Author Paul Cox.
I suppose that the history of somewhere, anywhere, is simply a collection of the remembrances of people, which has been written down.
In that sense this is a history of Tulgey Woods, with the emphasis on the recent past.
My earliest memories of, what we called Compton Pathfields, and is now known as, Tulgey Woods, is more than seventy years ago, just before the start of the Second World War.
In those days the Pathfields were, of course, much bigger.
There were three entrances, one in Compton Vale, which is still there and more or less in its original position.
Another was at the end of Seymour Road, where it joins Culm Road. In those days there were no houses after this, until Efford, on the other side of the valley and known, in those days, as the “White City”.
Going on from Culm Road there were a couple of fields, which were fenced in, quite a lot of allotments and then a steep slope of scrubland down to a path at the bottom, and then on again to the little stream, which is still there.
After Culm Road the outline of Seymour Road continued, in a very rough, unmade road, well track more than road really, and off this was the rough outline of what is now Rockingham Road.
In that piece of land between Culm Road and Rockingham Road there was an electricity sub-station, which is still there, and, just a few yards away, was a steep sided bomb crater.
In the late summer and early autumn evenings local lads would occasionally light a fire in the bottom of the crater and, having raided the nearby allotments, would enjoy (if that’s the right word) a surreptitious supper of baked potatoes, followed by a, not so secret, Woodbine.
In those days, of course, most men smoked, a great many women did, and a very high percentage of boys. How perceptions have changed.
The third entrance was at the end of Elm Road, where, on the right, it joined the top of Ashford Hill (and where today there is a set of steps) On the left was the back lane of Bute Road, which in those days was always known as “The Cut”. It had the back wall of the gardens on one side and a hedge and a line of trees on the other.
Both Elm Road, and Ashford Hill, are very old thoroughfares and were in existence long before there were any houses, with the exception of the farm.
Just where they joined was the start of the Pathfields, indeed I think it was probably the continuation of Elm Road long before when they were all simple, unmade, tracks.
When I was young, nearly eighty years ago the entrance to the Pathfields, which was about ten foot wide, was closed by a single bar of wood with a small gap at one end, next to the hedge, that people could walk through.
That hedge was topped by a line of mature trees and it was possible for we boys to travel the whole length of Bute Road back lane in the tree tops. I, and most of my friends, did it many times; until we found something more interesting. They were called girls.
A few yards inside the Pathfields, on the right hand side, there was a track which led down to the farm, which was called Lipson Farm. It was right up against the railway embankment, but was much older than the railway.
The path went on with, on the right, a high hedge and a large sloping grass area on the left running up to the rough, unmade, Seymour Road.
This was divided by the outline of a road, but which eventually was not used. The grass area was known, rather unimaginatively, as First Field and Second Field.
The path then bent gently to the left and quite soon joined up with the bottom of the unmade Seymour Road, more or less where the junction of Seymour Road and Ashford Crescent is today.
Here it went downhill, towards Compton Vale, with allotments covering the ground on the left, and a steep slope of grass down to the stream at the bottom, which was divided by green painted railings.
The allotments ended at a hedge which ran uphill from the path and which met another hedge at the top.
There was a path, of sorts, alongside the hedge and the field, which was triangular in shape, was very ridged, almost like steps. I wonder now if it was the result of medieval ploughing.
At the top there was a break in the hedge so that people could walk through into what was the fourth field, and where, a few yards further on, there was a small dip or hollow which I believe is still there.
At the bottom of the hill the little stream had, sometime in the 1930s, been tidied up from what must have been its original, natural state, and was encased in a concrete channel.
My first memories of it would have been about 1938 or 1939 and were of workmen constructing the paddling pool at the end, with its little bridge.
I say “paddling pool” but I only ever saw it filled once, and that for only a matter of days. I remember hearing the adults say it was dangerous and some child would be drowned, so it was emptied again.
It must be remembered that children, in those days, played unattended over a wide area, It would have been many hours before a parent became worried by a child’s absence.
