In the 1970s, Mollie Hawcutt of North Molton wrote “The Housewifes Poem” about her friend Dorothy Little and her time as the shepherd’s wife at Hoar Oak Cottage. The two women were great friends and frequently walked, in their later years, out on Exmoor visiting places such as Hoar Oak. You can read Mollie’s poem in full and listen to Dorothy Little’s granddaughter read the poem on this link.
In it is the line, “progress was coming, it did not pass by.” Mollie was referring to the changes in the 1960s, when this part of the Hoar Oak Valley and the cottage was purchased by the Exmoor National Park Authority. The last shepherd family, the Antells, left and Hoar Oak was never to be lived in again. Never to be a home again. Perhaps Abe and Gert Antell were sorry to leave but they may also have been very glad to move to somewhere with modern conveniences and a much easier journey for their son Edwin to get to school.
What happened next is described in Exmoor Century (1980) Binding, Pearce, Pugsley which records that:
“The National Park Authority gutted the cottage sometime in the late 1970s……at the time the cottage was largely intact but the flooring was taken out, the windows blocked up and the natural slate roof replaced by a corrugated one.”
The roof, doors and internal structures were also removed and many of the outbuildings knocked down. The cottage was let to a local farmer as part of an agricultural tenancy and for many years it was used for storing hay and animal feed but also inhabited by animals looking for shelter in bad weather. Left unlived in, stripped out and uncared for, the cottage fell into disrepair and became unsafe.
People who walked out onto the moor and visited the cottage during this period of time remember when the windows still had curtains, when the doors were still in place as were the stairs and internal walls. They also remember seeing those homely reminders slowly disappearing and the cottage becoming derelict. Some of them took photos, many of which are now in the Hoar Oak Cottage Archive, and it is possible to see the changes in Hoar Oak Cottage over the years.
By 2010, following a particular heavy fall of snow, the cottage was looking very sad and unsafe and a simple fence had been put up to try and indicate to visitors not to enter what was an increasingly dangerous building.
The Exmoor National Park Authority had decided to knock the building down to ground level, leaving a ‘footprint’ of the foundations to indicate where the building had once been. The Friends made representation to the ENPA requesting that as much of the building be preserved as possible in order that more of its structure could still be visible – most particularly that the front elevation be left high enough to include the parlour window. Standing inside the old building and looking out of the parlour window offers a magnificent and evocative view south down the Hoar Oak Water valley – one that provokes the visitor to ponder on what it would have been like to live in this isolated but beautiful spot.
By summer 2014, the reduction and conservation work was completed by Paul Quinn, Conservator and his team working with Patrick Stowe, Architect on behalf of the Exmoor National Park Authority’s Landscape Partnership. The work was done with great care and sensitivity in difficult circumstances.