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 11 of 22)
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bench at the present day, it is difficult to think that
they can ever have been any serious danger to an
unwounded deer ; but the mastiff of old days was
probably a very different animal, and the term pro-
bably included the big prick-eared brutes described
as " alaunts," by Gaston de Foix.

There were also officials called agisters, who
attended to the agistment of cattle on the forest,
and collected the money. They were in later times
the most important officers of the forest.

These officers were common to all Royal forests,
but Exmoor had a custom of its own. The head
forester had the assistance of the fifty-two free
suitors of Withypool, who must have comprised the
major part of the population. Old records contain
many mentions of the free suitors, but the best
account of them is in a memorandum attached to a
survey of the forest, made by commissioners in 1651,
as being part of " the demesne of Charles Stuart,
late King of England."

" Memorandum. That there are fifty-two free
Suitors which are freeholders or coppieholders, and
some leaseholders, within Withypoole and Hawk-
ridge, which do hold their lands of lords of several
mannors which do claime and are presented by a

M 2


jury of themselves that they have enjoyed time out
of mind in respect of divers services they are to do,
for and in respect of the said Chase.

" Liberty and freedom and right to depasture in
any place or places of the said Forest seven score
(140) sheep at all times of the year at their pleasure,
and five mares and colts and so many cattle as they
may winter upon their tenements.

" And that they may cut, take and carry away turf,
heath and fern upon the said forest, so much as they
shall burn upon any of their tenements.

"And that they may fish in any of the rivers
within the same. And that they are thereby freed
from services at Assizes and Sessions, and to pass
toll free in all fayres and markets.

" In consideration whereof the said fifty-two free
Suitors are to do suite to the said Courts, and are
payneable upon non-appearance three shillings,
fourpence, or more at the stewards' pleasure.

" The said fifty-two Suitors are also to drive the
said Chase nine times in every year or oftener, if
thereunto required " (this is to see that no beasts
were unlawfully agisted there), " and they are to do
the said service on horseback, and none to be
excused, except his wife be in travell with child, or
that they have laid their dow to leaven to be baked
that day, and such persons are thereupon excusable
for that time only.

" The said fifty-two Suitors are also to serve
upon the Coroners' Inqueste for any casualty


happening within the confines and Hberty of the said

This memorandum is curious, and explains a good
deal of local history. The inhabitants of Withypool
undoubtedly acted as agents of the foresters from
the earliest times down to quite a late date, and the
King's Pound, in which stray cattle were impounded,
was situated there, just to the left of the bridge
opposite the village. The two enclosures are now
the property of Mr. Robert Milton. Strange stories
are told of the men of Withypool and Hawkridge,
and of their lawless ways in days gone by, and there
is little doubt that, acting for the forester in all
matters of agistment of cattle, their hands were
against every man's and every man's hands against

All sheep found unshorn on the forest, after a
certain date, were liable to be driven in to Withypool
and sheared there, the fleeces going to the forester.
This, no doubt, was the origin of the rhyme :

Steal the sheep and sell the wool,
Ring the bells of Withypool.

) The free access to the forest and the right of
fishing, which they undoubtedly possessed, may have
been the origin of a certain laxity of view with regard
to game and fishing rights, which was said at one
time to be characteristic of the inhabitants of bolh
villages. The abolition of the rights mentioned in
the memorandum when Exrnoor was disafforested


without any adequate compensation — the lord of the
manor and some principal freeholders got something,
but the small " suitors " got nothing — is a subject on
which the older men will still wax eloquent.

With this force at his command, the Norman
forester in fee ruled the district with a rod of iron.
The period was one of continual friction concerning
forest laws between Crown and people, not only in
Somersetshire, but all over England. There was
continual encroachment by the Crown met by
continual protest, and the struggle continued with
varying fortunes till the beginning of the thirteenth

The great victory was won when John was forced
at Runemede to sign the Carta de Foresta and the
forest clauses of the Magna Carta ; but then ensued
a long period in which the force of sheer inaction was
opposed to the demands of the people, and it was
not, in the case of Exmoor, till 1298 that a satis-
factory perambulation of the forest was made and
the encroachments declared free of forest law, and
how many years after that it was before the award
was actually put in force we do not know, but
certainly it was many years, probably only a short
time before the Black Death, sweeping over England,
changed the whole state of country life, an event
which happened shortly before the forestership
passed from the descendants of de Wrotham to the






I view each well-known scene,
Think what is now and what hath been,

Scott (" The Lay of the Last Minstrel ").

