Monday, 30 July 2012

Dark satanic mills and devon cream tea

OK, so my picture quiz was too easy, try this one.  What are you seeing here?


Things have been happening too fast to blog about them and this is a few weeks old now.
Keeping sea horses, I have been told, is very difficult.  They are very particular about the kind of food they eat and unless they get exactly the right kind of food, they will starve.   Being a very primitive creature, in the absence of a food supply, they will start to eat their own bodies, using their extremities as a temporary food source until they find the right food.   This is a built in survival technique which works fine if the food supply returns within a short time.  Once back on a suitable diet they are able to re-grow the missing bits.  However, if the food supply never returns or takes too long, they will keep on eating their own body until eventually they eat a vital organ and die.
 One of the firms I worked for seemed to have evolved from a seahorse.  They had never properly recovered from the 1980s slump and over the next fifteen or twenty years went through a process to make itself ‘leaner and fitter’ by shedding staff and closing departments which did not show a direct profit.  Eventually, like the seahorse it lost so much of itself it could not survive and after a series of convulsions died.
In the process the department I had worked in, shed staff regularly and so from a group of about eighty productive people, there were just four by the end of this process.  Our team had been a great group of people and we had all worked well together, so before we all had a chance to disperse to the four winds and lose touch, our erstwhile head of department got all his old staff together for a farewell party.  We enjoyed this so much that we have had a reunion every year since.   Our group is scattered across the whole of GB and NI and so for a reunion, we have to gather somewhere and it is accepted that we each host a reunion in turn and find some local entertainment for the group.  
This year it was the turn of J and his wife J who live in Tiverton, so we went off to stay in a hotel in the Exe Valley in Devon.  The part of the Exe valley we stayed in is devoid of any phone signals or Internet, so for the second time this year we were completely IT free. 

A model of the Mill inside the museum
 On the Saturday it was arranged for us to visit the local woollen mill museum and this may be enough of a clue to identify the first picture.  Hands up all those who think they know what it is. 

Some of the spinning machinery

When I was a child my grandfather owned and ran a factory which he had built up from nothing starting in the late 1890s.  By the time I came along it was in full swing, manufacturing paper tubes and cardboard packaging and the interior of this old mill reminded me very much of his old factory.   It was I recall very dingy and dark and would by no means have complied to modern health and safety standards.  When he died, the family ran it for a while but eventually they all reached retirement age and it was closed.  There was considerably less demand for cardboard products by then since plastic had come of age in the meantime. 

The more modern steam power added in the early 1800s
Before electric motors became cheap and plentiful most factory machinery was driven by a central shaft, and all the different machines ran from overhead pulleys driven from the main shaft.  In the case of the mill we were visiting, it had been driven by a water wheel originally and later when this was insufficient, by steam.   My grandfather’s factory had used a stationary gas engine* and it looked very similar.  *For those who live across the pond, that is coal gas, the stuff we used to cook with before natural gas took over, not gasoline which we call petrol.   
Pulleys delivering power from a rotating shaft
In the afternoon, our hosts J & J had booked a trip on a horse drawn canal barge.  The Better Half (TBH) is not too happy about being on water and after looking at the cramped seating, decided not to take the trip and so instead she and I walked along the canal path, whilst the rest of our group went on the barge
The horse drawn passanger barge

A one horse power engine
The invention of the horse collar allowed the horse to pull loads more than three times the weight a pack horse can carry, but the use of a barge allows a single horse to pull up to 50 tons.
Although we missed the commentary we had a peaceful time, saw a lot of wildlife and had a very pleasant stroll.  

The classic swan and reflection picture

A flotilla of mum and her cygnets

That evening, we had a meal at the hotel.  The menu was first class which accounted for the popularity of the place.  Its accommodation was acceptable but nothing like the food.  The hotel was right under a cliff and so the rooms at the rear were very dark even in full daylight and the fittings were not special.  Most of us managed to pull the toilet roll holder off its stand whilst there and several other fittings were none too stable either.  However the company and the food more than made up for this and we had a great time. 
Knightshayes Court
On the Sunday morning, we went to visit Knightshayes Court and we took a stroll around the grounds.. 

The Queen was visiting too

This is a large stately home that belonged to the Heathcoat-Amory family and was given to the National Trust in 1973.
This character seems to delight in pulling faces at the tourists

The deer in the park are in fact sculpted from willow cane

This clever bit of topiary depicts a fox hunt

John Heathcoat invented a mechanised lace manufacturing process in the Derby area where he made a substantial fortune.  Later his machines were destroyed by the Luddites, so he moved lock stock and barrel to Devon.   The house was built so that his factory was in view from some of the windows.  Presumably he wanted to keep an eye out for Luddites. You can still see where the old mill buildings would have been in the nearby town although the trees have grown up a lot since his ownership.
Before going home, J & J had invited us all to their home for a traditional Devon cream tea where we had homemade scones with cream and strawberry jam*.   

Devon tea is cream first jam on top as opposed to Cornish which is the reverse
 After that we returned home.   Rather than taking the delights of the M5 and M4 on a Sunday evening, we went across country which turned out to be a good idea since there was a long holdup on the motorway route and we got to see some nice countryside as we tootled along.

*Jam seems to be called Jelly in countries where they don’t speak English properly, also the proper name for what they call jello is really jelly.  Goodness knows we tell them often enough!  Mind you they changed the name of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Northern Lights to The Golden Compass also for some strange reason, so they obviously get lots of things wrong.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You're asking the granddaughter of a weaver and a warp twister what that top photo is? Well, there are them as calls 'em pins and them as calls 'em spools and one or two what call 'em spindles but as far as I'm concerned it's bobbins to you!

    Or did you want the name of the machine?

    (And if I could type straight I'd be dangerous......)

  3. Well, before I read the rest of your blog I thought it was a weaving loom - so now I am still thinking that it is some form of loom.

    What a lovely time you had away from all the IT stuff - the best kind of holiday 'cause you can really concentrate on all the interesting and beautiful sights around you! I must say it's not fair that you would post that last photo. We have only once been able to find the real clotted cream here, and it disappeared far too quickly, especially because we had to share it with friends. And by the way, in my family we definitely do not call jam, jelly -- ugh!

  4. Oh, and I will eat a cream tea no matter which way it's served - it goes down deliciously whichever way!

  5. Apparently you can make clotted cream at home - but I've never tried it.