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 18 of 22)
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great shock to most readers, yet that is the conclusion
one is absolutely driven to, much as one would wish
to think otherwise.

That there were sheep-stealers and pony-stealers
on Exmoor at all times is probably true, and it is
quite likely that, when, as is well-known, England
was full of wandering disbanded soldiers after the
Restoration, they may have been more than usually
troublesome on Exmoor, and it is probable that more
than one of them may have borne the name of
Doone. There was, undoubtedly, some tradition to
that effect, and Mr. Blackmore, who was the son of
the rector at Oare, was no doubt familiar with it, as
was also Mr. Thornton, for many years curate at
Countisbury. According to the latter, the last Doone
and his granddaughter perished in 1800 in a snow-
drift on the Simonsbath-Challacombe track — there
was no road in those days — when wandering round
singing carols. England is full of similar traditions,
wherever there were forests to which outlaws could


resort ; the Doone tradition is only a variation of the
better known tales about Robin Hood and the
Gubbinses on Dartmoor, and the even less known
but still existing traditions as to bands of robbers
infesting Stoke Courcy Castle and Stowey Castle
after the Wars of the Roses. The curious letter
which appeared some time ago in the newspapers
over the signature of " Audrey Doone ^' may be left
out altogether from any serious consideration of the

Let us look at a few undoubted facts. Ridd and
Red are common names all over that part of the
country, but that there never were any Ridds
landowners of any appreciable part of Oare is
abundantly clear, since the title to the Manor of
Oare, which, till modern times, comprised practically
the whole parish, is deducible from the time of John
de Kelly in 13 15 down to the present owner, Mr.
Nicholas Snow.

The so-called Doone Valley was utterly unknown
by that name till after the publication of the book,
and it is unknown by that name now to the local
people living anywhere except on the routes followed
by the too credulous Lynton and Minehead

That Lynton guides point out the actual ruins of
the Doones' stronghold is admitted ; but the most
cursory glance will show that they, like the valley
itself, bear no resemblance whatever to the description.
There are no cliffs ; there is no tunnel or narrow


gorge, nor from the nature of the ground can anything
of the kind have ever existed.

This particular spot was probably seized upon by
those anxious, for their own purposes, to identify every
spot mentioned in the novel because the ruins were

There can be no doubt that they are the ruins
of the old Badgworthy farmhouse and cottages
mentioned above in Chapter XL, one of which
was already in ruins in the fifteenth century.

Sheep-stealers there probably were, and they may
have taken up their abode in the ruins, but John
Ridd and Lorna must be put down as creations of
the novelist, while to the same source must be
ascribed the calling out of the militia of two counties
to try to exterminate the robbers. We know that
the moor was crowded with sheep, rother beasts, and
horse beasts — tempting, no doubt, to the dishonest,
but they would not have been there had they not
been reasonably safe ; moreover, as reported by the
Commissioners in 1651, the fifty-two free suitors of
Withypool drove the moor for the forester nine times
a year. If the fifty-two free suitors of those days
were anything like their descendants of to-day, the
writer's good friends and neighbours at Withypool,
they would not have been long in routing out any
band of a strength at all likely to have inhabited the
Doone Valley.

Whether the lease to the Marquis of Ormonde was
extended, or for how long, is not quite clear, but in


1 700 the forestership was vested in Mr. Walter, of
Stevenstone ; he was thus the first resident in the
neighbourhood for close on a century to hold that
office. That he kept the staghounds at Stevenstone
is accepted tradition, but there seems some doubt
whether he did not share the responsibilities of office
with Lord Orford dunng at least some part of the
time. About this period the Dukes of Bedford were
keeping hounds, and hunting the South Devon
country, frequently running their deer to sea in Tor
Bay. From a passage in Lord Graves's letter to the
then Viscount Ebrington in 181 2 it has been inferred
that these were the North Devon Staghounds, but
this can hardly have been the case. We know that
the North Devon and Exmoor districts were full of
deer at this time, but even allowing for frequent
" lying out " they can hardly have been hunted from

Hounds had been, undoubtedly, kept by the Abbot
of Tavistock, whose hunting box, and, presumably,
kennels, were at Morwell. Probablv the hounds
passed with the property to the Russell family, as
was the case in other instances. The black and
tan Welsh hounds, till recently hunted by Major
Lewis in Glamorganshire, are believed to be
descended from the pack taken over by the Lewis
of that day, when he received a grant of the
monastery property at Van.

