The Widecombe-in-the-Moor Website
Widecombe History Group Talk April 2006
Jane Marchand Archaeologist of Dartmoor National Park gave a talk on "Merrivale’s Archaeological Landscape".
Jane discussed the history of the site, the archaeology and its interpretation, and how the site has been examined, recorded, and altered over the years.
This is one of the most visited sites on Dartmoor, and part of this is due to its close proximity to the Princetown to Tavistock road.
It was in about 1765 that the two main roads that cross Dartmoor were constructed, Moretonhampstead to Yelverton via Princetown and Ashburton to Tavistock. This resulted in many thousands of tons of stone being cracked and used as a foundation to the tracks. Any stone easily moved was broken up and it is likely that many stones that were part of archaeological sites near the roads were easy to access and were used without realising what was being destroyed.
Various interpretations have been put to the stone rows in particular, and early thoughts were that they were part of a ‘Druid’ holy site. This is now discounted by the experts, but there is still a great deal of research to do, to understand fully the implications of these monuments. She gave many dates when, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries, excavations took place. Bray, Rowe, Burnard, Crossing and others were mentioned as being involved with the early attempts at understanding these sites. She questioned some of the early interpretations, for example the almost complete ‘apple crusher’ stone was considered to be much older than it in fact is! This is an example of ‘re-cycling’, an stone being worked on site and never quite ready for use. There are now just 24 stone hut circles (round houses) where years ago there were many more. Some stones were removed for gate posts, these included the cover stones of cists, being large flat stones which were quite easy to cut.
The site was declared a Department of the Environment Heritage Site in 1972. The T/A stones (Tavistock to Ashburton direction sign stones) were dated as 1790. Over the years much surface stone has been worked, not only for road ballast but also recycled for field hedges, buildings, troughs, and even cobbles and coins. It is only comparatively recent that the full archaeological importance of these sites has been realised and hence protected.
D.N.Park Authority have produced a well designed illustrated 30 page leaflet all about the Merrivale Site and it is obtainable from the D.N.Park Information Centres.
ISBN 0 905981 31 6
The full implication of the ‘stone rows’ is still open for interpretation, a great deal of supposition of ‘what might have been’ and this varies from their implication with the sun and moon, to sacred and ceremonial uses, paths associated with the dead, boundaries, and much more. Dowsing with rods for energy lines and the like has often taken place at this and other sites in an effort to understand the underlying construction.
Erosion is a problem from human and animal activity, some standing stones have had to be re-erected and most made more secure.
Activity in the area has been going on for years with the modern example of the North Hessary Tor Mast erected 1954, the now Four Winds Car Park where once stood The Foggingtor School built in 1915 and demolished c1950, the Merrivale Quarry opened in 1876 and closed in 1997, the now defunct railway line to Princetown along the side of hill to the south, evidence of tin streaming, warrener’s activities, a leat built in 1880 taking water to cottages, the site is a rich heritage of our past, from the very ancient to the comparatively modern day.
I suggest readers, if you are unable to attend our guided walk on Saturday 22nd April, that you get a copy of the booklet and explore this fantastic site at your leisure and make up your own minds as to The History of Merrivale and the surrounding area.
Widecombe-in-the-Moor - The Heart of Dartmoor
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