History Group Talk April 2009


A Talk by Elizabeth Stuart, Archivist to The Duchy of Cornwall

Historical Aspects of The Duchy of Cornwall

Elisabeth began by saying that she has produced a pamphlet about the history of The Duchy, we would like to know more about this one day and perhaps obtain a copy.
70,000 acres of Dartmoor belong to the Duchy. Prince Charles is the current Duke of Cornwall but when the heir to the throne is a female, the Duchy Estate is run and managed by a committee, rather than the heir apparent.
It was Edward III in 1337 who instigated the Duchy for his son Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince. It was intended that this could be a way for him to manage an estate and the people of that area,
in preparation for when he took over the throne
Known as The Forest of Dartmoor it was more a sporting area for the royalty and wealthy.
The boundaries were described by the use of definite landmarks of the time.  This however did lead to disputes.
This had been corrected by ‘The Perambulations’ of 1239, it is well described in old documents.
Hunting was the ‘Sport of Kings’ and Dartmoor was one of the areas used for the hunting of Deer, Wild Boar, Hares, shooting of game and Salmon fishing.  These occupations were considered good and also acted as a way for the monarch to keep fit.
In 1658 the boundaries of the forest were defined by being circumnavigated by 12 knights and have stayed as such ever since.
Hunting with hounds was one thing that the Royalty did but they also hunted with hawks and falcons.
There were 30 ancient tenements on Dartmoor like Sherberton, Pizwell, Babeny etc.
In the mid 11th century the tin mining industry was a major item on Dartmoor. The Black Death of 1481/2 led to many holdings being abandoned. The crown took over these farms and this all helped increase the acreage of the Duchy estate.
She mentioned Venville Rights, Newtakes, the rights for commoners to take wood, stone, gravel.  Turbary and Estovers, being the words used to describe such rights, and these practices are still part of the commoners rights today.
We did not get around to hearing anything about how Jordan Manor in this parish became part of the Duchy Estates, but it is possible that a landowner died intestate, and his estate was taken over by the Duchy. We did not see any maps outlining the Duchy land on Dartmoor but there is a map attached to the report of Colin Sturmer's talk of 2nd December 1998 in our minutes, that shows the extent of the Jordan Manor.  Several old prints were shown of people in medieval costume which all helped to emphasise how old the Duchy connections are on Dartmoor in particular.
The part Lydford Castle played in the control of the population was mentioned as was the creation of Princetown as a settlement.  Some Duchy tenants were able to supplement their income by taking in livestock to graze on the Newtakes under their tenancy agreement, this was called agistment. There are many stories of vast numbers of cattle being brought out onto Dartmoor for summer grazing, and driven back in country in the Autumn.  A ‘sea of red’ being the description of the South Devon cattle stretching for a couple of miles or so, along the roads heading for Postbridge.
Newtakes, common land taken in by long standing tenant families, varied from 8 acres upwards.
Annual livestock drifts were held to impound livestock that had strayed onto Duchy land.  No advance warning was given of such a drift, it was instigated by the blowing of a horn and all tenants had to ‘down tools’ and go and take part, at a minutes notice so to speak.
There is a great deal of work in the archiving of the History of The Duchy, this ancient Royal prerogative of long standing, perhaps we could have another talk one day about the present workings of The Duchy by perhaps the Steward of The Dartmoor Duchy Lands.

We were addressed once on 2nd December 1998 by Mr Colin Sturmer.  Read the write-up attached to our minutes of that date.

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