There is a stag's head in existence at Foy in
Cornwall which tradition asserts was hunted from


Exmoor to sea at Foy during the reign of Henry
VIII., the run lasting three days. There is no
record of what hounds ran in this wonderful run, but
the huntsman's name is given as Tom Bestwetherick.
It is far more probable that the stag was one of
those hunted by the Tavistock hounds.

That there was more than one pack of hounds
hunting concurrently in the West Country is shown
by the well authenticated tradition that one of the
Arscotts of Tettcott kept staghounds there as well
as foxhounds. The well-known old song, " The
hunting of Arscott of Tettcott," ending as it does
by a leap from a cliff to the Atlantic, looks more
like staghunting than foxhunting, though a fox is
mentioned, but there are many versions of it, and the
date is quite uncertain.

Probably there were no well defined boundaries of
any of the staghunting countries, and each master
hunted where he had leave to go. Devon, where
enclosed at all, was, from the nature of the farming
carried on there, more strongly enclosed than most
counties, but there were large tracts of wild hill
country with open common land quite unenclosed
over which the deer could roam at will.

On the other side of Exmoor were the Ouantock
Hills, where it is probable that a few deer still remained,
descendants of those once inhabiting the Royal
forest of Petherton. There is, indeed, little doubt
that there were always a few deer on Quantock right
up to the time when Mr. Bisset took steps to increase


the herd, and they were hunted with a Httle pack of
beagles kept by Mr. Woodrow, the late Lord
Taunton's agent, on the same spot where Mr.
Stanley's hounds were kennelled.

We are on surer ground when we come to i 740,
when the forest of Exmoor passed into the hands of
Mr Dyke, of Pixton Park, Dulverton.

The hounds were then kennelled at Jury, on the
slope of the hill above Hele Bridge. Unfortunately,
we have absolutely no records of the sport shown by
Mr Edward Dyke, but on his death in 1 746 the
forest, and with it Pixton and the hounds, passed to
Sir Thomas Acland, of Killerton, who had married
Mr Dyke's niece and heiress Elizabeth, who brought
to him wide lands in the parishes of Selworthy,
Luccombe, Minehead, Porlock, Dulverton, Brompton
Regis, Exford, Dunster, Carhampton,Timberscombe,
St. Decuman's, Old Cleeve, Crowcombe, Bicknoller,
Cutcombe, Bossington, Stoke Pero, Brushford,
Winsford, Hawkridge, Withycombe, East Anstey,
Oakford, and Bampton, besides the large estates of
Tetton and Pyrland not in the staghunting country.

Sir Thomas Acland maintained the hunt in great
splendour, keeping the hounds sometimes at Jury,
sometimes at Highercombe, and sometimes at

It is curious to notice that Sir Thomas Acland
had a strong hereditary right to be forester of
Exmoor and master of the staghounds, since his
mother, wife of the sixth baronet, was Cecily,


daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Wroth, who
was descended from the old family of de Wrotham,
in whom, as we have seen, the forestership in fee of
Exmoor was vested before it passed to the Mortimers,
Earls of March. The claim of the Wroths to this
hereditary right had never been completely abandoned,
and although they do not seem to have taken any
very active steps to assert it, the existence of the
claim is said to have been sufficient to prevent the
sale of the forest on one occasion.

On the death of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland,
seventh baronet, in 1770 he w^as succeeded by his
son, who was for many years known as " Sir Thomas
his honour"; during his mastership the hunt was
carried on w^ith unexampled success till 1776.

In this year the hounds, though apparently not
the forestership of Exmoor, were handed over to
Colonel Basset, of Watermouth, who also showed
great sport over a wild stretch of country till i 784,
but here again we have no record of the runs or the
number of deer killed, until the year 1780, from
which date the diary of the Rev. J. Boyse, of
Withypool, now in the possession of Mr. Robert
Collyns, of Dulverton, gives many accounts of runs,
the most notable of w^hich are published in the appen-
dix to Dr. Collyns's " Chase of the Wild Red Deer."

At this time the great strongholds of the deer
seem to have been in the Arlington and Marwood
districts, if one may judge from the runs thought
w^orth recording.



