Month: November 2017

Exmoor HistoryThroughStories KidsWriting StoryCompetition Storytelling

“Stumbling across a ruined house”

Congratulations to Ben Stevens, aged 9, who wins a £10 Book Token for his entry in the 500 Word Writing Challenge.
Thanks so much Ben for your thoughtful and colourful writing and asking the questions many people ask about the cottage and what life must have been like for the people who once lived and worked there.  Just like Ben they are fascinated to visit the cottage but often start the long walk back feeling pleased that they have a warm, comfy home near the shops to return to! And like Ben we’d all miss our WIFI!!

Here is Ben’s story…….

Strolling on the Exmoor moors on a freezing November day I pulled my coat over my shoulders just as an icy gust of wind hit my body and it started to pour with rain.  In my rush to find shelter I stumbled across a ruined house that looked extremely old.  It was a wreckage and had clearly been through a lot of things.  Although it was a ruined house I still managed o find a small place to shelter in it.  When the rain started slowing down I began to investigate the house.  There were only a few rooms so not many people could stay at a time.  I wondered how many people have ever lived here?  I certainly wouldn’t like to live here in this old house on the moors which had no WIFI.  /also, there were no shops nearby so you would have to walk miles to buy food or get to school.  There were many sheep around me happily grazing on the luscious grass around the cottage or being nursed by their mothers.  You could see their warm wool on the ground where they had last been. 

On cold and snowy days what would the people who lived here do with no heating?  Would they just cuddle up in a warm blanket?  It would be freezing cold with no place to go to keep warm for miles.  You must have been very poor to live here, no neighbours or people who know you nearby, with no friends to play with, no school nearby to go to, it would e a life for a very poor family.  You would get very lonely out here with no one to play with you except your brothers and sisters. It would also get very boring after having to walk miles for food and drink every day.  As I was wondering about all  of these things I took my coat and my jumper off to the boiling hot blaze of sun that came out. The dark misty rain clouds had finally gone away so I was free to walk home.  As I was walking home I could the lush grass and everything bright and clear.  I was glad to be walking home to a warm house in the town close to my friends unlike Hoar Oak Cottage!
The End!


Posted by Bette Baldwin

Remembering Ruth Sedgebeer

Ruth was the youngest child of Agnes Johnstone who was the youngest child of Sarah and James Maxwell Johnstone  who lived and worked at Hoar Oak Cottage at the turn of the 19th century.  The Johnstones had 13 children including  Agnes who was born at Hoar Oak Cottage. When Ruth died in 2010 she left a small amount of money.  She had no direct descendants and had not left a will so her meagre estate became the subject of a legal search for beneficiaries –  any living descendant of the 13 Johnstone children from Hoar Oak Cottage.

That search resulted in the identification of over 52 beneficiaries and became the topic of an episode of the intriguing TV programme ‘Heir Hunters’ all about Ruth and Hoar Oak Cottage.   The full programme airs on TV occasionally but Flame TV, the production company, have allowed The Friends a copy to share with those who might have family links and would like to view it on CD.  Please get in touch if you’d like to borrow it.  The edition of the programme – which covers two family stories – is now also available as a transcript and makes an interesting read.  Here is the link.  

The search for Ruth’s family also resulted in some very ‘long lost’ second and third Johnstone cousins meeting up for the first time and ultimately to the setting up of the Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage to try and save the heritage and fabric of the old cottage. .

Ruth was a kind and sweet but strong willed woman who was loved and respected in her local community of Gunn in North Devon.  She was a stalwart of the local church, had once been a children’s nurse, the local school’s cook and in later life the school crossing lady.  We remember her with great love and affection.

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Agricultural History Exmoor Heritage History Scottish Exmoor Links sheep Sheep Farming

Exmoor – Land of Goshen?

Exmoor may seem like a forbidding, remote or even extreme environment to our modern minds.  To the Scottish shepherds who travelled south to Exmoor in the 19th century to work for Frederic Winn Knight it would have felt very much like home from home.  Most of them came from similar, or even more, remote rural areas in the Scottish Borders and they were used to wild weather and wild countryside.

But could it be that coming south might seem like coming to the Land of Goshen for these shepherd families?  Frederic Knight seemed to think so. On the 6th of November 1883 he had an article published in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette about Exmoor sheep farming.

He says in the article that although the climate of Exmoor may seem severe to a native of the Devonshire sea-coast the “shepherds from the Scotch borders have frequently remarked, on receiving accounts of snowstorms in their native hills, that on coming to Exmoor they had come into the land of Goshen.”  

He explains how his sheep flocks need no additional feed during the winter months and that “only twice in the last twenty years have I lost sheep in snowstorms and the loss compared with the number of sheep wintered has been infinitesimal, as it was accidental.  No sheep with liver-rot or fluke has ever been known on Exmoor.” 

Although Mr Knight doesn’t make clear precisely what he means by Land of Goshen – nor what the accident was that caused the loss of sheep during winter – it can probably be assumed he was referring to the balmy climate and agricultural benefits of farming in Southern England.  The newspaper article gives a very positive view of sheep farming on Exmoor at the end of the 1800s and should probably be seen as a bit of free media for Mr Knight wishing to put a very positive spin on his agricultural activities on Exmoor.

The Friends researches into the Scottish shepherds at Hoar Oak Cottage and elsewhere on Exmoor don’t necessarily paint a similar picture.  Their lives, for the most part, included highs and lows, good times and bad times.  Some stayed on Exmoor.  Most went back to their homes and families in Scotland.  So was Exmoor their Land of Goshen?  Maybe it was a bit warmer then the Scottish Borders.  Maybe the chance of a job with a cottage was attractive.  Maybe sheep farming in the south was easier than in the north.

We’ll never know.  We can only be sure that Frederic Knight certainly thought it was.  At least according to what he wrote in this newspaper article published over 130 years ago.



Posted by Bette Baldwin