The Eighteenth Century in Peter Tavy: Part 3

By Roger Meyrick

In a questionnaire to local priests of around 1760, Dr Jeremiah Milles an archdeacon at Exeter, records that "several veins of lead, tin and copper ore run east and west and north and south within the parish of Peter Tavy". Tin had certainly been mined on Dartmoor from early times but the success achieved with copper and arsenic mining in Mary Tavy parish and west of Tavistock was not seen east of the river Tavy. Many of those mining in Peter Tavy were farmers supplementing their income when farming provided poor returns. In the area of Wilsworthy and on Standon Common some of them had recovered as much as nine hundredweight of tin ore in a summer season, but interest in the eighteenth century was turning towards copper, lead and arsenic. The success of Wheal Friendship when it opened in Mary Tavy in 1796 led to further mines on the west bank of the river. Those on the east bank in Peter Tavy, North and South Wheal Friendship at Cudlipptown and Devon United at Harford Bridge were not sunk until the nineteenth century, and were not commercially successful.

However, as late as 1791 Tin Bounds were being bought and sold in the parish; Wheal Chance, Wheal Patience, Wheal Down lay in Wilsworthy and Stannon. The Adventurers of Wheal Friendship worked over ninety acres of Reddeford. All were within the parish, but none proved profitable.

Throughout the eighteenth century agriculture sustained the people of the parish. At the end of the seventeenth century the price of corn had been high and enabled the parishioners to build the north aisle and refurbish the church described by the Rector in 1673 as "neither wind nor water tight, and many woeful defrayments in and about it for want of money". Corn was not the only product; cattle, sheep, wool and peat were traded widely. To do this required a licence from Quarter Sessions as a trader, particularly if trading outside the parish. They were known as Badgers and Kidders, the Kidders sold rugs and carpets, but there is no evidence that anyone in Peter Tavy did this. Those who traded in corn or grain were the Badgers, amongst whom were at least twelve Peter Tavy families. Wool had been an important source of income with farmers' wives earning as much as 3s 6d a week from spinning at the opening of the century. Mechanical spinning and weaving and perhaps the coarseness of the local wool that had been used to make serge, had seen the trade "flee to Yorkshire".

Cattle and sheep bred on the moor were taken on foot to market at Plymouth or Okehampton and occasionally much further east. Farmers and their men would be away from home for several weeks driving the cattle from the moor to a field where they were fattened ahead of sale. This was an expensive business with fields near to the market commanding high prices when sold or offered for rent. Just after 1800, four acres of such land at Ashburton was offered for sale at 1200 guineas.

The responsibility for the poor, impotent and sick had been placed with parishes as far back as 1536. In small scattered hamlets and villages the demand had not been great as families tended to look after their own. During the eighteenth century things were changing. In 1792 Thomas Gilbert's Poor Law Reform Act transferred this responsibility from the parish to a magistrate living outside the community. The Rev John Jago had reported the first paupers in the parish in 1781, and over £100 had to be collected from local ratepayers to meet the expense of maintaining them. In Tavistock new Societies were formed to which men and women could contribute a monthly sum to ensure support if they were unable to work due to injury, illness or confinement. Few in Peter Tavy would be likely to have contributed but a house for paupers became necessary for the first time. Rather than build a new house the lower floor of Church house, standing as it does today on the edge of the churchyard, was converted from its original use as a meeting place for church festivals with stabling for the horses of those travelling from the extremes of the parish.

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