Category: Uncategorized


Hoar Oak Cottage Kids Paintings – 2017

We were so thrilled to have these two lovely entries into the Hoar Oak Cottage Drawing Competition at Lynton Library this year.

Two sisters, Zoe and Mya Oxenham from Lynmouth, had clearly spent a lot of time on their paintings which were beautiful interpretations of the cottage when it would have been lively with people and ponies and sheep.

We loved how the sheep were given beautiful woolly coats carefully made out of cotton wool and how the ponies looked like proper Exmoors with pale faces and long wild manes and tails.

The cottage looked really lovely with ivy growing up the walls and surrounded by the beech trees which offer shelter from the wild winds of Exmoor.   Well done to both girls who have been awarded a £10 book token for their hard work and artistry.

Keep an eye out for the announcement of our final prize winner this year – Maisy Smallman and her amazing drawing of Hoar Oak Cottage imagined as – well something to do with Christmas.  Sorry folks but you’ll have to wait until our Christmas Newsletter to see Maisy’s fabulous drawing!!


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
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
Biggar Crawfordjohn Graham Scottish Exmoor Links Uncategorized

The Graham Family: Scottish Migrants to Exmoor

The Graham Family:  Scottish Migrants to Exmoor

The Friends of Hoar Oak are always pleased to learn more about any of the Scottish shepherd families who came to Exmoor. Recently we were contacted by Donald Graham, a descendant of Thomas and Marion Graham who came to Exmoor from Biggar in Scotland around 1875.  Donald was born and brought up in and around Lynton and Brendon and has strong family links to the Rockford Inn, a favourite with many of The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage.   He now lives and works in Minehead.

The story Donald has to tell, the photographs he has to share and the memories he has provided about Thomas and Marion are a treasure trove of information. It is a story full of interest and adventure as well as fortitude combined with sprinklings of sadness and hardship.  It takes us across the length of Britain, from Scotland to North Devon, involves several sheep farms on Exmoor including Badgworthy and Larkbarrow and ends in South Devon.  The photo below is of Donald Graham on a recent walk out to his ancestors’ farm at Larkbarrow, where only a few walls and features of the old building now remain.  He is holding a photo of Thomas and Marion Graham who left Scotland to come and live in this spot in the 1870s.

According to the family bible (still in Donald’s possession) – Thomas Graham was born on the 8th of July 1851 in Biggar, Lanarkshire.  His mother was Janet Graham, but his father’s name is unknown.  Thomas was christened Thomas Steel Graham and was brought up on his grandparents (John and Janet Steel Graham) sheep farm in Biggar, Lanarkshire with two other siblings.  When, in 1856 his mother Janet died, Thomas continued to be raised by his grandparents whom, it is recorded, he remained very close to.  His grandfather, John Graham was a shepherd and a drover and it is no doubt from him that Thomas learnt his shepherding skills.    Sadly, Grandfather John came to a sticky end: a story which involves a flock of sheep, the House of Muir Sheep Market, whisky drinking and the Haystoune Arms in West Linton and which was reported in the Peebleshire Advertiser and County Newspaper dated 9th April 1864.

It recounts how John was found dead after leaving the pub in his usual good health and saying he was going to Dolphinton.   He had three score sheep with him. The newspaper says “Dr Andrew Bonthorn on arriving found Graham lying on his right side, with his plaid under his head. He pronounced life to be extinct and gave it as his opinion that death had been caused by cold and exposure, after indulging in intoxicating drink, or that the exposure had accelerated some pre-existing disease.”  Heart disease is inherent in the male line of the Grahams and it seems poor John succumbed.

After John’s death his wife, Janet Steel Graham, was left not only to fend for herself but also to continue raising her dead daughter’s children.  She must have indeed been a woman of steel and the fact the Steel name has come down through the family line is testimony to the high regard she was held in, including by her grandson Thomas who carried her memory to Exmoor.

On the 3rd June 1872, at the age of 22, Thomas Graham married Marion Wilson in Biggar. Although, at the moment, we do not know where they lived and worked initially, we do know that their first son, another Thomas Steel Graham, was born in 1874 at Broadlees, Symington just three miles from Biggar. In 1875 a second son, George Wilson Graham was born in Peebles.  It may be that by this time the family had moved away from Biggar or that Marion’s family came from Peebles and she had returned home to have her baby.