We have glanced shortly at the history of the
district, its forest rulers, at the severe laws which
were enforced, and we cannot help wondering who
were the people living in the district, where and how
they lived, what the face of the country looked like
in those troubled times, and what actual changes
have taken place to bring it to its present condition.

A most cursory glance at the old records leads at
once to the conclusion that the population was much
greater than, looking at the present state of the
country, might at first sight seem probable ; that
while the chief villages were smaller, the outlying
hamlets contained many more inhabitants than at a
later period.

Our principal means of information are the
Doomsday Survey and the Pleas of the Forest quoted
from above. The first contains a list of manors and
their holders with the numbers of bordiers, villeins.


and serfs, and also an estimate of the cultivated
land and the number of plough teams.

It might be supposed that from this it would be
possible easily to arrive at an actual acreage, and
also at the number of inhabitants, but that is not so.
The survey was made for the purposes of taxation
only, and the estimate of area in hides and carucates,
&c., is merely an assessment, a basis of taxation,
while all non-taxable lands, such as royal demesnes
and other holdings, are omitted.

What we can arrive at safely is the conclusion that
every portion of the country round Exmoor was the
subject of ownership, and was in more or less effective
occupation. The list of manors shows the existence
of every modern village and also of a great number
of the small hamlets and outlying farms.

The Pleas of the Forest contain lists of verderers,
jurors, and other persons with their residences, and
from them we can identify a great proportion of the
names. There are about 140 different place names,
mostly villages and farms; of these 105 are well
known to-day, and probably most of the others could
be identified with a little research.

Although one cannot expect to make anything
like an accurate estimate of the total number of
inhabitants of the district, we can gain some insight
from Doomsday into the distribution of population.
At Doverhay, for instance, there were, according to
the Exeter copy of the Doomsday Survey, a manor-
house — now restored by Mr. Chadwyck Healey, K.C.,


and used as a reading-room — two villeins and
one bordier ; at Porlock a manor-house — where
Court Place stands now — six villeins, three bordiers,
and six serfs ; making the usual allowance for
families this would give a total population of about a
hundred, very much less than at present. At Oare
there was the manor held by Ralph de Pomerie
(ancestor of a good Devonshire family still existing),
seven villeins, five bordiers, and four serfs, or a total
of eighty-five, which is about the number of present

At Winemersham, now called Wilmersham, there
was land for five plough teams, and there were also
200 acres of pasture, five villeins, three bordiers, and
three serfs, or a population of sixty ; Wilmersham
now contains one farm and a small cottage. Wilmer-
sham was of sufficient importance to be fined as a
"township" in 1280, for not being represented at the
inquest on Andrew the Fuller of Porlock, who was
struck on the head by Henry the Chaplain "with a
certain stick in that tithing who forthwith died."
This is the second murder in the district in that
turbulent year, the other victim, as mentioned above,
being one of the foresters.

Bagelie is now only the name of the combe at the
head of Sweet Tree, but in Doomsday there was a
manor there granted by the Conqueror to his favourite,
Roger de Courcelle ; one Caflo held it of Roger ; he
was the old Saxon who held it in the time of King
Edward, and he had two bordiers and some villeins.


There was one ploughland and thirty acres of pasture,
and one cannot help wondering whether this is not
represented by the old enclosure at Sweet Tree, now
mostly overgrown with bracken and furze, for the
grass here is of fine quality and forms a striking con-
trast to the rest of the rough ground around.

Old Ashway is a solitary farmhouse on the way
down from Winsford Hill to Tarr Steps, where Mr.
Parkman looks after Sir Thomas Acland's ponies,
yet in Doomsday we find it held by one Hugo under
Roger de Courcelle, and that he had there two serfs,
eleven villeins, and three bordiers, or a total popu-
lation, including his own family, of about eighty-five
souls. In the Pleas of the Forest we find Ashway
repeatedly as a " township " and assessed as on about
the same level as Withypool and Winsford, and only
a little behind Dulverton and Exford.

