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.”