The picture of the family below, taken when young George was still a toddler, shows the family in a photographer’s studio-type pose.  There is a romantic backdrop and in the front, and obviously to the children’s delight, there is a little chicken perched on a fence in front of them.  It is a lovely family photo and seems to have been taken in Scotland – perhaps just before they left for Exmoor.

Thomas’ wife Marion has been remembered as a woman who was fiercely proud of her family and of her Scottish roots and family memories tell us that Marion brought this strong pride of home and family with her when she moved to Exmoor.  The family travelled with a few prized personal possessions, their sheepdogs and a flock of Cheviot sheep, leaving by boat from Scotland to travel to Lynmouth in North Devon.  We have yet to find out which port they left from, but we know from elsewhere that it was not in the least unusual for shepherds, their wives and children and the sheep to all travel south on the same ship – ships which were not very large and often overcrowded.  The journey down the west coast of Scotland and England and then up the Bristol Channel to North Devon must have been an uncomfortable and taxing one. On arrival in Lynmouth, passengers and sheep would all be offloaded and the sheep driven up onto Exmoor by the shepherd and his sheep dogs.  A horse and cart would have met the ship and transferred the women and children to their new home.

A photo of one of Marion’s precious possessions transported down to Exmoor still exists.  It is of her “Scotch Dresser” and it is fascinating to imagine the family and their dresser bouncing along in a pony and trap along the lanes from Lynmouth up onto the moor.  Also among their baggage was her most prized possession – an album in which Marion had compiled of photos of Biggar and the family in Scotland.  We learn that she was always willing to show off her album and talk about it to visitors.  It would be wonderful to find out if that album maybe still exists – if you know of it do please get in touch – but for the moment it is possible to share a photo of Marion’s  “Scotch Dresser”.

Thomas Graham had most probably been employed by Frederic Knight to deliver a flock of Scottish sheep to Exmoor and to live and work as the shepherd at Larkbarrow.  The farmstead was a substantial one but it was in a bleak and isolated part of Exmoor – by following this link the reader will be taken to a leaflet describing a walk to Larkbarrow as well as a little of the history of the farmstead.

Although it had begun to fall into slight disrepair by the mid-1800s Larkbarrow was, when the Grahams lived there, a substantial farmstead with extensive outbuildings. It was also, as can be seen in the photo below, in two parts allowing accommodation for extra farm labourers or in some cases another family.  More can be found out about Larkbarrow in Roger Burton’s book The Heritage of Exmoor and the reader is recommended to take a look at that book if more information about Larkbarrow, or indeed any aspect of Exmoor heritage, is wanted.  This lovely old farmhouse is now long gone as it was used by the Army for Tank Gunnery practice and the buildings were, quite literally, blown up.

For the Graham family, Larkbarrow was where their new life on Exmoor started and where their third child, a son called John Graham, was born on the 26th July 1878.  The little boy died just 15 months later of diarrhoea exhaustion – an unpleasant condition but one which was not that unusual a cause of death at that time. On the 3rd October 1880 another daughter, Marion, was born followed by a further child, who was named Janet Steel Graham and born on the 17th June 1882.   Another son, William Graham was born on the 13th November 1883 in Ashkirk, Roxburgh and it seems likely that Marion returned home to have this final baby whilst Thomas stayed behind to work.  It also seems very likely that Marion took some, or perhaps all, of the other children with her as some of them were, in later life, still able to remember being taken to Scotland when their mother had another baby.

By 1887, the Graham family moved from Larkbarrow to another remote and even wilder spot on Exmoor, Badgworthy Farm.   Living at Badgworthy was a rather different kettle of fish for the Graham family. It was a lonely and isolated building.  A simple two-up, two-down cottage with a lean-to (probably for a pig) which had been built in the 1860s by John Bale and John Lethaby.  It is alleged that they used stones from the old ruined cottages known as the Doone Huts – the remains of a ruined medieval village and linked to the great Exmoor tale by RD Blakemore of Lorna Doone.   Badgworthy – sometimes called the Shepherds Cot – was recorded as having a “feel” to it which many occupants did not like.  Another Scottish family, the William Johnstone family, lived and worked there in the 1870s and stayed just a few years before returning to Scotland.

