Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 10 of 22)
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that careful draughtsmen in London declined the
responsibility of deciding which county Exmoor was
in, and, as the lawyers would say, ex ahimdante
cautela described it as in both.

The second ground, that of entries in the Forest
Rolls, will be found on examination not to bear out
the contention in favour of Devon, but rather the
other way. The principal entry is given as follows
by Mr. Rawle :

" They '' — that is the forest officers, the verderers,
and jurors — " say that Roger Ackelane and Walter
Trommere caught and killed one calf stag within the
Hundred of Wytherugge, within the regard of the
aforesaid Forest of Exmoor, which regard is one and
extends as well within the county of Somerset as
that of Devon. . . . And they saw that all
officers of the aforesaid forest in the county of
Somerset undoubtedly have authority to enter that
part of the regard which is in the county of

The word regard is sometimes used in two
senses. Its primary meaning is the actual inspec-
tion of the forest every third year by the officers,
called regarders, who examined all encroachments,
technically called waste, assarte, and purpresture,
and saw to the lawing of all mastiffs, and



reported generally as to everything affecting the

Their jurisdiction was confined to the territory
within the metes, or meres, and bounds of the
forest Hence the word '' regard " came also to be
used as meaning the territory over which the
regarders exercised their office.

The inquisition, which is dated 1366, is headed, as
Is the case with all the inquisitions of which we
have records, and they extend from 1257 to 1368,
" Concerning the state of Exmoor Forest, in the
county of Somerset " ; further, it will be noticed that
the presentment itself describes the forest as in the
county of Somerset, but sets up a claim to enter
that part of the " regard which is in the county of
Devon." This looks like an attempt of the forest
officers to draw a distinction between the forest itself
and the regard of the forest.

It will be noted that John, when freeing the county
of Devon, perpetuated certain restrictions as to deer
leaps and such-like unlawful contrivances on lands
which marched with the Forest of Exmoor. These
restrictions obviously would be inoperative unless the
forest officers of Exmoor could enforce them, as
there were no forest officials in Devon having juris-
diction ; hence it is suggested the claim was set up
that certain parts of Devon were within the regard
of Exmoor for these purposes. The claim with
regard to the Hundred of Witheridge, no part of
which is within many miles of Exmoor, and the whole


of which is cut off from it by the Hundreds of Bamp-
ton and South Molton, was absurd, and the court
naturally made no order on this case, so that the
utmost that can be said of this representation is
that it is a claim upon which the court declined
to adjudicate. But the case is still stronger.
Throughout the century for which there are
records of forest courts there are numerous charges
against men of Devon, who entered the forest and
committed offences in the forest, and in these cases
writs were issued to the Sheriff of Devon to bring
them up for judgment.

There are only three cases in which a man is
accused of an offence committed in Devon. The
first is in 1336, when " Roger de Cotecumbe found
a stag in his rye on Molland Hill, which is two
leagues or more outside the said forest, which stag
the same Roger killed," and on this no order was
made. The other cases are in 1365 and 1366. At
that time the forestership had passed to Edmund
Mortimer, Earl of March, who was a minor, for whom
Richard de Acton on the first occasion and Guy de
Brien on the second, each having futher deputed
their powers, were officiating as deputies. No
doubt these new officers acting for a minor were
anxious to make the utmost of their power. In 1365
James de Andele, of North Molton — the Yandles of
to-day are among the best sportsmen in the county —
was accused of having his " park badly enclosed, so
that the deer of the Lord King can enter therein, to

L 2


the injury of the forest in the county of Devon." The
court made no order, no doubt from want of

It may be noted that in 1267 Longwood, in the
parish of North MoUon, was officially declared to be
outside the bounds of the forest.

In the next year we have the forest officers bringing
up the case against Roger Ackeland and appending
it to a specific claim to jurisdiction on which the
court made no order.

A case which rests on a claim three times asserted,
and on each occasion disallowed, cannot be said to be
proved in the face of three perambulations, two in
1279 and one in 1298, which all specifically state
the boundary on the Devon side to be coterminous
with the boundaries of the counties, and one
perambulation in 1651 which sets out the bounds in
detail, and they prove on examination to be identical
with the county boundary, saving that between the
dates mentioned Oare had been severed from the
forest of Exmoor.

