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Squire Bidwell

Squire Bidwell

Just outside the western boundary of Dartmoor lies the small village of Bridestowe which technically has no place on a Dartmoor web site, but for the sake of a mile surely a good tale beats all bounds? This story goes back to the 1640’s and an estate called Bidlake. During the turbulent days of the Civil War the estate was owned by one Henry Bidlake who was a staunch Royalist. In 1643 he was made a captain of the horse in the King’s western forces. As with everything in life one has a choice and sadly Bidlake’s choice of allegiance was probably not the best one he ever made. In 1646 he found himself besieged in the Cornish Pendennis Castle along with John Arundell. After lengthy negotiations the castle was surrendered on the 17th of August and the garrison was allowed to march out under their colours.

The following year found Squire Bidlake once again under threat of siege only this time it was in his own house when a detachment of Roundheads were ordered to take him prisoner. This time however he had some advance notice as he was warned of the troopers approach by a faithful servant. The canny squire quickly disguised himself as a labourer and wearing some suitably ragged clothes he calmly walked through the assembling troops. As he passed the cordon one of the troopers asked him if he had seen Squire Bidlake. Without batting an eyelid, Henry Bidlake looked straight at the soldier and said, “Ah, surely I ‘ave, the Squire were a standin’ on ee’s doorstep but a few moments ago.” With that he tugged his forelock and scuttled off towards Burley woods where once out of sight he hurried to the house of one of his tenants called Veale.

In the meantime, there must have been a Parliamentary sympathiser back at the house, because it was not long before the soldiers had discovered the rouse and were heading for the woods.  Having hardly settled inside the cott the heavy hand came battering on the door and inside Bidlake and Veale were desperately searching for a hiding place Suddenly, the tenant had a brainwave and ushered the squire into the case of his huge grandfather clock. The Roundheads were then admitted and allowed to search the small, humble, cottage which clearly did not take long. Just as they were leaving one of the soldiers noticed that although the hand was pointing to the hour the clock was not chiming and asked Veale why this was so. The loyal tenant scratched his head, looked at the trooper and sighed, “I tell ee what, there be a hand o’ that clock that can surely strike.”

Now, Squire Bidlake unfortunately suffered from a chronic cough and just at that critical moment he started the wheeze. Once again the quick witted squire acted promptly and reaching behind his back he freed the pendulum thus allowing it to chime. As the bell chimed out the hour, Bidlake managed to relieve his coughing fit under the sound of the chimes. With the old clock chiming the soldier was satisfied all was in order and left the cottage. Once the Roundheads had left, Veale gave his squire some food and blankets and took him deep into the wood to a secret hiding place safe from prying eyes. Eventually it was safe for the squire to re-emerge from the woods and return to the comfort of his home. In gratitude for his tenant’s help he arranged that the Veale family could hold the tenure in perpetuity for an annual peppercorn rent of half a crown. This arrangement was to last as long as their was a male heir to take on the tenure and it is said this lasted until 1829.

In 1651, Parliament finally caught up with squire Bidlake and fined him the sum of £300 and his lands sequestrated until the fine was paid. This meant that Bidlake had to borrow from his friends in order to pay his dues which he finally managed to do in 1654 when his lands were returned to him. Ironically, squire Bidlake died 5 years later which was just one year before the Restoration.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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