The building was whipped by the wind, it would have been a terrible place in the snow and apparently echoed (to those who could hear such things) with the noises of the men – some might call them the ‘blaggards’ – who had once lived there, supposedly in robber gangs.  Badgworthy is noted as having the highest turnover of occupants during the period when Knight housed his shepherds/farmers there. Although we shall never know exactly why this should be the case it is, nonetheless, remembered as a place that people generally did not seem to have enjoyed living in.

The photos below show it in its setting and help tell the story of Badgworthy. The first photo shows the cottage with smoke pouring horizontally out of the chimney and with the few stone walled enclosures to the back and side of the cottage, where the family would have tried to grow some crops or to protect sheep and perhaps a pony and cow or two.

The second photo was used in a Judges postcard and demonstrates the bleakness of Badgworthy setting. It also shows how oats were grown in the field across the valley and the crop can be seen here, gathered into stooks, waiting to be collected and stored for winter.  The entire plant – straw and oat head – would be fed to the animals.

The next photo is a wonderful, personal memento of the Graham’s time at Badgworthy.  It is of the Graham children and visiting friends out on the moor to the front of the cottage.  How lovely it would be to learn which are the Graham children and who the friends are.

The Graham family’s move from Larkbarrow to Badgworthy was recorded in Head Shepherd Robert Tait Little’s diary for 1888.  Head Shepherd Little was employed by the Knight family and came from Scotland to take up this important post.  He kept detailed and extensive records about the sheep, sheep breeding, quantities of wool and meat sold to market etc. Although the diaries are intended to be primarily stock records they also give tantalising glimpses of which shepherd was at which herding at any particular time between 1870 and 1907.  The image below gives two pages from one of the Little’s diaries covering the years 1885 to 1890 which record exactly that information. These pages are from 1888.

Down at the bottom of the right-hand page it is recorded:

May 20th, George Anderson left Badgeworthy

May 26th, Thomas Graham to Badgeworthy  Shepherd.

This diary entry gives us a precise window when the Grahams left Larkbarrow and moved to their posting at Badgworthy.   It also casts light on one of the intriguing aspects of the Scottish shepherds on Exmoor story, the degree to which the Scottish shepherd families were related to each other or had strong interconnections back in Scotland.    Donald Graham tells us that Thomas Graham who came to Exmoor from Scotland had an Aunt Elizabeth who was married to William Anderson back in Biggar.  And here in Robert Tait Little’s diary we see a shepherd Anderson handing over to Thomas Graham at Badgworthy in 1888.  It may well be the case that “word of mouth”about shepherding jobs on Exmoor meant two branches of the family – the Grahams and the Andersons – both ended up down in North Devon.   Perhaps the Thomas Graham and George Anderson recorded on these diary pages were cousins?

Our knowledge about the family ties between so many of the Scottish shepherd families on Exmoor continues to grow and it would be wonderful to find any descendants of George Anderson as they may hold some clues to this particular little mystery about whether the Andersons and Grahams on Exmoor were indeed related.

Perhaps it was with some relief that the Graham family moved away from Badgworthy.  For the moment, the date of this move is unknown, but it is very likely to have coincided with the period towards the end of the 19th century when the land and cottages on Exmoor had been sold by the Knight family to the Fortescue Estate and were being run by Lord Ebrington, a Fortescue son.  His aim was not to continue employing shepherds but to let the farms and land for shooting etc. and to earn income from them in that way.   The Exmoor Scottish sheep farming experiment was coming to a close and many of the shepherds hired from Scotland lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods. For some the loss of livelihood and home was a bitter blow, see for example the story of William Davidson.  For others, with well-established links to the area and their children already married into local families, the desire to return to Scotland must have been lessened and they would, as in the case of the Grahams, look for work elsewhere.

Ultimately, the Graham’s home at Badgworthy suffered the same fate as several other hill farm cottages on Exmoor (including their other home at Larkbarrow) as it was used by the Army for tank gunnery practice and demolished.  The photos below were taken in July 2015 and show the sad remains.

