Preserving your Past for the Future



The Parish Project Group


25 years old this year!

In the beginning ...

In the 1960's the conservation charity Common Ground had launched their Parish Map Project  to encourage people to record what was distinctive and of value to their community in the form of a parish map. In 1991 when the building of the long awaited bypass had finally been completed there was a palpable feeling of relief for all those living in the centre of the village, and a sense that the community had come back to life again. The bypass was officially opened and the village celebrated with a street party down the length of Fore Street. It was at this time that people became aware of the Common Ground project.

Celebrating the opening of the bypass 1991   The school says 'Goodbye'!


There was renewed interest in the parish and its history; an informal group of interested parishioners under the chairmanship of Gilbert Sercombe got together to see what they could do. This was the start of the Parish Project Group. Over the next few months with the help of various grants and the input of many parishioners the Parish Map, drawn by Mike Glanville, was produced in 1992.  The original copy of this map is on display in the Memorial Hall, and a framed print was donated by the group for display on the noticeboard in Timbers car park. 

The Parish Project Group came into being firstly to set up and produce the Parish Map, but through the interest and enthusiasm this engendered, the group went on to undertake other things. Its aim was to try to gather and preserve memories, records and information about the history and heritage of this particular parish, and to produce information about various apects of the parish.


Rev John Cole & Gilbert Sercombe unveiling the map Mike working on the parish map


After the opening of the bypass in 1991 the parish council approached the district council to make some leaflets for them to encourage visitors who could now explore the village on foot. This became one of the next projects of the new village group and in 1993 work began on the the Village Trail leaflet with a grant from the Community Council of Devon towards their Trails and Walks projects . Mike Glanville again produced the drawings, and Ken Doughty wrote the text; the leaflet was launched in 1994. Following the popularity of this leaflet the PPG then undertook the task of producing one for a wildlife trail with a grant from the Rural Development Fund. The walk from Timbers car park along the tidal road and around Dukes Mill creek was chosen. A leaflet and poster were both produced and they were launched in the spring of 1995 with a walk of the trail - a very successful event in spite of the rain! After this came the parish footpaths booklet - work on it began in 1996 to produce the Parish Footpath Guide. The second version of this (called Aveton Gifford - a guide for walkers and riders) published in 2000 was produced entirely within the group, written by Ken Doughty, designed by Mike Glanville, and printed by Jocelyn Ponting on her own Risograph printer. In later years this was replaced by an enlarged and updated version, Making Tracks. The group donated a framed copy of an Ordnance Survey map showing all the paths and rights of way throughout the parish, and this can be seen in the Memorial Hall; in 2013 the group donated a similar map for the new Parish notice boards in Timbers car park for the benefit of walking groups and visitors to the area.


Over the years, the group has brought out or helped with the production of several books and memoirs. In 1993 a booklet "The day the bombs fell on Aveton Gifford", written by Ken Doughty with illustrations by Mike Glanville was brought out for the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the village in 1943. It was followed a couple of years later by "The Bombing of Aveton Gifford - Eyewitness accounts". In the past year these two have been amalgamated and and expanded to produce a larger book called "The Bombing of Aveton Gifford" which includes more photos and also reports brought to light more recently from both Luftwaffe and RAF records. In 2002 the group brought out a book called "Aveton Gifford, A Heritage". This is a book of 164 pages giving a snapshot of most aspects of the parish, and was edited again by Ken Doughty, illustrated by Mike Glanville, and the book designer was Erica Anderson. Like the Parish Map it drew many articles, photos and memories from people in the community on a wide range of subjects from history to wildlife, and many aspects of life in the parish both in the past and today. The PPG also published two booklets for the A G Parochial Church Council - "Aveton Gifford Village in the early 1900's, the memories of Tom Steere", and a guide leaflet of the Church edited by Ken Doughty. 

In 2013 the PPG published "A Countryman's Glimpse of the Twentieth Century"David Balkwill wrote articles for many years about his life and farming at Court Barton, and Delia Elliott edited and produced our latest publication - a fascinating memoir with photographs, both of his life here and of the farming practices he remembered. In spite of being so close to the coast this has always been a predominantly farming area, and David recounted a way of life that is fast disappearing.

Parish records.