In 1784 the hounds again came into the hands of
Sir Thomas Acland, and were kennelled for the
most part at Highercombe.

It was the custom during this time for open house
to be kept apparently both before and after hunting
with almost boundless hospitality. There is in the
possession of the present Sir Thomas Acland a
magnificent punch-bowl witbhunting scenes depicted
on it, which was brought home from China by Mr.
Acland, of Littlebray, who is said to have taken out
the design and the clay on purpose to have the bowl
fashioned by oriental artists. There is also a set of
wineglasses with the stag's head surrounded by the
motto, " Prosperity to staghunting,^' which was the
old toast for the honouring of which they were so
frequently filled. The same badge and motto is still
in use on the hunt buttons, and most of the principal
families in the district have preserved the old, flat,
silver engraved buttons worn at that date. The
buttons which Mr. Basset wore when Master from
1886 to 1892, were the same set which Colonel
Basset wore when Master a century before.

There was also at this time at Holnicote a splendid
collection of antlers, with the dates and where found
and killed inscribed on the frontal bone, as is done
at the present day, but they unfortunately were lost
in the fire which destroyed Holnicote, leaving only
those which hung in the stables, and many of these
were mutilated many years ago by a stupid groom,
who sawed off some of the points because they


interfered with the putting of hay into the

Sir Thomas hunted the country till 1794, and
during that time killed seventy-three stags and
seventy-seven hinds.

Colonel Basset succeeded and hunted the hounds
till within a few months of his death in 1801, when
the pack was dispersed, six and a half couple going
to Lord Fortescue to found a new pack.

Lord Fortescue hunted the country in 1802, and
then they passed to Mr. Worth, of Worth House,
Tiverton, and were maintained by subscription till
1810. Mr. Worth killed forty-two stags and fifty-
nine hinds, and showed good sport, many excellent
runs being recorded.

In 181 1 Lord Graves, of Bishop's Court, near
Exeter, assumed command, and killed in that year
ten stags and thirty hinds, but in the following year
the pack came once more to Castle Hill, where for
six years Lord Fortescue hunted them, showing
wonderful sport, including the great Satterleigh
Marsh run, the greatest on record, and killing 108

In 1814, during the Mastership of Lord Fortescue,
the lease of the Forest of Exmoor to Sir Thomas
Dyke Acland expired and was not renewed. Parliament
on July 4th of that year having passed an Act
authorising the disafforestation and sale of this
ancient Royal possession.

There was a perambulation in 181 5 by two

U 2


Commissioners, who set out the boundaries exactly
as in the survey in 165 1, though not in the same
words. The forest wias found to contain i8,8iq
acres, approximately the same acreage as before,
and this was awarded as to twelve twenty-second
parts to the King, and as to one-eighth to Sir Thomas
Acland in lieu of tithes. This was the portion Iving
between Simonsbath and the other Acland property
at Bray, the remainder being allotted to various
proprietors and Lords of Manors in lieu of pasturage
and other rights on the forest. The latter awards
gave a considerable amount of dissatisfaction —
particularly at Hawkridge and Withypool — among
small owners, who declared, and whose sons declare,
that they were robbed of their '' privileges" and got
nothing in return. There appears to have been a
certain amount of foundation for this.

Up till this time the free suitors of Withypool
(there was great difficulty in raising fifty-two of
them) had always been in the habit of carrying out
their ancient task of driving the forest for cattle, to
which had been added that of beating the bounds
every seven years.

They are said bv old men now living, whose
fathers had taken part in the ceremony, to have
ridden in single file along inside the boundary, and
were accompanied outside that line by the repre-
sentatives of the adjoining manor. They rode the
exact line whatever the ground was like, wet or dry,
and many were their adventures when bad ground


like that by Litton Water and below the Chains had
to be crossed, particularly as the day wore on, for
at the boundary of each manor the party was met
by the representative of the Lord of the Manor with
drinks, while the forester provided " meat" and
presumably drinks also at Sadler's Stone. Asked
if they got all round and back the same night, my
aged informant, the son of a free suitor, shook his
head and said, " Not all of 'em."

In 1 818 the King's allotment of something over
twelve thousand acres was sold for ^^50,000 to Mr.
(ohn Knight, of Worcestershire. In this year Lord
Fortescue gave up the hounds, which passed, as
a subscription pack once more, to Mr. Stucley
Lucas, of Baronsdown. Bu^- evil days had fallen
upon staghunting, and in 1825 it was found necessary
to sell the pack at Tattersall's, when they found a
home in Germany.