Thomas and Marion Graham moved from Badgeworthy Cottage to Kipscombe Farm in Countisbury to work, it seems most likely, for Sir William Halliday of the Glenthorne Estate.  The 1901 census, however, finds Thomas and Marion at Twitchen Farm in Challacombe so their time at Kipscombe must have been fairly short and confined to 1889/1900.  Family memories suggest they moved to Challacombe because of its thriving Methodist chapel and community.

Thomas Graham had a reputation as a gifted and fiery speaker in the local Methodist Chapel at Brendon.  He had been raised with a strong Christian faith in the Church of Scotland and he is remembered for reading to his children from the old family bible brought from Scotland.  He became a lay preacher and would preach at Brendon and other local Methodist churches on Exmoor.  Methodism was the nearest non-conformist religious style to the Church of Scotland and many, if not all, of the Scottish shepherd families would have attended a Methodist chapel in and around Exmoor.  Thomas Graham is remembered for having a strong Scots accent and his descendants wonder how well this fiery and charismatic Scottish Preacher would have been understood by the natives of the Brendon Valley.

Their daughter Marion Graham was attending the Methodist Chapel at Challacombe even when the family were still living at Kipscombe.  It would have been a long trek to get to chapel meetings and perhaps a blow to her father who was still preaching at the Methodist Chapel in Brendon – but perhaps there is a better explanation that is still to be learnt.   Nonetheless, the attractions of Challacombe eventually tempted the entire family to move there and to take up residence at Twitchen Farm.  The village had a shop, post office, baker and blacksmith as well as a pub (which would not, of course, have been frequented by this staunchly Methodist family) and this would have been the first time since moving to Exmoor that the Graham family would have experienced such conveniences and comforts.

Nonetheless, and as is the way with all families, children grow up, marry and move away.  Janet married Charles Dennis in Barnstaple and went to live where he ran his blacksmith business in Zeal Monachorum, near Crediton.  Daughter Marion married Alfred Madge who was a farmer in Sandford, near Crediton and she too moved south.  Son George Wilson Graham married Hannah Mary Geen and they took over the tenancy of Wilsham Farm, in Countisbury and seemed to have prospered as Wilsham stayed in the Graham family until 1989.

Eventually Thomas and Marion decided to leave Challacombe and moved closer to daughters Janet and Marion.  They took up residence at Rookbeare Farm in Stockleigh English near Crediton where they lived until they passed away, Thomas in 1920 aged 69 and Marion in 1927 aged 81.  The photo below shows Thomas & Marion at Rookbeare Farm.

And this photo below is of their final resting place in Stockleigh English churchyard.

Thomas Graham’s death was reported in the local newspaper (Western Times, Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

Donald Graham, who has been the informant of this wonderful story, remembers his grandfather telling him about Thomas and Marion Graham.  He remembered that Thomas Graham was a very tall man with a great bushy beard and strong Scots accent. His Granny Marion, by comparison, was a small woman who was dwarfed by her husband.  Marion had a strong character and was proud of her Scottish background and is also remembered for always greeting her grandchildren with a bag of sweets.

Thomas and Marion Graham’s story is fascinating. They were part of the Scottish migration of shepherds from Scotland to Exmoor and their life took them to Larkbarrow and Badgworthy high up on Exmoor hills; to Kipscombe at Countisbury and to Twitchen Farm at Challacombe and finally to South Devon, where they ended their days still living and working on farms near their children in Crediton.

Their story has survived to be retold today.  A testimony to Marion Graham nee Wilson of Biggar in Lanarkshire, Scotland who came with her husband Thomas Graham to Exmoor in North Devon, determined, so we are told, to remember their Scottish roots and to pass on her pride and passion for those roots to her family.   It seems safe to say she more than succeeded, because without her fierce pride and determination we wouldn’t have their story to share now.

