Friday, 30 June 2017

Challenge 5: ✔️ Achieved


I'm not one to refuse a long Letterbox walk, but I rarely seem to spend time collecting stamps indoors.  Yet, as we know though, Letterboxing is so much more than stamps.  Take visitors books, for instance.  These little volumes of history and heritage: and how Letterboxing began in the eyes of James Perrott in 1854 of course.  So I went in search of visitors books indoors this month, and boy - did I find some crackers!

I had a hunch that when Cranmere Pool's books were full, they were sent to Plymouth for storage.  I called Plymouth Museum many years ago, believing they were held there, but was politely told I was misinformed.  However, a chance look at the Records Office catalogue a few weeks ago and - low and behold - visitor books galore!  Not just Cranmere Pool (Registered Box No.12) books either.  Ducks Pool (Reg'd No.35), Fur Tor (No.19) and Crow Tor No.1 (No.23) are available in Plymouth Records Office too. I requested permission to access the archive, selected a view choice books to view and I, er... visited!

Cranmere Pool

"This book and the zinc box in which it is enclosed, placed here by permission of the Duchy Authorities have been provided by two lovers of the Moor for the use of visitors to the Pool.  It is hoped they will record their names and impressions in the book and so make it of interest to those who come after them"...."Postcards or letters left in the box will be posted by the next caller who will please write on them the date at which he takes them away."
Introduction to Cranmere Pool visitors book, 1905 

The 'Original' Letterbox.  Visitor books are available from 1905 until 2012.  Where more recent books are, I have no idea.  I requested a look at the first book, and one from 1921 - a notable year in Cranmere's distinguished history.

One of the first visitors in the first available book (dated April 8th 1905) simply wrote "Moriarty" - one for 'Sherlock' fans out there...  Though the first message was on the next day from a visitor from Dublin, who sheds light on the distance and conditions in which the approach was made, typical of the Edwardian era, I suppose.

"From Lane End via Amicombe and Kneeset Mine. Weather: mist and dense fog at times... Rather wet"

I think we can all imagine how joyous that early Spring walk must have been!  The Letterbox has visitors from all round the UK and the globe (I noticed 'America' recorded more than once).  Perrott's legacy was well known.

The last visitor in this book dated it in September 1906 (which for the record, pre-dates the first aeroplane flight in Europe).  A hand-drawn table concludes the book, showing that during it's 18 month stint on the Moor, 7470 people checked in.  Averaged out, that is 14 every day.  Far busier than I'd have expected!

Stuck inside the front cover of this 1905 book is an intriguing pair of undated newspaper cuttings concerning Cranmere Pool Letterbox.  They actually come from the Western Morning News some 16 years later, in May 1921.  It was that year's visitor book that I requested to view - the only incomplete book in the Record Office collection.  It was in this month, that the heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, along with hosts, guides and press entourage, visited Cranmere Pool.

The first WMN cutting refers to the original 1921 visitor book being unexpectedly removed (perhaps predictably?) from the Moor.  The Prince had made the "long and tiring tramp" to the Box and had requested the book remain on the Moor, whilst Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey (the Prince's comptroller and Treasurer) who accompanied the royal visitor, requested that "no one would remove the page which the Prince had autographed and dated", and repeats this request in the visitor's book itself.

The second cutting informs the readership that the visitors book had not been stolen, and was in safe hands.  Mr Heath, a Plymouth solicitor, is named as the man responsible for Cranmere Pool.  It's upkeep supported by subscription.  Heath makes it clear that it wasn't him who removed the book (which I learnt from the visitor's books final entry, was done by a gentleman from Okehampton) requesting it to be forwarded to Plymouth Library, where "all the visitors books, as they are filled in are sent to for inspection".  I suddenly learnt the origin of my misguided belief regarding the museum.

The visitor's book containing Edward's (later Edward VIII before then abdicating) autograph is in remarkable condition.  The page in question is well thumbed but intact.  Sir Lionel signs the same page in May 19th 1921, along with Duchy Keeper of the Records: James (Jim) Endacott, Sir Walter Peacock and Raleigh Phillpotts (of peat pass fame), whilst on the subsequent page, hacks from the Press Association, Daily Telegraph, TImes of London and two from Western Morning News sign in, one of whom seems brimming with pride to write:

"The only man to photograph his Highness at Cranmere on 19/05/21"

It must have been an exciting day to be at the head of the West Okement.  Perhaps as much as seeing this history with my own eyes!

Fast forward now, to the very beginnings of popular and mainstream Letterboxing.  The birth of the 100 Club; The dawn of personal stamps.  I opened the visitors book from 1983.  It is rare - if not impossible to see such pristine "old" visitor books, and perhaps what struck me most was how familiar they are.  Over 30 years have passed, and the ways in which we use (perhaps abuse) visitor books is unchanged.  I read again the introductory paragraph from Cranmere c.1905, repeated above.  A far more elegant and genteel pastime, lost forever it seems.

This book is packed with the scribbles, stamps and signatures of various Cranmere pilgrims.  Many still familiar stamps appear: The Hand Of Man, Brixham Grasshopper, Dartmoor Bounders, Diptford Letterbox Hound (Godfrey Swinscow), Steelman amongst many others make several appearances, suggesting this wasn't an annual trip.  Countless North Dartmoor Passport Holders make their mark!  Including No.1 - which I don't recall seeing anywhere else.

It was a hugely rewarding day in the centre of Plymouth - which didn't end there.  I was thrilled to see all the books, and piece together a classic bit of the Dartmoor Letterboxing story.


Log on and search for "Cranmere Pool", "Ducks Pool, "Fur Tor" or "Crow Tor".

You must arrange to visit in advance.  Email the Records office ( 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.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The other half of the day

Beyond Middle Tor, and the restoration of the box there, I had an entire walk to do.  My ultimate goal was Watern Tor, for I really do love that place.  The solitude, the geology, the views, are quite special.  Along the way, there would be two crossings of the unique Manga Rails, a visit to the obscure ruin of Will May's House and a fly-by of the iconic Kes Tor.

On a hot, still day like this, I'd expect crowds but beyond Shovel Down's antiquities, I was almost alone in the hills.  Among the gorse above the North Teign River, not to far from the Rails, a green tent was pitched - entirely legitimately.  The drum-taut guy lines indicated to me that it was not abandoned.  It was an eerie outpost of civilisation, and one that made me consider how long a tent would (could) remain pitched and unsearched out here.  I, for one, would feel deeply uncomfortable unzipping a tent door just out of curiosity.

Will May was an 18th century peat cutter from Chagford.  His tiny "house" was actually only a shelter, but a very well preserved one at that, on the slopes overlooking the the Mire to the East of Watern Tor.  A number of boxes are sited for this ruin, although none are located too close to it.

Watern Combe featured on my walk, and this small valley was a suntrap today.  Often overlooked by Letterboxers, this was a successful diversion for me.  One box in this combe was last found two years previously, and averaged fewer than 1 visit per year over the last decade.  Far from the madding crowds indeed!

I paused and considered my return route from the Thirlestone outcrop on Watern.  By following the back to Frenchbeer, I was sure of a worn path, but a more hilly, more zig-zag route.

By contouring around hills, and flanking Kes Tor, I'd be on a smoother, potentially faster path.  So it was this route I chose.  It still took 90 minutes to return to the car though.

11 Letterboxes found.