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 12 of 22)
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cattle, and by the number of small enclosures he saw
as he rode down the track from Span Head bv Yard

N 2


Hole we know as an ancient manor, and the word
Yard, or Garth, signifies an enclosure. It will not
escape notice that Leland does not describe it as an
enclosed country, like he does the Porlock \'ale, but
says the hills were full of enclosures ; clearly the
patches of enclosure surrounding such old houses as
Lydcott, Grattan, and Hole.

The old saying one has heard so many times that
in the time of the fathers of the present generation
there was not an enclosure between Dulverton and
Porlock, must be modified. There must always have
been islands of enclosure ; but it was probably true
that till the great rage for hedges set in, in the latter
years of the eighteenth century, there were only
islands, and that the deer could, and did, travel over
the whole country without crossing a fence.

When the Black Death cleared away so large a
proportion of the population, there can be no doubt
that the outlying hamlets, such as Ashway, Bagley,
Badgworthy, and Chittisham must have been the
first to suffer from the draining away of the bordiers
and villeins to Dunster, Porlock, and other more
highly cultivated lands, where, for the first time in
the history of this country, wages came to be paid
for farm work. The whole course of agriculture and
country life was changed ; farm hands formed
themselves into associations to raise wages ;
Parliament declared such associations illegal, and
went so far as to punish with fine and imprisonment
those who paid the wages demanded. It was all to


no purpose. The laws of supply and demand,
though little understood, were as inexorable then as
now, and labour went where work and wages were
awaiting it. A great part of England went
temporarily out of cultivation, and we may be sure
that a remote and difficult country, like that around
Exmoor, would not escape. The district, it is
reasonable to suppose, remained depopulated for a
great length of time, and the wilder parts probably
never regained their former population, though
agriculture revived and the growth of corn somewhat

We can tell the dates of much of the modern
enclosure by the dates of the various Enclosure Acts,
and indeed, were it necessary, the whole of the lands
enclosed could be identified from the plans attached
to the enclosure awards which are in the office of the
Clerk of the Peace.

The principal acts are dated :

Anstey, 1825

Dulverton, 1848

Exmoor, i8i8

Exford and Almsworthy, 1840

Winsford, 1848
Porlock, 1854
Stoke Pero, 1848
High Bray, 1863.

Such fences as there were to the ingrounds up to
recent times consisted simply of stone-faced banks,
which were innocent of the huge growths of beech
and hornbeam which they carry now. These banks
can have been little or no impediment to the deer,
the hounds, or the riders, and glorious must have
been the gallops a bold rider on a good horse must


have enjoyed over land where to-day we have to go
from gate to gate. When the fashion of planting
the banks with a double beech hedge originated is
not clear, but men are alive now who helped to plant
a great many of them. There was at Exford a large
nursery of beech plants, and the owner realised a lot
of money by selling them to the farmers. The Forest
Enclosure Award in 1815 ordains the planting of
beech on the top, and also the staking of the two
sides with withy stakes, so many to a rod. Traces
of this can be seen now, but most of the stakes seem
to have perished.

The custom of the country Is to let the beech
hedge grow for about fifteen years, thus forming an
admirable shelter for stock, and enabling both sheep
and cattle to be kept out on bleak, exposed hills,
where otherwise they would suffer severely from the
cold storms which sweep over the country. At the
end of fifteen years the tenant cuts and lays down
the fence, keeping the cuttings for firewood, and a
new hedge springs up and grows for another fifteen
years. A careful examination when the leaves are
off will show how many times the hedge has been
cut and laid, and thus the age can be approximately

Except in the immediate neighbourhood of old
farms or villages, it is rare to find any hedges cut
more than four times, which would give an age of
about seventy to eighty years, and there is very little
hedgerow timber suggestive of a greater age. The


various stages of modern enclosure can easily be
traced in some places, because where an enclosure
was authorised, a gate was allowed to be put across
the roadway — as Comer's Gate, Mountsey Hill
Gate, Scob Hill Gate, and numerous others — 16
prevent sheep straying from the common. Where-
ever there was in old days a gate there were naturally
two breastworks and gateposts to hang it to. As
the enclosure encroached on the waste the gates
were moved further on up the road, but the old
breastwork remains, jutting out from the bank on
each side. There is one just above Highercombe
Farm, and there are several in Ash Lane leading up
from Winsford, and one in Stone Lane ; but even
these must be comparatively modern — in early times
there can have been little or no permanent enclosure
away from the homesteads.

