Hundreds of years ago in the small moorland parish of Sheepstor lived a wealthy landowner called Squire Northmore. He had two sons, the eldest of which was considered to be what was best described at the time as a ‘dullard’. As the years ticked by the old squire became concerned that his estate would end up in the hands of his elder son who he deemed unfit to inherit his fortune. It was the youngest son that the squire wanted to succeed but the law of the day always favoured the eldest son.
The old squire was always known as a man who at any cost had to have things his own way and to this end he resolved to solve his inheritance problem. One summer during haymaking when everybody was working in the fields he mounted his horse and slipped off to Plymouth. He rode down to the docks and found a captain of the press-gang who ended up with a purse of coin and a trip to Sheepstor. By the time the press-gang reached the squire’s lands everybody was still in the fields haymaking so it did not take long for them to get to work. The deal was that the sailors could ‘press’ whoever they wanted as long as the eldest son was taken and the youngest spared. Obviously, the last thing anybody would expect so far inland was a visit from the press-gang and so when they did arrive it was not the hardest of jobs.
The eldest son found himself on the high seas and the squire was completely satisfied with the outcome, not expecting ever to see the boy again he could safely hand his estate on to his youngest boy. However, one day the eldest son was talking to one of his shipmates who it transpired was part of the press-gang that ‘enlisted’ him. After a few ‘grogs’ the sailor told the lad how he had come to be taken and that it was all arranged and paid for by his father. The young man was beside himself but being stuck at sea there was very little he could do apart from swear an oath that if ever he returned to Sheepstor he would exact his vengeance.
Despite many dangerous battles and storms the frigate eventually returned to Plymouth for a refit with one very irked man on board. As soon as they stepped foot on dry land the crew retired to the nearest inn and here, after many ales the squire’s son persuaded a party of his shipmates to accompany him to Sheepstor. He had promised them rich pickings from his father’s house which would ensure they had a pleasurable stay in port.
It was nightfall before the sailors reached the house at Sheepstor but once there they wasted no time in breaking down the door and ransacking the house. Every thing that shone or ‘clinked’ was taken along with any papers, and documents which included the title deeds to the house. The only thing they couldn’t find was the old squire himself, this probably was because he had hidden himself in the rafters of the house.
So, with sackfuls of loot the sailors made their way back to Plymouth where their new-found wealth was distributed among the various inns and brothels of the port. The ship had its refit and the company set sail for the high seas once again, all having spent a relaxing time ashore. As with most stories of the sea, the eldest son was never seen or heard of again, some say he perished in a storm, others that he made his fortune in the America’s.
Shortly after having his house looted the old squire began to realise what an evil thing he had done and uncharacteristically became beside himself with remorse. The only solace he could find was that at the bottom of a glass and it was here he spent most of his time. Tradition has it that every night he would visit the local inns where he would get so drunk he could hardly ride his horse. It was nothing for some labourer on his way to work to find the horse grazing beside the track and the old squire unconscious in the ditch. On the occasions that he did manage to ride the horse home it was nothing for him to take the horse into the kitchen, fetch a bottle of gin and toast the animals good health with its contents, “The same to you sir; I drinks tu ee again.”
Gradually things went from bad to disastrous, the estate fell into ruin and the squires fortune dwindled away to nothing until the time came when he was penniless. This led to the house and lands being sold and the squire and his family moving away in disgrace to try to start anew.