Pig killers, a bucket and the family: life in rural Devon

What was it actually like to grow up and work in rural West Devon during the 20th century?

Almost beyond imagination - but you can find out for yourself in a new book 'Farming and Rural Life' (£3 recommended donation or £4 posted) published by The Life Stories Project - part of Tavistock Area Support Services (TASS) a registered charity (http://tasstavistock.org.uk/category/life-stories/).

The book, a collection of stories from residents of Tavistock, will be launched on Friday 7th December 2018, in TASS’s Rest Awhile Cafe at the Pannier Market, Tavistock.

TASS has for many years run a Befriending Service for its clients and from the links made with older people the idea of recording their life stories was born. Over the last five years, trained volunteers have recorded nearly 100 stories, transcribed them and now, a selection of these focusing on rural life, have been drawn together for this fifth and latest collection.

Nowadays we take so many ‘essentials’ for granted millennials cannot comprehend that their grandparents or even their parents could have been raised in a house without convenience foods, mains services and absolutely no Wi-Fi!!

Although some Life Stories are published on the TASS website, many contributors do not use the internet and for them, a physical book is more accessible and of much more value. It also makes a great memento for their family to share and keep. And, of course, it makes a wonderful Christmas gift.

These stories are highly readable with the personality of the teller shining through.

“Never saw any tinned food before the war. And in fact, Grandad wouldn't have it. The first time they tried - a bit of tinned corned beef I think it was - he wouldn't eat it. He said it wasn't meant to be in tins. I think he threw his out or something.” (Trevor’s story)

“Sam Inch the cider man he’d say ‘Try that one farmer Hooper. What you think to that one?’ And father said ‘Well Sam, it's a bit sweet for my liking.’ ‘Right, we'll try this one…’ And this went on all the Sunday morning...” (Linda’s story).

Today, there is a growing awareness of the value of telling and listening to stories - from the BBC's Listening Project to Peter Jackson's tribute to the soldiers of the First World War “They Shall Not Grow Old”, to academic research involving oral history, to people's universal enthusiasm to be part of life story collections. Everyone has something to say.

People like to share stories because it creates an emotional bond between the speaker and the audience. When a person movingly describes an experience and how it affected them – it is easy to put ourselves in their place and feel something of what they went through. It makes us feel more alive.

So it is with this book. The experiences and memories of the nine contributors span the whole of the 20th century and form a vivid narrative of the social, technical and environmental changes that have taken place over the last hundred years or so. Far from being heavy, dour and impenetrable, this is history made light, lively and accessible. You can reach out, hear it, feel it.

The selected stories relate to people’s lives in the Little Torrington, Okehampton, Princetown, Horrabridge, Milton Abbot and Tavistock areas all of whom now live in or near Tavistock. Of course, there will be many thousands of Plymouthians who - either themselves or their relatives - were brought up, lived and worked in the Devon countryside before settling in the city. For these people, in particular, these stories will really strike a chord.

Simon Thompson