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Gamekeeper Verse

Gamekeeper Verse

As always, whilst searching for something else I came across this verse called ‘The Moorland Gamekeeper‘ written in 1886. On March the 9th of that year it was addressed to Mr. W. French, jnr. who at that time was in the employ of Dr. Blackall of Exeter. This was the self same gentleman who also owned Spitchwick Manor and of Dr. Blackall’s Drive fame. By all accounts Mr. W. French was a multi-talented person for he served Dr. Blackall as the gamekeeper, gardener and caretaker at Spitchwick Hall. As will be seen, not only was ‘Keeper Bill’ skilled in many practical ways he also provided dental care for the moor folk, probably with the aid of a pair of pliers. Clearly ‘Keeper Bill’ was a well-known and respected character on Dartmoor and I particularly like the way this verse portrays him as a typical moorman of his time..

Gamekeeper Verse

In moorland mansion, ‘mid the bowers,
Where sweetest songsters thrill
The evening’s soft and tranquil hours,
Resides bold “Keeper Bill.”His better half, in this demesne
The passing moments fill,
By keeping all things neat and clean,
And feasting “Keeper Bill.”

A fitting post for such a pair
Yet home must feel so chill –
There are no little children there
To comfort “Keeper Bill.”

Bright beds through spring and summer hours
Of crocus, daffodil,
Geranium, lily and choice flowers,
Are ranged by “Keeper Bill.”

The Fire that lights his eye bespeaks
His energy of will;
A sturdy man with ruddy cheeks
Is jolly “Keeper Bill.”

What if the air blows cold and keen,
And blasts wail loud and shrill ?
He arms his gun, and dogs are seen
To follow “Keeper Bill.”

His gun with unerring aim
He plies with deadly skill;
And to his master often game
By rail sends “Keeper Bill.”


Through mingled scents of rock and wood’
He gives himself a drill.
He covers daily many a rood –
This active “Keeper Bill.”Returning home each moonlit night;
He sits him by the sill,
And soon appeases appetite
Then off goes “Keeper Bill.”

In breeding time he walks the woods
When early dews distil, –
A watchful eye on pheasant broods
Is turned by “Keeper Bill.”

Somehow if a few poaching men
Should roam o’er field or hill,
Across the moor or down the glen,
‘Tis known to “Keeper Bill.”

They plan their enterprise in vain;
His efforts to fulfill
His duties thwarts them, that is plain, –
For cute is “Keeper Bill.”

He warns them on the first offence,
And if they heed him still,
They hear no more; good sense
Is shown by “Keeper Bill.”

But if they fail to keep the laws
And treat his warning ill,
Before the magistrates he draws
Them, – faithful “Keeper Bill.”


This man is not without his faults;
No fault of health – no pill
He takes, no dose of Epsom salts
For strong is “Keeper Bill.”His politics are his mistake
He should some notions spill ;
For good sound principles would make
A man of “Keeper Bill.”

His virtues all his faults redeem,
The folks speak well of “Will,”
And he is held in high esteem,
For straight is “Keeper Bill.”

Of toothache sufferers, not a few
Whilst passing through that mill,
Search out the local dentist, who
Is skilful “Keeper Bill.”

The Manor’s lord – though not unkind –
Of all he has to kill,
The pedagogue should bear in mind,
And so should “Keeper Bill.”

But let me to my verses give
A sort of codicil, –
For many bright years may they live,
His wife and “Keeper Bill.





William French died in 1892 and the following obituary was posted –
“Last Sunday the pretty little churchyard of Leusdon was the scene of a ceremony, none too rare of late in every parish, which was unique in its surroundings. All that remained of William French of Spitchwick – gardener, keeper, factotum – was laid to rest. Lavish eulogies, written by near and relatives, appear daily and are promptly discounted. Here are no eulogies, and no need for them. The silent, trickling, hardly restrained tea, coursing down the bronze cheek of many a hardy moorland farmer and labourer, gathered from every adjoining parish, testified more eloquently than any words, to the feelings of the three hundred assembled around the humble grave. The church would not accommodate half, the churchyard was thronged. Neighbouring landowners, squires, and sportsmen, were there, and yet only a humble gamekeeper and Gardner was buried. The cynic is confounded by such demonstrations. Worth, manliness in its fullest sense, dutifulness, transparency, urbanity, warm heatedness, are prized, even if unaccompanied by any endowments of lofty position, wealth, or social relations. We as neighbours, have all lost a friend, a noble, yet humble friend.” – The Totnes Weekly Times, March 19th 1892.

Gamekeeper Verse

Wills, S. 1895. Musings in Moorland and Marsh. Lincoln: Arrill, Ruddock and Keyworth. (pp. 109 -112)


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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