The forest is roughly divided into the north and
south forests, but where the boundary comes is not
apparent ; it is doubtful if there ever was such a
boundary, but if there were, it was probably either at
the river Exe or the Bade. The term north forest
has come to be applied to a small stretch of trappy
ground lying between Buscombe and the Brendon
road ; this seems to have arisen solely from the fact
that it was on this unoccupied bit of the map that the


makers of the old ordnance survey chose to write the
words " North Forest." In the same way they wrote
" South Forest " across a tract of land near Winter-
shead, and these are the names they are generally
known by to this day ; they have no other significance
as far as can be traced.



Were the forester here now right "

Thy words should like thee ill.

He has with him young men three,

They be archers of this contre,

The King to serve at will,

To keep the deer both day and night.

King Edward and the Shepherd.

'i WO main causes seem to have tended to the
preservation of the red deer in the West, while in
other parts of England they became extinct. In
the first place the nucleus of the wild rough country
which they have made their own consisted of royal
forest, and, in the second place, the existence of a
pack of staghounds.

On Dartmoor (also a joyal forest), the deer were
destroyed because of the damage they did to the
farm lands in the neighbourhood — after the Dukes
of Bedford ceased to keep staghounds at Tavistock,
and a similar fate befell the herds in almost all the
forests and chaces in the kingdom.

Gilbert White, writing of Woolmer Forest, where
the deer had then recently been exterminated, says :
"Though large herds of deer do much harm to the


neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the
people is of more moment than the loss of their
crops. The temptation is irresistible, for most men
are sportsmen by constitution, and there is such an
inherent spirit for hunting in human nature as scarce
any inhibitions can restrain. Hence about the begin-
ning of this century " (the eighteenth) " this country
was wild about deer stealing. ... A late Bishop
of Winchester, when urged to restock Waltham
Chase, refused from a motive worthy of a prelate,
replying, ' It had done mischief enough already.' "

It has never been alleged that the existence of the
red deer on Exmoor had any ill-effect on the morals
of the district, and it is perhaps permissible to suggest
that the reason for this satisfactory state of things
is to be found in the existence of the staghounds.
In Woolmer and other forests the deer were pre-
served for the most part for the amusement of Royal
and other important personages, and the dwellers in
the district had no share in the sport, except, such
as they helped themselves to illegitimately. In
Somerset and Devon, on the other hand, where a
regular pack of staghounds was kept, certainly as
far back as the reign of Elizabeth, and probably much
earlier, the whole neighbourhood was able to par-
ticipate in the hunting, and the temptation to illicit
sport was reduced to a minimum.

In the bad times between 1825, when the old pack
was sold, and 1856, when Mr. Bisset took over the
country, hunting was carried on in a spasmodic,


half-hearted style, and the herd of deer was reduced
to a very low ebb. The poacher was everywhere at
work, and it is a tradition that the bells were rung at
Exford to celebrate the shooting of a hind. In " The
Autobiography of a Poacher," John Holcombe, of
Dulverton, who is still alive and well, though getting
up -in years, recounts his early misdeeds, and the
open way in which poached \-enison was disposed of
in Dulverton. Mr. Thornton, in his book already
alluded to, states that there were on the Exmoor
side of the country in 1848 about thirty deer all told,
and perhaps as many more on the Dulverton side ;
but as the fortunes of staghunting revived, the
poacher ceased his work — public opinion was too
strong for him — and the deer began once more to
increase and multiply, till the herd now can only be
numbered in hundreds.

The history of the West Country, from a hunting
point of view, would be singularly interesting if it
could be set out in detail, but the materials are very
slight, permitting us only to note from time to time
details of some long forgotten person or event, from
which we may gain some slight insight into the life
of the inhabitants of the districts, and the changes
that came over them.

Presumably the forest of Exmoor belonged to the
Crown, and the Saxon kings made it a royal forest,
that is to say, a stretch of country where the game,
particularly the red deer, were preserved under the
sanction of the forest laws.