That every man and woman in the district rode on
horseback goes without saying ; wheeled vehicles
were unknown till quite recent times : there were
no roads for them to travel on.

The ancient roadmaker followed the ridge of hills ;
hence the frequent terms " Ridgway" and " Redway "
in country places ; and the earliest we can trace ran
along the coast to Lynton and thence by County
Gate, where it was commanded by the fortification
above Glenthorne, and followed the present line of
the coach road to Hawkcombe, where it probably
forked as it does now, one branch leading to Porlock
and Dunster, the other running by Alderman's Barrow


and across Almsworthy Common to Edgcott and
Exford. From this point on, beside the river and up
the hill by Road Castle to Room Hill, it is called in
1257 "The Great Way." At or near Spire Cross it
crossed the trackway from Windsor to Hawkridge.
Probably the Great Road turned here to the right,
and crossing the Barle at Tarr Steps, went on by
Anstey and Old Ways End ajong the high land west
of Exe to Tiverton, and thence to Exeter.

There must have been a trackway to Dulverton by
way of Court Down, and Catford's Lane, but this
would be of minor importance.

There was another main road which started from
Gloucester and went to Clifton, crossing the Avon
by the old ford a few hundred yards below the
present suspension bridge, where it was fortified on
both sides, and, following approximately the present
roadway, came to Cadbury Camp. Thence it went
by a devious line to Yatton, and by Banwell to the
ford on the Axe River at Cross, and across Brent
Marsh to Pawlett, where it joined the road from Old
Sarum. Leaving the Pawlett Hills by the Shoulder
of Mutton Inn — where Monmouth slept the night
before Sedgmoor — the track ran straight to Comb-
wich Passage over the Parret, and passing between
Cannington Park and Idstock, went by Keenthorn
to the Quantock Hills, which it crossed by the
existing track under Danesborough to Crowcombe,
and by Willet and Elworthy to Raleigh's Cross, and
the Heathpoult, and down to Quarme Water at


Bushwell Bridge. From here to where it merges in
the modern high road to Exford, the old road is
known as Hare Path. Hare Path or War Path is
its old name throughout its entire length, and the
name can be traced in many places. Crossing the
River Exe at Exford the track went on by Simonsbath
along the Challacombe road to Moles Chamber,
where some part of it can be traced in its original
condition — -a series of deep pack-horse tracks skirting
the hill-side — and so by Leeworthy Bridge to Barn-
staple, Redruth, and Falmouth. This was by far the
most important road in this part of England, but
even this was nothing but a track ; the Roman with
his well-made roads never penetrated to the wilds
of Exmoor. These old British trackways went
along the tops of the hills, probably for three reasons;
first, the tracks in the valleys were rocky in some
places, boggy in others, and involved frequent ford-
ing of the rivers. Those who remember the state of
the Bade Valley twenty years ago, before the land-
owners remade the paths, will easily appreciate this.
The Exe Valley was little, if anything, better before
the new road was made in 1824. Secondly, the
valleys being wooded, travellers were more likely to
be ambushed by robbers ; and, thirdly, in very early
times, the wooded valleys were infested with packs
of wolves, to which a string of pack-horses fall an
easy prey.

There is one road over the moor which remains
unaltered, as it has been for an unknown number of


centuries — Perriam's Way, better known to hunting
people as the Green Path. It runs from Hawkcombe
Head across the Weare Water and Chalk Water
below Acmead and by Larkbarrow to the Warren
and Pray Way to Exe Head, and joins the old road
before mentioned near Moles Chamber. These were
the most used tracks ; there were, of course, others
leading from hamlet to hamlet, but they must have
been little used, though the traces of them, deep
ruts in the heather, are clearly discernible. . A good
specimen is the track from North Molton to Porlock,
which came by the existing road to Landacre, and
by Chibbet Post, anciently Chubbizete, to Exford,
not by the present road, but by the deep pack-horse
track and occupation line straight down the hillside
to the bridge, and up the other side by the track we
ride going to the meet at Cloutsham. The Horner
Valley was crossed at Pool Bridge, and the riders
went along the green trackway on the north side of
Lee Hill, above Bell Wood, and down the rocky
path to Doverhay.

