About Joan Price

Joan Price lives on the southern fringe of Dartmoor and is researching the scientific work done on voyages of exploration to the antipodes as part of an M.Phil at Exeter.

Finch Foundry, Devon

Main entrance to Finch Foundry

Main entrance to Finch Foundry, by Graham Tait. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

In the small hamlet of Sticklepath, on the northern edge of Dartmoor, the National Trust in combination with the Finch Foundry Trust have restored a nineteenth century working edge tool manufactory – not strictly speaking a foundry despite its name.  It was started by William Finch in 1814. The name Finch is one of four surnames, which Samuel Smiles states were traditionally associated with iron working. Three overshot water wheels provide the power for a tilt hammer, a drop hammer and a shear hammer.  In 1958 a water turbine was installed and a Hydram provides a better head of water but the business closed in 1960. Since everything is kept in working order, it is possible to see the equipment being used by a blacksmith.

Smiths have shaped wrought iron with hand held hammers for millenia. Water powered hammers are recorded from China in 20 AD but they only became common in Europe in the 12th century. Water powered stamp mills were used to break up mineral ores. Massive hammers raised by water power and then allowed to drop under gravity were used to turn blooms into more workable bar iron and particularly for fabricating articles from wrought iron, steel and other metals.  In such metal works, multiple hammers were powered via a set of line shafts, pulleys and belts from a centrally located water supply. However during the Industrial Revolution the trip hammer generally fell out of favour and was gradually replaced with power hammers worked by steam, and more recently by compressed air.

Finch Foundry interior

Finch Foundry interior, by aldisley. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. Water powers the bellows for the forge and all the machinery, including the lethal-looking automatic shears.

Traditionally iron workers have always celebrated on St Clement’s Day. There are still remnants of this tradition in the early iron working districts in the weald of Sussex and Kent. More recently it smiths from all over Britain have come to Sticklepath every 23rd November in order to demonstrate their skills and hold a competition to make decorative ironware – and this is open to the public.

Sticklepath was a hamlet of water mills. In 1814 William Finch leased Manor Mills, which had previously been a corn mill and gradually built up his business. Since he was born at nearby Spreyton, it is thought he may have gained his practical experience at the Tavistock Iron Works. Initially he installed a pair of tilt hammers, possibly purchased from them. Later he added power shears and an air blast sufficient to work half a dozen blacksmith’s hearths plus two furnaces, all powered by water. The business became known as The Foundary – but in practice it was a forge employing seven or eight blacksmiths producing up to 400 agricultural or mining tools a day.  Tools with a sharp edge needed to be ground on the water powered grindstone but the workmen found that half a day spent sharpening them was enough for any man, so apprentices were often sentenced to ‘put their nose to the grindstone’ for misbehaviour. Their travelling salesmen followed a regular circuit around the mining and china clay industries throughout the west of England and also visited agricultural merchants and ironmongers en route. To the rear of the main building is a store for the straw and reeds used for packing the tools prior to transportation. The Finch family business interests extended into corn milling, carpentry, wheel wrighting and since they puchased coal and coke in bulk – the sale of domestic fuel. The business only closed its doors in 1960 and many of their account books, catalogues and samples of their hooks, scythes, hay knives, forks and hoes are on display.

Further information

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-finchfoundry

Address: Sticklepath, Okehampton, Devon EX20 2NW

Telephone: 01837 840046

Directions: The Foundry is in the middle of Sticklepath just off the A30 east of Okehampton, Devon. If you ring them in advance they may be able to tell you when a blacksmith will be working there.

Met Office, Exeter, England

Panorama of the new UKMO building in Exeter, taken 8 February 2005

Panorama of the new UKMO building in Exeter, taken 8 February 2005, by William M. Connolley. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The British Meteorological Office was originally set up under Robert Fitzroy, ex-captain of HMS Beagle, as a service to mariners. After a disastrous storm in 1859 he established a network of fifteen coastal stations which gave warnings of approaching storms, and this eventually led to the daily shipping forecast. Developments in electric telegraphy and the expansion of the observational network meant that regular weather forecasts could be provided for the general public. Their most crucial forecast was that for D-Day. Weather forecasts still play a vital role in the success of military operations and provide essential information for the RAF and so the Met Office is an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence. More recently it has started to give warnings about weather conditions which may affect people’s health and uses Doppler radar to warn of the likelihood of floods. In 2003 the Met Office moved from Bracknell to Exeter, where the Hadley Centre is devoted to climate prediction and research. A network of official climate stations 40km apart continues to provide daily observations.

