Bill Little and his wife Dorothy, nee Jones, moved into Hoar Oak Cottage in the 1930s where they had two children Dennis and Sylvia. Bill was employed by the Fortescue Estate to be shepherd for the Hoar Oak Cottage herding. Later, in the 1940s(?) they moved to work at the Wheal Eliza Mine herding near Simonsbath where they had more children including David Little. David and Dennis’s son Peter have provided all of the information for this webpage. The Littles are descended from one of the Scottish shepherds who came to Exmoor to work for Frederic Knight in the 1870s and their story is told below.
On 30th November 1849, John Little married Ann Renwick at Ancrum, Roxburgshire. They moved to Deepsdyke Cottage, West Linton, Peebleshire where a son William was born in 1851. William married Margaret Trench on 29th December 1871 and had four children James, Anne, Chritisina and a son John (known as Jack) who born on 12th April 1874. Six weeks later the entire family moved to Exmoor. This puts their probable date of arrival at the end of May, beginning of June 1874.
It is almost certain that William Little was employed as a shepherd for Frederic Knight – possibly delivering a herd of Blackface sheep from the Scottish Borders. West Linton is Peebleshire was, at that time, famous for the Blackface breed which Knight favoured for stocking Exmoor. It may be that William Little delivered a herd of sheep and stayed on as shepherd – the most likely scenario as he brought his wife and 4 children with him.
William, Margaret and their children first settled at Pinkery Farm to take up the Chains Herding – which ran alongside the Hoar Oak herding which at that time was run by another Scottish shepherd William Davidson. No one knows how the Littles travelled to North Devon but it is likely to be a combination of boat or train with horse and cart and walking. Often sheep, shepherds and families would travel by train to South Molton or Williton and then the sheep would be driven up onto the moor with the family following by horse and cart. There is a long standing story on Exmoor about the Scottish shepherds walking herds of sheep ‘droving’ sheep all the way from Scotland to Devon using the old drove roads. When the historian and research Aza Pinney recreated this long walk with a flock of sheep for his TV programme “The Sheep Walk” (1980s) it was to the Little family he turned to for information and advice. More on this link. (In fact, the most likely candidate for doing the sheep walk would be someone like William Davidson who arrived from Scotland on Exmoor with a flock of Blackfaced for Hoar Oak herding and was a single man – free and able to undertake the long arduous walk.)
William and Margaret stayed at Pinkery until 1898 when they moved to Toms Hill Farm. By this time they had five more children William, Margaret, Betsy, Thomas and James. The photos below are of William Little on the left and the family at Toms Hill in or around 1900.
The Little family’s legacy on Exmoor is extensive and the photo below left (permission Roger Burton) shows the sheep shearing in 1905 with all of the Exmoor shepherds with Lady Fortescue. It includes 4 members of the Little family – back, first on left is Jim Little; 4th on the left is Jack Little who was at Pinkery Farm; 6th in the row is William Little Junior shepherd at Larkbarrow (later to go to Hoar Oak) and 7th is William Little Senior who was still shepherd at Toms Hill. The photo below right is of four generations of the little family taken in the 1950s and showing Jack left, Dennis centre holding baby Peter and Bill on the right.
Thanks go to David Little (left) and Peter Little and Louise Holman for their help and support with information about the Little family. Because of their generosity the Hoar Oak Cottage archive contains a large number of images and documents relevant to shepherds and sheep farming at Hoar Oak and on Exmoor generally as well as specifically to do with the Little family from Peebleshire. These will eventually all become available through the online archive but should anyone wish to see any of this material in the meantime please contact us.