Wessex On Screen: The Mother of Dartmoor

 The Mother of Dartmoor is a 1916 British silent drama film directed by George Loane Tucker., based on the novel The Mother by Eden Philpotts. It’s also a very difficult film to write about, at’s not clear whether any copies even survive more than a century later. Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), abd Letterboxd only have scant details about it, and it is not available to view on YouTube or any streaming service. In desperation, I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about it. Now, ChatGPT is notorious for simply making things up when it doesn’t know the answer to a question, so I can’t guarantee that any of what follows is accurate. But here’s what it came up with:

In the rugged and hauntingly beautiful landscape of Dartmoor, a gripping tale unfolds. The heart of the story revolves around a mother’s love, loyalty, and the painful choices she must make.

Avesa Pomeroy, portrayed by the talented Elisabeth Risdon, finds herself in an agonizing predicament. Her son, Ives Pomeroy (played by Bertram Burleigh), is ensnared in a forbidden love affair with a married woman. Driven by passion, he turns to poaching, risking everything for the sake of this illicit romance.

But fate takes a cruel turn. Avesa, torn between her maternal instincts and the law, testifies against her own flesh and blood. Ives is sentenced to prison, and the weight of her decision hangs heavily upon her.

As the silent film unfolds, we witness the emotional turmoil, the stark beauty of Dartmoor, and the moral complexities that bind these characters. The haunting silence of the moors mirrors the unspoken grief and sacrifice that permeate the narrative.

Cast:

  • Elisabeth Risdon as Avesa Pomeroy: Her portrayal of a conflicted mother torn between love and duty is both poignant and powerful.
  • Bertram Burleigh as Ives Pomeroy: His performance captures the desperation of a man trapped by desire and circumstance.
  • Enid Bell as Jill Wicket: The enigmatic woman who ignites Ives’ passion.
  • George Bellamy as Matthew Northmore: The stern figure of justice who presides over the trial.
  • Sydney Fairbrother as Mrs. Bolt: A secondary character whose presence adds depth to the story.
  • Frank Stanmore as Sammy Bolt: A fellow poacher entangled in the web of secrets.
  • Hubert Willis as Moleskin: A mysterious figure lurking in the shadows.

The Mother of Dartmoor resonates beyond its silent frames. It explores themes of sacrifice, love, and the inexorable ties that bind families. The haunting landscapes of Dartmoor serve as a metaphor for the human soul—wild, untamed, and often unfathomable.

Though silent, this film speaks volumes about the human condition. It reminds us that our choices ripple through generations, leaving indelible marks on those we love.

As we revisit this cinematic relic, let us honor the silent era—a time when storytelling transcended words. The Mother of Dartmoor invites us to reflect on our own allegiances, the sacrifices we make, and the echoes of our decisions across time.

So, dear reader, step into the mist-shrouded moors, listen to the silent whispers of the past, and immerse yourself in the haunting beauty of this forgotten gem.

Wessex in Fiction: Wolf Solent

Wolf Solent is a 1929 novel by John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), the first of his four Wessex novels, though he was living in New York City when he wrote it. It tells of the eponymous character, modelled on Powys himself, returning to his childhood home town of Ramsgard in Dorset, a fictionalised version of Sherborne, following a mental breakdown which had cost him his previous job as a history teacher in London. There, he takes up a job as a literary assistant to the squire of nearby Kings Barton, modelled on Bradford Abbas.The novel chronicles his inner turmoil as he comes to believe that the book he is working on is immoral, and the squire the embodiment of evil.

The novel was published to great critical acclaim. VS Pritchett, writing in The Spectator, called it “as beautiful and strange as an electric storm”. However, this strangeness has meant that Powys has always remained something of a cult author, and has never achieved the mainstream appeal of Thomas Hardy, whose Wessex novels provided the model for Powys’s.

St Ealdhelm’s Day 2015: Salisbury’s Chequers

This article originally appeared in Wessex Chronicle Volume 16, Issue 2 (Summer 2015)

Jim Gunter’s annual tour for St Ealdhelm’s Day this year visited Salisbury. Jim’s notes for the our run to 50 pages and so only the faintest flavour of the experience can be reproduced here. We started at Crane Street Bridge, calling first at the nearby Diocesan Offices, still
with the original 15th century doors.

Then we were off into the city centre, stripping back the centuries to consider how Salisbury – New Sarum – has evolved since its foundation as a planned settlement in the 13th century. Some 170 new towns were built in England between 1066 and 1350, but Salisbury is the only one planned as a cathedral city and this shows in the contrast between the ecclesiastical Close and the Chequers, the grid plan of commercial streets to its north. Each block has a name, often taken from one of the pubs, as do many of the corners. Because the Bishop of Salisbury controlled the land and regulated its use, and because the records have survived, it is possible to trace which trades have used which streets when and even who was in residence. Modern street names are no guide to past uses as trades have moved around. Even the Poultry Cross

was originally the site where fruit and veg were sold; the original poultry market was in Silver Street. In the side streets, many mediæval buildings have survived relatively unchanged.

