A Thatcher’s Life’ – Mick Dray

The Lustleigh Society Meeting March 2009

A Thatcher’s Life’ – Mick Dray

Thatch, even the very best, doesn’t last forever; so perhaps it is not so surprising that Lustleigh boasts among its residents not one but two Master Thatcher’s. At the Society’s February meeting we were fortunate indeed to have one of these, Mick Dray, from a dynasty of five generations of Master Thatcher’s, to inform and entertain us with his lively account of (A Thatcher’s Life’. In fact it proved to be much more than that as he gave us a non-stop and profusely illustrated account of the whole business covering different styles of thatching, the various techniques in use, the development over the years of specialised hand tools, the risks of fire (illustrated with some thought provoking photographs) and the relevant precautionary measures, not to mention the relative merits of the many different types and sources of thatching material.

It was this last topic that probably occupied at least half of the evening, not so much because there is an unlimited variety (there isn’t) but because the several different materials, ranging from wheat straw to Norfolk Reed to Turkish Reed and so on, all come from different places within or not so far outside Europe – and Mick seemed to have visited each and every one of them in his search for the wherewithal to practise his trade. The fact that he had put together a whole dossier of photographs illustrating .this added immeasurably to the interest. Different cultures develop different tools and techniques and these result in different approaches to reaping, threshing, drying, storing and transporting the final product even though the basic principles remain unchanged. His account took us back in time to when, in the UK, vehicle number plates still bore white characters on a black back-ground, to peasant communities in Eastern Europe under Communist sway, and to more advanced countries where massive machinery had come into use. It became more and more of a travelogue but none the less interesting for that.

In fact when Mick came to the end of his talk there was an immediate forest of hands raised to put a whole sequence of interested questions, a certain indicator that his sixty-strong audience had enjoyed· listening to him at least as much as he had obviously enjoyed talking to us; a propitious start to our new season of talks. Thank you Mick for such a splendid ‘kick-off’!

John Peacock


Extract from April 2009 Lustleigh Parish Magazine

Women’s work

For the women and young girls the major source of employment was found in the village shops or in the large houses and guest houses as housekeepers, maids, cleaners etc. As a young boy Bill Squires found work at the Cleave Hotel as a general “dogsbody” living in” six and a half days a week for five shillings. Two other female employees “lived in”. One was “a pretty, black-haired young girl” called Norah Hatherley. She was full of fun and looked quite stunning in her black dress and white apron. She was the general assistant and waitress for serving table”.

“I had to be down in that kitchen at 7 o’clock in a morning, clean the range out, clean the flues every morning, it was two flues we had, ’twas the double oven, and when you cleaned that fireplace, the range, you had to see your face in it, ’twas like silver when you’d cleaned it…I never used to go to bed till ten to half past and in the summer time when we had people in I was up about six and went to bed half past eleven because, we had to do everything, we had to clean the shoes of a morning, I had to bring all the shoes down…”
Mrs Norah Wright (nee Hatherley b.1914)

12lussa004-EditFrom the second half of the twentieth century, with the decline in farming and mining, the loss of the railway and the closing down of shops and businesses these opportunities for employment have either disappeared or are strictly limited. Many working people must now commute to Exeter or Plymouth or the neighbouring towns. With the modern advances in communication some people work from home, from where they can run their own businesses.


There was always plenty of gardening work for Lustleigh men and boys.The many large houses, particularly those built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were generally owned by the well-to-do who were able to employ a full-time gardener and sometimes two. In the period after the First War World the wage was around £1.10s. to £2 per week.

There were several market gardens in Lustleigh in the twentieth century. One of these, on the corner of Caseley road was run by Mr. and Mrs. May who also ran a tea room for visitors.

Boveycombe Flower Farm at Lower Hisley was owned by the Gould family who grew potatoes in Boveycombe Field (now lost in the woods on Lustleigh Cleave) during the Second World War.

Mining and Quarrying

As happened all over Dartmoor, tin mining took place in Lustleigh in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though there is very little evidence left of this activity. Much more important in recent times has been the mining of micaceous haematite, or’shiny ore’, found at various sites along the Wray Valley.

“In the parishes of Hennock and Lustleigh, there is found in the granite a species of micaceous or peculiar iron ore, known by the name of Devonshire Sand it was used for writing sand and vorious other purposes.”
Daniel Lysons 1822

‘Shiny Ore’, so named because of the metallic sparkle of iron oxide within the ore. was mined at Kelly, situated at the eastern edge of Lustleigh, until the early I950*s. It provided employment for 6 to 8 workers at a wage higher than that of agricultural labourers, though the risks were greater. Small scale production at Kelly Mine went on from the late eighteenth century. From 1900 production was greatly increased.

As well as the miners, there were surface workers who sorted, washed and packed the ore, and a blacksmith who sharpened the drills and picks.The full barrels were loaded on to carts or lorries and taken to Lustleigh station.