We have no means of knowing the exact
boundaries of the forest at this time, but when
William the Conqueror annexed it with all the other
" ancient forests " — that is forests that were
accounted as such in the reign of Edward the
Confessor — he was also in possession of Porlock^
Winsford, Nettlecombe, and the other possessions
of the Saxon kings. The forest of Exmoor, being
dominium regis, is not included in the Doomsday
survey which was made for taxation purposes only^
but we find from that source that the manor of
Withypool was held at the time of the Conquest by
Dodo, Ulmar, and Godric, who are described as
" three foresters of Exmoor," and the land was
adjudged to be thaneland, held direct of the Crown^
as was also land held by Dodo in Winsford, probably
the farms of Worth and Westwater.

These lands William seized and bestowed them
on one D'Auberville or D'Odburville, one of his
servants, on whom he also conferred the King's Park
and the office of forester of the royal forest at

The name occurs in the list of those to whom the
Conqueror granted lands, after the names of all the
churchmen and great nobles. " D'Auberville et alii
servientes." William rewarded a number of his.
servants with manors in Somerset. To Humphrey his
Chamberlain he granted Curry Rivel and Curry Malet;,
Hugh Butler, the King's Cup Bearer, held lands
near Stoke Courcy under the de Courcys ; John the


Porter held Chilton Trivet, Hemstile, and Idstock,
between the Ouantocks and the river Parret ;
Ansger, the cook, had the manor of Lilstock ; while
Ansger Focarius, or the hearth keeper, was granted
lands in Petherton and at Durleigh. What office did
Robert D'Auberville hold ? We know that he was
granted the lands belonging to the Saxon foresters,
and that he held them directly from the King in
^rand serjeanty, the service being the forestership
of Exmoor and Petherton ; it is a fair inference that
he held the important office of royal huntsman, even
if not the more important office of master of the

These same lands at Hawkridge and Withypool
together with the hereditary forestership were subse-
quently, in 1 199, given to a Kentish man, William de
Wrotham, who seems to have been the king's chief
forester for all the forests in Somerset and Dorset.

The de Wrothams, from whom are decended the
families of Wrothe and Worth, held large estates,
and occupy a prominent part in the sporting
chronicles of the West of England.

William de Wrotham was succeeded in his estates
and offices by his son William, who, being Arch-
deacon of Taunton, deputed his brother Richard to
act for him. He was succeeded by his nephew
Richard, who died without issue in 1251, when the
forestership devolved on William de Placetis, or de
Plecy, whose father, Hugh, had married Muriel de
Wrotham, Richard's sister. He in turn was


succeeded by Richard de Plecy, who died without
children in 1289, and the forestership devolved on
his sister Sabina, who in 1307 married Nicholas
Pecche. She was followed by her son Nicholas
Pecche and her grandson Mathew Pecche, who
in 1337 sold the estates and the office of forester in
fee to Sir Richard d'Amori, who paid a fine to the
Crown of £20/^ Sir Richard d'Amori sold a life
interest to Mathew de Clevedon, and subsequently
to Roger Beauchamp, who tranferred the whole
interest to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, in 1359.
This terminated what may be called the first period
of the history of Exmoor. This was a stirring and
troublous period of history, not only round Exmoor,
but over the whole of England. The iron hand of
the Norman had closed down on the land, and in
respect of nothing with more ruthless tyranny than
with regard to the game in the Royal forests.

Incidentally, it may be mentioned that the word
forest does not necessarily imply trees, though
Manwood seems to hold the opinion that covert for
deer is essential to a forest — it means a place where
fierce, wild animals, particularly deer, had special
protection by law.

With the exception of a few quite modern planta-
tions, there are not, and probably never were, within
the bounds of the forest of Exmoor, as determined

* It is worthy of note that at about the same period the Pecches
sold Beaurepaire, in Hampshire, to Sir Bernard Brocas, the here-
ditary Master of the Royal Buckhounds.


by the perambulation of 1298, any woods at all, and
this is specifically stated in an affidavit filed in 1622 in
an action regarding sheep trespassing on the forest.
Walter Dollen, husbandman of Stoke Pero, deposed :
" That there are no woods nor copses other than one
oake called Kite Oake and a few thornes growinge
here and there within the saide Forest, nor any other
shelter for deere other than sedgebusshes, rush-
busshyes, fearnes, heath, or such like."