Mr. John Knight, after acquiring the portion of
Exmoor allotted to the King, bought Sir Thomas
Acland's allotment, and from Sir Arthur Chichester
the manor of Brendon, thus acquiring a very exten-
sive range of country. The sale of the forest was
quite unrestricted, and tied the purchaser to nothing
save the making of certain boundary enclosures,
some roads, and some public watering places for
cattle. Some of the roads were made, some were
not, but they none the less found their way into the
old ordnance map, while other roads that were made
were omitted therefrom, to the no small confusion of


those who subsequently tried to find their way by-
aid of the map.

Mr. Knight had been successful in enclosing
portions of his own county, Worcester, and he set to
work with great vigour to turn his newly acquired
property to account.

A small village had, since the small enclosure
authorised by Charles I., grown up at Simonsbath,
and Mr. Knight taking up his quarters at what was till
then the village inn, started to build himself a large
house, the unfinished ivy-clad walls of which rem.ained
standing like a picturesque ruin till pulled down a
few years ago by Lord Fortescue.

Immense sums of money were spent on road-
making, enclosing, draining, and in prospecting
for minerals. The South Forest, that is, the part
south of the Barle, w^as entirely enclosed and sub-
stantial farms built, such as Emmet's Grange, Winter-
shead, Sherdon, while Honeymead, The Warren,
Larkbarrow, and Driver, or Dryford, were laid out. To
carry out these works all the local labour in the villages
round was insufficient, and a whole army of Irishmen
was imported, a very turbulent crowd, always fighting
among themselves. Tales of their battles still survive.

The Ebbw \^ale and other companies, who were
sinking shafts and raising iron ore, imported gangs
of Welshmen, and the peaceful haunts of the red deer
were rudely disturbed. A very high quality of iron
ore was found in abundance, and a track for a
tramway to take the ore from Simonsbath, by the


Warren, across Acmead, and so to sea at Porlock
Weir, was surveyed, and parts of it were commenced
and are known as " The Tramway " to this day — a
name sorely puzzHng to the stranger.

Among the most enduring works executed by Mr.
Knight are Pinkworthy Pond, which was intended to
ensure a water supply for the mines below, and was
made by damming up the head waters of the Bade
where they issue from "The Chains." " The Chains
Path," or trench, which runs along the southern side
of the Chains, and separates that stretch of bog from
the rough enclosures of Driver, was also one of his
improvements. It was no doubt originally intended
as a drain, and fulfils that purpose to-day, but being
cut down right on to the hard bottom it enables
staghunters to get along, though in the autumn
frequently, and in the winter always, they are up
almost to their stirrups in inky-black water. To Mr.
Knight also we are indebted for those deep, square
cut drainage ditches which intersect so much of the
wet ground like the bars of a gridiron, and account
for more falls in the course of a season than anything
else. These w-ere made by plough teams of black
oxen working twelve to a team ; indeed, almost all
the hauling for Mr. Knight's improvements was done
in this way. The oxen are reputed to have been very
savage. During this time the inn at Moles Chamber,
the ruins of which look so forlorn and desolate, did a
roaring trade. This inn had not borne the best of
reputations for many years. Situated just on the


border of Somerset and Devon, it needed the
constables of two counties to make sure of the arrest
of anyone who w'as " wanted," so that it was much
frequented by those who desired a secure retreat.
It stood, moreover, on the main road — pack-horse
track be it understood, there were no metalled roads
till after this date — between Barnstaple and Dunster,
being a regular halting place for the trains of pack-
horses, and it was much used by the free-traders for
distributing the smuggled goods which were landed
on the rocky coasts between Porlock and Lynmouth,
notably at the " Bark House" and below Culbone,
where the old path by which the kegs were carried up
through the wood can still be traced

The difficulty and cost of transport of the ore,
after a short time, caused a cessation of the mining
operations, but Mr. Knight persevered with his
agricultural improvements for many years, and on
the south side of the country with some small
measure of success, but unfortunately utterly out of
proportion to the capital expended. At length,
however, he became convinced that further expendi-
ture would be useless ; the Welshmen and the
Irishmen were withdrawn, and, save for the farmers
and the few labourers employed on the new farms,
the district became as quiet and as uninhabited as
before. But in the meantime the red deer had been
driven to forsake a large stretch of country ; deer
are very conservative in their habits, and they will
continue to avoid a particular district for many years


after the cause which originally led to its abandon-
ment has been removed, and it is only within the last
few years that deer have taken once more to using
the South Forest.