The PPG has been involved in gathering information about the parish and its inhabitantsRecording of the burial stones in St Andrew's churchyard was started by the Balkwill family, and from 2000 members of the PPG have helped to compile a complete list of burials in the church and churchyard with an accompanying map. Members of the group became involved in trying to identify the places listed on the old Sites and Monuments Register. This has subsequently been superseded by the Historic Environment Register which Devon County Council's Archaeology department is gradually collating and adding to an online register. There is an ongoing project to identify the sites on this register, and to update the department with further information or corrections.  One of the group's later tasks has been to make the 1842 tithe map of the parish more easily accessible. The very large map only available before in local museums has now been reproduced in atlas form, and is accompanied by indexed lists of properties and of landowners and occupiers. These can now be viewed on request. The group has also accumulated over the years a great deal of information from many sources. Parishoners have donated photographs and slides which now form a collection of well over 1800. A copy of the Devon Domesday Book was purchased by the group, and various local history publications which can be used by contacting the group.

Activities, interests and community projects

The PPG has initiated and contributed to various village events and parish projects. in 1992 the practice of Beating the Bounds was revived - a walk around the whole boundary of the parish. On this occasion it was spread over three days on the May Bank Holiday, and was followed by the unveiling of the new Parish map in the Memorial Hall, and a celebration tea! All the children who took part were presented with a special mug to mark the occasion, and a Dowdy bun - a village speciality - was baked from a traditional local recipe by a member of the group. (NB - for anyone wishing to make these at home, the recipe below is for 56 buns!)


Children beating the bounds Dowdy bun recipe


For many years there was a slide show and talk by Ken Doughty illustrating aspects of life and the people of the parish. Latterly the group has also had a stand at the Church fete each summer with a display of photographs and memorabilia. Over the years Colin and Joyce Herbert had built up a large collection of old postcards and photographs of the area, and Colin has produced many of the pictures in the archive for these displays.

In recent years a VDU installed in the vllage hall has been used to show photographs for various talks and events. The group has been able to use it for many of our displays, and it has proved extremely popular.


Colin with the group's photo display at the village fete 2008 Also displayed at the Diamond Jubilee exhibition 2012


In 2011 over a bank holiday weekend the group, led by Delia Elliott, organised the "Making Tracks" Walking Festival. The aim was to promote the Making Tracks booklet, and to encourage both parishioners and visitors to use our local footpaths. The walks were tailored for all interests and ages and over the next four days were very well attended by both seasoned ramblers  and more casual walkers. On the Friday the Bird Walk, led by Rod Bone looked at the bird life on a ramble to Stadbury and back. This was followed in the afternoon by the Wildflower Walk which took participants over the fields to Stockadon and Lixton. The Willow Walk on Saturday was a fascinating opportunity to walk to the willow beds at Dukes Mill, and be shown around it by Don Gaskins who has taken over the 500 year old osiery after the death of the last member of the Woodmason family. He has restored it and now harvests the willow annually, using it for traditional baskets and hurdles. Later in the day, the Memories Walk was more of an amble through the village with many of our more senior parishioners. There were frequent stops for stories and nostalgic reminiscences from many of them about the places and people who had lived in the village, and even more when the participants reached the Hall for a cup of tea. Sunday brought a Church Walk after the morning service, which was followed by Sunday lunch in the Fisherman's Rest. In the afternoon a Tree Walk for parents and children took them around trees on the rectory lawn and playing field mixing some facts with fun. The final walk on Monday was a River Ramble to see some of the sights of the lower stretches of the estuary. The group left the village to walk down the banks of the river, passing the lime kilns and oyster beds and crossing from side to side until they reached Bantham. A picnic lunch was enjoyed sitting on the quay, and they returned before the incoming tide, picking samphire on the way. The walking festival proved to be a great success, and was enjoyed by many people; the group may repeat something along the same lines in future years.  


The PPG has often supported community projects with some of the funds made from sales of their publications; the church maintenance fund has benefitted in this way over the years. In 2002 it gave money towards the celebrations in the village for the Golden Jubilee, and in 2003 it contributed money to the new village shop trust, and to the pre-school group. In 2003 new kneelers were being made and embroidered for St Andrew's Church, and one of these kneelers was sponsored by the group. The parish council took responsibility for the village stocks in 1990 and they were moved from Church land down to the Memorial Hall. However this proved an inconvenient spot and the PPG was responsible for the installation of the village stocks in their new position at the entrance to the Primary School. In past years the group has had an involvement with the village school, and each year school leavers were presented with a copy of the Heritage book at the end of the summer term.    


