Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all...


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Published: July 18th 2014
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Tom Pearce's grey mare on the way to Widecombe FairTom Pearce's grey mare on the way to Widecombe FairTom Pearce's grey mare on the way to Widecombe Fair

...with Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all...

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, Lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want to go down to Widecombe Fair

wi' Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

To be sung in a fake Devon yokel's accent, preferably after a few pints of strong local ale.



So goes the first verse of a folk tune called 'Widecombe Fair'. It does go on quite a bit longer - possibly a bit too much longer, unless someone else is buying the next round of drinks.

It tells a tale of Tom Pearce's old grey mare being borrowed, getting lost, falling ill, dying, and haunting the moor ever after. I won't bore you with it all here but, if you're so inclined, skip to the end of this blog for the other eight verses and a video rendition!

Because of the song's boringly long list of people, we strange British folk have come to use the term 'Uncle Tom Cobley and all' as a humorous and exasperated way of saying et al or 'all that lot'.

Widecombe is a real place, here on Dartmoor. It was just a few miles to the west of where we were spending our week's holiday, up and down hill along twisting roads across the moor with broad new vistas at almost every turn. There was probably a real Old Uncle Tom Cobley
Widecombe-in-the-MoorWidecombe-in-the-MoorWidecombe-in-the-Moor

A distant view, with the church just visible centre right
once upon a time too. He's reputed to have been a randy bachelor in his younger days - but when paternity orders came in thick and fast, he refused to maintain any little ones which didn't have red hair like his!

There's an annual Widecombe Fair as well. You still have time to be there this year - it's on 9th September 2014. There'll be loads of events and competitions, and you can be sure that there'll also be a local fellow dressed just like old Tom, complete with a grey mare!

Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to give it its correct name, is a pretty place - providing you avert your eyes from the coachloads of tourists who descend upon it for an hour or two every morning for a glimpse of what was once a typical village, quintessentially Dartmoor. For all its popularity, it's still worth a visit though, with its fine old buildings, some of them thatched, and ponies grazing on the village green beside the church.

The church, dedicated to St Pancras, is one of the most visited in England. It's known as the 'Cathedral of the Moor', probably because it's far too large for the population of the village and once served other small communities throughout the moor without their own churches. It was originally built, mainly with funds raised by tin miners, in the 14th century. Inside, a panel records disastrous events on a day in October 1638, when lightning struck the tower, dislodging blocks of masonry onto worshippers, killing four and seriously injuring 60 more. Local legend has it that the Devil himself had been seen earlier in the day spitting fire and riding a black horse across the moor!

The Church of St Pancras is architecturally noteworthy and its graveyard is well-kept with some interesting old headstones - a more recent one, for a former vicar, Eric Archibald Newbery, has pride of place in a raised position with tremendous views over God's country beyond. But it was an ancient symbol that we'd come in search of here. What we sought is found in many parts of the world (the earliest known, in Buddhist caves in China, dates back to 581AD) but, here in Britain, the symbol's seen mainly in medieval churches as carved bosses where the roof beams cross. On and around Dartmoor, 17 churches have a total of 29 of them. Although
The three rabbits on a roof bossThe three rabbits on a roof bossThe three rabbits on a roof boss

Above the chancel in St Pancras Church, Widecombe
no-one can agree on its true meaning, the symbol's made up of three rabbits (or some say hares) running in a circle with their ears joined in the centre, forming a triangle which gives the illusion that they each have two ears when, in fact, they only have one.

To the accompaniment of a rousing Bach prelude played by the organist practising for a concert, we found the elusive symbol, carved and painted brown, green, white and red, high up above our heads in the chancel. We found another one of these rare things at the Church of St Michael the Archangel in Chagford. There were actually two of them there, but we we'd have needed a very bright torch to see the other one!

Chagford, an easy 20-minute drive north of Widecombe, proved to be a characterful small town with attractive buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. One in the heart of the town, an old octagonal market house with a strange tower, now holds some little shops and the public toilets! Across the road is the Birdcage, a very pleasant coffee shop and restaurant - with gourmet pizzas that are bellissimo.

Apart from running rabbits in the church, another of Chagford's claims to touristic fame are two hardware shops - yes, hardware shops. They're next door to one another and, from the outside, look like small but well-stocked village shops. Go inside and Dr Who has landed in his Tardis! You can buy almost anything there for your kitchen, your bathroom, your bedroom, your dining room, your living room, your wardrobe, your garden... The shelves in these shops just keep going on, and on, and on, and on, and on... a bit like the Old Uncle Tom Cobley song!



If you've downed a few pints, you can now continue the tale of the grey mare who went to Widecombe Fair.


Many sung versions appear on YouTube, with slight differences to the words. Some are ridiculously badly performed, but I think one of the best is sung barber-shop fashion by The Kings Singers - and even that's a derivation of the original!




All together now... (but beware: this is the original, full version and not the edited one being sung in the video!)


And when shall I see again my grey mare?
All
Uncle Tom Cobley and AllUncle Tom Cobley and AllUncle Tom Cobley and All

A model made by the late Harry Price
along, down along, out along lea.
By Friday soon, or Saturday noon,
Wi' Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.


So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And off they drove to Widecombe fair,
Wi' Bill Brewer...

Then Friday came, and Saturday noon.
All along, down along, out along lea.
But Tom Pearce's old mare hath not trotted home,
Wi' Bill Brewer...

