History Group Talk November 2011

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An Illustrated Talk by Dr. Tom Greeves entitled

Four Willsworthy Farms from medieval times to the 20th Century.

The usual warm reception was extended to Dr. Tom Greeves who whenever he visits our Group, always gives us an interesting and informative talk. This month was no exception. A résumé of Tom’s research into the four farms is related below. He informed us that four farms in the Willsworthy area of north-west Dartmoor, now part of the Willsworthy Military Firing Range, were taken over by the military in the beginning of the last century (c1905). 

1.            Reddiford Farm:   The first farm considered was Reddiford, abandoned to the military in 1907.  Situated in the parish of Peter Tavy, yet only four miles from Lydford.  This old farm on Dartmoor, whose records Tom has traced back to 1242, has an interesting past.  Recorded then as Redeforde, and from the maps and documents examined, some interesting facts emerged.  For instance, one of the boundaries is recorded as ‘Waynwaye’, in other words, a track wide enough for a horse and wain (a two-wheeled farm vehicle) to travel.  This was interesting, as the wheel was not recorded in our parish until the early 1800s.  In 1334 records show a house and yard adjoining was on this site and in 1342 a man named John Broun was the occupier.  Continual occupation of this farm can be traced and the ‘black death’ of the late 1340s does not seem to have affected the area.  By 1644 two occupiers are recorded, a John Tavener and a Stephen Williams.  Two previous surveys have been made of this farm in 1968 and 1979.  In 2007 Elizabeth and Tom Greeves  made a detailed archaeological plan of the farm when they did a survey of the farms, at the request of the Military Authorities and this was the basis of Tom’s talk.

2.            Yellow Mead Farm:   Considering the second of the four farms, Yellow Mead, whose name probably derived from ‘Hollow Mead’ was only 16 acres.  The earliest record found to date is 1723, when a half-year’s rent was four shillings.  Edward Tregilas, possibly a Cornish tin miner, appears in records as the occupier at that time.  In the 1840 Tithe Map the farm is clearly shown with two dwellings, and some old photographs of the farm still exist.  Eden Phillpotts, in his 1907 edition of  his book ’The Whirlwind’ includes two photographs of the farm.  Abandoned in 1904, around the same time as Reddiford, due to both of them being in the line of fire from the military range. The Military had purchased much of the Willsworthy Estate in 1905.

3.            Standon Farm:    This farm referred to as Standune in records dated 1242/3, had various occupiers over the years.  In 1330 the two occupier’s names appear in a book listing names of Tinners exempt from paying dues.  This farm gradually got split up over the years, due to a habit in inheritance procedures, of dividing a holding between the various offspring of the family.  A couple of stones still visible on the site, carry dates of interest, 1746 is one, but the stone dated 1870 carries the initials of Edwin Collard occupier at the time.  The last recorded occupier was the Fone family and in WWII, May 1944, a Lancaster bomber crashed into the hillside above the farm.  Jim Fone, the son of the family at that time, has recalled the incident to Tom, how his father helped rescue two of the crew, six others perished, he can remember also soldiers guarding the site and the bombs being towed away on farm slides.  The farm house became a grand gentleman’s residence over the years but was abandoned in the 1960s.  The building was used by the military as a training base and unfortunately, as a result of a fire, was burnt down in the 1980s.  Again the Tithe Map of 1839/40 show much of the medieval plan of the farmstead and the fields surrounding it.

4.            Bearwalls Farm:   The farm, the last of the four Tom talked about, was finally abandoned in 1998.  Documentation back to 1711 has been traced, and amongst the details it is recorded, that in the 1800s a stone-built silo was erected by a very progressive farmer, he was in fact a pioneer being one of the first to actually make silage. Such a common practice today but revolutionary at that time. The Yeo family were greatly involved with this farm and by a fortunate stroke of luck, Tom obtained from a ‘Junkshop’, a pile of old farm billheads belonging to the Pengelly family who moved to Bearwalls in 1945.  These included many interesting facets such as, the costs involved of taking cattle to market, delivery of seed to Lydford Station, a Devon War Agricultural Service Form showing the cost involved in employing Prisoners of War.  On this farm there are various ruins of old buildings, a very nice butter well still exists, electricity has never reached this holding and Tom expressed the hope that efforts will be made to maintain this unique example of a high Dartmoor farm. 

At the end of his fascinating and interesting talk, Tom did say in passing, that there was a habit to plant Ash Trees near to farms because of their productive quality, used for many agricultural purposes, and there was a  belief that Ash had particular medicinal and healing properties. One particular belief is that Ash will cure a viper’s sting. He cited the case that in Dartmoor folklore, a dog had been bitten by an Adder, having been tied to an Ash tree it survived.

Anyone wishing to know more, can do no better than to invite Tom to one of their group’s meetings, and try to absorb more from his wealth of knowledge.



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