Category: Heritage

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
Heritage Howatson/Hewitson New Zealand Scottish Exmoor Links Uncategorized WW1

Howatsons/Hewitsons of Badgeworthy

As part of the Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage’s researches for other Scottish shepherds on Exmoor   we were contacted by Jill and Don Johnson from New Zealand who had Hewitson/Howetson family links back to Scotland and Exmoor.  They did their own investigations and told us the story shared below. There are several ways of spelling the name and we have come across Hewitson, Howatson, Howetson/Howitson and Hoatson.  They family in New Zealand use the Hewitson version.

William Howeston (sic) is mentioned in Heritage of Exmoor by Roger Burton who records William as the Badgworthy shepherd in and around the late 1870s early 1880s.  The photograph, below, shared by his New Zealand descendants shows a remarkable gentleman with the large bushy beard so often seen on ‘our’ Scottish Exmoor shepherds and wearing a cap with what might be sporting either a Gordon Highlanders badge or a Clan Donald badge.  The Hewitsons are a sept or subgroup of the Clan Donald.

William was born around 1841 (he appears on the 1841 census), at Loch Broom, Rosshire. His wife Martha Bradford, born 1848, came from Wigtownshire.  William and Martha were married in 1872 in Stranraer and by the 1881 census they can be found living at Badgeworthy Cottage near Brendon, North Devon.  Badgeworthy is one of the cottages used by shepherds employed by Frederic Knight and was built to service one of the remotest sheep herdings south of the Doone Valley and north of the River Barle.  It is shown in the photograph below.

 

The birth dates of William and Martha’s children would suggest that they moved down to Exmoor around 1877 between the birth of son Samuel in Scotland in 1876 and the birth of daughter Janet in Brendon, Exmoor in 1878.  It is worth remembering that another Scottish shepherd – William Johnstone – had been at Badgeworthy from 1872 and it may well be the case that, as with so many others of the Scottish shepherds, there was a family link between the Johnstones and the Hewitsons.

William and Martha Hewitson’s  children are:

Martha (b1874) Scotland
Samuel (b1876) Scotland
Janet (b1878) Brendon
Elizabeth (b1880) Brendon
William (b Q3 July-September 1883) Brendon

The New Zealand descendants were able to share Elizabeth’s birth certificate shown below:

The birth was registered on the 19th February 1880 and the Registrar was Philip Taylor. Care must be taken in thinking that the 19th of February, 1880 is close to Elizabeth’s actual birthdate.  The winters on Exmoor were notoriously bad and the Badgeworthy family may well have not been able to get to register little Elizabet’s birth until sometime after the actual birth date.

The photograph below of Badgeworthy Cottage was also provided by the Hewitson descendants in New Zealand – it says Doone Valley “The Shepherds Cott”.   It is remarkably similar to the photo at the beginning of this item and demonstrates just how remote Badgeworthy Cottage is.

The cottage was built on, and out of the stones of, the old medieval village which is recorded on the same site on Ordnance Survey maps and which became famous as the fictious hideout for the highwayman featured in the R.D.Blackmore book Lorna Doone.  The cottage was destroyed in the 1950s as it was used for gunnery practice by an Army Tank Regiment.  Some past residents of Badgeworthy are recorded as saying it was a place full of ghosts and not a comfortable place to live.  Who knows?  William and Martha Hewitson and their children may well have had something to say on the matter!

 

William and Martha and their family moved back to Scotland sometime after William Junior’s  birth and William seems to have been worked as a shepherd to Earl of Lindsay for at least 2 years.  This interesting document, below, is a testimonial written for William Hewitson (spelt Howetson) in September 1886.

It is written by John Flockart who, in the 1881 and 1891 censuses, lived in the Bank House, Kilconquhar, Fife and described himself as Factor and Bank Agent.  As the Lindsay Estates were in Fife it seems likely that Flockhart wrote this ‘to whom it may concern’ testimonial for William Hewitson/Howetson to show to prospective employers after he left the Earl’s employment.

It says:

Commercial Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh Life, 3rd Sept. 1886

This is to certify that William Howatson has been shepherd to the Earl of Lindsay for nearly two years.  He is a good shepherd and thoroughly understanding his work.  He can be safely trusted with the management of stock and is a sober man.   Xxxxxxxxx a total abstinence.  I may mention that he is leaving Lord Lindsay’s employment for no fault but owing to his Lordship having let nearly all his grass land and dispensing with the service of a shepherd. 