So Tom Pearce he got up to the top o' the hill.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And he see'd his old mare down a-making her will,
Wi' Bill Brewer...

So Tom Pearce's old mare, her took sick and died.
All along, down along, out along lea.
And Tom he sat down on a stone, and he cried
Wi' Bill Brewer...

But this isn't the end o' this shocking affair.
All along, down along, out along lea.
Nor, though they be dead, of the horrid career
Of Bill Brewer...

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of the night.
All along, down along, out along lea.
Tom Pearce's old mare doth appear ghastly white,
Wi' Bill Brewer...

And all the long night be heard skirling and groans.
All along, down along, out along lea.
From Tom Pearce's old mare in her rattling bones,
Wi' Bill Brewer...

If you managed to sing along right to the end, give yourself a round of applause!

Now scroll down for more pictures and double-click on them to enlarge. The panorama at the top of the page is a short slideshow.





Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


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The organ in St Pancras Church, WidecombeThe organ in St Pancras Church, Widecombe
The organ in St Pancras Church, Widecombe

Note the pretty painted pipes
Chagford - the craft marketChagford - the craft market
Chagford - the craft market

A major event hereabouts!
Church of St Michael the Archangel, ChagfordChurch of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford
Church of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford

The roof boss with the three rabbits (or hares) in gold
Church of St Michael the Archangel, ChagfordChurch of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford
Church of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford

Depiction of the rabbit symbol is continued on a cushion on one of the pews
Church of St Michael the Archangel, ChagfordChurch of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford
Church of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford

A fabulous wall-hanging depicting the history of Chagford
Church of St Michael the Archangel, ChagfordChurch of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford
Church of St Michael the Archangel, Chagford

Detail of the wall-hanging, made by women of the parish


18th July 2014
In the graveyard at St Pancras Church, Widecombe

U.K.
What a beautiful countryside. Makes me want to go for a hike.
19th July 2014
In the graveyard at St Pancras Church, Widecombe

Our green and pleasant land
You have to love rain to have such green countryside to enjoy - but, when the sun shines, there's nowhere better!
19th July 2014

We are sorry to hear that this is your last travelblog...
but thanks for letting us know and not just disappearing leaving us wondering what happened. I'm having lunch with Ali and Michelle tomorrow, the founder of TB and the only programmers the site has, to let them know. I would also want to be able to print out my blogs. They have been busy working out the bugs with version 5, so I know they are not ignoring you or anyone...it's just a matter of priorities. If they can solve the problem as a top priority, would you give us another chance?
19th July 2014

Too late, alas.
Bob, thank you for your words of encouragement. In a previous life I was the operations director of a major travel company and quickly learnt that people would happily accept almost any amount of delay if you kept them informed of what was happening. If I'd received a response of any kind to my multiple posts on the Support forum about difficulties I was experiencing with the Print Version or, indeed, anything other than an email two weeks ago (in reply to my chaser contact) to say 'we'll test the problem and let you know', I'd still be here, waiting patiently - as would my many friends who look forward to receiving printed versions of my blogs. I wasn't asking for instant solutions. I simply wanted information or advice. All I got was nothing, nada, niente, zilch... Compare that to the two-hour response I've received (twice) to technical questions at my new blog site! So, sorry Bob, I'm out of here. The alternative certainly isn't as good looking, but it's efficient and has a few whistles and bangs that TravelBlog doesn't have, not least of all excellent communication with users.
19th July 2014

Farewell to Travelblog!
How could we possibly keep smiling without those witty and informative blogs we've all come to love? As an older version of the 'keep smiling' family, I don't have issues with anything too high-tech, but I know how important the printed versions of our Travelblogs are to our sister, Ann, yet a few years older than this grey-haired-nomad, who doesn't possess a computer. I guess the keep-smiling kids all learned about the value of good service from our dear old dad, but we all also have relatively short fuses when it fails to happen. How often do we walk out of a shop or restaurant when we're evidently ignored or put down the phone when it has rung for the fifth time? Keep calm and keep smiling little brother.
19th July 2014

You can still keep smiling!
The printed version of blogs is important not only to sister Ann - I have a number of friends who don't have computers and others who have computers that either don't work or that they don't know how to use. We're of that generation! But, this wasn't just a case of the TravelBlog 'Print Version' apparently being on the blink. It was that no-one seemed willing or able to offer information or advice in response to numerous posts and repeated contacts. Rather than simply vote with my feet, I've voiced my opinion at the end of my latest blog in the vain hope that it will give rise to improvements in communication here on TravelBlog. Meanwhile, you can keep smiling over on my new site. The link's in that note at the end of the blog. See you in a week or so. Looking forward to it.
30th June 2018

What a coincidence...
your blog about Chagford was going to be your last Travelblog! I look forward to visiting Chagford next spring. Our daughter and family are moving back in with us for a year so I now have someone to babysit our dog so Linda and I can travel together. Great Britain has been at the top of the list for when this happens.
30th June 2018

Coincidences
Yes, my 'Old Uncle Tom Cobley' blog, which included Chagford, was to have been my last TravelBlog. Coincidentally, I moved for just two years to the late belated TravelPod - from whence have come John & Pat Smallman (DWLPtravelkids)! Now you have chanced to seek ancestors in Chagford. It's a small world, indeed - and Devon is a beautiful part of that world. My wife and her 96-year-old father are from Plymouth and Torquay in the south of that county. Is that another coincidence?

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