merthen Halton Barton blagdon devon shute slade wrey taw halwill bagtor cowick
Home Previous Next

Tor — and here I quote from Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor where he

says ‘Risdon speaks of a noted place called Saddletor from the hills

near which the Lomen or as we now call it, the Lemon — “ fetcheth

her fountain” . The nearest stream to the tor is the Sig which rises on

Bag Tor Down about 1/4 mile S of it . . . it falls into the Lemon (the

springs of which are near Lud Gate) just below Sigford, and immediately after having received the waters of the Langworthy Brook.’

All of which we shall be investigating in due course.

This particular stream, which becomes the River Sig, runs past

Bugtor cottages and is typical of these moorland streams, deep set in

ferns and bright flowers among the rocks as they chatter busily

onwards, and it was here that Syd Wills, now living at St Budeaux,

spent many happy hours of his childhood, and where he told me, ‘It

was an unwritten law to let the foxes drink before you collected the

duy’s water supply from the brook.’ He went on to tell me of the two

Indies who once ran Bagtor House and the Barton as guesthouse

nnd farm, their names Miss Blankiron and Miss Cross.

Memories of them too came from Miss Catherine Haines, now in

lu>r 80s and living at Bridford. She was a groom at Bagtor House in

the 1920s. And here once again the tragedy of fire touched the

Lemon’s tributary, the Sig. Early one morning she got up at five to

go cubbing and saw clouds of smoke coming from the neighbouring

liirm of Westabrook, an old thatched house standing near the banks

of the river.

She rushed down to wake up the Retallick family, who lived there,

and to help the oldest member of the family from his bed and into the

barn for safety. Eventually the fire engine arrived, ‘B ut,’ she said,

thore was some problem over getting the pump started to take water

I rom the stream, and I had to chase off to another farm for fuel.

Meanwhile Mr Retallick was concerned about his watch which, as

was his habit, he had tied to the bedpost for the night. It was resn ii‘(l — only to be stolen from him later. His son, Mr H. Retallick,

now farms Bagtor Barton and he told me that recently when they

were doing some repairs at Bagtor cottages they took down a partition and uncovered a small cubby hole like the ones from which

lickots are sold at railway stations. ‘My guess is that is where they

paid the men who worked in Newtake and Crownley M ines,’ he said

and there are also the remains of a blacksmith’s shop and blowing

house on the common.’

lie too remembered the two ladies from the Big House. ‘Proper

which have occurred on its banks.

Here, at its beginnings, controversy once raged, for water used to  be taken from it to feed the leat or pot water, the sole supply for

Ilsington village, and Dick Wills, parish historian of Narracombe,

whose family have farmed there for fourteen generations, told me

there were many accusations from the thirteenth century onwards

that too much water was taken, thus depriving the manor mill,

Bagtor, of its supply, whilst the leat was feeding the mills of Ilsington, Liverton and Pool.

‘It seem s,’ he said ‘that there was a trough at the source and from

a hole in this the water ran through the fields to Ilsington. The

villagers used to go and make the hole bigger so more water ran their

way. This caused a certain amount of ill feeling! ’

But for a moment we come back to the present century. On the

night of 6 March 1970, when the Bovey police and their 250 guests

were enjoying their twenty-first annual ball, soon after midnight

everyone was asked to file out of the ballroom into the courtyard, and

as they went they saw smoke pouring from the air vents, and outside

flames were leaping from the roof of the hotel.

The police tackled the fire with extinguishers until ten appliances

arrived with sixty firemen, but all they could do was to stop the blaze

Irom entirely destroying the hotel. A large section of the upper floor

was wiped out and extensive damage caused to the ground floor. It

was thought that the fire had started as the result of faulty wiring,

but fortunately at least there were no casualties, four children who

had been asleep upstairs being carried to safety. The following

morning the police had to open up a special depot for people to pick

up their coats at the police station in Newton Abbot, among them a

silver mink. Much to everyone’s relief the draw money and prizes

had also been saved! It was the biggest hotel fire in the area for

years, and now it is known as the Hotel with no Guests, for it has remained an empty shell ever since. All you can hear as you stand

looking over the gate is the whistling of the wind through the glassless windows. The owners did want to rebuild it on a bigger scale,

but the plan was turned down by the Dartmoor National Park Comm ittee. At the entrance is a board which states CLOSED UNTIL

FURTHER NOTICE. Could it perhaps be forever?

Let us look now at something beautiful instead, for it is only fair to

visit the Lemon’s main tributary while we are on this part of the

moor — the River Sig which rises in Bagtor Mire under Rippon

D e v o n a n d C o r n w a l l N o t e s a n d Q u e r i e s

thought to be pure conjecture, were it not for the fact that Newcott Farm

at Clayhidon, the next parish to Hemyock, was, in 1242, “ Nonicote” ,

which, according to The Place Names o f Devon, is “ Nunna’scott” , or “ the

cote of Nunna’s People” . There may, of course, have been many other

Nunnas, but the association is curious. There is a Nunford, Nunna’s ford,

in Colyton (1333) (see PND).

There were other barrows along the ridge of the Blackdowns; the O.S.

map shows two groups of barrows known as Robin Hood’s Butts, and

Lord Sidmouth’s papers relating to Upottery, refer to “ many stone

barrows” being demolished in the early nineteenth century. In 1814, at the

enquiry that eventually led to the enclosure of the Hemyock Commons, a

claim was made for “ all that common on the west side of the line drawn

from Touching’s Thorn to a barrow of stones called Kate’s, (or Kater’s)

Crouch” . This last word may be an Anglicised dialect word for the old

Celtic word “ cruc” , a barrow, referred to in The Place Names o f Devon,

p. 525.

Some of the numerous barrows along the ridge of the Blackdowns were,

doubtless, Bronze Age barrows, like those on Farway Common and

elsewhere; but Simon’s Barrow, Sulca’s Barrow, Noon’s Barrow, and

perhaps Kate’s Crouch, all named, seem to differ both in function, and in

the case of Simonsborough at least, in size, from the rest; can

Simonsborough, indeed, be matched? These barrows appear to be

commemorative rather than funereal, though they may of course, still be

pre-historic, and merely have had later names attached to them. It is

tempting to associate them with the seventh century incursion of the

Anglo-Saxons into Devon, begun, according to Hoskins, in 614, and

culminating on the banks of the Tamar, perhaps by 710. It may be that this

part of Devon was still Dumnonian in some sense in the early eighth

century, and that this explains King Ine’s fort at Taunton, and the named

barrows; but this is no more than conjecture. My thanks to Chris Dracott

for the Deluc reference and to Olive Padel for advice on the place names.

Robin Stanes

198. Sir Robert Bendyn, the King’s Admiral

My curiosity about Robert Bendyn has led me to put together this

account from references in the volumes in the Rolls series.

His name appears in 12981 when he represented Eleanor, daughter of

William de Mohun, in chancery proceedings to rectify the previous actions

of Malcom de Harleye “ escheator this side of the Trent” who had divided