This document tells us that by 1886 William Howatson (sic) had been working for 2 years for the Earl of Lindsay but then moved on through ‘no fault of his own’.  The 1891 census records the Howitsons living at Drumain Farm House, Leslie, Fife.

Below is a Family Tree drawn up by Nicky Rowberry, Geneaologist and Research Officer for the Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage.

 

What happened to the Hewitson children?

Janet died on February 9th, 1900.

William and Samuel Hewitson went to New Zealand in 1913.
Martha also went to New Zealand but we don’t know exactly when.
Elizabeth married Hugh Philp in St Andrews and had two children – Martha Bradford Philp and Hugh Philp Junior – and also went to New Zealand after Hugh was killed in WW1.

Here is a photo of Elizabeth, Martha and Bill Hewitson taken in Palmerston, New Zealand.

 

Elizabeth’s husband Hugh Philp joined the army in WW1 and was Private 40767 in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 8th Battalion.  He died, aged 36 on the 9th of April 1917.   He is commemorated in the Arras Memorial, France where 35,000 who died in the Arras sector between April 1916 and August 1918 and who have no known grave. The most conspicuous event during this two year period was the Arras Offensive during April and May 1917 during which Hugh Philp died. The 8th Battalion of the Black Watch was formed in Perth Scotland in August 1914. They trained in Aldershot and were landed at Bolougne in March 1915 as part of the 9th (Scottish) Division.  Below is the memorial for Hugh Philp with a picture of the Arras Memorial.

It records that he is the son of Thomas and Helen Philps, of Boarhills, St Andrews, Fife and the husband of Elizabeth Philp of Palmerston South, Otago, New Zeland.

Poor widowed Elizabeth clearly decided to go and join her brothers and sisters in New Zealand.  Research has shown that Elizabeth, accompanied by Martha (age 7) and Hugh (age 6), sailed from Liverpool, England on 24th March 1920 on board the SS Paparoa.  The ship was bound for Port Chalmers (South Island) via Auckland.  The records show that the ship berthed at Port Chalmers (Dunedin) just over two months later on 28th May 1920.  Elizabeth’s details were found on a  transcription of one page of the Paparoa’s passenger list and a copy of an original typed page of the passenger manifest tells us that Elizabeth, Martha and Hugh were travelling in 3rd Class in Cabin 104.

An image of the SS Paparoa taken a few years later – around 1924/1925 – is given below.

It truly does not look a large ship for a two month journey half way around the world and it would be interesting to learn more about Elizabeth’s trip. Their arrival at Port Chalmers ties in with the address in nearby Palmerston given for Elizabeth on her deceased husband Hugh’s First World War memorial page shown above.

Elizabeth Bradford Hewitson circa 1900
The photo below is of Martha Hewitson with granddaughter Martha Bradford Philp c 1913 – photo possibly taken in Strathmilgo, Fife.  Martha’s daughter Elizabeth and this grandchild Martha went to New Zealand in 1917 after Elizabetha’s husband Hugh Philp was killed in WW1.

And the photo below is of her husband William Hewitson with unknown child. Possibly a slightly older grandchild then in the photo of Martha above?  The wall and seat look similar.

William Hewitson died sometime between 1911 and 1915 as when his wife Martha died, in 1915, she was described as a widow.  Their’s was a life full of interest.  Marriage followed by their Exmoor adventure, 5 children, a return to Scotland, the death of a child and the loss of a son-in-law to WW1 as well as waving farewell to 3 of their children to new lives in New Zealand.  A little snippet shared with us by their descendants would also seem to indicate that their’s was a love story.  The pages below are from a little diary written by Martha over a hundred years ago.

On the second to last page of the book and with a picture of William pasted into the final page is written this poem:

O bonny fair boy

I love you dear

As no else knows

You are in my thoughts

By day by night

Your love with mine combines

Thank you to William and Martha for their wonderful story and to their descendants Bill and Beryl, Don and Jill Johnson in New Zeland, for sharing it with The Friends to help with the search for the Scottish connections to Exmoor.

If you would like to find out more, perhaps have information to share or would like to be put in touch with the New Zealand descendants of William and Martha please get in touch.