A very old track ran from Porlock Weir to the old,
long-forgolten Manor of Bagley, md Porlock Ford,
and up a narrow, winding track to Birchhanger, over
the hill to Broadway, across the middle of Hawk-
combe to Luccott, thence by Wilmersham and Stoke
Pero to Bagley. It can be traced, and there is, I
believe^ a right of way there now ; but a few years
ago, before the new Ordnance Survey, it was marked
on the maps, it was actually coloured on a cycling


map, and there was much trouble in persuading
an enthusiastic cyclist staying at Porlock Weir, who
had an implicit faith in his map, that he would not
be able to ride his machine that way.

On some of these old tracks are to be found the
old pack-horse bridges over the streams : narrow
bridges, with parapets low enough not to interfere
with the loads hanging in the " crooks." The best
specimens are that at Millslade, over the Brendon
Water, and that where Hackety Way crosses the
Horner, just below Horner Green. There was an
old pack-horse bridge of four arches across the
Barle at Withypool — the present roadway and bridge
are quite new — and the old piers and abutments exist
to this day, while the line of the old North Molton
track skirting the hillside, avoiding the wet ground
and turning abruptly down to the old bridge, is
plainly to be seen. The old, narrow village street
which led down to the bridge has mostly been pulled

Nothing has tended to alter the look of the country
and the ways of life of the people more than the
metalling of the roads and the introduction of wheeled
traffic. Dwellers in more civilised lands find it
4iard to realise how lately these improvements were
introduced into the hill country.

Collinson's history of Somersetshire was published
in I 791, and he says of Withypool: " Here no carts
nor wagons are ever used, the roads being impassable
for wheeled vehicles and scarcely pervious for horses."


Somewhere about 1830 to 1840 the road was metalled
from Withypool nearly to Chibbet Post. There was
no metal on the road to Dulverton. The first cart
owned in Withypool was built shortly after this at
Roadwater to the order of Mr. John Quartly, grand-
father of the present John and James, who farmed at
Weatherslade. The cart was brought over in triumph
on a Saturday, but nearly stuck in the narrow lane
from Exford — the only made road — as it was not wide
enough. Next day the whole population went to
church, and men who would resent being called old
can remember being led there by their mothers to
look at the great man who had brought the cart. He
stayed several days to harness and break the horse.
Mr. Webber, of Withypool, was carrier to Tiverton,
and clearly remembers the road over Winsford Hill
being metalled ; from Comer's Gate to the head of
Marsh Hill there was nothing but a series of ruts out
of which it was impossible to turn a loaded cart.
This must have been awkward if two carts met, but,
as Mr. Webber explained, " You never did meet

The visitor who tries to realise what the country
looked like, and how the people lived, must wipe out
from his mind all ideas based on the present system
of roads.

There was no road up the Exe Valley from Dul-
verton to Cutcombe and Dunster till 1824, and
though a few roads were made under old Turnpike
Acts, most of the roads now existing are dated


subsequent to the Highways Act of 1834. There
were tracks, and each parish stopped the worst of
the holes in its own tracks. The road from Withy-;
pool by Porchester Post, Willingford Water, and
Cuzzicombe Post is a good specimen of what the
old roads were like. The roughly-made bit from
Porchester Post to Willingford was made and
metalled under the award for the enclosure of Hawk-
ridge Common Specimens of old roadway of a
more civilised type may be found between Cutcombe
and Hart Cleeve and in the old parish road from
Porlock Weir to Culbone, and from Porlock, by Butt
Walls and Yarnor, to Broomstreet and Countisbury.
Till well on into the last century the post chaise
at the Lion, the Acland travelling carriage at Pixton,,
and Mrs. Beague's travelling carriage at Hollam
were the only wheeled vehicles in the town of
Dulverton, The valleys, such as that from Porlock
to Dunster and Williton, were no doubt provided
with fair roads in quite early times, and probably one
of the earliest was that from Porlock to Dunster.
Porlock and Minehead were both considerable ports,
but most of their goods must have been carried on
pack-horses. We find, however, in the entries of
account of the manor of Porlock in 1425, " In pay-
ment to John Godde for going to Dunster with the
lady's wagon and 2 servants to fetch one pipe of
wine and carrying it to the house, 4d." From which it
is clear that there must have been some sort of wagon
road between the two places even at that early date.


