Once upon a time in deepest, darkest Dartmoor lived a beautiful woman by the name of Dolly Trebble whose remarkable story now dwells in the realms of local legend.
The very fact that Dolly Trebble earned her place in Dartmoor legend is mostly down to the author – Baring Gould and some later authors who seem to have taken his lead. It was he who first penned a brief resume of her life story and it is one which would admirably suit any fairy story. He tells of how Dolly and her brother, both orphans lived in a small dwelling at Princetown. By all accounts Dolly was a most attractive girl and caught the eye of many a local man including one Tom Trebble. He, so the story goes was a handsome moorman who had serious designs on Dolly. Unfortunately for him she had also caught the eye of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt who ‘kindly’ offered Dolly and her brother his lodge house at Tor Royal as a home. It was by no means a noble gesture because the hidden intent was to have Dolly living nearby which would enable Tyrwhitt to easily play court. However, there was one slight flaw in the plan as Dolly’s brother was very protective of his sister and ensured that nothing untoward happened. Not to be thwarted Sir Thomas managed to find a job for her brother in the House of Lords which obviously meant he would be living far away in London. It seems that his new position was to be in charge of lighting the candles and replenishing them daily. This meant that at times of short sittings the candles never had the chance to burn down and became his perk of the job. According to Baring Gould the brother made a good deal of money from selling the part spent candles and taper ends, so much so that he never returned to Dartmoor.
Enter stage left – the George IV the Prince Regent, who on a visit to Tor Royal had also become beguiled by Dolly’s beauty and it is said paid many a visit to her cott. It did not take long for these Royal dalliances to come to Tom Trebble’s notice. Fair do’s to Tom, the very fact that Royalty was competing against him for Dolly’s affections deterred him not one bit. In the end victory was his and one sunny morning the couple rode over to Lydford Church and became husband and wife. To ensure that no other man, be he rich or poor, should ever seek to steal Dolly away he moved them into a small and remote cott by the edge of the Dart. It was here they lived for many years until Tom finally passed away leaving his widow behind. It is said that the widow found employment at the nearby Hexworthy tin mine where a shaft was named after her. Baring Gould notes how; “she lived to an advanced age, and even as an old woman was remarkably handsome and of a distinguished appearance.” Dolly eventually passed away and was taken to Widdecombe in the Moor for burial. By all accounts she was afforded a typical Dartmoor funeral whereby her coffin was carried the six or seven miles to church by the local tin miners. Behind them processed the women mourners from the local moorside singing psalms as they went. Who knows the funeral procession may have even stopped off at the famous Coffin Stone‘ whilst the bearers recharged themselves before the ascent of Dartmeet Hill, Baring Gould, pp. 196 -198. It was during her widowhood that she supposedly moved into Swincombe Cottage or as it’s known today – Dolly Trebble’s Cott, Brown, p.12. So as you can see a remarkable story about a remarkable woman who once lived on Dartmoor and now dwells in legend.
OK, that’s the legend and now to dispel some of the myths that have surrounded Dolly Trebble thanks to various Dartmoor authors. Dolly Mosey was born in 1793 and lived with her father William, mother Margaret and brother William. There seems to be no mention of her brother ever going off to work at the House of Lords and making his fortune from candles.
With regards to any relationship with Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt would have meant that there was an age gap of 33 years so unless she was after a ‘sugar daddy’ this seems unlikely. Similarly there would have been a 34 year age gap between herself and the Prince Regent, again highly improbable.
Church records show that Dolly married William Trebble, not Tom, on the 30th of April 1819 at Lydford church. Between 1819 and 1833 she gave birth to six children, four sons; Thomas, William, John and Charles, along with two daughters; Jane and Lydia.
Dolly’s husband died in 1877 which meant she was widowed at 84 and therefore it is extremely unlikely that she would have been physically capable of working at Hexworthy Mine.
In 1879 Dolly shed her mortal coil and was buried in an unmarked grave, probably with her husband at Widecombe church. It is very possible that her funeral procession was as described above due to the fact that this was a standard practice on Dartmoor., Stanbrook, pp. 16 17.
Today there are two ruined cotts which at one time or another were Dolly’s homes, Dolly’s Cott is located near the edge of the East Dart river and Dolly Trebble’s Cott is near the river Swincombe:
Dolly’s Cott consist today of a virtually complete south western gable wall along with its fireplace and shelving grooves and fragmentary remains of the other three walls. Internally the two storey building measures 7.4 metres by 4.5 metres with its entrance centrally placed in the south eastern wall. There are two other structures associated with the cott, once a linhay and the other a possible undefined platform,
Dolly Trebble’s Cott was a lot smaller than Dolly’s Cott and consisted of a single room measuring 4.9 by 3.9 metres. In the south western corner is a small rectangular chamber measuring 2.2 x 1.3 metres which was possibly a cupboard of some kind. There are two obvious upright stone slabs standing against the north wall and are thought to be the flanking stones of a fireplace.
Brown, M. 1998. Dartmoor Field Guides – Vol. 16. Plymouth: Dartmoor press.
Stanbrook, E. 1989. The Dolly Trebble Story – The Dartmoor Magazine – No. 16. Brixham: Quay Publications