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Agricultural History Exmoor Heritage History Uncategorized

John Shortland, Chair of the Friends, Discovers Hoar Oak

Forty-nine years ago, as a teenager fresh from school, I stumbled across an Exmoor farm and asked if I could camp for a couple of days.  As the days turned into weeks and then months, I moved into the farmhouse earning my keep labouring.  I thought I had found Paradise and would never leave.  The sudden appearance of my father – “time to get a proper job” –  changed that and, despite my protests, a career in the world of fashion was forged.  However, like so many of us that have been caught in its magic web, Exmoor never released me fully.  At every opportunity, I would rush back to the farm to gradually learn a way of life totally foreign to my Home Counties upbringing.  Many of the tasks I was carrying out had remained virtually unchanged for decades, quite probably centuries.  Over the years that followed I was privileged not just to be welcomed into the farming calendar but also into the social one, sharing times of joy and sometimes sorrow.

Exmoor, with its National Park status, gives the appearance of a place unchanged but this is not a strictly accurate picture.  The landscape is protected but much of the social structure has inevitably altered as the older generations pass away.  As a result, the Exmoor dialect is much less frequently heard and many of the local traditions and tales are in danger of being lost.  It is here where individuals and organisations like the Friends do such valuable work through research and by recording the memories of those that remain.  For example, it is thanks to the Friends that I now know that when, forty plus years ago I walked back to Brendon Barton from the Rockford Inn, and singing lustily (but not tunefully) the Exmoor Hunting Song, that I was following in the footsteps of Abe and Gert Antell, the last of the Hoar Oak residents, as they also sang their way home from the pub.  Writing of those times in a blog led to a request from the Friends for me to read my account of that first visit to Exmoor – captured in a video clip below.  Now I have the great honour of becoming Chair of the Friends. 

Discovering Exmoor literally changed my life: I finally got to follow my dream of working on the land – albeit in horticulture  and in the Cotswolds, another area of outstanding beauty.  Now, as Chair of the Friends, my hope is that in some small way I can give something back to Exmoor and, especially, to the people that love it.  It is those people, whether they live and work on the moor, are visitors, or only know it through the internet, that keep the landscape alive.  And it is through their eyes that the hardy shepherd families of Hoar Oak Cottage, who for generations toiled so hard in their splendid isolation, will live on.

 The tale of John’s discovery of Hoar Oak Cottage in 1968 and of his love of Exmoor can be heard here:

Posted by John Shortland
1
Agricultural History Heritage History Sheep Farming Stells

Protecting sheep in winter

When the early shepherds travelled to Exmoor from Scotland with their sheep it was not surprising that they continued to use the traditional Scottish ways of caring for their flocks.

During the winter months’ a careful watch on the weather was essential for a sudden snowstorm could result in the loss of large numbers of sheep. If the snow came late in the season, the losses could be even greater for the ewes would be heavily pregnant. Even if they survived, the stresses the weather caused through cold, exhaustion and hunger would often result in the death of unborn lambs. One way to protect the sheep was to build stells – stone enclosures that the sheep could enter whenever bad weather was imminent.

Perhaps what is more surprising is that, although the shepherds are long gone, it is still possible to find traces of their methods both on the ground and through the notes they kept – for example in Head Shepherd Robert Tait Little’s diaries.

In his diary for 1879, he enters details of two visits to Scotland, travelling by railway to Dumfries from South Molton.

Alongside, he also makes detailed notes for the design of circular stells, quoting directly from the writings of Captain William Napier (published 1822) who farmed at Etterick:

“…a circular stell of dry stone dike, ten yards in diameter, with a three feet open door, and six feet high, including cope, as [sic] the least expensive, and the most sure and efficient improvement that can possibly be adopted…” 

Just yards from Hoar Oak Cottage the remains of a such a stell is marked by low earthen banks. Bracken grows in the disturbed soil of the stell floor to form a perfect circle, making its position and size clearly visible.

Why circular? Although stells can be oval or even rectangular (as at Buscombe Beeches to the southeast of Hoar Oak), Captain Napier considers circular to be far superior: “…the action of the blast [wind] upon the circular surface of the wall, causes a rotatory motion in the air, to such a considerable height, that when the diameter of the circle is kept within proper bounds, the snow is thrown off at a tangent in every direction, and the included space left thus uncovered within…” He also states that it is not just he that is of this opinion but also of some others including, rather tantalizingly, a “Mr Little.” There is no way of knowing if he is referring to one of Robert Tait Little’s shepherding ancestors.

