In the days before the internet and readily ‘instant’ data and information, modern Dartmoor enthusiasts should be grateful to those who explored and recorded our amazing National Park for us in the 19th and 20th centuries. These recorders laid the foundation for our understanding and knowledge into the 21st century. The well known 19th and 20th century Dartmoor explorers / recorders include William Crossing, Robert Burnard, Samuel Rowe, Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, Richard Hansford Worth, Robert Haynes, A.K Hamilton Jenkins, Helen Harris, Dr Tom Greeves and Eric Hemery to name but a few.
The author, however, on a personal note would like to record an appreciation for perhaps a less well known Dartmoor explorer / recorder, namely Ted Birkett Dixon, especially as this is the 100th year since his birth. Ted was the recorder for the Dartmoor Preservation Association from the early 1950’s having taken over the role from Richard Hansford-Worth upon his death. The author feels very privileged to have known and been guided by him for over 15 years having first met him in the late 1980s, initially through his guided night walks with the Workers Education Association (WEA). Ted was a great story teller and was a wonderful mine of information and his enthusiasm was infectious.
Ted’s story goes beyond just the title of Devonshire Association ‘recorder’ and hopefully this post records a little more about the true gentleman and Dartmoor enthusiast the author knew. Ted joined the Devonshire Association and the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) in 1947 following a meeting with Hansford Worth (who was DPA secretary). In 1947, Hansford Worth was the official Recorder of Barrows for the Devonshire Association and it was Ted who assisted Hansford Worth acting on his instructions to undertake investigations. In 1947, Ted would have been 24 and he carried out a number of excavations making a number of discoveries of his own. This post covers a period of over 70 years of Teds relationship with Dartmoor. However, his story, wouldn’t be complete without paying respect to Ted’s war time period.
A special thank you to Gillian, Ted’s daughter who has provided some of the photographs and information in this post
Ted in typical pose on his beloved Dartmoor. The author is unaware of the date but suspects it may be 1970s. The rucksack looks familiar to the author as he recalls it being used in the 1980s, 1990s and into the early 2000s on night walks.
Ted had joined the Royal Corps of Signals during the war (he would have been 16 in 1939). After initial training he was posted to the 53rd (Welsh) Division and was stationed at Harrietsham in Kent.
Ted took part in the D-Day landings in 1944 and he helped to liberate the town of s’Hertogenbosch in Holland. He received the French Légion d’honneur medal for the courageous part he played, something I know both he and his family were immensely proud of. Gillian his daughter recalls that he appeared to be ‘hanging on’ towards the end as he received his Légion d’honneur in October 2015, went to the remembrance day service at Burrow Hill (Plymstock) in the November and passed away a month later. Ted was very humble and kept the military part of his life very secret and never talked about it when on the moor.
Following Richard Hansford Worth’s death in 1950, as previously mentioned Ted took over as the recorder of the Barrows. The 70th report of the Devonshire Association Transactions on Barrows was the first created by Ted. In the report, he played homage to Worth stating: ‘I shall do my best in attempting to maintain the standard of reports prepared by my predecessor’.
The 70th report of the Devonshire Association Transactions on Barrows was a very detailed record of 102 kistvaen’s which he later updated to 115 (the author has one of Ted’s typed lists showing the 115 kistvaen’s). Pre-internet days, the author used this list to visit these antiquities.
A lot of people will remember Ted being the WEA Dartmoor Night Walk guide. The picture shows Ted en-route between Gutter Tor Car Park and Yellowmead quadruple circle from 11th April 2003. Ted had a wonderful sense of humour and that night unfortunately fell backward over one of the stones in the circle; composing himself he said: “who put that there, like that, it’s a trip hazard!”.
One of the authors favourite pictures of Ted with him explaining the operation of a buddle at Golden Dagger Mine on 22nd March 2002. This walk is one night walk which the author copied / used after Ted’s retired.
Ted at Nun’s (Siwards) Cross from 8th March 2002. Ted once said that he had introduced Dartmoor to more than 16,000 people!
Back to the Devonshire Association Transactions on Barrows. The author was first made aware of this cist / cairn which lies on the lower slopes of Brown Heath during the 1990’s. During one of the night walks with Ted , he spoke fondly of a four day wild camp he undertook at the nearby Erme Pound, when amongst other artefacts he recorded this antiquity. Two ‘flint flakes’ had been found here in 1902. The photograph of these two ‘Flakes’ are shown above. Ted gave the author a copy of his 71st Report of the Barrow Committee (from 1953), in which there is a sketch and a photograph of this cist / cairn.
Sketch from the 71st report on Barrows by Ted and as can be seen it is signed from 1953. Ted recorded: “There appears to be a retaining circle of which five stones remain, with a possible diameter of about 11 feet, but owing to scattered stones which might be the remains of a cairn, it is difficult to ascertain this. The kistvaen is in a mound which is raised 2 feet above the ground on the down-hill side”. Ted’s sketch shows a ‘cover stone’ (dotted line), which he temporarily moved for the sketch and a subsequent photograph. It is likely that it is this ‘cover stone’ we see atop the cist (kistvaen) today.
