My exploration of the pages of the Ancestry website reveal the family tree to be more a hedgerow than a tree, cousins of varying degree intermarrying so that relationships can be stated in various ways. Uncle Jack, a man who joined the army at the age of sixteen and survived appalling privations as a prisoner of war, appears not only as the husband of my Aunt Augusta, but also as my second cousin twice removed.
Among the intermarrying cousins was an Alfred, son of a great great granduncle who married, Lucy, daughter of his uncle Alfred.
However, what caught the eye this evening was Alfred’s place of death – Newton Abbot. He had died on 21st March 1952 in the Devon market town. It seemed a good place to die.
Newton Abbot in itself was probably not very exciting. I last visited the town in 2017, my first visit in forty years, and it had less life about it than it had possessed in the 1970s. Perhaps in the 1950s, it had been a livelier place, certainly its railway station would have made it a significant place.
Whatever the merits of the town itself, Newton Abbot has always seemed a good place to be. Within easy reach are places that would make perfect any holiday.
By train, there is Totnes in one direction and Exeter in the other. With the passing years, Totnes has seemed a more and more desirable place to pass the time. There is both a gentility and a cutting edge quality in its unspoiled streets. Exeter has recovered from the vandalism of the post-war architecture that had been necessitated by one of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Baedeker’ raids.
The railway journey from Newton Abbot to Exeter must be one of the most pleasant in England, down the Teign to Teignmouth, then along the shoreline past Dawlish, before following the Exe estuary up to the county town. It is a journey that seems timeless on a gentle summer’s day.
And, away from the frequently-jammed roads and the crowded resorts, there is the vastness of Dartmoor, a place to abandon the car and just to walk into the wilderness.
Newton Abbot conjures such a range of images and memories that to be there would provide a constant supply of thoughts. Perhaps the memory is faulty, but one of the most lingering images is there being a carriage in one of the sidings bearing the name of David & Charles, publishers of books that would have delighted a boy travelling through the town.