John Lloyd Warden Page, here is another author whose works tend to lay in the shadow of the more famous early Dartmoor topographical writers. I say ‘works’ because he published two Dartmoor books in the 1890s, the first was ‘An Exploration of Dartmoor’ and the second was ‘The Rivers of Devon from Source to Sea‘. The first book was solely centred on Dartmoor whilst his second included the rivers of Dartmoor along with other Devonshire rivers.
Unfortunately there is not an awful lot of information regarding the author, it is known that he was born on the 25th of August 1858 and lived at Minehead in Somerset. His father John Theodore Page was in the Royal Navy and John’s formative years were spent at Tavistock grammar school. Presumably due to his father being in the navy one of his interests was sailing boats along with cycling tours and foreign travel. At some point in time he moved to Penarth in South Wales, this would have been around the time he published his first book.
His writing style is very much in the fashion of his time with long sentences and words as old as the antiquities he describes. It is also obvious that he was very much guided by the ideas of as he calls them; “those whose acquaintance with the subject (Dartmoor) has extended over a period of some duration, and who are, therefore, entitled to speak with authority.”, p.11. Amongst the key opinion leaders in this case were the Eliza Bray, Rev. Samuel Rowe and William Crossing along with various papers included in the Transaction Reports of the Devonshire and Plymouth Associations.
However, there can be no question that J. Ll. W. Page had ideas and discoveries of his own and without doubt he tramped over vast tracts of Dartmoor in search of his ‘explorations’. It is that very fact that makes this and other such publications of the time so interesting today as they depict a portrait of Dartmoor from times gone by.
The first edition whose exact title was; of ‘An Exploration of Dartmoor and Its Antiquities with some Account of its Borders‘ was first and second large format editions were published in 1889, the smaller third and forth versions saw late of day in 1892 and 1895 respectively. All copies were published by Seeley and Co. Ltd of Essex Street in London.
For some odd reasons I have two copies of the 1895 forth edition, one of which has many of the pages still folded and therefore need a sharp blade to open them. The book consist of thirteen chapters with are sub-divided into five parts; main features of the moor, the north quarter, the west quarter, the east quarter, and the south quarter. There are also a scatter of black and white sketches like the ones opposite. Unfortunately there is no mention as to whether or not they are the work of the author. As can be seen, some such as the sketch of the Merrivale stone rows obviously are subject to a great deal of poetic licence. It would be interesting to know who the lone figure is in some of the sketches, is it the man himself?
At the back of the publication is a fairly detailed map of Dartmoor and the important locations neatly divided into a matrix of 13 x 12 grid squares scaled to two square miles. This concept was copied some ninety three years later when John Hayward published his book – Dartmoor 365.
As Page states right at the beginning of his book; “The object of the following pages is to present to the world a description of one of the most interesting tracts in our islands, and to arouse in the public mind a greater interest than is at present existent in the rude stone monuments which stud it’s surface, and which, it is greatly to be regretted, have of late years suffered much at the hands of contractors and Moor farmers.”, p. x. So we can see that even then he was very much concerned with the destruction of the various landscape monuments taken or robbed for re-cycled building materials etc..
In the introduction there are some sensible words about the various misconceived ‘perils’ of Dartmoor such as mists, river floods, storms, snow and bogs. With regards to bogs he contextualises the dangers simply; “But common care will enable him to escape the ‘Dartmoor Stables,’ as the moor-men expressively call these pitfalls (owing to the loss of an occasional pony therein), and if he carefully avoid the bright green patches he need fear no harm.”, p8. Anybody who walks the moor would or should be well conversant with this message.
I think it would be fair to say that J. Ll. W. Page was none to enthusiastic about his ‘exploration’ of Cranmere Pool and his words may ring a few bells with anyone who has visited the place after a wet spell. “The ground is execrable. Almost as far as the eye can reach it is rent into deep fissures by the rains, and sodden with the perpetual moisture exuding from countless acres of bog. To leap these miniature crevasses when possible, to wade through often ankle-deep in black slime when not, is a sine quâ non (an indispensable and essential action) for with him who would see this ‘lake of cranes’. Desolate in the extreme is the scenery. In parts the Moor looks as if it had been seared by lightening and then scored by a giant’s plough.”, pp 73 -74. It is interesting to note how he introduces the crane theory as to the root of Cranmere’s place-name.
Strewn through the book are numerous anecdotes and one I particularly like is his version of the story of John Roberts, one-time landlord of the Newhouse Inn, latterly the Warren House Inn. “This John Roberts was in his day rather a celebrated character, being a wag as well as a poet, and notorious for his readiness to join in in meetings of a convivial nature. His fondness for occasionally ‘keeping his spirits up by pouring spirits down’ once led him to spend the night upon the moor. Pixies and wish-hounds left him in peace; not so Jack Frost, for when morning came John’s cranium was frozen fast to the ground, and not without some difficulty released.”, p. 171. What a delightful way of basically saying that John Roberts was a drunkard who liked nothing better than a piss-up. One cold night he got so bladdered that he fell asleep out on the moor and the frost welded his head to the ground.
In addition to his ‘explorations’ John Lloyd Warden Page was not adverse to penning the odd verse or two, as can be seen in his work simply called – Dartmoor.
As noted above, Page also published another book in 1893 whose exact title was ‘The Rivers of Devon from Source to Sea with Some Account of the Towns and Villages on their Banks‘. Once again this was published by Seeley & Co of London and very much took the format of his ‘Dartmoor Explorations’. The Dartmoor rivers he describes are; The Teign, The Dart, The Avon, The Erme and Yealm, the Plym and Meavy, the Walkham and Tavy and The Taw. Once again there is a detailed map of Devon marking all the salient locations. Even in this book he is none too enthralled with Cranmere Pool for he notes; “In this picture there is no exaggeration. Save in the hollow where the river trickles, there is little ground that is not in wet weather bog. And not even the smooth bog, for the dull slopes stretching up from the river are scarred with miniature crevices filled with soft black uncompromising peat that will support nought but the smallest animal, and the human being must jump from one tussock of coarse grass to another. And there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres of this horrible morass.”, p.133. Tell it like it is John, don’t worry about inspiring folk to visit the place – love it!
As with any of these early Dartmoor topological book I would happily recommend their reading as they are fill of little snippets of information or stories that could easily be lost. Although now out of print both books can easily be purchased from second-hand book stores. There is another source which totally hacks me off and that is the fairly recent craze of publishers reprinting these old editions and in some cases they are even American publishers. These leeches never tramped the moor in all weathers gathering information for their books. No they simply wait long enough and make a profit from the reprints.
However, should you wish to read either of Page’s books then they can be downloaded from the non-profit making internet company – The Internet Archive, whose link can be found opposite. I know that reading a pdf is not quite the same as a book but try searching for a specific word between 250 odd pages.
Page, J. Ll. W. 1895. An Exploration of Dartmoor. London: Seeley & Co. Ltd.
Page, J. Ll. W. 1893. The Rivers of Devon. London: Seeley & Co. Ltd.