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Doetor Farm

Doetor Farm

Under Doe Tor stands a farm. A few diminutive firs and twisted thorns form a shelter on one side. The house has shrugged it’s shoulders and drawn in its head behind turf banks and moorstone walls, and cowers under the shelter of dwarfed trees… On the other side of the farm are green meadows. The streamers in ancient times burrowed in the water threads that ran down from the upland, deepening their channels so considerably that they became effectual drains. Doe Tor Farm stands in the tongue of land between two such converging streams with their artificially deepened beds, and is thus delivered from the morass, and rendered a dry, pleasant slope that catches and enjoys and utilises every sunbeam that slides over the moor flank. Hard at hand is a brook of the purest crystal water. Available everywhere are stones to be piled for defence against weather, and to make cattle enclosures. Just beyond the door or entrance to the tiny court before the farm lies an octagonal mass of granite, with a socket sunk in the midst, the base of the many rude crosses that anciently stood on the moors...”, (Little Dixie – Baring Gould, 1896, pp. 123 – 4).

Above is a brief description given by Sabine Baring Gould of Doe Tor Farm sometime previous to 1886 although today it looks very different. Maybe the farm’s location could be described as virtually being surrounded by brooks of ‘purest crystal water’ as can be seen from the aerial photograph below. The northern boundary of the farm is formed by the Doe Tor Brook, to the west flows the River Lyd and to the south the Wallabrook. As Baring Gould notes, there is no shortage of granite in the vicinity and down through time there is clear evidence that it was utilised for all manner of things, more of which later.

Doetor Farm

Map of Doe Tor Farm

Doetor Farm

Farm Track and Clapper

Doetor Farm

Farm Enclosures

Doetor

Doe Tor Farm

Unusually there are no suggestions as to the origins of the name Doe Tor farm, clearly it either derived from the brook or tor of the same name but as to which nobody knows. Also within the locale are Doe Tor: bend, bottom, brook, common, falls, gate, gate ford, gate pool, green and marsh, all of which use the ‘tor’ element and as the tor is the most visible landscape feature maybe the farm took its name from the tor? Interestingly, there is an old Saxon word dohtor which means ‘daughter’, (Clark Hall, 2004, p.86) but how that would apply to a landscape feature I know not?

There is possible evidence that man first set foot in the area way back in the Neolithic period insomuch as a recent survey suggested that there are the remnants of a tor enclosure on nearby Doe Tor. It has also been recorded that a flint scraper of the same period was found in one of the farm enclosures. Later occupation is also visible in the local landscape dating back to the Bronze Age and consists of burial cairns and kists. It appears that as far as the area goes it was very much the domain of the tinners and stone cutters with ample field remains of both activities round and about the farm. Probably the earliest documented evidence of a building on the site comes from a document of 1740 when the place was referred to as Dotter Green.  I do not intend to list all the known owners or tenants of the farm down through the centuries but needless to say there were several families who at one time or another dwelt there. The first ‘named’ and documented family were the Hunters who were farming at Doe Tor in the 1830s and the Ball family were the last people to farm the land up until 1983 when the place became abandoned. The farm was officially purchased by the War Department in 1905 for five thousand pounds, today the property is by the Ministry of Defence who have continued to let the land up to the present day,  (Wessex Archaeology, 2007, pp.5, 7, 9).

A Ministry of Agriculture survey taken in 1941 gives a good idea of the various land uses at the time; fodder crops of oats, potatoes, turnips and swedes were being grown along with hay. The grazing land was stocked with cattle and sheep and there was the normal flock of farm hens along with two workhorses. As far as structures go, originally there was the farmhouse with a dairy and larder along with lean-to kitchen. In the yard was a barn, cart shed, shippon and stables, calf house, and possibly a Dutch barn,  (Wessex Archaeology, 2007, pp.15,16)

The water supply came from an open leat which extracted water from the Doe Tor Brook just near to where the clapper bridge sits. From here it flowed eastwards and eventually ran to a clay pipe chute in the farmyard, (Hemery, p.921). This provided a supply water which flowed continuously for both domestic and farm uses.

Access to the farm was/is along a track which runs from besides the Dartmoor Inn, across High Down to the ford on the river Lyd, from here it runs over to the Doe Tor Brook where by means of a large clapper it crosses over and continues through the enclosures to the farm. Incidentally, the clapper which is there today is a fairly modern structure as the original was washed away when the Doe Tor Brook was in full spate, (Hemery, p.920).

Doetor Farm

Doe Tor Farm

Doetor Farm

Doe Tor Farm

Doetor Farm

Doe Tor Farm

Doetor Farm

Doe Tor Farm

As noted above, Doe Tor Farm appears in Baring Gould’s novel ‘Little Dixie’, and in it he makes mention of an old granite artefact: Just beyond the door or entrance to the tiny court before the farm lies an octagonal mass of granite, with a socket sunk in the midst, the base of one of the many rude crosses that anciently stood on the moor…,”, p.124. Around about the same time this was written Worth mentions the one-time existence of an edge runner, this was a granite wheel which crushed apples in a cider press, he states: “The Stone at Doe Tor (farm) is unfinished; it is set in the outer fence of the enclosures. The perforation to take the axle is incomplete, extending less than halfway through the stone,”, p.387. It is thought that both men are referring to the same object and in fact it was Worth who correctly described the stone as an edge runner. Unfortunately it’s not possible to see this relic today as it was removed/stolen sometime in 2005, Wessex Archaeology, p.2.

Today the catchword in UK farming is ‘diversification’ but this was something practiced a good 100 years ago as Doe Tor Farm could testify. In his book ‘The Trout Streams of England’, Gallichan makes the comment that; “At Doe Tor Farm, Mrs. Brookes receives visitors…”, p.58, which would indicate that alongside the agricultural side of the farm the owners were involved in tourism. There is also a tradition that sometime in the 1900s cream teas were served at Doe Tor Farm at a shilling a throw which at some week ends upwards of fifty a day being sold, Wootton, 1972, p.32. According to the National Archives currency converter based and on a 2005 comparison (I think they need to update this), in 1900 five shillings would equate out to £2.85p, (today the average price for such a treat is around £5.00). In later years (1940s) whilst in possession of the Pengelly family there was a ‘bungalow’ at the farm in which paying guests could reside, Wessex Archaeology, p.14.

About fifteen years ago a friend of mine who was definitely not one for fallacy or a wild imagination was walking across the farm enclosures late one evening.  He related how he was returning from a days walk and it was getting towards dusk when he came past the old farm. Something made him stop and look back and he clearly saw a large light brown cat. It had climbed up onto a low wall about a 100 yards away and stood for a couple of seconds looking directly at him. The animal then slowly flicked its long tail a couple of times and in his words, “nonchantly leapt off the wall and loped off.” He was certain he had seen the ‘Beast of Dartmoor‘.

Doetor Farm

Baring Gould, S. 1896 Dartmoor Idylls, London: Methuen & Co.

Clark Hall, J. R. 2004 A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Canada: Cambridge University Press.

Gallichan, W. M. 1908. The Trout Streams OF England. London: T. N. Foulis.

Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Hale Publishing.

Wessex Archaeology, 2007 Historic Site Appraisal – Doe Tor Farm, Online Source – HERE

Wootton, M. & S. 1972. The Little Book of Lydford. Tavistock: The Trident Press.

Worth, R. H. 1988. Worth’s Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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