On the western flank of Pudsham Down sits Scobitor which today is a small farm on whose lands sits a small tor and an enigmatic round tower. Incidentally and way off topic but to indulge my love of place-names, the name Pudsham Down at one time possibly meant the ‘Down of the Kite’. In 1318 it appeared in the Assize Rolls as Puttekesham, now pyttel or puttock are both old names for the bird Milvus milvus, more commonly know as the Red Kite. Therefore it has been suggested that over time Puttekesham transmuted to Pudsham, Gover et. al. p.525, Clark Hall, p.275 – just thought I’d drop that in as the ‘Down of the Kite’ sounds much more prosaic than Pudsham Down.
Anyway, Scobitor – now there’s another name to conjure with and to find out from whence it cometh we need to go way back in time to the Anglo Saxon era where it is thought a small settlement existed. The first recorded evidence of a settlement can be found in the Domesday Book of 1086. Here the place appeared as Scabatora which the Place-Name Society suggests translates as ‘Sceobba’s Tor’ or the ‘tor/land belonging to Sceobba’, Gover et. al. p.528. At the time the entry was made Scabatora consisted of just 3.2 households and consisted of 0.4 geld units which can be considered as being very small for the time. In the 13th century Scobitor was passed into the ownership of Torre Abbey in whose hands it remained until 1588 when the place went into a succession of private owners. One of these was the infamous Squire Cabell who although owning Scobitor never actually lived there, Wood, p.34. Today this supposed wife killer and generally nasty fellow lies in Buckfastleigh graveyard, that is when he’s not haunting the moor with his Wisht Hounds.
As can be gathered from the place-name the settlement is located near to a tor which as Dartmoor landscape features go is in itself fairly non-descript. Best described as a flattish tor made up of granite layers. As with many of the Dartmoor tors Scobitor goes under several names, William Crossing refers to it as Scobetor Rocks, p.330 and Harold Fox as Scobitor in le Mor, p.18.
Scobetor was briefly mentioned in a poem about Widecombe written by the Dartmoor Poet – Jonas Coaker in which he alludes to one Squire Hern. It was he apparently who purchased the property, built a house and enclosed the lands. Coaker’s line goes as follows: “Then Next to Scobetor we’go, Esquire Hern hath purchased that: Built house there and fences too, It cost him I cannot say what.” The White’s directory of 1878 lists John Hern as being the resident farmer at Scobetor, he moved here from Ashburton. But it is Dymond who gives the date in which Hern bought the farm, it was in 1867 at an auction for the sale of Cresswell Estates, p.32 fn.
What is interesting about Scobitor is what sits upon the outcrop, the small tower is one of Dartmoor’s follies and from its position surveys all the land around. The structure was first listed as a Grade II listed building in 1955 and later amended in 1986. Some sources suggest that the tower was built in 1868 and others in the early 1900s. The folly certainly can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map series of 1888 -1913. If the 1868 date is the correct one this would mean that it was John Hern who built the tower as he was the owner at that time as noted above.
Historic England describes the structure as being saucer-shaped and built from granite rubble with a cement rendered roof. There is one doorway and five windows or varying size, two of which have remnants of their original frames. There is a thick, round stone pillar located in the centre of the interior from which heavy granite lintels radiate and support the roof. These details were taken from a sale catalogue dating to 1929. The ‘tower’ stands in an enclosure known as ‘Barn Park’ which may well suggest that originally a barn of some descript once occupied the field. It is also possible that some of the granite used to build the tower came from what was a disused barn?
Many thanks to Frank for allowing me use of his photograph
What was the purpose of the tower? Again there are several suggestions; one is that it was built by a gentleman farmer, another being it was constructed by a farmer in order that he could survey his lands. Alternatively it had been used as an artist’s studio from which the artist painted the surrounding landscape from the various windows. There was also a notion that it was used as a beacon despite the fact that it sits at an altitude of about 300m it is not a prominent focal point. Additionally just a couple of kilometres south(ish) of Scobitor is Buckland Beacon which is a known beacon site sitting at the higher altitude of 378m.
You could also go down the line of it being a kind of shooting butt used by the owner to teach his children to shoot in the late Victorian period. Another source considers that the building was a belvedere or summerhouse of sorts., Knowling, pp. 38 – 40. In Eric Hemery’s opinion the tower was built at the time of the First World War to act as a lookout post, p663. This comment does seem a trifle odd as why would such be needed at this time as I think Kaiser Bill wasn’t too worried about invading Widecombe-in-the-Moor, the Second World War maybe? Although granted the folly does have the appearance of a military installation of some kind. Then again a local tradition is that the tower was built by a onetime owner, Mr Gough as a playhouse for his children.
So you pay your money and you take your choice, is the Tower, Round House or Folly; an artist’s studio, a beacon fire, a summerhouse, a shooting butt, a lookout post or a children’s playhouse? Just maybe over its time it has served as all of those possibilities? Either way, the very fact that it is a Grade II listed building must signify the structure is an important part of Dartmoor’s heritage.
Finally, during the 1930s – 40s Scobitor was the home for Winifred Penn-Gaskell who was famous worldwide for her vast aeronautical collection of memorabilia, for her story see – HERE
Please note: both the tor and the folly are on private land and access is strictly forbidden. Should you wish to see the folly then the best place to view it is from the west side of Pudsham Down.
Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.
Dymond, R. (Ed.) 1876. Things New and Old. Torquay: The Torquay Directory Co. Ltd.
Fox, H. 2012. Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands. Exeter: Exeter University Press.
Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F. M. 1992 The Place Names of Devon, Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale.
Knowling, P. 2002. Dartmoor Follies. Newton Abbot: Orchard Publications.
Wood, S. 1996. Widecombe in the Moor. Tiverton: Devon Books.