All farm work was done till quite recent times with
pack-horses and sleds (the use of the latter, indeed,
has not been entirely abandoned where there is
much steep ground), and a load of manure in the
old farming agreement means a pack-horse load.
The pillion was in use in this district long after it
was unknown elsewhere, and the late Mr. George
Catford, of North Combe, used to tell how his father
and mother always rode pillion to Winsford Fair.

The diflficulties of locomotion in the district,
especially in bad weather, gave rise to many curious
tales, and there is reason to suppose that many of
them are authentic. There can be little doubt that
the stories that at some outlying farms it was
necessary to "salt in" a dead body, till it was
possible to convey it to the churchyard are true,
though it is scarcely credible that anyone who had
lost his wife could be so thoughtless as to forget
all about her, and leave her " salted in" in an oak
dower chest for his new bride to find on her return
from the wedding.



May a poor huntsman with a merry heart,
A voice shall make the forest ring around him,
Get leave to live amongst ye ? True as steel, boys,
That knows all chases, and can watch all hours.
Prick ye the fearful hare thro' crossways, sheep-walks,
And force the crafty reynard climb the quicksets ;
Rouse ye the lofty stag, and with my bell horn
Ring him a knell, that all the woods shall mourn.

Beaumont and Fletcher {The Beggar's Bush).

The sale of the office of forester in fee of Exmoor,
and of the other forests in Somerset, in 1359, by
Roger de Beauchamp to Roger de Mortimer, Earl
of March, marks a new era in the history of Exmoor
— an era the early part of which is clouded in more
dense obscurity than that which overshadowed the
earlier period. We have no records of forest courts
to help us, and the great lords of the district, such
as the Luttrells, Trevelyans, Harringtons, must have
been too much engaged in fighting — first the French,
and then the causes of York and Lancaster — to
spare much time or thought for the hunting of the
red deer. The strictness of the Norman foresters
was undoubtedly relaxed ; and if the great nobles


were too engrossed with other matters to hunt much,
we may depend upon it that the smaller squires made
the most of their opportunities. That a " cry of
dogs," able to kill a stag after a run over the open,
had been kept by the Tracys at Bremridge in early
days is duly recorded, because they were summoned
to the forest court for running a stag on to the forest
and killing it, and we cannot suppose that when the
forest laws came to be less forcibly administered
other people did not do the same. Indeed, we
know that in 1259 Richard Beaumont, of the county
of Devon, Molyns his hunter, and other servants took
several stags and hinds without warrant. If this was
done in defiance of the law when fully enforced we
may easily surmise what would happen when the
riorour was relaxed. The absurd restrictions on the
hunting of purlieu men would, it is reasonable to
suppose, be the first part of the law to be allowed to
drop into abeyance.

Knowing as we do the descendants of the men who
then held the land, it is not possible to believe that
they sat quietly at home and saw their crops devastated
by the deer without enjoying the pleasure of a hunt.

Roger Mortimer, the first of his line to hold the
office of forester, died in 1361, and was succeeded
by Edmund Mortimer, who died in 1 381, who was
followed by Roger Mortimer, who died a minor in
Ireland in 1398. To him succeeded Edmund
Mortimer, who, dying in 1424, the forestership
with the rest of the Mortimer property, devolved


on Anne, who married Richard of Cambridge, and
thus the office came to be vested in the Dukes
of York, and so in time became merged in the
Crown properties.

This appears to be the simplest explanation of
how the forestership passed from the Mortimers
to the Dukes of York, and it Is borne out by the fact
that an inquisition post-mortem held in 1425 into
the estates of the late Edward Mortimer, Earl of
March, enumerates Exmoor among his other posses-
sions. Yet we find in 1409 Edward, Duke of York
— who we know owned the Manor of Cutcombe in
right of his wife Philippa Mohun — described as
" Chief Forester of the Royal forest this side of
Trent," and giving orders about the Forest of
Petherton, which, equally with Exmoor, was vested
in the Mortimers. This is the Edward Duke of
York who wrote the " Master of Game," and was
the father of the Duke of York who subsequently
was Forester of Exmoor.