Thank you to Donald Graham for getting in touch and sharing another wonderful story about the Scottish shepherd families on Exmoor.  He is keen to find more relatives or anyone else who may know more of his Graham family either in and around Devon or in and around Biggar in Scotland.  If you would like to learn more from Donald Graham or have something to share please do get in touch

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Exmoor Fauna Flora Uncategorized

The Flora and Fauna of Exmoor

Exmoor’s scenery: open windswept moorland; sheltered wooded combes; the highest sea cliffs in England; bog, fast-rushing rivers and man-made lakes.  With such varied habitats it’s not surprising that its flora and other wildlife are so diverse.  Living in one of the remotest parts of the moor and out in all weathers, the shepherds of Hoar Oak Cottage would have been intimately aware of the plants and creatures that they came across daily.

Country folk of the past utilised anything that could be readily harvested; not just those that could be eaten but also those that might make a hard life a little more comfortable.  These days worts (bilberries) and blackberries may still be gathered in the autumn for pies and jam but it’s doubtful whether anyone collects cotton grass seed-heads for stuffing pillows anymore. However, the great beech trees that still surround Hoar Oak Cottage continue to give shelter (and once firewood) and the trout in the river that provided the occasional tasty meal still dart for shelter whenever danger threatens.

The Hoar Oak Valley had been home to man for thousands of years from Neolithic and Bronze Age settlers through to the late 1950s.  Since then, Exmoor’s National Park status has protected the moor as well as many of the birds, mammals, wild flowers and insects they would have been familiar with.  Today, the wildlife provides a continuous and living link between ourselves, the shepherds and the earliest peoples.  In this occasional series of posts on the flora and fauna we hope to gather information from various sources; books and our research have already yielded many clues.  However, we would like these pages to also become a record of your Exmoor sightings and discoveries – new or old – especially if they should be from the Hoar Oak Valley.  If you have a photograph or story that we might share we’d love to hear from you – to reach us, click on the link at the foot of the page.

Posted by John Shortland
Flower Festival History Lynton & Lynmouth Uncategorized

Flower Festival in Lynmouth

History and Heritage in Flowers
at St Johns Church Lynmouth

The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage were delighted to join in the St John The Baptist Flower Festival in Lynmouth.  This beautiful little church – a Grade II listed building – was completed in 1870 and has, this year, undergone extensive repairs to the roof and improvements to the interior.  You can read more about St John The Baptist – its architecture and history – on this link.

This year the theme of the Flower Festival was the history of Lynmouth and the official opening was on the anniversary of the Lynmouth Flood 65 years ago.  There were floral interpretations of many aspects of Lynmouth’s history and each was accompanied by a brief history.  Here is a taster of just a few:

The Herring Fishing Industry was commemorated in a blue, silver and white display with the following short history:  
First mentioned as early as the 1500s, the herring industry of Lynmouth reached its peak in the late eighteenth century when, quite suddenly, the herring stock declined.  The export of herring to Europe ceased, as did the practice of using the fish for manuring the land.  However, Lynmouth herring was still  a valuable source of protein for the Hoar Oak shepherd families.  Even within living memory, herrings were sold for sixpence (2 1/2p) each from the barrows wheeled along the streets.
Smugglers were remembered in a delightful cave-inspired display and the history recalled that:
There are many tales of smuggling along this coast but the only record is of an incident in 1832 when a suspicious boat was sighted off Lynmouth and was watched by three “Preventative Men”.  That night a boat came ashore laden with 30 kegs of brandy and was met by a number of farmers with their horses.  A scuffle ensured but the smugglers managed to escape leaving their contraband on the shore.
The Paddle Steamers arriving in Lynmouth in 1830, the Boxing Day Meet of the Exmoor Foxhounds and the stirrup cup provided by the Bath Hotel and the Rising Sun Hotel, the amazing hydro-electric power station opening in 1890 as well as the Lynmouth Flood in 1952 were amongst other events recorded in flowers.
The Overland Launch of 1899 was commemorated with a display shaped to reflect the steep hill between Lynmouth and Porlock that the old style, heavy wooden Lifeboat was hauled up and over.  The accompanying short history tells a bit more of the story:

A severe gale blowing on the 12th January, 1899 prevented the lifeboat Louisa from launching at Lynmouth to help a ship in distress. The twenty-man crew, deciding to launch from Porlock Weir, were helped by 100s of villagers and 18 horses to haul the ten-ton boat 1400ft up Countisbury Hill.  In places, the narrow road had to be widened to allow it to pass.  continuing across the moor to descend Porlock Hill alone, the crew finally reached the stricken ship the following morning and every one was saved.

