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Okehampton Tapping


Nostalgia – “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past,” and anybody who knows me will say I’m a nostalgiac through and through. I would have loved to have lived on Dartmoor two hundred years ago but clearly that’s now impossible. So the next best thing is to read articles and accounts written about the Moor those many dim and distant years ago and simply picture them in ones mind’s eye. Now follows a prime example from some hundred years or so ago which describes Okehampton’s ‘Tapping the Boundary’ in the September of 1885.

The Okehampton Tapping the Boundary over Dartmoor – “Okehampton, in the exercises of its rights, was on Tuesday (22nd September) interested and excited to an extent hardly before witnessed in the memory of the present generation. From time immemorial the inhabitants of Okehampton, rich and poor, have had the right to cut turf from the commons for firing, and to graze their donkeys, ponies, horses, cattle and sheep there. It need hardly be added that to the inhabitants of the town this has been, especially to the working classes, a great boon, and it has been the custom for generations past to tap the boundary stones once in seven years, the last time the custom was observed being in the autumn of 1878. It used to be a rather select and not very representative gathering, but this year it was determined that the affair should be made as general as possible and that the whole of the inhabitants should be invited to join in the festivity and that it should also be observed as a general holiday in the town. The idea was taken up with great enthusiasm, and Tuesday’s gathering will long be remembered as an important one in the history of Okehampton and in the maintenance of their rights as commoners. More than ordinary interest was shown in this year;s boundary tapping rights from the fact that some little disputes have recently taken place which seemed to some to have the appearance of interfering with the commoners rights; a lawsuit is now pending on the subject but, but these interferences have been stoutly resisted and the demonstration it has called forth showed to what extent the feelings of the people had been aroused…”
In proper legal form the Town Crier on Monday evening made the following proclamation :- ‘Notice – The Common on Dartmoor belonging to the inhabitants of Okehampton parish will be viewed on Tuesday, September, 22, the procession leaving the Parade at 9.30 a.m.’ At the time fixed for assembly, the weather being delightfully fine and continuing most favourable throughout the day, there was a large muster numbering over 300, a good proportion of whom were mounted on the celebrated Dartmoor ponies… The route taken was from the Parade up Station Road, through the Park, leaving the artillery camp to the right and then on through Moor Gate to the first Boundary Stone near Pothanger Farm, (
Pothanger Farm was the original farm name for what is now Moorgate Farm). Several boundary stones were then viewed in succession till a place commonly known as Curterey Clitters was reached where after tapping the boundary, ( this boundstone is known as the Curtery Clitters Stump), a turn was made to the right of Dinger boundary stone. Leaving Dinger Torr to the left and High Willis (High Willhays) to the right the route was on to Sandy Ford, two or three stones being tapped on the way. At this juncture the West river (Okement) is crossed, then viewing other boundary stones the march is forwarded on to the Dartmoor Ice Works in the Parish of Sourton. The commons at this point formerly, it is said, belonged to the Parish of Sourton, but a man having been found dead there the Sourton people refused to bear the cost of the funeral and the Parish of Okehampton having buried him they established their right to the Commons and have claimed and exercised their rights ever since.
This alludes to the old custom of whichever parish buried the body of a deceased person found out on the commons then had the right to claim the lands it was found on. Normally each parish was pretty hot in doing so for fear of losing some of their territory but for some reason the folk of Sourton were none to bothered.

 Turning away from the Ice Works on the right, Iron gate is reached and journeying on to Vallack Corner (Vellake Corner) the Common is bounded by the west corner by the celebrated Meldon Viaduct. The boundary being completed the  procession climbed up over Longstone Hill, a most picturesque route to the southern slope of Yestor where the targets of the Royal Artillery are fixed. A waggon had proceeded the boundary party laden with provisions and they found on their arrival that the advanced guard had utilised the targets either as making tables or in making shelter against the wind should the occasion arise. By the time this place was reached quite a dozen miles had been traversed and it hardly need to be added that the appetites wanted but little more quickening to enjoy the good things provided. Half past one had been fixed for the lunch at Yestor but grace was delayed awaiting the arrival of the squire, who had started with the party and who was expected to preside. After waiting however some time it was supposed that the hounds had been met with on the opposite hill and that Mr. Holley had gone off with them it would not be well to further prolong the welcomed meal.

The Reluctant Squire

I think those last few lines are classic, you can just imagine the Squire over breakfast complaining that he had to trudge round Dartmoor whacking lumps of granite with a blasted stick when there were much better things to do. Mrs Squire is sat opposite him tucking into her morning plate of Kedgeree, she gives him the evil eye and points her knife at him; “You damned well will attend,” she explodes, “it only happens once very seven years and its the very least you can do, and besides what would those townsfolk think?” Having finished his breakfast the Squire mounts his trusty steed and reluctantly plods off to the town. All throughout the morning the squire was mumbling and cursing under his breath when all of a sudden he spotted the local hounds working the opposite hillside and soon a loud blast of the huntsman’s horn could be heard. His mount pricked up its ears and stomped the ground, “bugger this for a game of soldiers,” the squire exclaimed, “I’m off to follow the hunt and the devil take the tapping and the wife to boot!” And with that he charged off in a cloud of dust never to be seen for the rest of the day, I wonder what he told Mrs Squire when he got back?
Soon rounds of beef, hams, cheese and bread were placed upon the table. There was an abundance for all, and ample justice was done for although there was plenty there was very little to spare. In addition to the barrels of beer and cider there was an equally full supply of non-intoxicating drinks and plenty of hot coffee for those who might prefer those beverages… Before the procession wended its way homewards cheers were given for Miss Lux Gore who with several friends lunched with the ‘boundary party’ and took a lively interest in the proceedings of the day. The rabbits and fowls which had been brought for the purpose were then let loose, and a good deal of fun ensued. The band played several selections, and dancing, wrestling and other sports were on the programme and at five o’ clock the homeward journey was commenced and a memorable day’s proceedings brought to a satisfactory termination without any misfortunes excepting that in going through the bogs and crossing the streams, the steeds sometimes lost their riders and many ‘croppers’ and ‘wettings’ were encountered, the ‘incidents’ however caused more amusement than sorrow and indeed added to the enjoyment of the general body.” – The Western Times, September 25th, 1885.

I am not too sure why ‘rabbits and fowl’ were let loose, maybe the sport was to see who could capture the poor creatures and they made their bids for freedom?

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

One comment

  1. Rosie Perry-Evans

    Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me who the gentleman with the spotted pony in the painting is? Thanks

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