The Met Office headquarters contain a library, open to everyone, and a display of meteorological equipment. Half a mile away, the National Meteorological Archive shares premises with the Devon Record Office. It holds a number of rare books on meteorology on behalf of the Royal Meteorological Society. These include a 1282 manuscript of Albert Magnus’ book De Negotio Naturali, a sixteenth century copy of Aristotle’s Meteorologica, some of Robert Boyle’s published work and Daniel Defoe’s description of the Great Storm of 1703. Their archive includes many private weather diaries made by enthusiastic amateurs, dating back to 1730 as well as descriptions and illustrations of extreme weather conditions, including ball lightning.

The main entrance to the Exeter Met Office

The main entrance to the Exeter Met Office, by Richard Knights. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The Met Office has been a harbinger of economic expansion to Exeter and many parts of Devon.

They have numerous weather logs made by both merchant and naval ships all over the world. These include Beaufort’s first use of the wind scale now bearing his name, and some from historic voyages to the Antarctic. They hold a great many climate returns and registers of meteorological observations as well as autographic records for approximately 1,000 sites dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. They also have a selection of historic images featuring old equipment, observers and observation sites. The archive can be used by academics and members of the public but it is advisable to book in advance and read fact sheet 12 on their website (see below).

Directions: Their headquarters are close to Junction 29 of the M5 as it passes Exeter. Come off the motorway and drive in the direction of the City Centre. Almost immediately you will soon see directions to turn right at a set of traffic lights. To visit the archives turn left at the same traffic lights in the direction of Sowton Industrial Estate. Take the first turning right into Kestrel Way and keep turning right until you reach Great Moor House. Exeter St David’s mainline train station is on the opposite side of the city and although the journey can be done by taking two buses, it will take more than half an hour.

Further information

Website: Met Office – National Meteorological Archive

Met Office Factsheet: 12. National Meteorological Archive [pdf, 3Mb].
Description: In April 1914, at a meeting of the Meteorological Committee, the Met Office, then called The Meteorological Office, accepted responsibility of custodian of appropriate Public Records. To this day the archive remains part of the Met Office.

Address: FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

Archive address: Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Exeter EX2 7NL, UK

Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, England

Out of date

This article has been superseded by a more up-to-date version at http://www.bshs.org.uk/travel-guide/marine-biological-association-plymouth-england


The Citadel Hill Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Hoe

The Citadel Hill Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Hoe, by Robert Cutts. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The Marine Biological Association is one of the oldest learned institutions west of Bristol. Its laboratories are tucked away in a corner of the Royal Citadel on the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe. Founded in 1884, the MBA is one of the UK’s leading research institutes. Its building has spectacular views of Plymouth Sound and shares many features with the even more illustrious laboratory in Naples. The association was set up to study living marine live, both out of scientific interest and to learn about habits and population of fished fish. Much of the latter work has gone to other laboratories. Their aquarium is now part of the nearby National Marine Aquarium, which is a big visitor attraction. In addition to their own work, the laboratories always attract visiting research workers, including 13 Nobel Prize winners and 170 Fellows of the Royal Society. Some of these come from other disciplines, particularly physiology. From its inception, the association has always been forward thinking: providing Easter courses for university students, offering members one week’s laboratory space per annum free, and employing some early women scientists. In 1967 their work was focussed on the Torrey Canyon oil spill. They have monitored pollution and plankton for many years and have always had a research vessel.

Their library is probably the most complete in this country in its coverage of marine biology and oceanography. As well as academic journals and special collections, it also contains the personal libraries of several eminent members. Visiting research workers have donated bound reprints of their work. As a result their earliest book in the library dates from 1554, they have a complete set of Nature and their records of the British Association go back to 1864. They have many bound volumes of many expedition reports, including some to the Antarctic and others covering the marine biology of specific areas of the world. They also hold considerable quantities of ‘grey’ papers, which have not been published.

The NMBL also has a large amount of archival material which is on a database and has been catalogued in three sections:

  • Institutional papers of the MBA and the Plymouth Laboratory
  • Personal and scientific documents of 50 staff and researchers with close links
  • The correspondence of E.T.Browne from 1892-1937- for its intrinsic interest and to test the ability of the database.

Their material includes watercolours, early and aerial photographs, coloured glass slides and charts. Most interest is in their early fish records and their long term monitoring.

Directions: Please contact the librarian before a visit if you are not already a member. Membership of the MBA cost from £30 /annum. A pedestrian walkway leads from Plymouth’s mainline station to the Hoe. If travelling by road, follow signs to the City Centre until you see signs for Plymouth Hoe. Drive up past the Citadel and the entrance road is on the left just as you see the sea.

Further information

Website: National Marine Biological Library (NMBL)

Address: The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, PLYMOUTH PL1 2PB United Kingdom