Including the Forest of Dartmoor,
Princetown & Postbridge
Local History ~ Family History ~ Walking Notes

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Last Updated 25th August 2001
Articles (Publications List at End)
Lydford1 The Story of Dolly Trebble
Lydford2 Broadun Hole
Lydford3 Quintin's Man
Lydford4 Crokkerrentorre 500
Lydford5 Wistmans Wood
Lydford6 Advert for Letting Sherberton Farm
Lydford7 Jolly Lane Cot, Hexworthy
Lydford8 1867 Lease of Rattlebrook Mine Sett
Lydford9 Lower Merripit Farmhouse
Lydford10 Description from Kelly’s 1893 Directory of Devon
Lydford11 St Petroc's Church, Lydford
Lydford12 St Michael's Church, Princetown
Lydford13 St Gabriel's Church, Postbridge
Lydford14 Notes on Parish Registers
Lydford15 Notes on Manorial Records
Lydford16 List of Main Local Surnames
Lydford17 Lydford Castle & Lydford Gorge
Lydford18 1851 Census Placename Corrections
Lydford19 Full Transcript of Lydford Village War Memorial (War Memorials Web Page)
Lydford20 Full Transcript of Princetown Village War Memorial (War Memorials Web Page)
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The Story of Dolly Trebble
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Built onto the corner of the boundary wall approx 200 yards east of Fairy Bridge are the very scant remnants of a small enclosure and the tiny dwelling known as Dolly Trebble's  House (grid reference SX64437255), or Swincombe Cottage. The small cottage is traditionally said to have been used by Dolly following the death of her husband Tom and her subsequent employment at nearby Hooten Wheals, and that it may have been formerly used by Tom during weekdays whilst he was employed in the Swincombe Valley, the dwelling being a more convenient abode for both husband and widow during their respective employments than the family home in the West Dart Valley above Brimpts  - the married couple formerly lived at Dolly's Cot.

However, as with many Dartmoor legends the facts regarding this one have over the years become embroiled with fiction, and this traditional tale does not get off to a very good start by being incorrect in one essential fact at the outset - Dolly's husband was not Tom at all, but
was called William! They did in fact reside at the cottage in the Swincombe Valley for a few years in the 1850s, having previously lived at the house near Brimpts - and also, for a time, at the oddly-shaped house known as the Hornet's Castle at Sherwell - before moving to Prince Hall. Here William died in 1877, by which time Dolly was 82 years old - which is rather too late in life to start working at a mine! - surviving her husband by just two years. It is probable also that the ending of the traditional tale is incorrect, in stating that she was buried at Widecombe. William was buried at Princetown and, Dolly having moved to a cottage at nearby Foggintor after his death, it is not unlikely that his wife was buried with him.

It is rather surprising that the false legend seems to have been initiated by Baring-Gould, writing only a few years after these events took place. A brief account of the true facts relating to the Dolly Trebble story, investigated by Elisabeth Stanbrook a century later, is provided in Dartmoor Magazine Vol 16. Further to which, I later came across an interesting, and rather breathless, letter - no punctuation! - written by one of William & Dolly's grandaughters to the minister at Princetown -

                                                                                                        No 10 Back St
                                                                                                        Exeter May 24th 1925
Dear Sir I do hope you will Kindly Excuse my Writing to you an I am Sorry to have to do So to give trouble but I am applying for my old age pension an I have got to get all information I can & wanted to ask you see if there is any Babtism registed in your Curch I am the youngest Daughter of Tom Treble an mary Treble of Hexworthy my name was Matilda treble an my Grandfather William Trebble an my grandmother Dorethy Treble looked after the Lodge at prince Hall for many years an I was a Servant for many years with Mr Barrington at Torroyal I should feel thankful if you could Sir find me any Information that may help me an I know I am over 70 years old an my Husband is 73 years an we would be thankful to get the pension
                                                                                       your Humble Servant
                                                                                       Matilda Lasky

Many thousands of people must have experienced similar problems in satisfying the authorities as to their correct age during this period - state pensions for the over seventies were, by the way, first introduced in 1908 - for, although registration of births, marriages and deaths had been tightened up in 1837, many parish registers were still kept in a rather lax manner throughout much of the nineteenth century. And it may well be that there were further difficulties in this particular case for, rather curiously, the only baptism entry for a Matilda Trebble during the period under consideration was that of a Matilda Dorothea on 27th January 1850 who was, however, recorded as having been the daughter of Lydia Trebble, a servant at Swincombe.

Broadun Hole
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

I was up here (grid reference SX67358143) one day in the winter of 1991/92, the snow over 2ft deep and swirling mist beginning to roll in off the high Moor, the heavy atmosphere and dark foreboding skies foretelling of further snowfalls, these particular atmospheric conditions giving rise to a phenomenon which I have heard neither before nor since at this spot. The low incessant rumble of Dart's waters, sounding like the hum of a distant jet engine, could be clearly heard from the ridge above the north bank, eerie yet somehow captivating, the only sound breaking the stillness of the scene. Curiously, the sound seemed confined to one particular spot, for further up or downstream or higher or lower on the ridge, the dull hum changed to the more familiar one of the rushing waters tumbling over the boulder-strewn riverbed. I have never heard the sound in this location during any subsequent visits, which demonstrates that such occurrences are entirely dependent upon the prevailing atmospheric conditions. Indeed, this is well known, and the 'cry' of rivers can be heard elsewhere on Dartmoor at certain times, most famously the 'Cry of the Dart' which emanates from the Double Dart Gorge, and which is said to warn of the imminent death of someone in the neighbourhood.

Quintin's Man
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

According to Hemery, this hill (grid reference SX621839) is correctly called Quinter's Man, the second element of the name suggesting that a 'man' - ie. a longstone, or menhir, the latter meaning, literally, "long man" - may once have stood atop the hill, although there seems to be no firm historical evidence for there ever having been one here. Aside from the desecrated cairn, all that graces its summit are the rotting and decaying carcasses of two military OPs. Offensive to the eye, the only purpose which they now seem to serve is that of large immobile and unemptied litter bins.

A few years ago the origin of the unusual name came up for discussion again through the pages of some Dartmoor publications, when some interesting theories were propounded about the origin of the name Quintin, none of which were even remotely connected with the hill of that name. My own particular theory - which, I must emphasise, is nothing more than that - is that a standing stone which anciently stood here became the marker for a place where flocks would be gathered in for counting - as also occurred at the cross still sometimes still known as Stacombe's Telling-Place, and also probably accounted for the sheep-tell at Loughtor, there being a prehistoric standing stone, Loughtor Man, nearby. Quintin was once a common forename amongst some of the Ancient Tenement families - particularly that of Hext - but if such a theory were to be correct, then the person of this name must have had some connection with the Forest, wherein the hill lies.

And therein lies the crux of my idea, for a Quintin Brown was one of the moormen of the Forest during the period when Sir Nicholas Slanning rented it from the Crown. Quintin Brown and John Giles were Slanning's undertenants for the Forest, as is recorded in the following rental entries -

14 Oct 1691  Recd of John Geels in part of Dartmoor rent due at Michaelmas last - £40
23 May 1692 Recd of Quintin Brown & John Geels in part of Rent for the fforest of
                        Dartmore now due for the year 1691 - £20
25 May 1692 Recd more in part of Dartmore fforest rent - £10
13 Oct 1692 Recd of Quintin Brown & John Geels 10£ which with the 70£ formerly
                         recd is in full of one years rent for Dartmore ended att Michaelmas
                        1692 makes 80£ full payment - £10
                    Recd more of them the sum of 41£ in part of rent for ye fforest of
                        Dartmore for the year 1692 more due 39£ - £41

Brown and Giles were just one link in a long chain, renting the Forest from Slanning, their own profit coming from the agistment and venville fees paid by the farmers who wished to depasture their livestock within the Forest, and Slanning in turn rented the Forest from the Crown, as is recorded on the debit side of the accounts (the personal pronouns in the entries referring to his Manor steward) -

14 Aug 1691 To the King and Queens messenger for his ffee in coming to demand the
                        Arrears of Rent due out of the fforest of Dartmoor per rec on my
                        pockett Book - £3
13 Oct 1691 Paid a year and halfs rent for the fforest of  Dartmoor ended att
                        Michaelmas last  - £41 10s
                     Expences for me and my Horse when I paid in the fforest rent att Exon - 2s 6d

My theory therefore is that Quintin Brown used to gather the flocks from his quarter of the Forest onto the hill overlooking the headwaters of the Teign and, although only a purely speculative idea, I feel that it is a better one than any others which have been put forward for the name Quintin's Man being attached to the spot. And, even if the idea is proved to be incorrect by future research, it has nevertheless provided me with an 'excuse' to recite the foregoing interesting entries, for I also believe that John Giles - or Geels, as his name was spelt in the entries - was the great x2 grandfather of the Abraham Giles of Lethertor Farm who was the Tithingman for Walkhampton Manor and a Duchy Reeve in the early nineteenth century. If this is indeed so, it is very likely that at least five consecutive generations of Giles' of Walkhampton had been connected with the Forest in some way, for it is known that Abraham's father and grandfather before him had both also been Forest Moormen and Reeves for the Duchy of Cornwall.

In connection with this long heritage, it is also interesting to observe that Abraham Giles, in defiance of the instructions issued by Sir Mannaseh Masseh Lopes, his Manorial landlord, refused to have anything to do with an illegal drift of the Walkhampton Commons which Lopes ordered in 1826 - for it is certain that Giles knew the ancient Forest Laws far better than did the Lord of the Manor, for his family had been working stock over the land for generations, and had been Moormen of the Forest long before any members of the Lopes' family had even heard of the place.

Crokkerrentorre 500
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Crockern Tor (grid reference SX61567577) - formerly Crokkerrentorre and variants - is a fairly insignificant rock pile, and is often entirely overlooked by walkers en route to Wistmans Wood or the northern fen beyond, but its historical associations make it noteworthy, and it also has some relics worthy of inspection. The former site of the tinners' Stannary Parliament (or Great Court) sittings, the first definite evidence of which comes in a document dated 1494, the tall stepped outcrop on the southwest corner of the tor is known as Parliament Rock, and looks out over a natural amphitheatre in the clitter. Below, on the granite ledge, large boulders have been manhandled into position to form a long rough table or bench. A little to the east and above, a roughly rectangular slab has been trigged-up to form an almost perfectly flat 5x4ft table, and nearby is another trigged slab on one side of a small alcove crudely enclosed by a low wall of irregular boulders. Within this small space an almost perfectly flat narrow bench has been built from two emplaced slabs, the flat natural slope of the outcrop forming a narrow seat along the third side of the table. The clitter slope below these features at first glance has a natural enough appearance, but here and there flat slabs could have formed small benches or tables for the Parliamentary gatherings.

Westcote, writing in 1630, provides an interesting, though somewhat contradictory, description of the tor, first saying that the Parliament was held in "a very ancient and fair palace...seated in an open fresh air", but then observing that this "fair palace" was often "subjected to the furious assaults and violence of all winds and weathers, blasts and storms, and tempests; affronting and bearing up against all; neither yielding to, nor shrinking from, any; as not fearing their fury...near unto which there is neither house, refuge, nor shelter by divers miles". He also had this to say about the tinners, and the harsh life which they endured -

"Miserable men! some may say in regard of their labour and poverty; yet having a kind of content therein, for that they aim at no better, they think not so; for having sufficient to supply nature's demand, they are satisfied; sleep soundly without careful thoughts, which most men want not, which are either greedy of more, or press nature with superfluities of provoking sauces, hot wines, waters and spices".

In September 1994 a ceremony was held at the tor to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Great Court held in 1494, a ceremony which was attended by a number of representatives from the four ancient Stannary towns of Ashburton, Plympton, Tavistock and Chagford, as well as from Lydford, which also played an important role in the long history of the Dartmoor tinners, being the site of the dungeon into which those who dared to question the ancient Stannary Laws were thrown. It is fitting that one of those who attended the ceremony was the late 84 year old Gilbert Warne of Postbridge, the last surviving link with Dartmoor's long history of tin mining. For him the day must have had a special and poignant significance, bringing back personal recollections of events which were experienced by no other living person, and one wonders whether he "slept soundly without careful thoughts" that evening - or did his thoughts perhaps turn once more to the 1930s, when he worked underground at Golden Dagger in conditions little better than those experienced by his predecessors of three centuries earlier.

On the occasion of the commemoration event I rode on horseback from Holne to Crockern Tor, over the same route which had probably been taken by John Hanworthy of Cumston Farm five centuries earlier - he was one of the Jurates of Ashburton Stannary who attended the Crockern Tor Court in 1494. The essential parts of the route have probably changed little since his day, for it is largely over open moorland.

After leaving Holne village, the route from Cumston took me through some of the enclosures of the farm and then onto an ancient packhorse track which crosses the River Dart at Week Ford and continues up a narrow stoney packhorse lane leading to Huccaby Farm. Here the ancient way is now a metalled road for some 500 yards or so. Then, entering the gate into Huccaby Newtake, I crossed what would in Hanworthy's day have been open moorland, a tract which is still uncultivated but is now enclosed by boundary walls. The route took me over the summit of Bellever Tor and onto the ancient Lich Way, a rough  moorland track which leads from the Ancient Tenements of the Forest of Dartmoor to Lydford, which has been in use for countless centuries - the earliest reference to it dates from 1260. Today this is still a right of way in its entirety, crossing the heart of the Dartmoor wilderness from east to west. Emerging onto what is now the main Plymouth-Moretonhampstead-Exeter road - which in Hanworthy's day was a rough dirt track crossing central Dartmoor - I deserted the Lich Way and followed the road for a mile or so until the gate into the large newtake within which is situated Crockern Tor.

Whether John Hanworthy walked or rode the six or seven miles or so from Cumston to Crockern Tor is, of course, not known. But even if he rode, it is certain that I completed the journey in quicker time than he would have done. For he would almost certainly have been mounted on a little moorland pony, sturdy and hardy and used to the rigours of the harsh winters on the high moors. But hardly built for speed! My own mount, however, was an ex-hunter, a bit of a tearaway in her youth, and who still likes to stretch her legs at every opportunity!

And if any readers of this section ever happen to be visiting Holne Church, say 'hello' to Whisper for me - she will be grazing in the field immediately adjacent to the churchyard, where she was born and bred, and has lived for the past 20-odd years.

Wistmans Wood
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Wistmans Wood (grid reference SX6177) is one of only three isolated remnants of primeval oak woodland areas on Dartmoor, the others being at Piles Copse and Black Tor Beare. All the woods are on west-facing clitter slopes, and the survival of the trees is largely because of their unique location amongst a jumbled mass of large boulders, rather than in spite of them. For the clitter not only helps to protect the young saplings from the attentions of browsing animals, but has also protected the areas from human access for the cutting of timber in previous centuries.

In certain atmospheric conditions the woodlands create an impression of something mysterious and magical when viewed at close quarters, with their stunted, twisted and gnarled oaks growing right in amongst the rocks, the whole covered in a thick spongy mass of lichens, mosses and
ferns. Walking through the woods, one can often sense a strange eerieness surrounding the grotesque shapes, and in the gathering gloom of dusk, or when the woods are shrouded in thick mists, the mind can transform the twisted branches into monstrous apparitions threading their tentacles menacingly out of the gloom.

The woods are still thriving and have in fact nearly doubled their extent over the past century or so, and their aspect also presently tends to be more open, and the canopy higher, than in former times. The early descriptions all write of extremely stunted growth, and the trees being engulfed in an almost impenetrable entanglement of brambles and ferns. Even today there is a stark difference between the flora of the woodland floor in the main woods and that in the small enclosed section on the southern edge. This latter was fenced off in 1965 to prevent intrusion by animals and walkers, and is now growing in its natural state free from outside interference.

In the northeast corner of the central grove of the woods, and just below the path which runs above the tree line, a tall triangular rock bears a long inscription recording the cutting down of a tree near this spot in 1868 by Wentworth Buller. The well incised letters are still perfectly clear,
although possibly these too will one day become concealed by a thick carpet of moss and lichens which covers all of the other boulders in the woods. The position of the rock also highlights the expansion of the woods this century - no longer "50 paces above the central grove", as described by Crossing, it now stands just below the tree line. And it may be that it will mark the limit of the upslope extent of the woods, for above this point the ground is far more open, with only a sparse clitter, so that saplings which take root may not be able to survive the attentions of browsing sheep and cattle. Only a few isolated trees at present survive on the higher slopes, having established themselves in the few sites where much larger boulders or small outcrops offer some protection during their early stages of growth.

Altogether a remarkable place, said by early antiquaries to be the home of the Druids, supposing Wistman to be a corruption of "wise man". But, quite aside from the reality that there is no
evidence whatsoever to associate these white-bearded priests with Dartmoor, this supposed derivation of the name is incorrect. There are two more plausible explanations for the name, either that it is derived from Welshman's Wood,  "Welsh" or "Wealas" being the Saxon word for "foreigners", or that it comes from the Devon word "wisht" meaning "haunted".

Advert for Letting Sherberton Farm
Sherborne Mercury February 1811
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

This was the customary time of the year for advertising farming tenancies, so that the new lessee would come onto a farm at Lady Day (25th March), with the spring tillage already completed, and a fresh crop of grass in some of the meadows, so that his livestock could immediately be depastured in them without any preparation having to be done upon entering the tenancy. It was this latter consideration which was also the reason why all leases for terms of years stipulated that during the last six months of the term the landlord's agents could enter the premises and prepare and sow some of the ground for grass and corn &c, so that these would be ready for the anticipated arrival of the new tenant the following spring. Similar terms applied to the buildings and hedges &c, as per the outline conditions expressed in the ad, so that any incoming tenant would be able to enter a habitable and workable property. Note the odd mistake in the ad, stating that the property was in Widecombe - which it most certainly is not! - an error which probably arose because the inhabitants of the Ancient Tenements of the Forest (of which Sherberton was one) customarily resorted to Widecombe Church, for that at Lydford was so far away.

A very Excellent ESTATE
To be LET  by TENDER, for a term of 14 years, from Lady-day next,

All that Capital DAIRY FARM and LANDS, called SHERBERTON, and TENEMENT, called BROOM-PARK, situate lying and being within the parish of Widdicombe-in-the-Moor... consisting of a very good dwelling-house, 3 barns, a stable, and other very convenient outhouses, with about 500 acres of meadow, arable, and pasture land (all lying within a ring fence) now in the occupation of Mr Edward Barter, whose term expires at Lady-day next. Mr Edward Barter...or Mr George Barter...will show the estate...further information...from...Mr Smith...Proposals in writing...to be sent...to the said Mr Smith...the person approved will have notice of his offer being accepted.
The taker to put the hedges, gates, hurdles, and fences, in good and sufficient repair, at his own expence, and to keep and leave them in such good repair, at the end of the said term, particularly the hedges, gates, and fences, round the plantations. The thatch coverings will be put into good and sufficient repair by the setters, which the taker is at his own expence to keep and yield up in good and tenantable repair at the end of the term. The taker to draw and carry all materials for such repairs as are presently wanting on the houses, and as may be required during the term, at his own expence. The setters will repair and keep in good condition the slated coverings and walls of the dwelling-house, and barn at Sherberton, during the term. The taker to pay his rent quarterly...clear of all tithes, rates, taxes and outgoings, excepting the landlord's property tax. The setters except and reserve all the plantations. Security for payment of rent...is to be given by the taker... N.B. The taker will be at liberty to prepare any part of the land for tillage, immediately on signing the contract. The hedges and fences are at present very little out of repair. Dated February 1 1811.

Jolly Lane Cot, Hexworthy
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Jolly Lane Cot (grid reference SX65617270) was the last house on Dartmoor to be built in a day, according to the old tradition that a peasant who could start building a dwelling in the morning and have a fire burning in its hearth before sunset could claim it, together with an adjoining plot of land, as his own. One day in 1835, having prepared and safely hidden all the materials beforehand, local peasants and labourers gathered to begin the task whilst the local landowners and farmers of the district attended Holne Fair. Before sundown the little dwelling had been completed and the fire lit, thus constituting a freeholding under the terms of the ancient Laws of the Forest. The cottage was originally single storey but has since been much altered. A leat runs under Jolly Lane to a dipping well just outside the gate.

It was in this cottage that Rev Baring-Gould and Dr Bussell recorded traditional folk songs sung by Sally Satterley, and the former recites an amusing story of the good doctor having to "skip from his perch" when Sally's daughter lit the fire below the cauldron upon which he was sitting! These 'recording sessions' must have been altogether a strange business, for Sally apparently could not just sit down and sing, 'to an audience', as it were, but only sung, as she customarily did, whilst going about her housework. It must thus have made a rather curious spectacle, Sally going about the house and the yard singing whilst doing her work, with two bowler-hatted and suited gentleman in tow hanging on her every word!

1867 Lease of Rattlebrook Mine Sett
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Let by the Duchy to Messrs J & J W Matthews, the principal clauses describing the bounds read as follows - "His Royal Highness Albert Edward Prince of Wales Duke of Cornwall...Demises and Grants...All Mines Veins and Beds of Metal and Metallic Ore and all China Clay Land and other mineral substances...within the Manor of Lyford...bounded by the following limits...On the North in part by the boundary of the Forest of Dartmoor from the Rattlebrook Head Eastward and for the remaining part by a straight line due West from the said Rattlebrook Head on the West by a line drawn parallel to the Rattlebrook at the distance of three hundred fathoms...on the East by a line drawn parallel to the said Rattlebrook at the distance of four hundred fathoms and on the South and South West in part by the boundary of the Commons of Devon in other part by the course of the said Rattlebrook and for the remaining part by the Tavy Cleave".

The term was for just one year at £5 rent plus dues of one twentieth on metallic minerals and clay, one twenty-fourth on bricks and tiles etc, and 6d per ton on all peat used, the lease allowing the prospectors to carry out - "...all acts necessary or proper for exploring searching for opening and effectually working the Mines Veins and Beds of Metal and Metallic Ore and for searching for digging and getting the Clay Land and other mineral substances hereby demised and raising washing dressing and making merchantable carrying away and disposing of the Metals and Metallic Ores Clay Land and other mineral substances thereby obtained and also upon the same lands to burn and take the Clay and manufacture the same into Bricks Tiles or other similar articles and also full and free but not exclusive liberty power and authority upon the same lands to dig cut get and use Peat and Peat Earth for the purpose of burning and baking the Clay used in such manufacture but not for the purpose of sale or for any other purpose whatsoever".

On the same date the two lessees were also granted the lease of the Doe Tor Sett, which abutted on the western side of the Rattlebrook Sett, the terms and conditions being similarly worded. The leases were renewed annually until at least 1876 and one of the lessees, Joseph Matthews of Tavistock, was first recorded as leasing a Sett in the area as early  as 1856.

Lower Merripit Farmhouse
Description from "Department of the Environment List of
Buildings of Special Architectural & Historical Importance"
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Grade II* Listed Building. Longhouse. C16, altered in C19. Granite rubble walls partly colour-washed. Gable ended corrugated iron roof. 2 granite stacks with dripmoulds, one at the left gable end and one axial stack constructed of ashlar with a tapering cap.

Plan. Longhouse with shippon to the right, passage, hall and inner room to the left. Hall stack backs onto the passage. C19 outshuts built on along rear wall.

Exterior. 2 storeys with 1 storey shippon plus loft which has lower roof-line. Asymmetrical 2-window front, shippon to the right. C20 one and 2-light casements and C20 plank door to left to centre of house. Right-hand ground floor window has 2-light granite mullion window frame whose mullion has been removed. Rebuilt lean-to porch to passage at centre with wide doorway behind. Door into front of shippon aproximately half way along - probably a later insertion. The front wall of the inner room shows signs of having been rebuilt.

Interior. Large hall fireplace has corbelled granite jambs and the stack has ashlar granite back to the passage. C17 oak doorframe from hall to inner room with lozenge decoration in centre of head. Shippon has central drain, splayed slit windows (blocked to outside) and probably original cross-beams for hay loft. Also the remains of one raised cruck truss.

This is a rare example of a simple longhouse with its shippon still unconverted and fulfilling its original purpose.

Description from Kelly’s 1893 Directory of Devon
transcribed by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Lydford is a parish, with a station 1½ miles south of the village on the Launceston and Tavistock
branch railway, 207¼ miles from London, in the Western division of the county, Lighten hundred, Tavistock petty sessional division, union and county court district, rural deanery of Tavistock, archdeaconry of Totnes, and diocese of Exeter, 7½ miles north from Tavistock and 14 from Launceston. This place, during the Saxon period and subsequently, was a borough, and
returned two members to Parliament from 1301 until 1307, after which the burgesses, “propter paupertatem”, were excused: at the beginning of the reign of Edward 1 the assizes were held here and at Exeter alternatively. Lydford station is the junction of the London and South Western railway with the Launceston, Tavistock and Plymouth line of the Great Western railway. The Plymouth, Devonport and South Western junction railway, constructed in 1889, furnishes the South Western Company with and independent line to Plymouth. The church of St. Petrock is a building of granite, incorporating remains of an older structure of freestone, in the Early Perpendiculr style, with some traces of Early English work, consisting of chancel, nave of three bays, south aisle, south porch and an embattled tower, with crocketed pinnacles, containing 5 bells, recast with additional metal in 1789, from a previous peal of three, by J. Pennington and Co. under a licence from the Bishop: in the west wall of the aisle are remains of the staircase to the rood loft; the east end of the aisle, formerly a chapel, retains a hagioscope pierced through these stairs, and a niche with a mutilated female figure in alabaster: the priest’s door on the south side of the chancel is now block and filled in part with a square-leaded window: the circular granite font is a curious work of Early English date, and the porch, which belongs to the same period, retains a stoup on the east side; the stained east window was erected in 1879 by Daniel Radford esq. of Lidford Bridge, in memory of his brother, George W. Radford esq. and there is a memorial window to a child of Mr. and Mrs. George Radford; there are also two other stained windows, placed by Arthur Radford esq. as memorials to his late wife: there are 100 sittings. The Rev. W. K. Chafy Chafy, curate in charge of the parish, 1875-6, spent about £3,000 in completely re-furnishing the church, repairing and adding to the rectory house and building new stables: in 1890 a north aisle and a vestry were added and the church restored at a cost of £800: in the churchyard is a tomb with a long and very singular inscription to George Routleigh, a watchmaker. The register of baptisms dates from 1716; marriages, 1719; burials, 1726. The living is a rectory, average tithe rent-charge £149, net yearly value £117, including 28 acres of glebe with residence, in the gift of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales K.G. and held since 1891 by the Rev. Richard Turner M.A. of New College, Oxford, who resides at Princetown. There is a Bible Christian chapel here, built of stone, with sittings for 100 persons. The village is supplied with water by means of aqueducts, constructed in 1881, at the sole expence of D. Radford esq. J.P. of Mount Tavy, Tavistock. A granite cross has been erected on Bray’s Tor. Lydford Castle, now in ruins, was erected at some period subsequent to the Conquest, as a protection to this part of the county; the remains consist chiefly of the keep, situated on an artificial mound on one side of a wide sloping area, inclosed by double parallel earthworks; the fortress can be approached only from the north-east, and was once, no doubt, a place of considerable importance; the castle was in a decayed state in 1650, but continued to be in some degree habitable until about 1820: here the Stannary Courts were formerly held. The river Lyd, which flows through the parish, rises about 3 miles above Lydford, and is spanned by a picturesque bridge of one arch, thrown across a ravine 70 feet in depth; immediately below is the famous Lydford Gorge. The stream flows over its rocky bed for about a mile and a half from the bridge, where it is joined by the stream which forms the well-known Lydford cascade, which has a fall of about 100 feet. About one mile above the village, on the course of the Lyd, is a waterfall, commonly called “Kitt’s Steps”. H. R. H. the Prince of Wales K. G. is lord of the manor and chief landowner. This parish, which includes the greater part of the forest of Dartmoor, is the largest in area in England. The township contains 3,662 acres of land, exclusive of the Dartmoor Forest quarter, which extends over 56,333 acres; rateable value, £6,784; the population in 1891 was 2,707, including about 48 officers, and 900 prisoners in Dartmoor Convict Prison.

Approximately 10,000 personal and property name entries from the Dartmoor Parish Sections of Trade Directories of a number of different years are listed in a "Dartmoor Trade Directories Index" which is available on a CD-ROM from Dartmoor Press.

St Petroc's Church, Lydford
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

This must surely be one of the most disappointing churches in any of the Dartmoor Parishes for, although there is nothing to actually dislike, as such, about the interior, it is thoroughly modern, and conveys nothing of the great antiquity of the site, or the many centuries of history which are locked within its austere grey granite walls. A church has stood at the spot since AD 641. The present building dates from the C13th - although, as noted, it has a modern interior. Its best features are the splendidly carved bench ends, each one of the them sculpted to an individual design. There are no interior tablets of note.

Far more interesting is a fine collection of late C18th slate headstones standing near the porch and behind the chancel, many of them with superb calligraphy and finely-executed symbols and motifs. One of them is a particularly important relic - recorded in very tiny letters around the front of the domed top are the words “Cutt by Samuel Vosper in Tavy Rock” - it is one of only two Vosper trademarked stones in the entire West Devon area (the other is at Whitchurch). [NB. I believe that I have recently found Samuel Vosper's own burial entry, in Tavistock on 30th Dec 1790, the only Samuel Vosper whom I have found buried anywhere in the region during this period. Some children of a Samuel Vosper were also buried there in the 1780s. Further research might enable his baptism & marriage to be identified].

Most visitors, of course, do not come to see the church itself, and do not bother to look at anything else in the graveyard, but come exclusively to see the famous Watchmaker’s Tomb - a little finger-post even points to it! The ledger atop this, with its long inscription, has recently been recut, which is something which in my view should not have been done - for one expects to see the natural signs of weathering and erosion on a tomb two centuries old (it is dated 1802), not a ledger with its text in pristine condition. But it satisfies the tourists, who can tell their friends back home that they have seen the “ancient” tombstone with its “unique” epitaph - it is neither!

St Michael's Church, Princetown
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

St Michael's, Princetown, is unique amongst the Dartmoor area churches, in not only being the first to have been built in the modern era (those at Leusdon & Yelverton are more recent), but also the first church to be condemned to a state of uselessness. It is now a redundant church, permanently locked to visitors, and there are questions about its future. Most regrettably, it is also the only Dartmoor church which I have not been inside, for it was closed down before I took an opportunity to visit it. The principal memorial within - and the only interior one of which I am aware - is a tablet to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, the person who, quite literally, created Prince's Town (as it was then named), so called after the Prince of Wales. It was Tyrwhitt who opened the granite quarries at nearby Foggintor & Swelltor, who founded the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railroad (later the route of the GWR Yelverton-Princetown Railway), and who instigated the building of the Napoleonic War Depot (now HM Prison, Dartmoor). The church was in fact built by Napoleonic POWs incarcerated at the War Depot.

St Gabriel's Church, Postbridge
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

St Gabriel's was originally built as a school-cum-chapel in 1869, the collection for its construction having been instigated by Rev W H Thornton, then the incumbent at neighbouring North Bovey, who until it was built had often preached at Postbridge standing on a tub in the open air. It became the village church upon the closure of the school in 1934, the relevant deed issued by the Duchy of Cornwall, dated 9th February of that year, conveying "all that piece of land...situate at Postbridge...within the Manor of Lydford and Forest of Dartmoor together with the Building intended for use as a church standing thereon" to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England "for an intended new church to be called the Church of St Gabriel Postbridge...to be devoted when consecrated to Ecclesiastical purposes for ever". Although the structure is today conventionally known as St Gabriel's Chapel, it appears from the documents that it should really be described as St Gabriel's Church.

In strict conformity it should really nowadays be subordinate to its original mother church of St Petroc's, Lydford - for St Michael's, Princetown, which until recently must have been the church of the modern so-called "Dartmoor Forest" Parish, is now redundant and permanently closed - although I have a feeling that St Gabriel's comes under the Widecombe Ministry.

For some reason the small graveyard is somewhat detached from the site, at the end of the lane leading towards Penlee Farm. It contains no early graves, the earliest headstone bearing the date 1909. There are only just over a hundred headstones, the most common surnames on them being Coaker, Warne & Webb.

Lydford Parish Registers
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Surviving Registers begin in 1716. The Bishops’ Transcripts begin in 1610. Lydford is not on the IGI. For more recent events, researchers should also bear in mind Princetown (founded 1815) and Postbridge (founded 1934). Care needs to be taken when studying the Lydford Registers for the first two decades or so after 1815, for Princetown entries are duplicated in them, and cross-checking with the Registers of the latter is advisable.

Lydford was formerly the largest Parish in England, encompassing 50,000+ acres, and bordered by no less than twenty six other Parishes! This is a potential nightmare for family history researchers, the more so when it is considered that the early Registers have been lost. Familiarity with the geography of the area, and the distribution of particular family names, helps of course.

Most importantly for researchers, the inhabitants of the Ancient Tenements in the Eastern Quarter of the Forest of Dartmoor habitually resorted to Widecombe church by long-established custom, having been granted a dispensation to do so by the Bishop of Exeter as long ago as 1260. It is in the Registers of Widecombe, therefore, that these people need to be sought, not in those of Lydford itself - Widecombe church is just a few miles from the Ancient Tenements, along well made ancient tracks, whilst getting to Lydford entailed an arduous journey across High Dartmoor, traversing some of the most inhospitable terrain in Southern England - this journey was said to be one of 8 miles in fair weather, but 15 miles in grim conditions, when rivers were swollen and so could not be crossed at the usual fords.

This custom also gives rise to potential confusion in later times, when persons are recorded in Census Returns as having been born in Lydford, and yet their baptisms cannot be found in the Registers of that Parish - again, the Widecombe Registers should be checked. Manaton, North Bovey, Holne and Buckfastleigh should also be considered for persons living in some parts of the Eastern Quarter of the Forest of Dartmoor, Chagford and South Tawton for dwellers in the Northern Quarter, and Walkhampton for Lydford inhabitants on the fringes of the Western Quarter, but in my experience no Lydford dwellers used any of  the churches in the Parishes which border the Southern Quarter (for the churches in these Parishes are all somewhat remote from the Forest itself). For Lydford Borough itself, the Registers of the immediately surrounding Parishes should, of course, also be checked for any “stray” events.

There are 1,906 Lydford entries on the Dartmoor & West Devon Genealogy Index (DGI) a surname search service from which is available from Dartmoor Press.

Lydford Manorial Records
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The Manorial records are owned by the Duchy of Cornwall - as owners of the Forest of Dartmoor (which is legally a Chase, by the way) - and I understand that access to them is very limited. I do not know what they comprise. Various documents connected to the Forest are housed in other collections, and some deeds connected to some properties in Lydford Borough have also been found. Potentially, the DRO might have far more Lydford-related documents than the PWDRO. Transcripts and translations from various early Lydford Manor Court Rolls have been reproduced in a number of published sources - a particularly useful source, if a reference copy can be found,  is Moore’s study of the "Rights & Customs of the Forest of Dartmoor", undertaken for the DPA in 1890.

Main Lydford Families
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

For dwellers at the Ancient Tenements see Widecombe. Some of the more common surnames more local to Lydford itself are Allen, Cole, Huggins, May, Palmer, Pengelly, Phillips, Powell, Radford, Williams.

There are 1,906 Lydford entries on the Dartmoor & West Devon Genealogy Index (DGI) a surname search service from which is available from Dartmoor Press.

Lydford Castle & Lydford Gorge
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Next to the church is the other important landmark in the village, Lydford Castle - which in reality is not one, but a keep which was built in 1195 as a jail. It was in an upper chamber that the old Lydford Manor/Forest of Dartmoor Courts were held. And in a rather less commodious chamber (!) far below that MP Richard Strode was thrown for daring to question the ancient rights of the tinners of Devon - the dungeon was the gaol of the ancient Stannary Court of the Devon tinners. This incident, during the reign of King Henry VIII, later gave rise to a special bill being passed in the House of Commons, resulting in what is today known as Parliamentary Privilege - the right of MPs to say anything they wish to within the precints of the House without fear of prosecution in the “real world” outside. At the time of Strode’s incarceration the dungeon was described as the “most heinous and detestable place within the realme”.

The district had a reputation  for meting out harsh justice. As the poet Browne wrote - “I oft have heard of Lydford Law/Where in the morn they hang and draw/And sit in judgement after”. Not far away from the village is Gibbet Hill, where local felons and highwaymen were not hung, in the customary fashion - far too quick a remedy! - but were instead strung up in an iron cage and left to rot! The local placename Iron Cage Gate, formerly attached to a spot on the turnpike road nearby, bears testimony to the fact that the grim spectacle was visible from the highway, as a deterrent to others.

Back in the village itself, the original castle, a true one, is situated in the far corner of the field between the church and the keep. This is an old motte and bailey castle built by the Saxons, on the edge of a promonotory which towers high above Lydford gorge, a site which was obviously chosen for its defensive merits. There was a mint here in Saxon times. However, most of the original silver “Lydford Pennies” which survive are now to be found in Scandinavian museums! For the Vikings raided the place in AD 997, and virtually destroyed what was then one of the most important towns in Western England, “spoilinge the people” (as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record). In the same raid, the Benedictine Abbey at Tavistock, founded by Ordulf in AD 981, was razed to the ground.

The other feature which attracts visitors to the area is, of course, Lydford Gorge, with the White Lady Waterfall at its foot, and the aptly-named Cauldron at its head. Swete, looking down into the latter on his visit one day in 1797, wrote in his diary that it “struck a terror into my breast and such dizziness in my brain...[that]...shuddering with a mere glance down this frightening abyss ...my blood froze within me”. The  water of the River Lyd boiling through the deep chasm of the Cauldron is certainly an awesome spectacle of nature, but whether any modern-day visitors are as overcome by it as was Swete is perhaps somewhat doubtful! - although there is in fact a warning sign within the Gorge itself, telling visitors that the Cauldron is not a sight for those of “nervous disposition”, or words to similar effect.

1851 Census Placename Corrections
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Most researchers will, of course, be aware of the fact that they will have to check numerous early  spelling variants when searching for placenames in any old records - comments which apply similarly to personal names. Unfortunately, the original 1851 census returns for the majority of the Dartmoor parishes were transcribed by persons who did not have the remotest clue about the placenames (or surnames) of the districts, and so did not know what badly handwritten entries were supposed to represent. Many weird and wonderful names have therefore been invented! Their presence can seriously lead researchers astray and, most especially now that the 1851 CD-ROM is in widespread use, lead them to overlook whole households and even large chunks of entire villages by using the search facility which the CD-ROM provides (which, of course, only recognises "as spelt" entries). The following are the pure mistranscriptions and entirely fictional property names which appear in the 1851 census for Lydford, which researchers will need to be aware of, together with their correct names (note that spelling variants which were correctly used, of which there are of course very many examples, and 'authentic' misspellings which appear in the originals, are not included in this list) -

Aracombe = Asacombe; Bachelers Hall = Bachelors Hall; Crockington = Crockentor; Lifterhole = Lafterhole; Roock Cottage = Rock Cottage; Spoders Cot = Spaders Cot; Swancombe = Swincombe

Lydford Publications
Available from Dartmoor Press
The Main Dartmoor Press CD-ROMs/Floppy Discs Catalogue Page (see link below) has fuller details on the contents of titles, and also lots more CD-ROMs. To order see How to Order Section (see link below). 
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