I would imagine that ever since the time mankind began to live in settlements there has always been some rivalry between the neighbouring clans. Sometimes this would be fairly light-hearted and with others downright hostile. Part of this inter-tribal exchange would be to give various nicknames to the folk from the settlements, some would be very tongue in cheek whilst others would be insulting to say the least. Many of these names arose from a particular event or trait of those people, many of which have now been long forgotten. No matter if it was a city, town, village or hamlet somewhere in the dim and distant past there is a name associated with the inhabitants.
Dartmoor was no exception and many of the towns and villages have had their inhabitants ‘badged’ with some nickname which to some extent still lingers today. The explanation for some of the names is fairly evident whilst others remain a mystery. Exeter historian Todd Gray has been researching the local nicknames for Devonshire people and below are the ones that he has found for Dartmoor.
One of these names pertains to crops that would have been grown in the area such as Moretonhampstead ‘Tattie Eaters‘ and Manaton ‘Tattie Diggers‘, both of which refer to potatoes. Moretonhampstead was a district well known for growing a great deal of potatoes. Slightly less complimentary was when Mortonhampsteadites were called ‘Gutter Snipes’ which in true form refers to a scruffy and badly behaved child who spends most of their time on the street. ‘Holne Revellers’ or ‘Rams‘ alludes to the ancient custom of the May Day Ram Roast which at one time was held in the village. Brentor ‘Cramp Eaters‘ was an obscure reference to Cramp Cakes which were regarded as a bland type of cake made from corn. It was said that due to the inferior soil in the area only poor quality corn could be grown which was then made into the cakes. A quite derogatory name was given to the folk from Chagford who were known as ‘Chuggy Pigs‘ which is the Devonshire name for the woodlouse.
Now whether or not the term ‘Gibby Lambs’ implies that the men from Drewsteignton were impotent or not is anyones guess for a Gibby Lamb is another name for a male lamb that has been castrated. There are several towns and villages whose nicknames suggest that the female inhabitants were very pleasing to the eye hence the Dunsford, South Brent and South Zeal ‘Pretty Maids‘. The people from North Bovey were known as being ‘Fond of Bread and Cheese‘ which is a strange one. If you come from London then ‘Bread and Cheese’ is rhyming slang for – sneeze, however I don’t think this is the explanation of the name. It could well be a reference to the fact that the villagers were noted for their poverty and relied on bread and cheese for their sustenance? A Tibby Lamb‘ is a Devonshire term which is applied pitifully to a child, a bit like today’s ‘ah, bless’. Beck is an old term for bowing or nodding one’s head or curtsying which could imply that the Bovey Tracey ‘Becks‘ were known for showing their deferential respect. People from the village of Meavy were known as ‘Mazers‘ – mazer is a term for an eccentric person or anything strange or out of the ordinary which would suggest that Meavy folk were regarded as being odd to say the least. There is also a local word – mazed which means perplexed or bewildered which again could well apply to ‘Mazers‘. The ‘Ladies and Gentlemen‘ of Ashburton were probably viewed as being rather snobbish and who thought themselves a cut above the rest. It has always been said that Widecombe folk were a tough breed as reflected in their nickname – ‘Toughs‘. There are a couple of nicknames which don’t appear on Todd’s list: – Buckland-in-the-Moor folk were known as ‘blow me downs‘ and the inhabitants of Cheriton Bishop as ‘Dartmoor Devils‘.