Monday, 8 September 2008

Uncle Tom Cobley's Chair . . . and Postbridge

(Click on photos to enlarge)

The sun peeped out briefly between heavy showers. This little scene sums up what I love about Dartmoor.

The modern road bridge at Postbridge, with the West Dart river running beneath it.

The ancient Medieval stone Clapper Bridge at Postbridge. Huge slabs of granite rest on the 4 stone piers.

Looking northwards up the West Dart river towards where we used to camp, pre-children, with our friend Stu. Upstream is a little beehive hut which was probably used by the tinners to shelter in.

Of course it rained! Looking north again, towards a house I would give my eye teeth to live in!

We left Postbridge behind us and drove towards Widecombe. This is the view from the stone circle, looking slightly S-W. I should really get my Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor out and check which tors those are . . .

Stone circle between Soussons Farm and Pizwell - it was just off the lane we were driving along to go to Widecombe. In the centre was a burial cairn.

This is the most amazing chair, which belonged to Uncle Tom Cobley and has apparently been on display for 150 years. It is said to be over 500 years old and to have come from a monastery. My husband collects Windsor chairs (which are nothing like this one I might add!),, and he has a good working knowledge of old chairs, designs of woodwork etc. We think this indeed did come from a monastery - only in bits FROM the monastery - woodwork which had been part of the fabric of the building until Henry VIII decided the the dissolution of the monasteries would be very good indeed for the royal coffers . . .

If you look closely, you will notice that the design on the two front "legs" is not placed so that each side faces in and the pattern matches - instead it is a repeat pattern if you like - both designs dress to the same side. The top edges are slightly rounded. The same design appears on the side uprights of the back of the chair, one side being slightly longer (the left) and the crosspieces in the construction. It is quite possible that the central designs (and that of the seat - I am still cursing myself for not taking a close-up of the seat design) were parts of a West Country Misericord ( - wonderful designs were often hidden out of sight. They show people in apparently ecclesiastical garb (note the hats, particularly in the lower panel - similar designs appear in Pictish Class II ECMs - Early Christian Monuments). The top panel shows one priest? with what could be a palm frond. Both are seated. In the top corners are strange Mr Punch style faces. In the lower panel two priests appear to holding up a book - the Bible?

The bottom "stretcher" reminds me of a Pike fish - look at the markings - but it could be a Beastie of some sort - the Medieval imagination often ran riot in designs. In the front corners of the seats, there are carvintgs of what appear to be two dog heads with lolling tongues. The arms with the strange beasts at the front - Lions? Odd Snake heads (though with noses and teeth!) - look as if they are made from bog oak - it is a much darker wood, and the only carving is at the front of the chair, which suggests that they were specially made for it and designed to have maximum effect! It is a fascinating chair. I did a search on the internet to try and find out more about it, and came up with a picture of Uncle Tom Cobley actually sitting on this chair - I must confess, he looks nothing like I imagined him to be! There is of course, a famous song about him which I shall add tomorrow if I get the chance.

This, for me, was the most important thing in the little pottery shop that houses the chair. You are not looking at the pottery, but the coaching horn in mid-photograph. This coaching horn was used on the Exeter to Chagford coach, pre-1910, though I believe the coach would have long been superceded by the train in the latter part of the 19th century. My g.g. grandfather, who is buried in Moretonhampstead where he spent most of his life, started his working life as an ostler at the White Hart Inn, then he was a postillion on the coach, and then became a coach driver, and finally a publican. It is quite possible this was the very horn he would have used. I need to find out more about coach routes from Moretonhampstead, but Chagford is the next small town west.

This delightful piece of stonework houses a spring and is at the back of the former blacksmith's shop in Widecombe.


Amongst The Oaks said...

I'm enjoying your posts about the clapper bridge and Widecombe. We traveled through there in 2006 and really liked the area.

Mam said...

Ahhh-mazing! Look at all the stuff hanging up in that shop! Oh, I'd love to be there. The chair is incredible. The top panel looks like they are playing "pattycake" the way our little girls do, with rhythmic rhymes. And the bottom looks like they are holding combs! How extraordinary. I got a good closeup and it's just incredible!