It is well established that sheep flocks that live and roam on unfenced mountain and moorland, learn through the generations to remain within a limited, albeit large, area of many hundreds of acres. They know where to forage and also where and when to take shelter. The shepherd, by building stells, takes advantage of this instinct for the sheep naturally enter and remain within the enclosure whenever bad weather is due. There is no need for a gate to retain them. Here, they are safe and can be kept well fed. Perhaps an even greater advantage of stells is that the shepherd is also safe for there is no need to be out on the moor searching for lost or buried sheep in drifting snow.

The photo below is an abstract from the landscape photo used by The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage to show the cottage in its Exmoor setting.  The Hoar Oak stell can be seen in the left foreground.  The structure was probably built under Head Shepherd Little’s instructions when Shepherd Renwick o(1879 to 1886) or Shepherd Johnstone (1886 to 1904) were the shepherds in charge of the Hoar Oak herding.

 

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Art Heritage History

Guest Blog by Artist Phil Rycroft

In 2016, South Molton artist Phil Rycroft painted this beautiful watercolour of Hoar Oak Cottage.

We asked Phil to tell us a bit about his inspiration for the painting and he writes:

Many years ago, back in the mists of time, in the early seventies, I recall walking on Exmoor, ill prepared, in unsuitable clothing and footwear, with no map and only guessing where I was. It was a typical Exmoor day, horizontal misty rain, cold, wet and after I had become slightly lost I stumbled across this remote farm house. Sheltering under its walls out of the wind, gave me the chance to recuperate and refresh. Taking stock of the situation I got to wondering how on earth anyone could making a living there with no apparent signs of stock or crops.  Perhaps we weren’t so far from a village or larger farm and maybe this was not a farm but a workers cottage.

When it was time to make my way back to Brendon Two Gates – with no map – I was not really sure which direction I should take.  I resolved to myself that if I could find the drive or track away from the cottage and back to civilisation, I would then be able to reach my car. But no path, track, or drive was to be found. This got me thinking, what was this cottage doing out here in the middle of nowhere with no visible connection to the outside world?  I did eventually get out, but the experience had kindled a fascination, with lots of unanswered questions.

Having revisited the site several times since, drawing and painting in this very magical spot, I still wonder what life must been like there.  So different to our own. No noise, no central heating, no electricity, phone, yet this was only 50 or so years ago. A world away on our own doorstep.”

When not drawing, sketching and painting Phil has a busy family, work and sporting life enjoying, amongst other things, mountains rather bigger than the Exmoor hills.

 

The beautiful watercolour of Hoar Oak Cottage created by Phil is available to purchase as a framed or unframed print and as greeting cards.  If you are interested please contact the artist on philrycroft@msn.com or 01769572100.

 

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Australia Heritage History Life@Hoar Oak Cottage Vellacott

Guest Blog: Vellacotts of Tasmania

The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage welcome guest bloggers and our very first are Rob and Elaine Vellacott from Tasmania, Australia who have shared their story and their links to Hoar Oak Cottage.

Robert Vellacott was born (1940) in Perth West Australia, the youngest of 7 children of Harold and Irene Vellacott. He grew up and was educated in Perth. He completed a plumbing apprenticeship and whilst on a working holiday round Australia Rob met Tasmanian, Elaine Cable, who was working in a local shipping company. They married in 1963, settled in Devonport and had 2 children. Robert became a plumbing instructor at the Devonport technical college for 25 years and is now retired but is the local tourism association secretary and takes an active interest in local government and council affairs. They began researching the Vellacott family in Australia and England and their discoveries led them to Hoar Oak Cottage.

They write:
“In September, 2013 we visited Hoar Oak Cottage which had been the home of my great, great grandfather and mother Charles & Elizabeth (nee Passmore) Vellacott. This was very special day for us because it represented the fruition of years of research into our Vellacott family. We were most probably the first Australians of the Lynton line of Vellacotts to visit Hoar Oak Cottage since my great grandparents lived there almost 200 years ago. The restoration and conservation work was still underway at the time of our visit however one sensed the quiet isolation and freedom the family must have felt whilst living there, especially the children who would have enjoyed roaming the rolling hills and investigating the creek. This photo is of our first sight of Hoar Oak Cottage as we travelled across Cheriton Ridge.”

