Plotting Plymouth’s Past: The Surveyors’ Story

by Old Plymouth Society
Published July 2018

Plotting Plymouth’s Past Project – The Surveyors’ Story

During the Plotting Plymouth’s Past project, monthly meetings were held to discuss the progress that the team were making. The Surveyors’ Report listed the totals of boundary stones found and the number of sites visited. The reports failed to portray the ‘real story’ of what Tim Jenkinson (TJ), Ernie Stanton (ES) and myself, Mark Fenlon (MF), went through to locate the boundary stones. In an effort to rectify this, later reports included more details of how and where the boundary stones were found. The reports gradually increased in size and were described as ‘a good read’ by members of the PPP team hence the reason to share extracts from those reports with OPS members.  
For me to pick out a ‘favourite’ survey or a ‘special’ stone would be quite impossible. I tried looking through the hundreds of photographs taken during the surveys, hoping that I would find a single stone or moment to describe to you. I failed miserably, my intent becoming immersed in nostalgia. To me, every boundary stone that we visited was special, each one having its own story about how we rediscovered it. Unfortunately, the OPS Newsletter does not have enough pages to tell each of those stories, so I have had to be selective! Those boundary stones that have something in common, be it in the way they were found or their importance, are grouped together under a topical heading and their stories told. 

Municipal Merriment 1: Standing Proud For Stonehouse
Those of you who have walked the annual Beating Of The Bounds will know that the Municipal boundary stones present themselves very nicely beside roads and footpaths. In most cases very little effort is required to find them. Although the majority of these boundary stones were known to me, prior to PPP, there were still a few, shown on old maps, that had yet to be rediscovered. 
One of these was situated at the east end of Polruan Terrace, in the wooded area beyond the wall on the south side of Victoria Park. 
Our very first Survey, saw TJ, ES and myself, walk from North Road Station to the west end of Victoria Park, stopping along the way to record all of the Municipal boundary stones, Great Western Railway (GWR) markers and other interesting objects.  
After recording the Plymouth and the East Stonehouse stones that stand together in the south west corner of Victoria Park, we walked towards the break in the wall to access the wooded area behind it.
For years this stone was on my ‘to do’ list and now, at last, I would get the chance to look for it. This stone was not listed in The Boundary Stones Of Plymouth by Masson Phillips, that was published by the Devonshire Association in December 1985 (TDA Vol.117, 69-81). So, the prospect of finding a previously unlisted stone filled the three of us with great excitement.
As we neared the end wall of the houses in Polruan Terrace we saw the boundary stone we were looking for. We were well chuffed, our first survey and a ‘new’ boundary stone to add to the lists. 
The stone was laying face down, having broken away from the cement securing it to the gable wall of the end house. We cleared away any obstructions that would prevent it being relocated in its original position. Then, with a great deal of effort, we managed to lift the stone back into place and in doing so, revealed the hidden inscription, ‘Manor Of Stonehouse’. The boundary stone had purpose again, standing proud for Stonehouse. Hooray!
Photographs were taken of the ‘new’ stone and, not wanting to miss the opportunity, we had a group ‘selfie’ with it. Finding a ‘new’ stone, so early in the project, united us for the task ahead. In that moment the importance of PPP became very clear to us. We had just rediscovered and helped to preserve a small piece of the history of East Stonehouse and a part of Plymouth’s history too.

Municipal Merriment 2: The Compton Conundrum 
One group of municipal boundary stones caused a lot of head scratching, these being the ones around Compton Gifford. Unfortunately, old maps do not distinguish which boundary stones belong to each Parish as they are usually marked as just ‘Stone’ or ‘BS’.
The old ‘Tything of Compton Gifford’ stone at Hartley does not present a problem. The inscription on it explains its purpose. As with similar stones for Egg Buckland, Weston Peverell and Tamerton Foliott, they seem to stand where a road enters the said parish. 
The problem lies with the later Compton Gifford Local Board boundary stones. Each of these stones is inscribed: 1893 / C.G.L.B / R.N.W. followed by a sequence number.
Now the fun begins.
Heading from Mutley Plain northwards along Mannamead Road and following the old Compton Gifford boundary, the stones are in this order, 16, 17, 14 (missing) and 21. If you go the other way around the boundary, from the north end Mutley Plain, through College Lane, heading eastwards around the boundary, the stones are in this order, 5, 22, 7, 11, 12.
If any of the surveyors had hair to spare then it would have been sacrificed. None of the whole PPP team have been able to solve this conundrum. If only someone had thought to put a number beside the stones shown on the maps. If anyone can solve this problem, put your answers on a postcard and send to the PPP team, please!
There was one good thing to come out of the search for the Compton Gifford stones and that was the discovery of a ‘lost’ stone, one that did not appear on Masson Phillips’ list.
It was on 30/04/13 when the three of us were in the Eggbuckland area looking for Plymouth Extension and Compton Gifford boundary stones. After failing to find CGLB13, near the Parkway, we made our way back up to Eggbuckland Road and followed it eastwards. On the right, near a bus stop, is a footpath to Michigan Way, where old maps show a ‘BS’.
We began our search, poking at the hedge and bank with trowels. The more we searched the more our frustration grew. We knew there was a stone there but just couldn’t find it. Every time that one of us hit something solid the other two ‘hunters’ looked expectantly towards him. We were fast approaching that time when our demeanour announced our defeat and it was time to move on. Then, at the eleventh hour, a stone with a straight edge was spotted in the bank. A scrape with the trowel revealed our prize. There it was, right where we were looking. This stone was inscribed with the sequence number 12. The line between success and failure can be a very fine one. Finding another ‘new’ stone saw an immediate change in our mood, happy again, oodles of praise was bestowed on the one who spotted the stone. 
We walked towards our next challenge, full of confidence, keen to begin another hunt, three proud men stout and true, marching onwards, undaunted by the task that lay before them….. 

Municipal Merriment 3: Emotional ties
Before changing the subject slightly, there are a few boundary stones that are worthy of a mention purely because of the excitement they caused.
The first of these is the Plaque in the garden at Hotham Place marking the location of a buried Plymouth boundary stone. Although we did not get access to the garden, the occupant of the house took photos and sent them to us. The buried boundary stone was mentioned in the Western Daily Mercury, 3rd October 1886, the article reads, “Not only has the stone been enclosed; it has been buried under three or four feet of soil and a fine crop of cabbages grown on the top of it!
….. it was decided to let it remain in situ, and to put tablets on the walls of the garden indicating its position. Perhaps one day the boundary stone can be uncovered.
Another stone that appeared on Masson Phillips’ list, but which proved difficult to locate, was found in a boat yard on Corporation Wharf. The building which this stone stood beside was demolished and the stone thought to be lost. 

It wasn’t until we visited the boat yard that the owner told us that the stone had been moved to a safe location and allowed us to see it. 
Tor Lane also provided a special moment when we located one of the Plymouth Boundary Extension stones. I had looked for this stone before at the very spot where we found it. If only I had looked a little bit deeper into the bushes. 
Only one of the Devonport boundary stones provided any real excitement. This was found built into the gate pillar of a house in Saltash Road, Keyham. Marked only as ‘Stone’ on maps this stone was not on any known boundary line. It is thought to be one of the four missing Borough of Devonport stones. Although only the top of the stone is visible, it was an excellent discovery.

When you have looked for boundary stones where you think they should be and fail to find them it is very disheartening. When you return to that same spot and find the stone you do feel rather silly, but that soon gives way to relief and a great sense of achievement. It’s like getting a gold star for your school homework.

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