© Derek Harper
What's in a Name - Tuckenhay
There are few places that I know of that are named after a definitive person who ‘founded’ them - but Tuckenhay is one of them.
Nestled away in a stunning and secluded valley on the banks of the Dart, Tuckenhay is a place that seems to have magic to it, with the huge buildings of the paper mill rising above all else in the village.
The village was started by one Abraham Tucker, either late in the 18th or early in the 19th century – he claimed to have been working in the area for ‘these ten years’ in his last will and testament, written in 1806.
Originally from Bridport, Mr Tucker started an offshoot of the family’s business: Richard Tucker and Sons. Its principal trade was hemp and flax processing.
Abraham didn’t rest on his laurels when he was here – he installed a ‘gas works’ to provide lighting for his home. It was one of the first in Britain – locals claim it as the first gas lighting system in the world, but unfortunately that official title goes to Redruth in Cornwall in 1792. As Abraham wasn’t in Tuckenhay until 1796 we know it couldn’t have been THE first (even if he built it very quickly) but it was still ONE OF the first.
Abraham passed away in 1810 and handed on the business to members of his family, entrusting the main job of running it to his nephew John Chilcott.
It’s not clear they did the best job, as it closed in 1829. But the buildings it had occupied were then reborn as a high-class paper mill, owned and run by Richard Turner. He added, expanded and improved the buildings to allow his business, which made full use of the nearby river for deliveries and moving out stock to buyers, to flourish.
The paper was the very highest quality and was used for Royal Proclamations and by artists too. The mill became very successful. In 1841 (the first recording of the state of the business) Mr Turner claimed to be employing 12 men and women in the mill. By 1857, more than 100 were employed in the various parts of the business.
It continued successfully,until the middle of the 20th Century – but its wonderful, classy product was becoming old fashioned and above all too expensive to be widely bought. Although the mill celebrated the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 because the proclamation of the event was printed on paper made at the mill, it was in fact one of only 4 hand-made paper mills remaining in the country. In 1962 it stopped producing paper and reverted to solely producing pulp for larger paper factories and in 1970 it shut completely.
For more than 100 years it had been a major employer on the Dart – another story of woe for the area that also lost much of its industry and marine employment in the 1970s, including the closure of Philip & Son’s ship production in 1974.
Alongside the paper mill, other industries had built up, including cider and malt - and the malt house, run by Thomas Edmonds, later gave its name to the pub alongside the creek.
More than one hundred years later. a little-known young chef by the name of Keith Floyd bought the place, pouring more than £1milllion into its development. Suddenly the village and surrounding towns became haunts of tabloid journalists looking for a story or two, as the original bad boy of TV Celebrity Chef-dom made his mark on the local area. He didn’t disappoint, marrying and then having a tempestuous relationship (though I’m not sure he had any other sort of relationship) with a Dartmouth girl.
In 1996 Floyd - who had in truth neglected the business for his other pursuits – sold the business. Folklore has him being forced into the sale after letting a group of guests run up a £36,000 bar bill (he stocked some outrageously expensive wines, as one would hope) and accepted a cheque as payment. It bounced!
Nowadays the Paper Mill has been converted into high-class holiday homes, nestling in their stunning valley, and the village is no longer serenaded by the sounds of various industries and unloading boats. But the echoes remain and the village retains a strong, proud and welcoming character.
First published May/June 2013 By The Dart