Sherrack – the underground press emerges in Totnes

Sherrack magazine was, as far as I can discover, the first example of the ‘underground’ press to emerge in Totnes. I believe that the North Devon Snail (later just the Snail) may have been available in Collards in the early 1970s but Sherrack was very much a product of the local culture. The name was an old Devon phrase to ‘shake things up’. It is of course very hard to establish the direct impact of the magazine but there is no doubt that it did enable the expression and circulation of countercultutural ideas.

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Sherrack was a community magazine that existed for 21 issues between April 1975 and December 1978. Editions were numbered but not always dated, making the exact publication date of some issues slightly obscure. The editorial in the first edition stated that

We hope this magazine will be used by the community as a means of communication. We invite you to send us your comments, letters, ideas, articles that you think will be of interest, poems, illustrations, forthcomings etc.

Sherrack No. 1, April 1975, p. 1

Sherrack was produced by a group of volunteers who, for a period, also ran a market stall to help cover the production costs. It also took advertisements from several of the enterprises which met countercultural needs in the town, including the Arcturus bookshop, Salago, Sacks and Conker. Some of the team behind the magazine had Dartington connections including Chris Mitchell, one of the founders, whose parents Leila and Douglas Mitchell had settled in the area in 1948. During its existence Sherrack covered an eclectic range of issues and topics including numerous articles on alternative and new age issues. For example, homeopathic medicine (issue 3); chiropody (4); self-sufficiency and localisation (7); macrobiotics (10); homosexuality (6); self-sufficiency (11); re-evaulation counselling (11); living the ‘alternative’ life; (14); home birth (14); alternative healthcare directory (17); and ley lines (17). In this way the magazine played a role in the circulation of ideas and publicised local groups involved in these activities. In particular it had close relationships with Hood Faire and the Totnes Natural Health Centre.

Sherrack also had a campaigning edge. It raised local issues such as the impact of tourism, housing problems in the area, and the redevelopment of the Plains in the town centre. For wider issues it provided a platform for causes such as the local branch of the Chile Committee for Human Rights and for anti-nuclear sentiments. It also provided a platform for artists and writers to present their work. The back cover of Issue 2 was illustrated by Jimmy Cauty, later of the successful musical outfit KLF, who in the mid 1990s under the guise of the K Foundation, found infamy for apparently burning one million pounds as an act of ‘art’. Another contributor and later part of the editorial team was Guy Dauncey. He contributed several articles notably the first external critique of Dartington, ‘Community Lost – A close look at the realities of Dartington’ (Issue 13). The critique drew a number of responses from the Trust which were published in the next issue. However, the critique did not prevent Dauncey from getting employed by the Trust, nor Dartington businesses from stocking Sherrack indicating the organisations openness to constructive critique and dialogue at that time. Some of Dauncey’s work for the Trust was prompted by the ‘Unemployment Handbook’ that he published in Sherrack 10. Discussing what were then fairly novel ideas of a ‘post-industrial’ revolution it provides a range of advice for unemployed people, recommending, amongst other things, co-operatives, organic growing and community control, challenging conventional ideas of ‘work’. This guide was to later be published and his subsequent book After the Crash played an important role in popularising LETS community currencies in the UK. He also later wrote the ‘ecotopian’ novel Earthfuture.  The point here, however, is that Sherrack played an important role in connecting and building the alternative milieu around Totnes and making it more visible. As the Dartington Hall News commented when it published a guide to local alternative health practitioners:

…a guide like this is invaluable to those who are interested and not yet part of the alternative ‘underground’ where news gets around by word of mouth

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One Response to Sherrack – the underground press emerges in Totnes

  1. eartheart says:

    Noel

    A friend of mine wrote PhD on why Lancaster was an alternative City – the largest Green Party council group in the country in a NW region not known for its sustainable credentials. You can contact me if you’d like to know more – it is a good read

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