At Badgworthy was an ancient farmhouse and one
or more cottages, of which the ruined walls, pointed
out to tourists as the ruined houses of the Doones,
are the remains. The farm and the enclosed land
round it belonged to the Prior of the Hospital of
Jerusalem, who sold it to Walter, the son of William
Bagworthy, from whom it descended to John Bag-
worthy, who in 1402 sold it to Lord Harrington. It
is entered in the accounts of the Manor of Brendon
in 1422 as follows : " And of 1 2^. rent of Badgeworthy
acquired by the lord of John Baiggeworthy twenty
years ago, and of 2s. rent of one cottage next the
tenement aforesaid of Badgeworthy. And of 2^. rent


of the tenement of Badgeworthy for one decayed place
there." When the place became uninhabited we do
not know, but the " Batchery Enclosure" is one of
the forest boundaries mentioned in the perambulation
of 1 65 1.

These are not solitary instances ; many farm-
steads are mentioned as possessing far larger
populations than are to be seen there to-day, and
there can be little doubt that this population kept on
increasing until 1349, when the Black Death swept
over the country, destroying from one-third to one-
half of the population, and ravaging, if we are to
credit the old accounts, West Somerset and North
Devon with even greater deadliness than other parts
of the kingdom.

From the old records referred to it can be seen that
all the best, most desirable farms on the sheltered,
sunny sides of the valleys were early occupied, those
in more exposed places facing north being more
modern. Thus we find in Pleas of the Forest prior
to this date every farm on the north bank of the Barle
from Dulverton to Simonsbath, with the exception of
Uppington, and that we find as a personal name.

All this population had to live by the land and
what it produced, there can have been no importa-
tion of food or clothing, for there were scarcely any
roads, none fit for wheeled traffic. This necessitated
a very considerable amount both of stock and
of cultivation. Wheat was then probably unknown
in the district ; even in the present day it is not


cultivated on the hill farms, save in such small
quantities as are required to produce reed for thatch-
ing. Here, again, the Pleas of the Forest help us, for
we find set out the crops grown surreptitiously on
land in the bounds of the forest ; from these we
gather that they had a sort of three-course system,
sowing once with rye and twice with beans. Rye
was largely cultivated till modern times, and the
lowest layer of thatch on many an old cottage is rye
straw to this day. As to the nature of the stock
kept we have nothing to guide us ; but farmers then,
as now, no doubt kept that class of stock which they
found most suitable to the land and the climate, and
therefore we may fairly assume that the ancestors of
the Red Devons of to-day cropped the good grass
in the valleys, and that the hills were stocked with
the same class of small, quick-moving, picturesque
sheep which to-day make Exmoor mutton famous all
over England.

For the protection of these crops, and for the
safety of the live stock, a certain amount of
enclosure must have existed, and this brings us to
the consideration of a very difficult problem as to the
nature and extent of this enclosure. The question is
made more difficult by two things : First, the con-
stantly repeated assertion that up to recent times
there were no enclosures at all between Dulverton
and Porlock ; and, secondly, the fact that there have
been two, if not three, distinct areas of enclosure.

No one can have ridden over the broad commons


which surround the ancient royal forest without
having noticed remain of banks running across the
heather in all directions. To what age are these to
be ascribed ? By some they have been attributed to
the race, or more probably races, whose spade work
is seen in the hut circles and some of the barrows
which abound ; to the race to whom must be
attributed the small stone avenue on Manor Allot-
ment, the barrows on Brightworthy, and the stone
circle on Withypool Hill; or to the later race who
threw up the earth works at Cow Castle, Brewer's
and Bury Castles, and many others ; as to this we
have no direct means of knowing. The banks do
not correspond to any known, or even traditionary,
boundaries, and they in no way resemble the cattle
enclosures and wolf platforms of the Wiltshire Downs.