The ore was used in the glazing process at the local potteries then later it became important as a base for corrosion-resistant paint used in warship grey paint, and on bridges and locomotives.

In 1951 there was a collapse in the Slade workings at the mine which resulted in the closure of all the operations in the Wray valley.Today the Kelly Mine Preservation Society is working to restore Kelly Mine, and to research its history.

There was also work in the granite quarries in the Wray Valley and at Moretonhampstead. Bill Squires remembers: “The local stone quarries provided good work as did the silver ore mine at Kelly. My father was a ‘blaster’ in both quarries, being paid for the material he produced after each firing…. The explosive used was industrial dynamite ignited by a fuse and detonator.”

The Railway

The 1851 census showed Lustleigh as an exclusively rural farming village. By this time however the railways were changing the whole country and Lustleigh was to change too.

The South Devon Railway linked Exeter, Teignmouth, Totnes and Plymouth. Branch lines followed on very quickly and in the late 1850’s a group of prominent local landowners decided that a company should be formed to construct a line from Moretonhampstead to the South Devon main line at Newton Abbot. The company – The Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway Company (M & S D R) – was formed soon after.

Work began in 1863 and was completed in 1866. The granite stones with which the bridges were built were cut and dressed from rocks on Lustleigh Cleave and horses and carts were used to transport the stone from the Cleave to the building site.

Following a Board of Trade inspection, the branch line was formally opened on Tuesday 26th June 1866.

Train passes The Cleave Hotel in the 1920’s

On completion, the broad gauge line was 12 miles, 28 chains in length, with intermediate stations at Bovey Tracey and later at Teigngrace.

In 1872 the M&SDR was fully amalgamated with the South Devon Railway and a few years later in 1878, was absorbed by the Great Western Railway.

Text from: The Railway, by Jan Rowe – In: The Book of Lustleigh, Compiled by Joe Crowdy, Halsgrove Press, 2001

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The plan of the railway through Lustleigh


garden and allotments
Station gardens and allotments
Luggage labels and train ticket


The Station Gardens

The gardens at Lustleigh station were renowned for being one of the best kept on the Great Western Railway. The station staff tended the gardens and there were allotments, all laid out on the far side of the tracks.

The gardens often won prizes in the best station garden competition run by the railway company…

station flowers

bishop garden

Once resident at Lustleigh station was a cat, “Jumbo”. He is buried beneath a miniature gravestone bearing the inscription:

“Beneath this stone and stretched out flat,
Lies Jumbo, once our station cat.”


Notice of change to narrow gauge in 1892

Stationmaster Haywood


All Change! Baskerville Station

Baskerville Station

Lustleigh station was used in the 1930 film of Sherlock Holmes – The Hound of The Baskervilles, produced by Gainsborough Pictures. The film starred Robert Rendell as Holmes (third from left in the trilby hat) and Frederick Lloyd as Dr. Watson. Co-incidentally, Rendell was a past resident of the village. The station was temporarily renamed “Baskerville”.


The Railway and Tourism

There is no doubt that the coming of the railway brought an increasing number of tourists to Lustleigh. In 1934, the GWR decided to equip 20 old coaches for use by campers and one was located in the sidings at Lustleigh. They generally slept six people. As you can see from this poster, they were still popular in the mid-50’s.

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plan of coach

The End of the Line………………….

From the beginning, the branch lines had always struggled financially. In the initial enthusiasm to promote the building of a line that was intended to bring prosperity to the local community, the cost of building routes over difficult terrain, of borrowing capital and of paying a huge workforce were largely underestimated.

Many local lines found themselves unable to cover the normal running costs.

In May 1957, The Mid-Devon Advertiser revealed that the closure of the Moretonhampstead branch railway line was under consideration.

In March 1959, the Western Morning News reported, “the last train came down the Moreton line …. To the clamour of detonators and whistle shrieks and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

And so ended the passenger service of the M & SDR. Freight services continued for a few more years. After serving the needs of the local people for nearly a century the railway age for Lustleigh had ended.
If you look around you will see parts of the old railway still in use around the village, old track as gateposts and of course the bridges still remain – most of them now on private land, and one of the boundary marker stones is now a step in a local garden.


The Last Passenger train Leaves Lustleigh

The last passenger service enters Lustleigh Station in 1959
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The last passenger train crosses the triple arch bridge at Knowle

Lustleigh station lies empty, the track and the metal bridges having all been removed after the line finally closed in about 1963.

empty station
The station is now a private house. Many parts of the railway line are now on private land. The Bovey Tracey end of the line is home to the Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre, housed in the old station building and open to the public. Some parts of the railway have been opened up as bridle and footpaths.
The Wrey Valley Trail project intends to utilise the majority of the old railway from Moretonhampstead to Lustleigh – and then onto Bovey Tracey – for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.