Commons 6: Recreation

The origin of the recreation ground on Padley Common

The story of the recreation ground starts back in post-war Chagford, July 1947.  On 3rd of that month George Colville Hayter-Haynes conveyed “land… forming part of the common land of the Manor or reputed Manor of Chagford” to Chagford Parish Council.

The land was Padley Common and it was conveyed to the Parish Council for no fee. The Parish Council was authorised to hold the land pursuant to an Act of Parliament: The Physical Training and Recreational Act 1937.

The 1937 Act gave local authorities, including parish councils, the power to acquire land for facilities and clubs. Whilst it was the first act of Parliament to use the word “recreation”, the Act originated from a British Medical Association report on the declining fitness of the population, a serious concern given the growing unrest in Europe and the threat of war.

By 1947 there was no doubt a real thirst for recreation for recreation’s sake as the whole country, not just Chagford, sought relief from the continued rationing and general post war poverty.

This was exactly what Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan had argued for in the Commons debate on the draft bill, little knowing how important his theme would become in just a few years. He said:

…the desire to play is a justification in itself for playing

The Parish Council’s plans for the land were on a grand scale.  As the land was common land, though, the Parish Council needed consent from the Minister before carrying out any fencing or other works. An application was made to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for permission for:

  • Chain link fencing to enclose 30 acres or thereabouts
  • Works to construct a pavilion, shelter, cricket pitch, hockey pitch, tennis courts, children’s playground, paddling pool and even an area for basketball.

On 29 April 1948 the Minister (the Right Honourable Tom Williams MP) gave consent to the fencing and works on the proviso that the enclosed area:

“…shall be used only as a PUBLIC PARK and RECREATION GROUND for the health comfort and wellbeing of the inhabitants of the said parish of Chagford and neighbourhood”.

The mystery of the Meldon’s golf course

A curious episode in the long human history of Chagford’s common lands is the golf course that graced Meldon Hill’s flatter tops for a brief 22 years. Opened on Whit Monday in 1908, it was set up with a wooden bungalow as a club house, nine holes running to a course of 2,728 yard, a professional and a committee consisting of worthies from near and far who had worked to set up the enterprise for some time. 

Plan of Chagford Golf course. Source: Claire Northmore

A team of groundsmen had been employed since the previous autumn to prepare the ground and were congratulated on its good condition at the opening ceremony.  It hasn’t been recorded what the commoners thought of this project, which must have had a considerable impact on grazing practices. 

A sloping green below one of Meldon’s tors. Pre-WW1.

Apparently the course failed to attract enough summer visitors to provide sufficient revenue to make the course a success and at the time of its closure in April 1930 it only had around 30 members. The committee in charge failed to persuade the parish council to take the course over, one reason being the legal difficulties involved in converting common land to a different purpose. However, not long after, the town gained a much more successful, democratic and enduring recreational asset in the swimming pool.

Tea outside the clubhouse at Meldon golf course, 25th July 1914:
“Mrs Norton gave tea on the Golf Links. Mrs Endacott helped me with it.”
From the diary of Mildred Ann Hill, owner of the Moorlands Hotel.

In the late 1980s Luke Darlington, a keen golfer, stumbled on some records of the long defunct course and decided to play all the nine holes. He had to give up on his first attempt in the summer as the gorse and high bracken made the slightest progress impossible.  However, at Christmas, with the bracken now fallen, he tried again with a more success, although he did admit that “after three hours we had one opportunity for a decent golf shot”.

The Chagford Times carries Luke Darlington’s report on his bold venture.