If they were ever of a size to restrain the wander-
ings of cattle or sheep, and have been reduced by
the natural effect of weather to their present
dimensions, they must be of untold antiquity.

It must, however, be noted that they are almost
entirely outside the forest Hmits ; this may have been
due to either of two causes. The black, peaty soil
does not make an enduring bank, as can be easily
seen from some of those put up since 18 18 and not
kept in repair, being found unnecessary ; or they
may date back to a time anterior to the iron rule of
the Norman foresters, but subsequent to the time
when the Saxon kings made Exmoor into a forest,
and presumably protected it from enclosure. The


writer inclines to think the latter is the more probable
solution, though probably all the banks are not
attributable to the same era.

On either supposition it must, I think, be admitted
that these are not the remnants of the enclosures
in which the inhabitants in Norman times " night
leared " their stock.

With the exception of a few actually in the villages,
the homesteads must, though numerous, have been
situated at some distance from each other. Each,
in all probability, consisted of the house of the
principal owner, some cottages for the villeins, and
ranges of barns and cattle-sheds, all surrounding a
courtyard ; the whole forming a curtilage defensible
alike against armed robbery — a thing not unknown
in the district in those lawless times — and against
weather, especially against snow.

Traces of this style of building may be seen in
many of the farms to-day, though the security from
armed foes has caused the chief house to have its
w^indows facing outwards to the south, instead of
occupying the north side and facing into the curtilage.
Notable examples are Bratton Court, Cloutsham,
Newland Farm at Withypool, Bradley, Hollowcombe
at Hawkridge, Zeal, and many others. Each home-
stead was almost certainly surrounded by a belt of
enclosures necessary for the protection of cattle at
night, for feeding in the winter, and for the lambing
ewes in the spring. Stock farming without a certain
amount of enclosure is an impossibility.


With regard to the stock kept on the farms we
have httle positive information, but from the absence
of population, and from the dearth of means of
communication, it seems reasonable to suppose that
the course of husbandry altered less among the hill
farmers round Exmoor than in other parts of the
country. The staple of their farming then, as now,
was keeping sheep, but they kept them solely for the
wool. Mutton was of no value whatever — in fact,
it is reported that the Sir Thomas Acland who last
had the hounds declared that the horned Exmoor
sheep were absolutely uneatable. The reason is not
far to seek. The breeding ewes received a trifle of
attention, but they and their lambs were turned out
on to the commons very shortly after the lambs
were born. Both ewes and wethers remained out
on the moor till they were so old that their teeth
broke out, and they were killed to avoid starvation.
There were- no turnips or rape in those days, and all
straw and such-like produce of the arable land was
devoted to feeding the cattle and the ewes just before
lambing. No wonder the " running wethers," as they
were called, were uneatable. " Might so well try to
eat my old shoe," as my aged friend from whom I
received much information on these points exclaimed.
The practice described above was the custom in the
wilder parts of the country till within living memory.
The introduction of turnips and winter feeding and
improved means of communication caused the farmers
to realise that early maturity and mutton paid better


than old age and starvation, and this necessitated a
great increase in enclosure and the introduction
of hedges. This revolution in sheep farming was
coincident with the great rise in the price of corn
consequent upon the Napoleonic war, and both
causes led to enclosure and extended cultivation.

In addition to their ingrounds, or permanently
enclosed ground, each farm seems to have had its
own specific tract of arable land which remained
unenclosed or only partially enclosed. This seems
to have been cultivated in patches for a year or two,
the stubbles being fed off by the ewes and young
beasts under the care of a shepherd, and then the land
was fallowed for a time and other land ploughed up.
The area under crops was generally protected from
trespass by sheep by the process of " ankle learing"
(layering), that is, by putting up a little temporary
bank with a little wattle fence on the top leaning
outwards. It got its name from the fact that the
maker stuck in a stick and bent it down over his
ankle to pleach it, or twist it into the wattle. These
fences were allowed to go into decay when the land
was fallowed, and the traces of them disappeared
when the land was permanently enclosed.