The St Johns Flower Festival was a great success with many visitors – locals and holidaymakers – who enjoyed the displays as well as delicious cream teas and cakes.  Well over £1000 was raised in donations. A great achievement.

Posted by Bette Baldwin
Exmoor Johnstone Uncategorized

Looking for Sarah

Sarah’s Story
In 1881, Sarah Thomason married James Maxwell Johnstone in a tiny church in the beautiful Welsh village of Betws Garmon.  The couple moved to Keswick in the Lake District and had two children before moving to Muirkirk in the Scottish Borders and having another child.  In 1886, Sarah and James and the three children moved to Hoar Oak Cottage  where they lived for nearly 20 years had ten more children.  In 1904, when the last child was just ten months old, James died and Sarah was left on Exmoor with her thirteen children – a long way from parents and family in Wales and Scotland. Sarah died in 1945 after a long widowhood spent living and working in Lynton before going to live with her daughter Agnes Sedgbeer in Gunn and finally with her daughter Jane Johnstone in Porlock.  You can read Sarah and James story and find out more about their 13 children  on this link.
Looking for Sarah
The search for Sarah and her story and the hope to find a photograph of this amazing and courageous woman was, in many ways, what started two of her descendants – Bette Baldwin and Will Bowden – on the search into Hoar Oak Cottage and the setting up of The Friends.  Now after many years it is time to return to that simple, original aim – of looking for Sarah.

Might there be a photograph out there somewhere?  Might there be a photograph of Sarah and James out there somewhere?  When James died in 1904 photography wasn’t all that common – certainly not for poor people.  But when Sarah died in 1945 it would have been much more common.  The hope is there may be a photo of her somewhere and we can track it down.  We know so much about her life but we do not know what she looked like. How nice that would be.

If you think you may be able to help or need more information please get in touch by contacting Bette Baldwin on:

Tel:        07967182903




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

The Hunt and Shepherd Little

In the Exmoor book by H.J.Marshall (1948) Exmoor:Sporting and Otherwise the story is related about how Shepherd Will Little’s knowledge of the countryside around and about Hoar Oak Cottage was ignored by the Exmoor Hounds when they were out hunting on the moor.

The book makes frequent mention of Hoaroak Cottage and the ancient boundary marker that is the Hoaroak Tree as well mentioning people linked to Hoar Oak Cottage. At the time Marshall was writing, the shepherd at Hoar Oak was William Little and H. J. Marshall tells the tale that Will Little was one of the few who knew the good ground between Exe Head, Chains Barrow, Ruckham Combe and on via Saddle Gate, to Chapman’s Barrows.

Marshall recounts this tale:
He (Will Little) was once on Exe Plain when the Hounds passed in full cry, a horse rode up to him and inquired his way . “Come with me and I will take you across the Chains” replied the shepherd. The horseman did not like the prospect.
“Is there a way around?” he inquired
“Yes” said the shepherd “You can ride down Hoccombe Combe, there in front of you, go past my cottage in the valley, then ride under the hill on sound heather. But ‘tis a long way round. Better come with me”
The rider shook his head.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do” said the shepherd “ I’ll jog along quietly and be at Saddlers Stone a long while before you can gallop there!”
So it was settled. And the young shepherd jogged leisurely along over the bog and reached Saddlers Stone, well known to all hunters. He sat there for some time before the stranger came up, his horse covered in sweat from hard galloping.

There’s no doubt that Will Little, shepherd of the Hoar Oak herding and resident of Hoar Oak Cottage, not only knew his way around the moor but had stout legs and a good set of lungs!

This fascinating book is now out of print but it is worth tracking down a copy if only for Lionel Edward’s lovely pen and ink illustrations and the hand drawn map of Exmoor on the inside cover. The book recalls epic hunts crossing the moor from’ Bratton to Porlock Bay’ – referred to in the old Exmoor Hunting song of the same name and which has been captured in this YouTube clip

Posted by Bette Baldwin

Great Snow Storm of 1878

On March 29th 1878, Exmoor Head Shepherd Robert Tait Little (RTL) recorded in his diary:  “Great Snow Storm. Lost 290 Sheep after a fine winter.”