School leavers with their heritage books The Parish stocks

Recent and future activities  

2012 marked the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, and over the anniversary bank holiday weekend in June celebrations were held in the village including a commemorative display by the Parish Project Group.The Memorial Hall was given over to an exhibition of Coronation and Royal memorabilia, Colin Herbert's exhibition of archive photographs, and a nostalgic display of everyday possessions from the 1950's to set the scene. Many people lent us their own royal souvenirs - a beautiful model of the Queen's processional coach and horses, coronation mugs, plates and spoons, jubilee medals, and much more besides from many past royal celebrations, even Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. During the year a much more modern visual display system had been installed in the Memorial Hall; a member of the group Neil Cooper has recently brought the pictures in our archive up to digital display standard, and he used the new VDU to present a rolling slide show of pictures of the parish and parishioners. This was the first time that it had been used in an event in the Hall, and many of our visitors sat with their cups of tea and cakes completely enthralled, some enjoying it so much that they came back again the next day!


The Diamond Jubilee Exhibition 2012

                             watching the slide show               

In January 2013 there was a memorial weekend in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the bombing. The group hosted a film evening where the film "Devon at War" was shown describing how the war affected many of the communities throughout the county. Aveton Gifford was one such village, and the film attracted much local interest; David Balkwill and Alan Edgecombe had been youngsters at the time, and had been interviewed for their memories on that day. The Hall was packed to capacity with 100 people to watch the film and discuss their memories, and again the rolling display of photos came into its own during the interval. A memorial service was held in St Andrew's on the Sunday morning, and the PPG had been invited to put on a display of archive photos in the church over the anniversary weekend. Alan had also been involved in the rebuilding of the church, and some of his previously unseen photographs showed the damage and repair work in progress. 


70th Anniversary - Devon at War 2013 St Andrews after the bombing 1943


We have realised that there are many of the older members of the community who have other interesting memories; since the group was set up 25 years ago it has taken both written and spoken recordings of some of our older parisioners, and this is an ongoing project. Members of the group are currently undertaking "interviews" with more of them to preserve some of their stories and recollections of a past way of life which may soon be lost, and we would be delighted to hear from anyone who feels they would like to help, or also had memories to share.

The website.

In 2012 several members of the group set up this new website. We were fortunate to draw on the skills of Neil Cooper whose professional photographic input has made the site look what it does today, and we have also been fortunate to include some of the hard work put into the group's publications by Ken Doughty and Mike Glanville, with input from so many other members of the community too numerous to name individually here. Our archive of photos, of which we can only show a small number here, owes much to Colin Herbert whose huge collection of photos and postcards has been gathered over the years with his wife Joyce, and also to the many members of the community who have given us copies of family pictures and parish events. The website and its content has been a joint effort from so many sources, and we hope that it will continue to grow with additional information and input from yourselves. If we have made mistakes, or you can add anything to our pages here, please let us know! (contact)

The way ahead for the PPG.

There  is a move to broaden the attraction of the PPG to encourage more people to join the group in a more informal type of membership. We realise that committees and formal meetings are not everyone's cup of tea, but that there is a lot of interest in the history and heritage of the parish. We hope, by leaving the administration to a small core of people, more people may feel encouraged to join us in a range of outings and other activities, or to suggest any others that you would like to take part in yourself; we stress that you don't have to be part of our committee to join us!

We plan to continue to record our way of life in the parish over past years, and would like to encourage anybody to become involved in this. At present we are concentrating on our farming heritage, and hope to gather more written and oral memories, and photographs of local farms and agricultural practices. However we will not restrict our recording to farming alone - childhood and family life, school, local jobs and craftsmen, church or chapel, haunted houses, illnesses and medical care before the NHS... anything in fact! if you feel you would like to get involved, please let us know.

The group plans to host more events this coming year - another display at the Church fete again this summer, featuring photographs, articles and items of interest about "The River Avon, past and present". Please see our Forthcoming Events page for further details. These events will be open to all, so please come and join us!