An examination of the original unimproved edition
of the Ordnance Survey published in 1809 confirms
this to some extent. There each farm is marked
with a very small enclosure round it. The map is
very badly done and very indistinctly printed, but
many of the farms are shown as having a ring fence



of some kind, probably a bank, round the whole farm.
Careful inspection with a glass shows which of the
roads — every track of any kind is mapped as if it
were a main road — were fenced and which abutted
on open ground. It is clear that these were islands^
so to speak, of enclosure, sometimes of one farm,
sometimes of more ; but, except as regards the
small " ingrounds," individual farms do not appear to
have been cut up into fields, except perhaps by the
process of "ankle learing " round growing crops.
The rest of the country was open.

When the great rise in the price of corn occurred
after 1795, considerable stretches of land, even on
the commons, were cultivated for a year or two.
The upper part of Bradley Ham and a good piece of
Winsford Hill by Comer's Gate carried crops of
wheat, as did other parts of Withypool Common and
South Hill near the cottage.

With perhaps one or two exceptions, these patches
of cultivation have no connection with the old banks
which abound in the heather ; in fact, with the
possible exception of some banks by Landacre,
^ which are probably the encroachments reported on
in the fourteenth century by the forest officers, none
of the banks seem to bear any relation to any of
even the oldest known farms.

There is hardly any trace anywhere in the hill
country of the common-field system, though the
balks, or lynches, or ledges, characteristic of it can
be traced above Lynch Farm at Bossington.



The valleys around Porlock, Luccombe, and
Dunster were, we know, highly cultivated from an
early time, but they were probably enclosed and culti-
vated in severalty from remote ages. They must have
been enclosed a long time before 1 540, when Leland
wrote of them : " From Culbone to Stert most parte
of the shore is hilly ground and nere the shore is no
store of wood ; that that is ys al in hegge rows of
enclosures. There is great plenty of benes in this
quarter and great plenty of whete and catelle. . . ."
Leland's account of the district is interesting. He
rode " From Dunnesterre to Exford a 7 miles.
Of these 7 miles 3 or 4 were all hilly and rokky,
ful of Brokes in every Hilles botom and meatly
wodded." He must have gone over the shoulder
of Croydon Hill instead of up the Avill \'ale,
otherwise he would not have failed to notice Timbers-
combe, Harwood, Bickham, and other ancient farms
in the valley. " These Brokes by my estimacion ran
towards the Severn Sea. The Residew of the
way to Exford was partly on a moore, and
sumwhat barren of Corne, and partly hylly, having
many Brookes gathering to the hither ripe of Ex
Ryver. There is a little tymbre bridge at Exforde
over Ex Brook, ther being but a smaul water.

" Ex risith in Exmoor at a place called Excrosse,
a 3 miles of by North-Weste, and so goeth towards
Tyvertun a XII. miles lower.

" From Exford to Simondsbath Bridge a 4 miles
al by Forest Baren and Morisch ground where



is store and breeding of yong Catelle but little or no
Come or Habitation.

** Ther runnith at this Place called Simondsbath a
Ryver betwixt to great Morisch Hills in a deepe
Botom and there is a Bridge of wood over this Water.
The Water in Somer most communely runnith flat
upon stones easy to be passid over, but when Raynes
come and stormes of Wyntre it ragith and ys depe.
Alwayss this Streame is a great deale bigger Water
than Ex is at Exford, yet it resortith unto Ex Ryver.

" The boundes of Somersetshire go beyond this
streame one way by North-West a 2 miles or more to
a place caullid Spanne and the Tourres ; for ther be
Hillokes of Yerth cast up of auncient tyme for
Markes and Limites betwixt Somersetshir and
Devonshire, and hereabout is the Limes and
Boundes of Exmore Forest.

" From Simonsbath Bridge I rode up a high
Morisch Hylle and so passing by 2 miles in lyke
ground, the soyle began to be somewhat fruteful
and the Hilles to be full of Enclosures, until I cam
a 3 miles farther to a poore village caullid Bray-
forde where runnith a Broke by likelihood resorting
to Simonsbath Water and Ex."

The chief interest of the quotation, w^hich is the
oldest known description of the country, lies in the
fact that the traveller was struck by the amount of

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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 11 of 22)