By the end of April, RTL is clearly in a better position to assess the damage and another page from his diary, shown below, details the losses from the great snow storm of 1878.

1878: sheep lost in a severe snow on the night of March 28th and morning of 29th March 1878.

A    21 Winstitchen
B   28 Simonsbath
C   40 Larkborough
D   28 Badgeworthy
E   13 Chains (Hoar Oak)
F   40 Cornham
G   55 Duredown
H   57 Pinkery
Total Dead 292

Dead from March 28th till April 27th 292 Sheep. Perhaps 260 would die owing to the storm. Weather good after. Snow all away by April 1st West wind and no rain. Winter good.

Note: The letters A, B, C etc relate to the code number Robert Tait Little had given each of the farms and herdings. Hoar Oak was also known as the Chains herding and was Code E. They lost 13 sheep at Hoar Oak in the bad weather. Elsewhere in the diaries RTL uses the just the code letters to record information about the farms – a sensible timesaving approach to record keeping avoiding writing out the long farm names.

This collection of information about how many sheep had died at the various Exmoor herdings would have been made over the two or three weeks following the dreadful storm of March 28th and 29th, 878. Although Robert Tait Little says the snow was ‘all away’ by April 1st it is likely that it would still have been difficult for him to get out to some of the most remote farms or for the shepherds to get to a village to report their losses from the great storm. The heavy snow and large drifts would have remained longer up on the high moor making it difficult to get about and, as is often the case in such conditions, the sheep can get buried in snow drifts only to emerge, still alive, some days or even weeks later.

As a consequence it is not until April 27th, nearly a month later, that RTL appears to be in a position to make a full tally of lost sheep over those 4 weeks and to write it up in his stock diary. It is interesting that he makes a judgement about how many he thought actually died from the storm – he says perhaps 260 would die owing to the storm. The reason for the other 30 deaths – other than usual winter losses one supposes – is not stated. It does seem, from RTL’s notes, that the weather before and after the great storm had been not too bad. No doubt a bitter irony.
Research by The Friends has shown that this snow storm was worthy of being recorded and mentioned in the annual Symons British Rainfall Records of 1878. This book contains an overview of weather throughout the British Isles on a month by month basis as well as recording rainfall including snow throughout the year.


Clearly this weather event was of sufficient importance and of such a devastating effect as to feature so strongly in both Robert Tait Little’s Diaries and in Symon’s British Rainfall book.
What was happening at Hoar Oak Cottage during the great storm of March 1878?   At this date Hoar Oak Cottage was occupied by William and Fanny Davidson. They had several children, a son born at Hoar Oak in 1872, a daughter in 1873, another son in 1877 and another daughter in 1879. Later in 1879 the family had moved on to Winstitchen and so during the Great Storm of 1878 it is very likely that the Davidson would be at Hoar Oak Cottage with 2 small children and a tiny baby. RTL’s diary records that 13 sheep were lost to the great storm from The Chains herding run by William Davidson. Was the experience of the great storm one of the factors which resulted in Shepherd Davidson taking on the Winstitchen herding? The farmhouse at Winstitchen is more substantial and much closer to the amenities of the village of Simonsbath – perhaps more desirable than being at Hoar Oak for a young family. We shall never know for certain but, other than the Johnstone family of Hoar Oak Cottage, few shepherd families stayed there once they had more than one or two children.
About Symon’s British Rainfall Guides
G.J. Symons first produced a four-page pamphlet English Rainfall, 1860 with information for over 150 stations. He next produced the first volume of British Rainfall to cover both 1860 and 1861, the series was initially known as Symons’s/Symons British Rainfall from 1860 – 1899 and was then continued as British Rainfall until 1968. It was produced by the British Rainfall Organization – an independent body managed first by George Symons and then in succession by Herbert Sowerby Wallis and Dr Hugh Robert Mill who instituted a broad of trustees. In 1919, the operational function of the British Rainfall Organization became a branch of the Meteorological Office. From 1961, monthly information from all stations was included for the first time. From 1969 – 1991 rainfall information was published in monthly and annual totals of rainfall.
More info on this link

Posted by Bette Baldwin