It must not be inferred that Mr. John Knight was
inimical to staghunting, quite the contrary, and he
was one of the subscribers to the hunt when the old
pack was sold. As deer preservers he and his son,
the late Sir Frederick Knight, were particularly
zealous and loyal to the hunt.

For two years after the sale of the hounds there
was no staghunting, and poaching prevailed to such
an extent that in a very short time the herd would
have been exterminated had it not been for the
enterprise of Sir Arthur Chichester, of Youlstone,
who in 1827 got together a pack of draft foxhounds,
and hunted the country till 1833. Then ensued
another Interregnum, and poaching again was rife
till 1837, when, by the exertions of Dr. C. Palk
Collyns, a subscription pack was got together which
hunted nominally under a committee, but really
under Dr. Collyns, till 1841, when the Hon. Newton
Fellowes took the Mastership till 1847 ! ^"^ ^^^
resignation he was succeeded by Sir Arthur
Chichester for one year. Mr. Theobalds then
brought his pack of hounds for tw^o months from
Cheltenham in 1849, but though accustomed to
carted deer they had little success. In 1850 Mr.
Luxton, of Winleigh, provided a pack and fair sport
for a season, but gave way to Captain West, whose


hounds had been entered to carted deer in the
neighbourhood of Bath. He and his eccentric but
able huntsman, " Sam," showed excellent sport.
In 1852 Mr. Carew of CoUipriest, then master of
the Tiverton Foxhounds, assumed the command,
only to relinquish it once more to Captain West
in 1853.

These constant changes of Masters, hounds, and
huntsmen were naturally very detrimental to the
sport of staghunting ; poaching was on the increase,
openly and without disguise, and the deer were fast
becoming extinct. But the tide of fortune had reached
its lowest ebb. Afresh attempt to raise subscriptions
met with a somewhat encouraging response — on
paper — and Mr. Fenwick, the tenant of Pixton Park,
who, having come to the country for shooting, had
seen good sport with Captain West, undertook the
Mastership. Mr. Fenwack, who subsequently on his
marriage with the heiress of Bagborough took the
name of Bisset, was one of those rare men to whom
difficulties and obstacles, which would daunt other
men, serve only as incentives to more vigorous
efforts towards that success which they inevitably
attain in the long run. It is hard for us in these
days of prosperity to realise the difficulties which
confronted Mr. Bisset, and w^ere successfully overcome
by him. Scarcity of deer, apathy, and in some cases
almost hostility, of landowners, and deficiency of
money were only three — though an important three
— of the difficulties. The last-mentioned difficulty


he overcame to a great extent by finding the money
himself, but it was many years before it could be said
that he had the cordial assistance of the owners of
land, though his innate kindliness, disguised under a
somewhat cold and distant manner, had soon won
over the farmers to his side.

In his first season, though hounds were out
twenty-five days, only two stags and two hinds were
killed ; in his next year only one stag was killed, four
hinds, and two male deer. Even after ten years of
mastership, with such able assistants as Jack
Babbage and Arthur Heal, only three stags, four
hinds, and three other deer were killed. In 1861
Mr. Bisset's tenure of Pixton Park came to an end,
and but for the public-spirited conduct of Mr, Froude
Bellew, who turned out of his house at Rhyll himself,
and also gave up his kennels, Mr. Bisset's Mastership
would inevitably have come prematurely to an end.
In that year the pack, which had been kept at Jury
Kennels, were moved to Rhyll, where they remained
until they came to Exford in 1876.

In 1865 Mr. Bisset, who had taken much pains to
establish a herd of deer on the Ouantock Hills,
killed his first stag there. Little by little the number
of deer in the country increased ; public opinion,
which had been, if anything, against the hounds, had
veered round, and now was strongly in their favour ;
but the financial question was still a serious one.

The district is a sparsely populated and a poor
one ; the resident landowners were, and are now, few

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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 18 of 22)