The Kite Oak was, no doubt, on Kittuck, the
green enclosure over which the field hardly ever
rides, between Manor Allotment and the head of the
Chalk Water. This absence of covert in the true
forest itself probably partly occasioned the continued
attempts on the part of the Crown and the foresters
to include within the "regard of the forest" the
immense coverts in the surrounding district.

The forest laws imposed by the Norman Kings
were brutally cruel. Death, loss of eyes, limbs, and
other mutilations were the penalties exacted for the
crime of interfering with the King's red deer ;
some of the Kings mitigated the severity of the
law, but they exacted ruinous fines coupled with

The organisation of a Royal forest was a very
complete arrangement, and ensured not only the
safety of the game, but the collection of a good deal
of revenue, and the existence of a large body of
men, serving directly under the Crown, whose duties
would enable them to see and hear all that was


going on in the district. The chief forest oflficers
were :

The forester in fee, who had general charge, and
was responsible for seeing that the other officers did
their duty. He made his report to the King's Justices
in Eyre when they came into the county to hold the
forest courts. These in the county of Somerset
seem to have been held mostly at Ilchester and

The forester's badge of office was a horn, which
he delivered on bended knee to the justice at the
forest court, receiving the same back on payment of
a fee of 6s. ^d.

Under the forester in fee were " riding foresters"
and " foresters on foot," to each of whom was awarded
a district or beat. They were to be as many as
necessary, but not more so. The allowance of
Exmoor seems to have been one " riding forester,"
whose duty it would be to pilot the king, or other chief
personage, when out hunting, his pay being £6 i6s.,
and two men on foot, who drew -^4 i is. between

Verderers were officers whose special province it
was to look after all coverts, woods, and what they
call in the West Country " green meat " — to see, in
fact, that nothing was done to decrease the food and
shelter of the deer. They were judicial officers,
elected by the freeholders, and presided at the
courts of Swanimote, held three times a year on the
forest. Here they inquired into offences de viridi, or


committed the offenders for trial at the forest court,
taking sureties for their attendance. The principal
offences were waste, that is cutting down woodlands
or burning heather ; the more serious offence of
assarte, which consisted of grubbing up woodlands
or heath, so that they would never grow again, and
cultivating the land ; and purpresture, or enclosing a
piece of ground.

As examples of these three kinds of offence we
find in the rolls of 1257 :

" Putteford Wood is wasted of old by Gervaise
Juans, who is dead, and Adam Juans, half a mark,
now holds it, therefore he is in mercy half a mark.

" From VVarinne de Seccheville for old waste in
Oare wood half a mark.

" From Hillary de Munceaus for old waste in
Ashway wood half a mark.

" From Walter de Sydenham for old waste in
Sydenham wood half a mark."

It was customary for the Crown to acquiesce in an
old waste and allow the offender to continue to
cultivate it on payment of a fine at each court.
Compare the following :

" From John Parson, of Hawkridge, for sowing one
acre and a half once with rye and twice with beans 35'.
And because he made this assarte newly without
warrant, therefore he is in mercy and the land is
taken into the hand of the Lord King.

" Hameline le Fugel and Henry le Fugel and
Matilda de la Bere made of old a certain purpresture


of one acre at Long Acre (Landacre) in the demesne
of the Lord King, and it was sown once with rye and
twice with beans.

" From the same for nine acres sown with beans
and three acres with rye, 7^. 6^.

" From the aforesaid HameHne for one acre of
meadow occupied in three regards 35'. (occupied for
nine years)."

To be " in mercy " is to be fined.

The foresters were practically gamekeepers, and
they presented at the forest courts offences against
the venison of the Lord King.

In the record of the same forest court quoted
from above we find :

" It is presented by the foresters, and by Adam
de Joans, half a mark, and Robert de la Sterte, 45-.
verderers (the amounts of money being the amounts
of their securities), that on Thursday next after
Epiphany, year thirty-seven (1253), Oliver de Tracy,
Walter his son, Henry Peet, and Hugh le Waleys
entered the forest with greyhounds with the intent of
wrongful hunting, but took nothing. And they
have not come now, and were not attached because
they belonged to Devonshire and immediately

These Tracys were continually giving trouble by
poaching. They occupied the old manor-house at
Bremridge, close to Castle Hill. They were out-
lawed and the four townships nearest where the crime
was committed were fined. Ashway 46-., Exford


half a mark, Almsworthy half a mark, and
Doverhay half a mark.

