What is a park? This seems a ridiculous question because today a park is an open space with public access that is managed, some are free to enter whilst others charge a fee. There are theme parks, wildlife parks, public parks, even car parks and of course national parks such as Dartmoor. The actual word park derives from the Old English pearocc which meant ‘an enclosed piece of land’ which in Anglo Saxon times usually represented any piece of land that was enclosed by a fence. In medieval times the term was used to describe an enclosed area which was used for growing timber and/or keeping beasts for food and hunting. By this time the park, especially a deer park as found at Okehampton, also served as a status symbol as it was only the wealthy nobility would could afford such a luxury. From between the 16th and 19th centuries parks were normally associated with the country mansions and palaces of wealthy landowners. They were often landscaped at great cost to reflect both the social standing of the owner and to adhere to the fashions of the time, many were still used to graze deer, (as at Whiddon Deer Park) or other exotic breeds of animals. From the 19th century onwards many parks were established with the sole purpose of them becoming municipal open spaces where the public were allowed access for recreational and leisure activities. No longer were parks the exclusive domain of the nobility and upper classes as the municipal parks meant that everyone could enjoy beautifully landscaped spaces for whatever reason. Ironically the 20th century saw many of the upper echelons of society opening up their exclusive parks for the public to enjoy. Clearly this was not done from the goodness of their hearts but for financial reasons, namely the revenue brought in from entry fees. So, there is a very concise history of the ‘park’ which hopefully is fairly straightforward, so apart from Dartmoor being a National Park what is the relevance of this webpage?
Simply this, as always, things on Dartmoor are not that simple, yes there was a medieval deer park at Okehampton, yes there was an Elizabethan deer park at Whiddon, true there is a wildlife park at Sparkwell and every town has its municipal park. But apart from those there are literally thousands of other ‘parks’ to be found on and around the moor. For example:
‘Brim Park, Broom Park, Bull Park, Butts Park, Castle Park, Cattle Park, Corn Park, Estrayer Park, Ford Park, Furze Park, Gold Park, Heath Park, Horsey Park, Lambers Park, Launder Park, Mill Park, New Park, Old Park, Penn Park, Quarry Park, Roundy Park, Sandy Park, Tor Park, Water Park, Well Park and Wood Park to name but a small fraction.
Look on any tithe map or farm map and you will see many of the field enclosures called either ‘park’ or ‘parks’, in addition you will find such place-names deep in the heart of the moor. But why would a field enclosure be built in the boggy fen of the moor I hear you ask? Again, it is Dartmoor tradition being awkward, on the moor the term ‘parks’ or ‘parks’ can mean either an enclosure which is normally associated with a farm or a small area or plain that is found on the open moor, Although to be fair the latter are few and far between. Therefore just because the word park/parks is used it is important not to assume a vast, sprawling landscaped area with a boating lake. The vast majority of place-names with the ‘park’ or ‘parks’ element are not recorded on the modern OS maps and need to be found as mentioned on tithe maps, estate plans or farm plans.
In ancient farming systems, park/parks tended to be the enclosed fields lying between the inner fields next to the farm buildings and the larger, outer fields used only seasonally for pasture. Most place-names can be broken down into two elements and in this case the word ‘park’ will always be the second element. It can be regarded as a descriptive element insomuch as it describes the feature, in this case an enclosure. But it is the first element that proves interesting because this will either be a descriptive or personal element, in other words it will usually define the ownership or characteristic of the enclosure. It is this aspect of the place-name that can provide an insight into the history of that particular enclosure. On the whole most of the Dartmoor ‘park/parks’ place-names tend to have a descriptive element as can be seen from the examples above. In all cases they will describe some aspect or feature associated with the enclosure, for example Bull Park would suggest that at some time a bull was kept in that enclosure. Similarly, Corn Park would indicate that the enclosure was used for growing grain, Mill Park would indicate the presence of a mill as Quarry Park would suggest a quarry. All in all it is possible to ascertain soil types (Sandy Park), vegetation (Furze Park – gorse), topography (Tor Park), landscape features (Well Park), activities (Butt Park – archery practice), age (New Park), location (Homer Park – near to the farm), shape (Broad Park), size (Great Park), land use (Corn Park) and a host of other information from the names.
Just to confuse things a bit more, you occasionally get habitations adopting the name of the park, one such example being Sandy Park which is a small hamlet to the north of Chagford.