Most Dartmoor enthusiasts are conversant with the works of William Crossing, Eric Hemery, Samuel Row, and Hansford Worth, in other words the early topographical writers. Some may even add to that list Elisa Bray and John Lloyd Warden Page and the Reverend Hugh Breton. But there is one unsung writer that seldom gets any recognition, namely John Chudleigh. In 1892 he published a book called ‘Devonshire Antiquities‘ which in a Dartmoor context initially caused little excitement. However, the vast majority of its context was in fact about Dartmoor. The book was then reprinted again in 1893 and a facsimile of this edition called ‘An Exploration of Dartmoor’s Antiquities – 1892‘ was published in 1987.
Very little is known about the author apart from the fact that he lived at St. Marychurch in Torquay, he does get a very brief mention in Samuel Rowe’s book ‘A Perambulation of Dartmoor‘, p.488 and also in Harry Starkey’s book; ‘Dartmoor Crosses‘, p.175. As would be expected he is also listed in Hamilton-Leggett’s book; ‘The Dartmoor Bibliography‘, p.18. Which incidentally needs some poor soul to undertake the onerous task of compiling a new version. There is mention of a John Chudleigh in Pevsner’s book of 1991 when talking about Gothic shop fronts he states: “John Chudleigh’s competition winner for Newton Abbot of 1871 (of which only one building remains) is a more old fashioned chunky villa rustica style,” p.104. Whether this is the same Chudleigh I know not but the time period is about right as well as the locality, if so it may be that he was an architect of some kind?
Despite the lack of background and recognition Chudleigh’s publication was in a way ground breaking for it’s time. Firstly he includes many sketches of the various landscape features he encountered, including thirty of the Dartmoor stone crosses. Secondly, it can be argued that this book was the first to be aimed at the ordinary ‘Joe Public’ ramblers with practical tips on how to safely explore Dartmoor. Also included with the book was a fairly detailed map showing the locations of the antiquities he writes about. It has been estimated that during the four months it took to research the book he travelled over 800 miles, Edgely, An exploration of Dartmoor’s Antiquities, 1987, p.2.
This is purely my opinion but I think that he was the first person to located the now famous Whitehorse Kist which was hailed as a discovery in 2001. On his map you can clearly see that he marks a ‘kist‘ on Whitehorse Hill, something that even at the time the Ordnance Survey missed.
Above is what may well have been just one of Chudleigh’s day walks when he escorted two ladies across to Cranmere Pool. It is not clear how he got from Moretonhampstead to Fernworthy or his return journey but assuming they walked the whole way then that was a tramp of nearly 22 miles. Remember that back in those days there was only leather boots, no Gortex, no comfortable rucksacks or any such modern-day luxuries. Here is his description of that particular journey, it can only be assumed so the exact route is unknown:
“We left Moreton on this occasion for Fernworthy, the weather being delightful, with every prospect of a fine day. I planned this journey so as to pass several of the most important antiquities of the Moor, but as they are nearly all described in other in other walks, I need not do so here. Two exceptions I think are the ancient Clapper Bridge spanning the Teign with a single stone near Fernworthy, and a Kistvaen on Whitehorse Hill (see above), which I have not seen mentioned in any books of the Moor, and is not shewn on the Ordnance Survey.
From Fernworthy Circle we took our bearings by compass, for on the route we were about to follow there are no distinctive landmarks; so, going over the high ridge westward we descended to the valley of the North Teign, crossing this river by a bridge built after the manner of the ancient clapper bridges at Postbridge and elsewhere on the Moor, and hereafter described, with two piers in the bed of the river, and a similar pier or impost on the other side. Some of the stones forming the roadway measures ten feet long by two feet wide, but the marks of the “jumper” or tool with which they were split from the rock prove them not to be so ancient as the unwrought structure at Postbridge.
Ascending Manga and Whitehorse Hills, traversing some boggy and broken ground, we in due time arrive in sight of Dart Head, approaching it from a different direction to that of my visit before described. It is said Whitehorse Hill takes its name from the white granite which is here exposed in large flat masses almost like a pavement.
Descending the pan of the Dart Head, avoiding as far as possible its more dangerous bogs, we ascend again the ridge and reach Cranmere just in time to be welcomed by a thunderstorm with accompanying rain, for which we did not bargain.
Our return journey was over Hangingstone Hill, which has a rock justifying its name and a cairn on its summit. This hill and its neighbours Whitehorse and Cut Hills are the highest on the moor uncrowned by a tor, rising to nearly 2,000 feet above the sea.
From the cairn out route lay by Watern Tor, one of whose masses of rock, joined at the bottom divides into three at the top, and resembles from a distance huge piles of muffins. A short distance to the north is Thirlstone, meaning “the perforated stone,” so called from the cleft in the rock resembling from some points of view a huge hole or passage way.
Descending we make our way towards the Teign at Batworthy, and leaving the Moor regain Moreton by way of Gidleigh, Murchington and Chagford.“, Chudleigh, 1987, p.15.
As you can see there is none of the flowery vocabulary of the late eighteen century and as noted above all the locations are clearly marked on Chudleigh’s map. I particularly like the way he describes many of the features, for instance Watern Tor looking like a; “huge pile of muffins.” In another excursion he likens Bowerman’s Nose to a; “Turk with a fez cap and mantle wrapped closely around his body.”, p.8.
Cherry, B. & Pevsner, N. 1991. The Buildings of Devon. London: Yale University Press.
Chudleigh, J. 1893. Devonshire Antiquities, Exeter: Henry H. Eland.
Chudleigh, J. 1987. An Exploration of Dartmoor’s Antiquities – 1892. London: John Pegg Publishing.
Hamilton-Leggett, P. 1992. The Dartmoor Bibliography. Exeter: Devon Books.
Rowe, S. 1985. A Perambulation of Dartmoor. Exeter: Devon Books.
F. H. Starkey. 1989. Dartmoor Crosses. Exeter: F. H. Starkey.