The ‘Sheep Measure’ has always fascinated me and it was only after reading about its purpose that it fascinated me even more. William Crossing, 1990, p. 461, notes the following:
“… we come upon the rectangular enclosure known as Lough Tor Pound. The gateway is on the side nearest the tor and the walls are high. This the moormen used to speak of as a “sheep measure.” Its capacity being known when it was filled with these animals there was no need of counting them to ascertain their number”.
Hemery, 1983, p. 488, adds the following:
“Less than a hundred yards south of the tor is Lough Tor Pound, an oblong structure of the historic period, though of an unknown age, which was used on drift days in conjunction with Dunnabridge Pound, a little under three quarters of a mile further to the south-west. The gateway of the pound faces the tor. Inside the south-wall are two large slabs set vertically, seventeen feet apart, set at right-angles to the wall. These probably formed the sides of a small shelter”.
Woods, 1988, p. 111 calls the structure a ‘sheepstell’ and considers that it probably belonged to the nearby farm of Brimpts. Woods also suggests that the two large slabs mentioned by Hemery marked the spot where dividing hurdles were placed to divide the enclosure into smaller sorting pens. The word ‘tell’ when used on Dartmoor refers to any occasion when livestock are gathered for counting. There is an old stone cross not that far away called Horn’s Cross, it’s other name is ‘Stacombe Telling Place‘ as it was here that a farmer from nearby Staddicombe gathered his animals for ‘telling’, Crossing, 1987, p.103 fn.
There is very little evidence that would actually date the structure but it does appear on the 1889 -91 OS map so clearly was in existence then:
As far as I know this is the only remaining example of a sheep measure on Dartmoor, and it seems logical that it was once used as an enclosure but as to filling it with sheep and then getting an accurate head count I am not so sure. I don’t know any shepherd’s that would not want a 100% reliable headage of their sheep. I can go along with the possibility of the animals being counted into the enclosure but considering the size variance and the question of how full the defining volume would be seems very haphazard. Judging by the number of empty crisp packets shoved into its walls the enclosure is now used as a picnic shelter.
The Sheep Measure and Lough Tor.
Thanks to those nice people at Google Earth who have now updated the Dartmoor map with higher resolution images it is now possible to see a decent aerial photo of the sheep measure. As can be seen, it really is a prominent feature in the landscape of the Lough Tor area.
For any letterboxers, I have just sited a box whose stamp refers to the Sheep Measure as can be seen from below, should anybody want the clue please email me and I will send it on – firstname.lastname@example.org
Crossing, W. 1990 Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, Peninsula Press, Newton Abbot.
Crossing, W. 1987, The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor, Devon Books, Exeter.
Hemery, E. 1983 High Dartmoor, Hale Publishing, London.
Woods, S. 1988 Dartmoor Stone, Devon Books, Exeter.