Even in the main streets, once it’s remembered that the shopfronts are new and that behind those Georgian windows lurk half-timbered buildings, on plots whose dimensions are fixed by ancient deeds, it becomes clear that the city remains remarkably true to its original plan. There’s been infilling (the Market Place today being about half its original size), plots have been amalgamated and sub-divided and roof lines have been raised

but look up or in and you see a different Salisbury from the one of chain stores and motor traffic. Two examples must suffice. Externally, the Odeon cinema on New Canal looks like modern mock Tudor.

Inside it’s something much older, its foyer

being the hall of a mediæval merchant’s house, restored in the 1830s by A W N Pugin, the neo-Gothic architect and designer who worked on the Houses of Parliament, and sensitively adapted in the 1930s by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. It’s a surreal experience to walk from the ticket counter to the auditorium by way of something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Harry Potter film. The hall was built between 1470 and 1483 by a Hall, John Hall, a leading Wiltshire wool dealer.We broke for coffee at the Boston Tea Party, whose premises occupy the former Old George Hotel in High Street. Upstairs is all half-timber, panelling and plaster, including some striking wyverns.

Occasionally, an old building emerges from its modern skin; the example on the corner of the Market Place

is now known as ‘Nuggs 1268’, referring to the name of the first known occupier and the date of occupation, though this is of the plot not the building, which dates from a century or two later. A mere youngster by Salisbury standards. Besides its ancient tradition of commerce, Salisbury also has a fine heritage of public buildings, such as the Guildhall (the latest of several civic chambers that have moved location around the Market Place), St Thomas’ Church with its dramatic ‘Doom’ painting and local coats-of-arms, St Edmund’s Church and numerous imposing almshouses.After lunch at our usual venue, the Royal George, we searched the grounds of Wiltshire County Council’s offices, further up on Bedwin Street, for an 17th century urn.

It marks the spot where some old armour was discovered and assigned at the time to the Anglo-Saxon era, relics, it was thought, of King Cynric’s battle against the Britons in 552.

The Latin inscription is worn now but starts off with a reference to ‘Cynricus, Occidentalium Saxonum Rex’. So close to our regular meeting point and all that; we couldn’t have planned it better.

    Wessex Attractions: Hinton Ampner

    Hinton Ampner is a National Trust-property near Alresford, Hampshire, noted for its beautiful gardens, The house, originally a Tudor mansion, but extensively renovated since, has been lovingly restored after a devastating fire in 1960 gutted it, leaving just a shell.

    The original building was probably constructed in the 1540s, although no record survives that can date it precisely. It has been rebuilt at least three times since then, the last restoration being completed just a few months before the fire that destroyed it. It took three months before the house was habitable again.

    The extensive gardens feature over 20 different varieties of dahlia, a pumpkin patch, and a lily pond. They are divided into several “rooms”, including a sunken garden, an orchard, and a walled garden.

    Part of the estate at Hinton Ampner is given over to regenerative farming, avoiding the use of harmful chemicals and rotating crops to allow wildflowers to grow. The Trust plans to sell beef from its herd of Sussex cattle, as well as honey from its beehives, cereals, fruit and nuts.

    The postcode for Hinton Ampner is SO24 0LA. Stagecoach bus number 67 from Winchester to Petersfield stops within 5 minutes walk of the main entrance, and transfers are available from Alresford station on the heritage Mid-Hants Steam Railway.

    Essential Wessex: Hobby Horses

    Hobby Horses are not unique to Wessex, or even Britain, but there are some notable hobby horse festivals here. A hobby horse is a costumed character representing a horse, that takes part in processions and festivals, usually around May Day.

    The Minehead ‘Obby ‘Oss dates back to at least 1830. It features three rival horses, built around a boat-shaped wooden frame. In nearby Dunster, there was a similar festival in the past, and the two towns’ horses would sometimes visit each other, but this tradition sadly seems to have died out.

    In Combe Martin, Devon an annual tradition called the Hunting of the Earl of Rone sees a hobby horse and fool hunting the titular Earl. It was revived in 1974, having previously been banned in 1837. The origins of the festival are unknown, though it is believed locally to refer to the Earl of Tyrone, who fled Ireland in 1607.

    Unlike the other two festivals, which take place in May, the Banbury Folk Festival previously took place in October. The last one was in 2022, and no festival has been announced yet for 2024, but it featured a hobby horse procession.

    Small personal horses, known as tourney horses, are also a feature of Morris dancing.