Thursday, 25 May 2017

Crownhill Fort: on our doorstep

An evening out with the Stoke Climsland Local History Group and it was off over the border into Devon for a guided tour of the fort at Crownhill. This is the best preserved of the ten that constituted Lord Palmerston’s Ring of Fire which surrounded Plymouth in Victorian times, protecting the Royal Dockyard at Devonport from French attack and bombardment. Although Crownhill represented the cutting edge of fortress design for that period, its guns were never put to the ultimate test, for advances in artillery soon overtook it and fortresses became obsolete. Unlike most of its contemporaries in Plymouth and elsewhere, Crownhill was retained by the army for over a century and because of this did not suffer many irreversible alterations. The Landmark Trust acquired the Fort in 1987, and since then they have undertaken major work to restore the grounds, weaponry and buildings. 

It was yet another of the sites more or less on our doorstep that we had never visited. We've driven past it hundreds of times but have never ventured through its portals. It was good to put that right.
Construction of the fort began in April 1863 and conforms to a standard polygonal design, in this case a heptagon. It was built 400 metres in front of the defensive line in an exposed position on a natural outcrop. It is designed for all round defence, with each of its seven sides having massive ramparts and being surrounded by a deep ditch. All sides were also protected by gunfire, with the fort having around 350 built-in rifle loopholes. It had 32 guns on the ramparts and 6 mortars sited in two mortar pits to the south west and north west of the Parade Ground.
The impressive granite main entrance in the outer wall, with decoration which makes more than a nod to the Normans.
And look at the carving at the top of the columns. Not just functional but very  intricate for what was built to house troops. Those were the days.
Barrack rooms from the 1860s. The point was made that these conditions were very much better than most of the soldiers were used to in 'civvy street' and that was why recruitment was never a problem.
A Moncrieff Disappearing Gun, of which there are not many surviving in anything like a reasonable condition. This one is in the process of being restored. It is a beast of a thing and, in essence, is loaded, pops up over the parapet, fires and then drops back on its counterweight to be loaded again. It's a wonderful thing to behold. Just to give you some idea of scale, the barrel weighs around 4 tons.
This engraving shows how the gun works. It must have gone off with one hell of a bang. A lovely bit of engineering maybe but, in actual fact, this design was very unreliable and the gun soon fell out of favour.
This is the name plate from another cannon. This one was made by the Carron company from Falkirk in Scotland. Founded in 1759, and still in existence, the company was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and prospered through its development and production of a range of naval cannons. 
The 1930/1940 barracks, a scene probably very familiar to my and Mrs P's fathers during WW2. The shiny boots reminds me of how I suffered (sort-of) from my father's insistence on school shoes being polished the Royal Marines' way.
Another monster of a weapon: this one was a 13 inch mortar, able to lob a 300 lb shot over the walls. Not very accurate but very effective when loaded with a charge of shrapnel.
The fortification of Crownhill Fort is based on three-storey caponiers. The first floor of each was for infantrymen, the second was for gun casements and the third connects with the Chemin de Ronde, a parapeted walkway circling the fort, allowing troops to get around safely.
  • Getting a muzzle loading 2-pound cannon, from the 1790s ready for firing. Here the (dummy) missile is being rammed home.
Lighting the equivalent of the blue touch paper.
And off it goes. Lots of smoke and flames. A fitting way to bring a very pleasant excursion to a close.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

On this day in 1917, Private John Sansom died

Private 45783
9th Battalion
Devonshire Regiment
Died age 23
23rd May 1917
John Sansom was born in Ford, Devonport, in 1894, the fifth child and only son of William and Louisa Jane Sansom. William was a farmer and, given the size of the farms he had and the house servants he employed, it would appear that he was quite prosperous. After many years farming in the Morval area near Liskeard, the family moved to Whiteford in Stoke Climsland sometime before 1911. In the 1911 census, John, aged 17, is listed as working on his father’s farm. Although the address is given in several documents as Whiteford House, it is probable that the family was living in the ancillary buildings and not the original ‘big’ house.
The modern house at Whiteford which was the original farm manager's house and is probably where John  Sansom's family lived.
Devonshire Regiment badge

John Sansom’s service record has not survived but it is known that he enlisted into the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment at Liskeard. Details of his service in France are unknown and his death certificate records that he died of wounds received in warfare and the exact cause of death in given as ‘gun shot wound to the head and meningitis’. He died at the National Hospital in Queen Square, London, a hospital specialising in severe neurological cases.