“On the day it was lovely to meet up with the descendants from other families who had lived at the cottage and especially Jim & Mabel Vellacott who still live locally in Devon.  Jim and I – both GGGrandsons of Charles Vellacott of Hoar Oak Cottage – laid flowers in the hearth of the cottage as a little memorial to all our families.”

“My great grandfather, Josiah Vellacott, was the last son of Charles and Elisabeth Vellacott and in 1866 Josiah, with his wife Mary and their 3 sons migrated to Queensland, Australia seeking a better life in a new country.  However, they found life tough dealing with the heat and remoteness of the sheep farm where Josiah worked as well as the isolation from their extended family back on Exmoor.  Josiah and Mary had two more sons before tragedy struck the family in 1871 when Josiah was found drowned. Mary was left with five young sons, the oldest being 11 years old and the youngest was two years old.  Not able to manage, she sent the eldest boy out to work; put the next two sons in an orphanage and kept the youngest two boys with her until they were able to work. Later she married again and went on to have another 4 children. Despite the hard and tragic life the family faced, the descendants of Josiah and Mary Vellacott made the most of the opportunities given in a new country and are now well established across Australia and many other places world wide.”

Rob’s wife Elaine takes up the story:

“I am a 4th generation Australian and was born in Tasmania. Most of my Australian ancestors have been farmers.  In researching the Vellacott family name I was fortunate to find Lorraine Vellacott who had researched the two lines of the Vellacott families.  Her research was very thorough and we were able to link the Australian line with the two UK lines. It has been an interesting journey, especially when Robert and I were able to visit Hoar Oak Cottage in 2013 and meet descendants of the Vellacotts and many other families who had lived in the cottage. My hope is that Hoar Oak Cottage will continue to be of interest for those travelling to the Exmoor National Park.”

Rob and Elaine have shared the following photos of members of the Australian Vellacott family.

Grandchildren of Josiah & Mary Vellacott’s youngest son John:
  Dorothy, John & Winifred – the “Queensland Line” in 1995
Second youngest son of Josiah and Mary Vellacott:

William and Harriet’s sons:

 

And finally, a photo of the youngest grandchildren of William and Harriet Vellacott:

Rob and Elaine finished their Guest Blog by saying:

We are very thankful for all the help received and friendships formed during our research into the Vellacott family and our hope is that Hoar Oak Cottage will continue to be of interest for those visiting Exmoor.

Thank you to Rob and Elaine for being our first Hoar Oak Cottage Guest Bloggers and sharing their fascinating story.  You can find out more about the Vellacotts at Hoar Oak Cottage on this link.

If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog please do get in touch.

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Heritage History Johnstone Old House Names

A new house sign for Hoar Oak Cottage

For many years, Hoar Oak Cottage has slept in silence in its remote patch of Exmoor.  A few people knew its name and history but many didn’t.  Since the Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage started working to save the cottage and its history and prevent its stories from being lost – there has been an ambition to have the cottage’s name somewhere on the site.   The aim? To let people know what the cottage was called.  And to give them a clue as to where they could find more information. On 9th May 2017, the aim of having a house sign at Hoar Oak Cottage was achieved.

Thanks to Steve Pugsley and his team at Ardosia Slate , a beautiful piece of local, recovered slate was supplied and engraved and donated to Hoar Oak Cottage.  The Ardosia folks cleverly incorporated the Hoar Oak Cottage web-address into the house sign enabling people to find out where to go for further information.

Thanks to Ben Williams at Badgeworthy Land Company, the Friends were given permission to transport the heavy sign out to the cottage by Landrover.

It was put in place by Will Bowden and Bette Baldwin, founder members of The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage, and ‘dedicated’ by Margaret Waters – all three are  descendants of Shepherd James Maxwell Johnstone and his wife Sarah, who lived at Hoar Oak Cottage from 1886 to 1904 and had thirteen children there.

 

And last but not least thanks go to Jim Baldwin for bringing additional lifting power to the day and to Matt Harley from the Exmoor National Park Authority for giving The Friends permission to put a house sign at Hoar Oak Cottage.

If you would like to find out a bit more about how Hoar Oak Cottage got its name please visit this page on our website.

 

Posted by Bette Baldwin