Thursday, 6 July 2017

Visitors books - Revisited


In my previous post I mentioned that the Plymouth & West Devon Records Office held far more than just Cranmere Pool visitors books.  Ducks Pool, Fur Tor and Crow Tor books are stored at the office.  There may be even more that I haven't identified.  I requested to see some noteworthy books from each of these Letterboxes.

Here are some details of what I found:


Ducks Pool

"William Crossing Memorial.  By kind permission of the Duchy of Cornwall, for use in conjunction with the above [stamp], this book has been placed here for the signatures of visitors by Dobson's Moormen. [23rd] October 1938"


Located under a giant rock at the head of a tributary of the Blacklane Brook, Ducks Pool is another permanent fixture on the Moor, and place of pilgrimage for many Letterboxers.

I had requested to view the first visitors book, placed in the box by the 10 named Moormen. Ducks Pool received regular visits - especially from the Moormen themselves, but this hardbacked book remained on site for almost 14 years.  It bears witness to a dramatic time in history.  For instance, after the outbreak of War, it was 9 days before the first visitor signed in, adding "peace and solitude" to their name.  Two days after VE day, a "Victory walk" was recorded in the book.

Sylvia Sayer, Chairwoman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association - advocate of conserving Dartmoor's heritage with an ambivalent attitude to Letterboxing - wrote in the book in 1951:
"Perfect weather.   Very pleasant to find Ducks Pool so beautiful and unspoilt - we hope that all who visit Ducks Pool will join the Dartmoor Preservation Association."
Many wrote that Ducks Pool reminded them of the long trek out to Cranmere.  Although, generally, visitors welcomed and duly noted the quiet isolation at Ducks Pool, in comparison to the rowdy Northern neighbour at Cranmere Pool. A grid was drawn up at the back of the first visitors book, indicating that Ducks Pool Letterbox had been on site for about 5045 days, with 2994 visits recorded.  That equates to fewer than 2 visits per day.


Fur Tor

Again, the first available book for - the now missing - Fur Tor Letterbox was requested.  This book covered the years 1957-1959.  This box was sited in the cave on the main outcrop.  Registered with the 100 Club as Box No.19, it had been on site for 8 years, although this particular visitors book was showing it's age.  It had been removed (and replaced) by Captain John Joyner - Adventure Training Officer of the Junior Leaders Regiment of the Royal Corps of Signals - in September 1959.  We know this because a letter detailing as much was included in the Records Office archive.

A group of regiment captains, Junior leaders and some Norweigan apprentices carried out this mission and returned the "battered remains" of the old visitor book to Plymouth City Library "in accordance with the directions written upon it".

Capt Joyner initially sought to replace the stamp, which was missing on his first visit.  It was replaced by someone else whilst he was organising his renovation, so there was a time when there were two stamps in the box.  The old visitors book, lacking a front cover, and several of it's early pages was "in such a state that it would not have survived the Winter".  The state of disrepair that this box suffered, the missing stamp, and the informal ownership suggest that Fur Tor Letterbox differs greatly from Cranmere and Ducks Pool's more ordered existence.

The theft of stamps attracted some comments in the book.  On Saturday, August 16th, 1958, a group from Exeter University (1927-31) signed in.  They wrote: 
"The Cranmere stamp and the Fur Tor stamp both missing for the first time for about 20 years.  A THIEF!!  Kindly replace both stamps for our pleasure.
  The Fur Tor stamp was idly imprinted just once in the book (that I saw), although the image has been partially ripped out, suggesting a visitor sought a copy.

The Letterbox thief was active in the 50's too, as was frustration about their activities.  The 'Queen of the Moor' deserves a permanent Letterbox, and it is a shame that this original box no longer survives.

Captain Joyner would later become Major Joyner.  He and Lt Col Lionel Gregory (who wrote the letter featured above) were the partnership widely recognised for establishing the Ten Tors expedition.  Joyner was the 'architect', who designed the routes and checkpoint procedure.  As the regiment's commanding officer, Gregory was Chief Controller of the first Ten Tors in September 1960 (when Cranmere Pool was one of the checkpoints!)

Read more about the beginnings of Ten Tors here.  Lt Col Gregory MBE passed away in 2014.  Read his fascinating obituary here.

Crow Tor

Finally, a mystery.  Crow Tor No.1 (Registered Box No.23) was sited on the Tor itself in 1962. As with Fur Tor, this box has long gone. Visitors books for this Letterbox are definitely stored at Plymouth Record Office from 1962 to 1977. Then there is a gap of 6 years.  Curiously, a single extra, incomplete book from 1983 exists, which I requested to see.  It wasn't anything like I expected.

The quality of the hardbound book - with "Crow Tor Visitors" imprinted on the front, suggests a long established Letterbox, but the book covered just a few days - between July 14th and 16th - and the method of recording visits was simply visitor name, arrival time and departure time.  Judging by the length of stay - typically 6 hours - the group departures, and the repeated names, something odd happened here then, and probably not a Letterboxing trip...

If you can shed any light on this Crow Tor visitor book, please let me know via comments!

YOU CAN VISIT THE RECORDS OFFICE TOO!

Log on http://web.plymouth.gov.uk/archivescatalogue and search for "Cranmere Pool", "Ducks Pool, "Fur Tor" or "Crow Tor".

You must arrange to visit in advance.  Email the Records office (pwdro@plymouth.gov.uk) with the archive numbers of items you wish to view.  Don't worry - you can request to see more when you get there!  Be sensible: there are hundreds of books stored here!  Note their opening hours.

Take £5 in cash if you wish to photograph any item, as a charge applies for unlimited photgraphy, and cards are not accepted.

No comments: