Widecombe History Group Talk on a Countrymans Home

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The Meeting was given a most interesting illustrated talk by Jenny Sanders entitled, "A Countryman’s Home".

Mrs Sanders has done a great deal of research over a long period of time into Devon Farmsteads and Buildings and in particular The Devon Longhouses.

For this project she has examined closely four particular farmsteads that have been the homes of, not just the poorer tenant farmers, but more the homes of ‘better off’ people of the countryside, hence the title "The Homes of Countrymen".

These four properties all lie about 1000 feet above sea-level on the western edge of Dartmoor, in the Whitchurch/Peter Tavy areas. The talk concentrated on two, Proutatown and Wedlake and was illustrated by numerous slides showing the farm houses, the buildings associated with those farms, the cattle sheds, threshing barns, calf house etc and dairies added as outshots to the original house. With each holding she has produced detailed plans of the houses and buildings, clearly showing the thick Medieval walls and the layout, kitchen, hall, dairy. Old photographs and maps showing the lay-out of the farm and its fields, all add to the interest. One of the most interesting results of this is that the field layout has changed little over the years. The position of these homesteads leads one to wonder whether they were also involved with the granite or tin mining industries?

A certain amount of alterations have taken place internally but there is still much to be seen in the interior features to enable one to appreciate how it must have looked centuries ago. Proutatown dating from the 16th century had 41 acres. Wedlake house looked neglected but it had been recently purchased and carefully restored.

The fire places, great open hearths with substantial granite lintels above, some have ovens added over the years and the sites of staircases some now removed and newly positioned, all showing how historical features can evolve over the years. With careful study of documents that include tithe details, tenant agreements, censuses, deeds etc the families that have occupied these properties seem to ‘come to life’ as she described how family sizes varied, one wonders how it was possible for such large groups of people could exist on such a small holding. There is always a need for water and this is brought by leat or stream to the holding. If this cuts across other peoples land there is often a ‘clapper bridge’ built for stock and people to use to cross. When it reaches the farm it is distributed to the kitchen, cowshed, dairy according to need. Nearby there can be found the remains of granite workings, quarrying and tin mining.

The age old Dartmoor way of life as described by Marshall in 1796, that permitted a farmer to graze in the summer on the common land, the amount of stock that could be kept on the farm during the winter, can be understood here! This ‘right’ to graze the moors enabled him to grow sufficient crops, save hay and corn during the summer on his farm, ready for the winter. An 1806 lease shown, details of the duties that a tenant had to adhere to, to keep his tenancy in order, so much lime and dung had to be applied accordingly.

Field names were mentioned, a wonderful source for ascertaining the uses of fields, their situation relevant to the holding, particular items like barns, sheds, mills, their shape and crops associated with a field often reflected in a name. Barn field, broom park, etc. One floppydocks/flobbydocks? the dialect name for foxgloves, did they grow them here for herbal or medicinal uses? or was there always a grand display of them here? - we can only guess, but it does cause a lot of interest, if only in the discussion that it creates!

Old photographs of buildings, activities, the family and the stock, always add to any story about a particular place and the photographs that have been copied onto slides added considerably to the talk, and we thank Jenny for making our first meeting of 2005 so enjoyable.

Any group looking for an informative and interesting speaker need look no farther than Jenny Sanders for that!

A hearty vote of thanks was recorded.

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