Beyond the paddling pool was the corporation tip. Were the two there at the same time? I can’t really remember, but certainly my first memories, of that area, was of the tip.
It was surrounded by a corrugated iron fence, and from the higher ground on either side we could watch the refuse lorries unloading the rubbish.
I believe that some of the rubble from the bombed buildings in Plymouth was also put there. Before long the tip was closed, the corrugated iron fence was removed and the area grassed over.
Then later it became the “home” for a lot of American soldiers, together with their transport. I wonder now if that was in late 1943 or early 1944 ready for the Second Front, the invasion of France.
As an aside, and nothing to do with the Pathfields, I remember walking, with my sister who was three years younger than me, from where we lived in Penlee Place out to our aunt’s house in Old Laira Road.
Just by the First World War memorial (and who knows where that is these days?) a convoy of American lorries went by and we were showered by packets of American Army “K Rations”.
These contained chocolate, biscuits and other things I can’t now remember, but all in fairly short supply for we British kids, a treat that our parents eked out over a long period.
In June 1943 St. Augustine’s Church, at the bottom of Alexandra Road, was bombed. But with the “Blitz Spirit”, the British had acquired by then, the vicar, Rev. Hugh Alexander, together with the congregation and about fifty children from the Sunday School, tramped up to the Pathfields, carrying a harmonium with them, and held their service in the First Field.
In those days the Pathfields really was an essential part of the area.
In the early days, perhaps up to about 1943, there were cows kept in the First and Second fields although I don’t remember them towards the end of the war.
There was also a horse, or maybe two. Certainly one was a shire horse, called Boxer, who wandered freely all over the Pathfields. If given a fairly wide berth there was never any trouble, although I do believe the horse considered the fields to be his domain and we humans were there on sufferance.
The war came to an end in 1945, rationing continued however, and we all got a little bit older and Compton Pathfields continued to be a part of the lives of most people in the area.
It would be quite common for people in the Ashford Road, Elm Road, area to go for an evening walk through the Pathfields to Compton and then, perhaps, on to Eggbuckland for a drink in the Prince Maurice Inn. And then walk home again; very few people had a car in those days.
I remember once sitting with a girl, in the little hollow at the top of what would be the fourth field. I think I may have been showing her some wild flowers, or something, when Boxer appeared through the hedge a little lower down.
We looked at him, not at that stage, unduly worried, and he looked at us, and then, without warning, he took off.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been charged by a ton and a half of carthorse, but there’s no time for, what today would be called, a “risk assessment”, the pair of us legged it. I can remember now the thunder of his hooves as he came up the hill towards us.
I went on ahead, to show the girl the best way through the hedge! Although I think she just beat me in the last few strides.
Boxer continued his charge, straight through the spot where we’d been sitting, before slowing down to a gentle evening stroll.
Just to put a happy ending to that story a few years later I married her!
In 1947 we had what, to people of my generation, is remembered as “The Great Freeze.” The snow came down unexpectedly during the day and by late afternoon everything was covered and the roads became a skating rink.
I remember coming home from school on the bus and we came down North Hill, towards Mutley Plain, sideways before the driver managed to straighten up at the bottom. Soon after that all the buses were stopped, and didn’t start again for two or three days.
So no school! And most kids in the area, and quite a few adults as well, went out to Compton Pathfields where in the fourth field, the one with the little hollow at the top, a very long, and fast, downhill toboggan run was made.
It was quite wide, almost all the width of the field, allowing several people to go down at the same time. So there must have been very little foliage there then as the run ended at the path.
Children and adults went down on anything they could find. There were a few, homemade sledges; there were quite a lot of trays, both wooden and tin; and there were even some pieces of corrugated iron sheets. I can assure you that, as I remember it, that run was as lethal as it sounds.
Did anyone break a leg? Probably. Did anyone break an arm? I’m almost sure I remember someone with their arm in a sling later. I don’t think anyone broke their neck, but life, and people, were a lot harder then. It was, after all, just after the war.
The Big Freeze and the toboggan run are one of my most vivid memories of Compton Pathfields sixty or seventy years ago.
Tulgey Woods is, of course, a very ancient place, but can we say, with any certainty, how old it may be?
In a sense, of course, it’s been there pretty much as it is now, forever. But for at least some of that time perhaps we can bring its history to life. We’ll have to look at the history of the area to make any sense.
The village of Compton has been recorded on maps of around 800 AD. It appears in the Doomsday Book of 1086, and it is almost certain that Tulgey Woods or, Compton Pathfields, played a part in the English Civil War that started in 1642.
Firstly we have to try and work out what the area was like five hundred, or more, years ago.
As we’ve seen Compton or, as it was known after about 1100 AD, Compton Gifford, was by then, a small but well established village.
There were several roads leading into, and out of, the village, some of them probably no more than tracks. Never-the-less perhaps as many as five of them can still be seen today.
In those days, long before the embankment at Laira was built, the whole area was tidal, and there was a huge amount of mud flats.
At each high tide the sea would have flooded what is now Trefusis Park. The tide also reached up, through the present Lipson Vale, to around the bottom of Alexandra Road. The whole area being known as Lipson Creek.
So to go from Compton Gifford village to anywhere in the area we now think of as Plymouth, you would have needed to either, go to the high ground at Mannamead, and join the main route from Plymouth to Tavistock or find a route that skirted around the high tide mark of Lipson Creek.
The lower path in Tulgey Woods, which is now called “The Permissive Path,” exactly fits the facts.
It started near, or maybe in, the village, went around the side of the hill above the high tide mark, and eventually joined Ashford Hill, with then a clear route up to Greenback, and so on to Plymouth.
In December 1643, during the English Civil War, the Royalist forces under Prince Maurice were camped at Widey Court. Their basic plan was to take Plymouth from the Parliamentarians.
In order to do this they are recorded as advancing through Compton Gifford village, and on around Lipson Creek. Then, in the vicinity of what now is known as Prince Maurice Road, they met, and fought, the Roundheads. The Royalists lost the battle and had to retreat, back the way they had come.
Can it be proved that the Royalists used the Permissive Path? Well let’s look at the facts.
We know that the Royalists had their headquarters at Widey Court, a manor house and Royalist stronghold.
On the 3rd December 1643 they advanced to the nearby village of Eggbuckland and from there down the sloping ground to the valley, where the modern Parkway now is, and up the other side.
There was then, and still is today, a pathway that leads up between, what is now, the back of Hollycroft road and the back of Brynmoor Park. They would then have crossed the present day Eggbuckland Road, which was then a main route to Plympton, and then down Chapel Way. It may very well have been called that in those days and the chapel referred to was Eggbuckland church.
Arriving in the village of Compton Gifford what did they find? In front of them, going down out of the village, they would have come to the head of the creek, and the water, and the mud flats.
To the right was a thickly wooded, and steeply rising, hill covered, undoubtedly, in bracken and brambles.
But running from the village, or very near, was a path which would take them above the water line and around the hill bordering Lipson Creek.
In less than a mile it met up with a side track, the present day Ashford Hill, which led directly to the bottom of the hill leading up to the area where history tells us they met, fought, and lost to the Roundheads.
There is only one place that fits the recorded facts, of running from Compton village and around Lipson Creek, and that is the path in what I knew as Compton Pathfields, and what is now called, Tulgey Woods.
So when you walk along the Permissive Path now remember you are walking on the last piece of land ,in that area, that has remained virtually untouched, for a thousand years or more.
And try and imagine whose footsteps you may be treading in. Sixty or seventy years ago there was a Peter, and a Dave, and a Reggie, and a Paul. I was the Paul.
Three hundred years before that there was possibly a John, and probably a Henry, and certainly there was a Maurice.
And now there is you. All of us a part of the continuing, living history that is Tulgey Woods.
Author and historian, Paul Cox presents Sam with this essay. Thank you Paul :-)
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