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 9 of 22)
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so much of West Somerset and North Devon is
properly included in the term Exmoor ? And why is
it called a forest when the greater portion of it is
bare of trees ? " are questions so often asked that it
may be of interest to deal with these points, and,
without going into any abstruse historical disquisi-
tions, to trace briefly the history of Exmoor and
of staghunting, for the two are practically insepar-
able, from the earliest times of which we know any-
thing, and to see how the sport was carried on of
old, how the dwellers in the district groaned under
the cruel Forest Laws, and how, little by little, the
exclusive privilege of Royalty became the cherished
sport of the people of two counties.

For this purpose it will be well to define clearly
the boundaries of the Forest of Exmoor at different
periods, and then to see how, and by whom, the laws
were administered, and what are the earliest traces


of the existence of staghunting on Exmoor, what
the old books call " hunting at force," that is with a
pack of hounds hunting by scent in contradistinction
to coursing or shooting deer, which are sometimes
included under the general term hunting.

Of the boundaries of the Royal Forest in Saxon
times we have no records, but as so many of the
manors surrounding the forest were held by members
of the Saxon Royal family, it is probable that forest
rights were exercised over a very large and indeter-
minate stretch of country, nor have we any definite
information as to the boundaries under the earliest
Norman kings, but from the presentation of the jury
who made a perambulation of the boundaries of the
forest in the seventh year of Edward I., we learn
that a great part of the encroachment which then
existed had been made by King John. The country
over which the forest laws were then in force was
bounded by a line running from a little east of
Hurlstone Point, passing between East and West
Luccombe to Couple Cross, near the " Heathpoult,"
and going, nearly on the line of the old Minehead
road, past King's Brompton to the junction of the
Rivers Exe and Bade close to Dulverton Station ; the
other boundary of the forest being coterminous with
the boundary of the county. This included in the
forest the parishes of Porlock, Bossington, West
Luccombe, Stoke Pero, Cutcombe, Exford, Wins-
ford, Exton, King's Brompton, Dulverton, Hawkridge,
and Withypool.



The object of this encroachment is obvious,
because all the best coverts in the country and the
favourite breeding places of the deer were thus
brought within the "regard of the forest."

We do not know that King John ever hunted on
Exmoor himself, but he frequently went to the Royal
hunting lodge at Axbridge to hunt on Mendip.
There is said to be an old foik-song extant in those
parts, with a chorus in praise of King John — surely
the only place in England where he ever was

By the forest clauses of Magna Charta and by the
Charta de Foresta John professed to abandon all
his encroachments, but it was long before any
effective steps were taken.

Two perambulations of the forest were made in
1279, one on January 4th, and the other in April.

The jury on the first occasion started from County
Gate and followed the line of the present road by
Hawkcombe Head to Alderman's Barrow, and thence
by the line of the existing trackway to the road below
Hill Head Cross and by Edgcott to Exford. From
here the line followed the Exe down to Road Castle,
and then proceeded by the track up to and across
Room Hill, and by Comer's Gate and Wambarrows
nearly to the old inscribed stone by Spire Cross, then
** by the great way between the two Ashways " (how
often we gallop that track in the course of a season)
"as far as the water of Barle at Tarr Steps, and
down to the Danes Brook at Castle Bridge. From


this point the boundary runs on the same hne as the
county boundary up to Danes Brook, past Hawk-
ridge and Lyshwell to Wilhngford, and up Litton
Water to Darlick Corner near the Sandiway Inn, thus
leaving Anstey, Molland, and Cuzzicombe Commons
on the left ; then along the line of the lane from
Darlick Corner, across the Simonsbath Yard Down
road, and over Span Head to Moles Chamber.
From Moles Chamber the line ran across the
Simonsbath — Challacombe road and up beside the
track — which is the old road to Lynton — to Wood
Barrow ; thence down the little water to Sadler's
Stone — where the gate is now— and along the wall
separating The Chains from Furze Hill and Lynton
Commons to Hoar Oak, Brendon Two Gates, and
Badgworthy Water. Down Badgworthy Water to
Southern Wood, and up the steep hill-side to County

This included in the bounds of the forest most of
the parishes of Exford and Winsford, and the whole
of Hawkridge and Withypool, all outside this line
being disafforested, but it excluded Brendon, Lynton,
Challacombe, and all the other commons in Devon.

A curious footnote to this perambulation is worth
being reproduced, as it shows how our liberties were
purchased by hard cash, and how strenuously the
officials of the forests clung on to their jurisdiction.
It runs as follows :

" Moreover all other woods which were afforested
after the coronation of King Henry, grandfather to

K 2



the Lord King Henry, son of King John, were
afforested by King John. And afterwards they were
disafforested by King Henry, son of King John, when
a fifteenth part of the moveable goods of all England
was given to the said Lord King Henry for making the
charter of common liberties and forest charter. And
afterwards they were afforested by Richard de
Wyrtham against the forest' charter, to the great
damage of the whole country where the Lord King
has no profit."

Richard de Wyrtham, by virtue of his office as
forester in fee, had been lord of the manors of
Withypool and Hawkridge, and had been, no doubt,
anxious to keep the strongest hold possible over the
game on his own lands.

He had been succeeded by Richard de Plecy in
the office of forester when the perambulation
mentioned took place, and he seems to have upheld
the acts of his great-uncle Richard ; but the award
must have been speedily shown to be wrong, for in
April of the same year a second jury were called
together, and they made another perambulation :
" The sworn men of Exmoor went forward in this
way." They began at Willingford on the Danes-
brook, the Devon boundary, and went straight to
Hocklestone on the edge of Withypool Common,
and down to Sherdan Hutch on the Bade. "And
so going down by the river bank of the manor of
Landacre, leaving that within the forest straight to
Stonhuste " (probably an upright stone just by the


gate on the Exford Road at the edge of the North
Common), " thence straight to the Dermark " (prob-
ably the gate at the edge of the North Common
leading into the eastern branch of Gipsy Lane), and
so on by the lane to Honeymead Post and by
Redstone, and down to the Exe, up Orchard Combe
to the bend in the road at Spraccombe Head, and
along the road to Alderman's Barrow, thence straight
to Black Barrow — there is a line of bound stones
there still — then right on across Mill Hill to the foot
of Lillescombe, by Robbers' Bridge, and up the
combe and along the road to Fistones, which must
have been at the head of Deddycombe, and so on
to County Gate, and round by the County boundary
to Willingford. This, it will be seen, disafforested
the whole of Exford, Hawkridge, and that part of
Winsford which had formerly been included, and all
Withypool except Landacre Farm.

Landacre was a continual source of trouble, and
the Fugels and Beres, who owned it, were continually
before the Forest Court for enclosing and cultivating
land. We do not know all that happened in those
dark days, but we know them to have been a time of
strife all over England between the foresters and the
farmers, who complained that the foresters kept too
many underlings who exceeded their powers, and
extorted money and collected corn and lambs and
little pigs, and in particular that they collected corn
and brewed it into beer, and suffered no one else to
brew any beer till the foresters had sold all theirs.


What particular form of tyranny Nicholas, the
forester on the Porlock side, had been guilty of we
know not, but John le Deneys and Robert le Deneys
met him in the tavern of Roger de Cockereye at
Doverhay, and beat him so sore that he died. Their
free Danish blood no doubt resented the overbearing
ways of the forest officer.

In 1298, Sabina Pecche being then the keeper of
the forest, having succeeded her brother Richard de
Plecy in his lands and offices, a futher perambulation
was made, and this put an end to the long dispute as
to Landacre, for this manor was declared outside the
regard, and the boundary laid down in a straight line
— the line of the present fence from the Gipsy Lane
gate — bv Picked Stones to Sherdon Hutch on the
Barle, this being the only alteration made in the

As to what happened between 1279, when the
second perambulation was made, and 1298, with
regard to Landacre, history is silent ; but an exact
story of what took place would probably throw some
considerable light on the pleasant ways of the
forester officers of those days, for from the list of
" vills " situated outside the forest, attached to the
survey of 1298, we gather that the troublesome and
encroaching Fugels and Beres had by some means
or other been dispossessed, and the land was held by
John Herun, Richard Durrante, Adam Hustleigh,
and the heirs of Geoffrey de Scolonde and Eorde de
Feynes. The farm, together with all encroachments,


was now declared free from forest law, and this was
the only alteration made by the perambulation. But
it must be remembered that John Herun married
Emma Plecy, sister of Sabina Pecche, the
forester ; , that Avelina, another sister, was married
to Thomas Durrante, though what relation he may
have been of Richard we do not know, and that
Geoffrey de Scolonde, whose heirs were interested
also in the plunder, had been the husband of Emma
de Wrotham, sister of Richard de Wrotham, the late
forester, and therefore great-aunt to Sabina. It
looks as if Sabina had brought off a nice little family
job. Had there been a Commissioner of Woods and
Forests sitting in the Commons in those days the
Member for Somerset might have given him an
uncomfortable ten minutes at question-time.

Picked Stones is a lonely farm, commonly believed
to derive its name from the masses of white quartz
rock sticking up through the heather close by. It is
doubtful if this is the real derivation. It is one of
the oldest and probably the only Inhabited house,
except perhaps at Simonsbath and the village of
Oare, on the ancient forest as defined in i 298, and
was then called Picotestune.

We find Richard de Picotestune mentioned as a
surety valued \2d. in the forest rolls in 1270, and it
is not a little remarkable that Christina, youngest
daughter of Richard de Wrotham, who was forester
in 1200, married Thomas Picot. It may well have
been that the erection of a house by Thomas Picot


may have been connived at by his father-in-law, or
afterwards by his brother-in-law.

It will be noticed that in all these surveys the
parish of Oare is included within the bounds of the
forest, and we do not know exactly when, or in what
circumstances, it became disafforested. There are
no more records of perambulations until 1651, when
Parliament inquired into tlie property of the late

Jeremie Baines, Samuel Cottman, and John
Harrock were deputed to make a return as to the
Royal Demesne. The survey speaks of the forest
of Exmoor as situated in the counties of Somerset
and Devon, but although it recites the exact marks
on the Devon side with great particularity, it is
impossible to see that the boundary in any way
differs from that of the county. Some of the names
mentioned are difficult to identify, but so much of
the line is clearly traceable that it is difficult to
believe there was really any divergence. The
boundary runs from Sadler's Stone along the line of
the wall below The Chains to Brendon Two Gates,
and down Hoccombe, beside the " Batchery
Enclosure," doubtless the square bit of hill cut off
from Brendon Common, then over Bado;worthv and
up Mighty Combe, not to be identified, and thence
"forwards to the Three Combe in feete " (Three
Combes Foot, a well-known point), and so on towards
" Blaykbarrowe Topp. Where begins Sparlockes
(? Porlock) Common, and so along over Blaykborrowe





Ridge to Owlaman's Borrowe, leaving Sparlockes
Common which did abutt the said Chase on the

This puts the whole parish of Oare outside the
forest, but the survey is simply declaratory and does
not purport, as did the previous perambulations, to
disafforest anything.

The area of the forest is stated to be 18,927
acres, 2 roods, 24 poles, and its annual value

The commissioners reported that it was " moun-
tainous and cold ground, much beclouded with thick
fogges and mists, and is used for depasturing of cattle,
horses, and sheep, and is a very sound sheep
pasture," but they reported that very little of it was
capable of improvement.

The survey agrees practically with that made
when the forest was sold in 181 8, when it was found
to contain 18,810 acres, of which 10,262^ were sold
to Mr. J. Knight, of Worcestershire, and the residue
"allotted" to various manors and persons in lieu of
rights on the forest which were extinguished. This
is the explanation of the term "allotment," such as
Porlock Allotment, the Acland Allotment, and
numerous others, which when mentioned by way of
directing a stranger from up the country to find his
way home, have sent him wandering about the moor
looking for a cabbage garden, and have been the
■cause of much regrettable language before the
benighted sportsman reached his inn.


But to return ; Oare must have occupied a unique
position from the earHest time, because it was
apparently the only part of the ancient forest which
was not " Royal Demesne," and in which there were
any inhabited houses.

The manor was granted by the conqueror to Ralph
de Pomerai, from whom it passed to the Kellv
family, and from them through the Spurriers to its
present possessor, Mr. Nicholas Snow, to whose
careful preservation of the deer the hunt owes so

Whether in very early times there ever was any
hamlet or residence at Simonsbath is very doubtful.
Tradition, indeed, speaks of a Saxon palace, but of
this there is no confirmation.

Being in the king's demesne, and so free from
taxation, it is not mentioned in Doomsday, nor do we
find any mention of it in any of the Pleas of the
Forest. It was a recognised name in the time of
Henry VIII., for Leland speaks of it in his '' Itinerary,"
and mentions a wooden bridge over the river, pre-
sumably a " clammer," which looks as if there had
been someone living there, and in Elizabeth's reign
we are told that Hugh Pollard kept staghounds
there. Whatever there was in the way of enclosure
or building cannot have been much, for in 18 18 the
total enclosure at Simonsbath is given as 108

Charles I., in 1625, granted, along with a lease
of the forest, to Earl Pembroke "a further clause of


liberty to him to build a lodge in the forest at his
charges, and to enclose and lay 100 acres of land
thereunto." According to that the old enclosure
can only have been eight acres.

With the exception of Oare and possibly Simons-
bath and Picked Stones, the forest of Exmoor,
putting aside the encroachments, was always
an uninhabited stretch of land, and in this way
differed widely from the other royal forests, which
included farms and villages within their limits, and
in consequence the forest laws, which were mainly
directed against dwellers in the forest, pressed less
hardly than in other places, but to the dwellers in the
encroachments, who felt that they were wrongfully
tyrannised over, they must, while still in force, have
been specially odious.

Great tracts of land surrounding the forest were,
as we have seen at various times, disafforested.
They then became pouralles, or purlieus, of the
forest, and were still subject to certain restrictions
and disabilities. The foresters could still come over
these lands to drive the deer back to the forest.
The owner of a purlieu, or, as Manwood calls him,
a purlieuman, had a restricted right of hunting. He
might hunt a deer on his own land, and if found on
his own land he might follow it anywhere except
on to the King's forest, and might take the deer if
he could, but if his hounds ran on to the forest and
he was unable to stop them, he might not enter
himself, but had to blow a " rechase " on his horn


as loud as he could. This restricted right he migrht
not even share with his neighbours, for, as Manwood
says : " The purlieuman must hunt his own purlieu
himself, and with no other company than his own
serv^ants, and not otherwise, for he cannot license
any other person or persons to hunt there, because
the authority that he himself hath is only conditional
— 'tis a licence of profit which is strict, and cannot
be deputed to another. . . . Besides, the laws of
the forest do not permit a number of persons to
assemble themselves together to hunt in the purlieus,
because that is likewise ad terrorem of the beasts of
the forest."

The purlieuman's rights were still further curtailed
in many ways. He might not hunt at night— a wise
restriction that prevented him shooting deer at feed
— nor on a Sunday, nor out of season, nor more than
three days a week, nor within forty days before or
after the King's coming to hunt in person. The
latter restriction made no difference on Exmoor, for,
so far as we know, no sovereign ever hunted there.
Charles II., when Prince of Wales, rode from Dunster
to Barnstaple with an escort of Hopton's Horse, but
he can have had little leisure to hunt. His present
Majesty, Edward VII., also starting from Dunster, had
a day on Exmoor, but he enjoyed a capital gallop
from Mr. Snow's Deer Park out to Chapman's
Barrows and back to Badgworthy, where the stag
was pulled down. His Royal Highness, as he was
then, was well up, and jumping into the water,


helped Arthur Heal to take the deer and draw him

However valuable may have been the greater
freedom and ease with which he could manage and
cultivate his own estate, it is clear that the sporting
rights of a purlieuman in a country like that around
Exmoor did not amount to much, especially when it
is remembered that he was restricted to hunting
fairly, which presumably meant coursing with grey-
hounds, or hunting " at force " with a pack of
" raches." Nothing in the nature of " forestalling"
was allowed — that is, using any artificial means of
trapping deer, or preventing their return to the forest.
Standing behind a tree and slipping greyhounds on a
deer as it was driven by towards the forest was illegal,
as being " forestalling."

At a Forest Court held at Somerton in 1364 it was
presented by the forest officers that : —

" Robert Hacche, Abbot of Athelneye, and Henry^
his brother, made a stable in a wood called Lefhangre
and took one calf of a stag called unum boriculum
servi {sic). Also they say that Nicolas Corun,
Knight, on Tuesday next after the feast of St.
Leonard, took, in the wood called Burrow Wood,
near Winsford, outside the forest, one stag whose
peace was proclaimed, and made a stable contrary
to the assize of the forest." These, be it noted,
were purlieus.