The Mortimers held the office of foresters of
the other Somerset forests as well as of Exmoor,
but their personal connection with the county was
of the slightest kind. They were the first holders
of the office to appoint deputies with full powers.
Edmund Mortimer, who succeeded in 1361, was a
minor, and Richard de Acton, a Somerset man, was
his deputy from 1362 to 1365, with James Payn as
a locum tenens ; after him Guy de Brien, a large
landowner in West Somerset— there are Bryants



holding land near Taunton at the present day — held
office with the same locum tenens, who afterwards
acted for Edmund Mortimer without anyone over
him. Who James Payn was there is no record.
In 1382, owing to the fact that Roger was a minor,
the custody of the forest was granted during his
minority to Sir Peter de Courtenay.

The Dukes of York followed the example of the
Mortimers in appointing deputies, and Collinson's
History gives the following list : —

1389 Richard Brittle and Geoffrey Chaucer (the poet).

1396 Geoffrey Chaucer.

141 6 Thomas Chaucer.

1429 William Wrothe and Thomas Attmore. By the Duke

of York.
1450 Sir William Bonville and Richard Luttrell.
1454 Richard Stafford and Richard Luttrell.
1459 James Boteler, Earl of Ormonde.

In 1460 the forestership merged in the Crown,
and the succeeding officers were duly appointed
foresters, not deputies.

1462 Philip de St. Maur.

1465 Sir Giles Daubeny for life.

1507 Robert Wrothe held the office of forester for Petherton

for thirty-five years, but whether he acted for Exmoor

as well seems doubtful.

Of Richard Brittle nothing is known, but Burtle is
a common name in Somerset further up the county.

Geoffrey Chaucer's works, like those of all writers
of that period, show much knowledge of hunting and
other sports, the occupation of gentlemen ; but there
is no reason to suppose that he ever took an active


part in the administration of Exmoor. Neither, so
far as we know, did Thomas Chaucer, his son, though
the latter was connected with West Somerset. He
was Constable of the Castle at Taunton, and married
Maud de Berghersh, niece of Joan, wife of John de
Mohun, of Dunster.

Joan de Mohun survived her husband and left
three daughters : Elizabeth, who married William de
Montacute, Earl of Salisbury ; Philippa, who married
Edward, Duke of York ; and Matilda, married to Sir
John Strange. It was this Joan who sold Dunster to
Sir Hugh Luttrell.

William Wrothe and Thomas Attwood were the
first officers appointed under the Dukes of York ;
the former was probably one of the family of de
Wrotham who had for so many years been foresters
in fee.

Sir William Bonville, who with Richard Luttrell
was appointed deputy in 1450, had an intimate
connection with the district and with staghunting,
for he had married Elizabeth, widow of the fourth
Lord Harrington, and the lady of the manors of
Porlock and Brendon. She is the lady who, with
her first husband, is buried under the fine carved
monument in Porlock Church. The Manor of
Porlock was, with the exception of that of North
Molton, the only one abutting on Exmoor
which contained a deer park. The right to hold
two fairs annually and a market on every
Thursday, and leave to impark " his demesne

O 2


woods " at Porlock, were among the lavish rewards
showered on Sir Nigel Loring, the Lord of the
Manor of Porlock, as a reward for his gallant services
at Crecy, Poictiers, and before Calais. His daughter
Isabella married the third Lord Harrington, whose
son, the fourth lord, led a stalwart company of
Porlock men at Agincourt, including twenty-nine
lances and eighty-six archers, among whom were
John Godde and his son. They probably returned
safe and sound, as we find a John Godde bailiff
of Porlock and Brendon under Lady Bonville.
The Goddes, or Goddards, have existed in the
neighbourhood from that day to this, being repre-
sented now by James Goddard, the host of the
" Anchor" at Porlock Weir, a first-rate staghunter
and a good No. i in a polo team.

The park at Porlock consisted of the eastern
part of the big hanging covert between West
Porlock and the foot of Porlock Hill, a part of
the covert known as the Parks to this day. It may
be noticed that the woods west of this are traversed
with ancient tracks over which there is even now a
right of way, but that in "the Parks" there are
none but modern rides, except, perhaps, that pre-
cipitous track known as the Lady's Stair.

Sir William Bonville was beheaded in 1461 ; his
son and grandson were both killed in the previous
year at the battle of Wakefield. He was succeeded
by his great-granddaughter, Cecily Bonville, who
married Thomas Grey, first Marquis of Dorset,

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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 12 of 22)