Extract from John Sansom's death certificate
That John received his wound in France is a given but when and exactly where can only be surmised. His battalion was involved in some very fierce fighting and in April 1917 had great success with light casualties when it attacked Ecoust during the Battle of Arras. However, a month later, on and around 7th May, when they were involved in capturing part of Bullecourt, 382 men were killed and wounded. After this action the battalion left the front line and spent the rest of the month either in billets or in working parties. Given this chronology, it is reasonable to speculate that John Sansom received his wounds during the Bullecourt action and was subsequently returned to the UK for treatment. John’s final resting place was the graveyard in St German’s, where he shares a plot with his sister, Olive, who had died in 1912. Their parents lie close to them in a separate grave.
A not very good photograph of John Sansom's headstone in St German's graveyard. This was taken under adverse weather conditions and a return visited revealed that the headstone is now obscured by a fallen tree.
John Sansom was the owner of a quantity of shares in the GWR (Great Western Railway company) and probate of these was granted to his father and Jane Brenton in 1921.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sunshine and Monuments on Bodmin Moor

A walk with our monthly group a little closer to home this week, just ten miles away in the centre of Bodmin Moor. The weather gods were kind to us.
We started and ended in the Hurlers car park at Minions. It was a 6.8 mile circular route taking in Craddock and Twelve Men's Moors, plus a couple of tors and some stretches on the old mineral railway. The track is the green one in the inset above, which also shows the many walks we've done in this general area. We are starting to know it quite well and we never get bored with the scenery. It's always different.
A solitary engine house on the way to Treggarick Tor. It was surrounded by lots of evidence of the mining activities that took place there in the mid 1800s, with some features that looked like they pre-dated this period. 
On the side of Tregarrick Tor looking northwards with Brown Willy and Rough Tor in the far distance. They'd be about 20 miles away, as the crow flies.

Clouds over Tregarrick Tor. It was not a day for clear blue skies and the cloud formations were with us all the way around.
Ooh, look! A dip in the ground. Yes, it is but a rather intriguing dip. It's actually a cursus: sort of like a trench or embankment but wider. This is Neolithic in origin, is around 5 meters wide and about 2 kilometers long. What was its function? Processional? Ceremonial? No-one knows for this one but it can't be a coincidence that it seems aligned with the high point of Caradon Hill at one end and towards Rough Tor at the other.
Just one of the many Neolithic/Bronze Age hut circles that are on this part of the moor. It's a good time of year to see them as the bracken has not yet grown up to obscure some of the features. At other times it can be quite difficult to discern the various artifacts and sometimes impossible to rediscover something that you know is there and have visited several times already.
What are we looking at here? In the middle left you can make out the outline of a settlement boundary. In the foreground is a large flat stone surrounded by an enclosure of stones. This predates the settlement so the settlement builders were aware of it but did not 'rob' it to use the stones in their own building. This suggests that the flat stone, whatever its purpose was, was of some significance and was respected.
A lump of amorphous jelly lying by the wayside. What is it? At this time of year, it's unlikely to be regurgitated frog spawn, possibly by a heron. Slime mould? It seems too tall for this. Suggestions on a postcard, please.
A nice example of a stone wall. Not too difficult to find the raw material up here as it's lying all around.
A mill grindstone that was abandoned for some reason. High on the moor, you can imagine the worker beavering away at this in all weathers. Presumably there would have been a wooden structure providing some protection from the rain and wind? I hope whoever it was got paid for their labour up to this point.
A memorial to Garnet Hoskin. Let's remember him and recognise the effort it must have taken to get this heavy monument to its isolated final resting place. It was certainly only accessible by foot. A labour of love or a final act of awkwardness on Garnet's part? 
A Small White butterfly, the only type flying around as we walked. This one is a male and he gave me a hard time trying to get him in focus.
Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica). But the name doesn't refer to a herbal cure for lice but the belief that the damp places in which it grows, cause the cattle to be infested with lice and liver flukes. It's an interesting little plant with attractive fern like leaves and described as being hemi-parasitic. This means it lacks a fully developed root system and forms connections with another plant, from which it obtains some or all of its water and minerals. But it does have chlorophyll and produces its own food by photosynthesis as per normal.
Walking up the side of Twelve Men's Moor, you soon notice that the area is littered with hut circles. You can make out 5 or 6 in this photograph. In days gone by, this was a very populated place.
Looking north-ish towards Sharp Tor and a nicely patterned sky. Also patterned are the sides of Sharp Tor, patterned with the furrows of mediaeval field systems. These are more visible when the sun is low enough to cast shadows across them.

The jumble of granite waste tumbling down from the Cheesewring Quarry.
Just Larch.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Sunday Homily

I’ve always been suspicious of politicians, and others, who wear their religion on their sleeves and who cite it as proof of their goodness. In my opinion, if you’re a Christian, you really shouldn’t need to tell people that you are. If others see, through your actions, that you’re a good human being who understands the importance of compassion, of humanity, of empathy and the centrality of love, then the discovery that you are a believer should come as absolutely no surprise. Your deeds would echo your faith, rather than your deeds betraying your faith.