It is noticeable that Ashway, now a single farm, is
treated as a separate township, and that Withypool
is left out, probably because William de Plecy, the
forester, was lord of the manor and would have had
to find most of the fine.

He could not always escape in the same way, for
the same record shows that one William Herlewyne
and three companions caught a stag in Hawkridge
Wood in 1 249, and took him away to Braunton,
Not being found he was outlawed. " An inquisition
was made on the stag by four townships, Hawkridge
4^., Dulverton 53-., Winsford half a mark, and
Withypool 45., which could find out nothing else
thereof. And because they did not come in full, etc.,
therefore they are in mercy," which means were
fined accordingly.

In 1270 we find the Tracys again at work, and
apparently Thomas Tracy, who died before he could
be caught, and " his men whose names are unknown,
roused a stag within the liberties of the County of
Devon/" probably in Bremridge or Hache Wood or
Syndercombe, and ran him over Molland Common —
just as hounds do from those coverts to-day — " and
killed him within the covert of Hawkridge without
warrant and carried away that venison to the house
of Henry Tracy at Tavistock ; who knowingly
harboured them with the same venison. The same
Henry has not come nor was he attached ; therefore


the sheriff is commanded to cause him to come in
the Octaves of Holy Trinity. There would have
been no offence in this case had they not entered
Hawkridge Wood, which was in the forest If they
had stopped their hounds in the Danes Brook they
would have been quite safe, being up to that point in

Thomas le Shetere, of Grutte, in Molland, and
William Wyme, of Bremley, were at the same court
presented for frequent poaching with bows and
arrows " and were harboured in the house of John,
then chaplain of Hawkridge, who consented to their
evil deeds." The chaplain came and was kept in
prison, and the usual procedure of ordering the
sheriff of Devon to bring the others and fining the
township was gone through, Dulverton, Ashway le
Erceneske (Ashwick), and the Prior of Taunton were

" And the aforesaid John the chaplain is pardoned
for the sake of the King's soul."

John Scrutenger, of Cloutsham, killed a hind in
Witsunweek, which must have been in the fence
month, when she can have been quite unfit to
eat, and suffered imprisonment and paid forty
shillings for his release, a very heavy sum in those

The records contain numerous instances which
show how vigilantly and rigorously the laws were
executed, for instance, in 1269, Richard of Dumesley
of Anstey (probably Dunsley Mill), and others



hunted for three consecutive days on the forest, and
were not caught, and the record goes on :

" And because the aforesaid wrongdoers were in
the same place for so long, and William de Plesset^
forester of the fee, neither took them nor raised a
cry, nor his foresters, therefore it is to be judged
about him and his foresters." We do not know what
happened to them, but probably things were made
very unpleasant for them.

The regarders of the forest were officers appointed
locally to make " regard " of or inspect the forest
every third year, to inquire into the actions of the
verderers and foresters, to see that everything had
been done as it should be done, and specially ta
report on timber trees, eyries of hawks, mines and
minerals, to the justices of Eyre. In Eyre is the
shortened form of an itinere or on circuit. An
important part of their duty also was to see to the
" lawing of dogs " — by dogs are meant mastiffs.

" Buddaeus calleth a mastiff molossus, and in the
old British language that, and all other barking curs
about houses at night, were called masethefes,
because they maze or fright thieves from their
masters." Manwood in his treatise on forest laws
goes on to argue that the word " canis " or " dog"
refers only to mastiffs, and not to "greyhounds or little
dogs like spaniels." Manwood describes the method
of "lawing" them as follows: "The mastiff being
brought to set one of his forefeet upon a piece of
wood of Sin. thick and ift. square, then one with


a mallet, setting a chisel of 2in. broad upon the
three claws of his forefoot, at one blow doth smite
them clean off, and this is the manner of expeditat-
ing mastiffs."

When one looks at the mastiffs upon the show

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 10 of 22)