Ted’s photograph from 1953, complete with a ‘correction’ (the printed version incorrectly transposed the annotation of the Redlake Foot and Renny Brook Kistvaens). In the 71st report on Barrows, Ted recorded: “Recently vandals have displaced one of the surrounding stones and dropped it into the kistvaen. By the time this report is in print, I hope to have replaced this stone by aid of the necessary equipment , and also to replace the cover stone to the position shown in the accompanying plan, which is as it was when first examined by me”.
R.H Worth, (1902), in 21st Report of the Barrow Committee, reported that the barrow was “opened and found to contain a rifled kistvaen, 2 worked flakes were found in it. Flake ‘a’ has been used on some hard substance; the solid angles left by flaking have been rubbed down, smoothed and left with a dull polish. Flake ‘b’ Is similar to other flints found on Dartmoor”. The cist is recorded as measuring 1m by 0.7m. It is located at SX63772 66062. The photograph is from December 2022
On 7th November 2003, the BBC Spotlight cameras (with Johnny Rutherford) joined a walk from Norsworthy Bridge to Combeshead Tor and back. The two pictures on the left show the BBC cameras interviewing some of the group and Ted. The picture on the right is Ted and the author lighting a sparkler as it was close to bonfire night. The BBC Spotlight feature appeared on two consecutive nights. The video quality isn’t the best. Here is part one https://youtu.be/eVooGeZm_4M Here is part two https://youtu.be/vlSoFUcRmhQ . In the second video the author appears at around 2′ 10s (my 14 seconds of fame !!) The second video contains a section on Ted telling the myth / legend of the ‘Hairy Hands’
Spurrell’s Cross from 24th October 2003.
Ted was very persuasive and asked the author to write an article for the (Plymouth) Evening Herald. The article was published on 11th January 2003. Ted was in his 80th year and still leading walks.
The (Plymouth) Evening Herald article included a section about the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA)
One of Ted’s favourite night walk locations was around Gutter Tor and finding all eight of the vermin traps in the area. Ted often would tell us of his half scale model trap he had at home. Little did I realise that 25 years later, I’d built a full scale version of the trap.
By happen chance, I managed to track down Ted’s Vermin Trap model, which is at the National Park headquarters at Parke, as it had been gifted by his daughter Gillian to DNP for educational purposes. I managed to photograph it and with a copy of the RG Haynes publication on Vermin Traps from 1970, which showed how one worked, I built this one and transported it out the Gutter Tor. The YouTube video demonstrates how the trap shutters work. You can see the block fly out of the trip mechanism. I wonder what Ted would have made of my efforts https://youtu.be/CvZOv5EwEIc
Ted’s 72nd Devonshire Association report on Barrows included Peek Hill (North Sharpitor) cist. Thanks to Dave Parks in providing the 2015 picture. The author and other Dartmoor enthusiasts have noted how the quality and accuracy of the Ted Dixon drawings and sketches resembled those of his predecessor, Richard Hansford Worth. The handover of responsibility of the transactions appeared to be seamless
Sections of the 73rd Devonshire Association Transactions on Barrows. The three Down Tor Kistvaen’s were one of Ted’s favourite night walks. After Ted’s retirement, the author continued night walks (not with WEA) and was known as “Ted’s Apprentice”. The two pictures on the right are of the western Down Tor Kistvaen in 2019, the night time photograph was from a walk led by the author, replicating one of Ted’s routes.
These pictures are from the final WEA night walk. Ted was 80 the day after
The picture is from 24th October 2003 taken at Hangershell Rock. Ted is in mid-picture.
This photograph was taken on 21st November 2003, the day before Ted’s 80th birthday: This was the WEA final walk Ted guided. The picture is the presentation of a cake at Middleworth Farm, near Norsworthy Bridge. The author wrote an ‘ode’ to Ted and presented him with a framed print of the Wallabrook Clapper by Stephen Townshend. Ted’s daughter Gillian and son in law Steve came on his last walk. Ted had to be persuaded to go The Rock in Yelverton afterwards so we could all buy him a drink and make a toast for his retirement
Just before Ted’s 90th birthday he was taken to Whitehorse Hill kistvaen by Jane Marchant (the Dartmoor National Park senior archaeologist at the time). This visit would have been over 60 years since the publishing of the 70th Devonshire Association Transactions on barrows with Ted’s 102 kistvaen list.
Ted at Whitehorse Hill
Ted was an avid photographer and has left thousands of slides, which the author understands will be suitably archived, a great legacy of future generations. For the thousands of people you introduced to Dartmoor, passing on your enthusiasm and knowledge, a hearty thank you Ted. Charles Edward (Ted) Birkett Dixon, 22 November 1923 – 30 December 2015
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