As we know from what she says, the most prominent self-declared Christian politician in the UK today is Theresa May (OK, I know Tim Farron is as well but he doesn't have the same profile as TM). Many times during this campaign she has said things along the lines of "her Christian faith helps guide her in every decision she makes". Mmm, is that so? Let's have a look at how a person who is guided by her faith votes to help others in parliament. She has:

* Voted for every military action and bombing campaign in the last 4 parliaments. 
* Voted for all benefit cuts against the disabled. 
* Voted for all benefit cuts against the sick such as those receiving on going hospital treatment for illnesses such as cancers and MS.. 
* Voted for the removal of 3rd child benefit. 
* Voted for the removal of benefits for the 16-21 age group. 
* Voted for the bedroom tax which has hurt some of the poorest working families in Britain and especially those with young disabled children. 
* Voted for the mass removal of disability vehicles. 
* Voted for NHS pay freezes. 
* Voted against energy caps to help the poor who were being forced into fuel poverty. 
* Voted against building 100,000 affordable homes for low income workers. 
* Voted against curbing payday lenders who exploite the most vulnerable. 
* Voted against implementing a series of proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion by huge corporations to help better fund the NHS. 
* Voted against creating more jobs for young people funded by bank bonuses and fines. 
* Would vote to reintroduce fox hunting, a so called sport which she says she is very fond of. 
I'll admit that my theology is somewhat flakey but I'm not too sure that Jesus would be very proud of Mother Theresa and her take on Christian compassion. Compassion means you put the needs of the weak and the vulnerable before the needs of the strong and the rich. Don’t know about you, but it strikes me that there's little about Mrs May's political deeds that’s Christian.

So this Sunday, let's join together and reflect on the gap between the words and the deeds of our political leader who lays claim to Christian beliefs. Today's lesson is to beware of those who feel the need to display their faith like an advertising hoarding. It’s actions, not words, which count, and her actions are the opposite of all the things that her faith claims to stand for and to have taught her. The real religion of Mrs May, and the party she represents, is hypocrisy, greed and a materialistic selfishness. Pharisees rather than Christians. Here endeth the homily.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

A walk around Pentire Head, near New Polzeath

Typical - we have some great weather for a few days but it changes somewhat for the worse when we go for our Thursday walk. Nothing too drastic but enough to dampen our expectations of clear views along the coast. We were heading down west to walk around Pentire Head, just to the east of Polzeath. By way of orientation, we were west of Doc Martin Country, east of Poldark Country and smack in the middle of David Cameron's Holiday Country. But we didn't see any of them.
The route was a straightforward circular one of around 4.5 miles with a few ups and downs. As we were walking around a peninsular, there was a very high ration of sea to land.
Our starting point in the National Trust car park and looking down onto New Polzeath, with Polzeath beach in the distance.
This gives a good flavour of the views we had. It's a good time of year for flowers on the coastal footpath and for the entire walk the sides of the path were swathed in colours. Lots of yellow from gorse, but alos pink from Thrift, white from Bladder Campion etc.
Looking up the coast westwards towards Port Isaac (or Port Wen to Doc Martin fans). I was surprised to see the foxgloves so far advanced down here as, in our garden, ours haven't even got to the bud stage yet.
The cliffs that were obscured by foxgloves. Note the sea: calm and dead flat. I can't remember the last time I'd seen it like this and it lead for a walk that was uncharacteristically devoid of wave noises.
The Moule, the island off Pentire Head. As a pre-Brexit preemptive strike, someone has claimed it for Cornwall by planting a  a St Piran's flag on its highest point. I wonder what the gulls thought of the move, especially the short-sighted Brexiteer Gulls.
Lots of Red Valerian around. The floral heads are a collection of interesting elongated tubules that only yield their nectar to the long proboscis of a foraging butterfly. Bees stand no chance of getting at it.
Lots of lovely lichen covered stone walls.
Swathes and swathes of Thrift festooning banks, walls and anywhere else it can grow.
And where the Thrift didn't grow, Bladder Campion did. Another interesting flower. The 'bladder' is formed from the sepals and remains on the plant long after the flowers have gone. It aids seed dispersal by being shaken by the wind and distributing the fine seeds.

Pink Thrift and yellow and orange Bird's Foot Trefoil.
Every now and again we'd come across a gossamer-like nest in blackthorn bushes. They were the communal 'homes' on the caterpillars of the Lackey Moth. Their hairs are irritant or urticaceous, if you'd like a more scientific word.
Quite a few male Orange Tip butterflies were flying around, either looking for food or a mate.  Best of luck to them with the latter as the female of the species is rather shy, doesn't fly around much and keeps well hidden in the undergrowth.
Nearing the end of the walk and we get a good view of the beach at Polzeath, one of the premier surfing beaches and one beloved of David Cameron. Not many surfers in evidence today but that's not surprising given the state of the surf and the tide.