- A " stable" was a stand from which to shoot when
deer were driven by ; it was in common use in


enclosed parks and when ladies were present. In
Act IV. Love s Labour Lost, the scene is King of
Navarre's park. Enter Princess, a Forester, and

Princess: " Then, forester, my friend, where is the bush

That we must stand and play the murderer in ? "

Forester : " Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice ;

A stand where you may make the fairest shoot."

Nicolas Corun seems to have been guilty of a
double offence, for he not only " forestalled " a stag,
but he " forestalled " a stag whose p^^ace had been
proclaimed. One wonders whether he ensconced
himself where he could command the spot at the
end of Burrow Wood, where deer always break out
to the Punchbowl.

The fact that the stag which was taken was one
whose peace had been proclaimed cannot be taken
as pointing to a royal hunting, as he would then have
been called a Hart Royal Proclaimed, besides which
we have no record that Edward ever journeyed as far
as Exmoor. The stag had probably given a good
run to someone holding a licence from the King.
The record is only valuable as proving that hunting
at force, that is with a pack of hounds hunting by
scent — odora cantim ms — was carried on upon
Exmoor at that date. What we would like to know
is whose hounds they were.

Mention has hitherto only been made of the dis-
afforestations on the Somerset side of Exmoor, but


the condition of things on the Devon border was
only sHghtly different. King John had proclaimed
the whole of Devon to be a Royal Forest, but was
compelled in 1203 to pass the " Charter of the
Forest," which expressly disafforested the county of
Devon " up to the metes and bounds of the ancient
regards of Dartmoor and Exmoor."

" So that the whole of Devon and the men living
in it, with their heirs and descendants, are altogether
free, quit, and exempt for ever of the Forest and of
all things that belong to the Forest and the
Foresters so far as ourselves and our heirs are

The charter goes on expressly to grant rights such
as the making of deer leaps, which are not consistent
with the lands being accounted purlieus.

" Saving and excepting in the regions of the afore-
said moors," where they cannot have deer leaps or
enclosures. " And if their dogs run into our forests
we will that they be withdrawn thence as the dogs
of the Barones and milites are withdrawn whose lands
are disafforested and march with our Forests."

From this it would seem that the ordinary rules,
such as those mentioned above which governed the
sporting rights of ordinary purlieumen, did not apply
to the men of Devon who had been fortunate enough
to extract their freedom from a monarch who was
utterly at the mercy of his subjects and had to accede
to whatever they demanded. The Forest Pitas
contain several allegations of illegal "hunting" on


Exmoor, the hounds coming from the Devon side,
where, according to the Hberties conceded by King
John, the keeping of packs of " racches," or
running hounds, was legal, whereas the Somerset
men's offences are simply ordinary cases of

When one remembers the fact that, at the present
day, there is a widespread impression in the minds
of, one might be almost justified in saying, the
majority of people that Exmoor is in Devon, whereas
it is, as we have seen from the perambulations, in
Somerset, it is not surprising to find that there has
been an impression existing for hundreds of years
that some part of Exmoor was in Devon ; and so
strong has this been that even learned writers, such
as Mr. Rawle, incline to the view that some undefined
portion was in Devon.

This case seems to be based on certain official
documents which speak of Exmoor as in the counties
of Somerset and Devon, and on certain entries in the
Forest Rolls. It is an undoubted fact that the clerks
and others who drew up documents were as hazy in
their minds, in former days, as most people are
to-day, as to what is in Devon and what in
Somerset ; for instance, we find in one of the
Pleas of the Forest that Dulverton, which, beyond all
controversy, is, and always was, in Somerset, is
described as in Devon. We find in 1335 a presenta-
tion by the sworn jury of the various lords of manors
who claimed common rights on the Royal Forest in


which the lords of Dunster, Wootton Courtenay,
Luccombe, Bratton (by Minehead), Porlock^ and
Oare are included in the Devon list. This general
uncertainty existing, it is not surprising to find

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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 9 of 22)