
You will probably have heard of William Crossing and his famous book “Guide to Dartmoor”. Well, he wrote that and several other books while living in a house at the top of the main road now called “Crossing”. He also lived in a house in Brentor called “Sunnycroft”, and when my husband was a small boy bringing the cows home to be milked, he often used to stop and talk to him. Crossing was a tutor to Mr. Collin’s sons at “Sunnycote” and the family have many momentoes of the famous writer who is buried in our churchyard.
We had our own postman and policeman and people still took their apples to Wringworthy Farm to be made into cyder. Down’s Garage started up and at Peter Tavy, the first local bus – the Eddystone Bell’ was run by Cole’s Garage.
Our twin villages have some interesting houses. At Peter Tavy there is the lovely old inn, two very old mill houses and their first Chapel, now part of ‘Shula’. There is also ‘Harewood’, where Virginia Holgate’s family lived.
A Gold Pencil from the Prince
In Mary Tavy we have Bryn Tavy, where members of John Taylor’s family used to live. There’s our one thatched cottage, Dowerlands Cottage, and Eastlands Farm, which used to be a house of correction for fallen women. Then there is Kent House where Captain Kent, the manager of wheal Friendship, lived. In 1862, Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Clarence, visited Mary Tavy and he was conducted around the mines by Captain Kent, to whom he presented a gold pencil case.
In the middle of the Burrows is the old Court House which used to have a balcony from which (the rights to mine) the underground faces used to be auctioned.
To end on an eerie note, years ago there used to be a gate by the cattle grid on the Brentor Road, known as the “Iron Cage Gate” where they used to keep the prisoners (until) they hanged them at the top of Gibbet hill.