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Pigs Leg Mystery

 

The old mail road from Exeter to Falmouth, having reached Okehampton, passes by ruins of the old grey castle that for centuries belonged to the Courtnays and the Baron Mohon of Okehampton, and then winds gradually up an ascent until it arrives at a table-land where the four cross roads from Exeter, Barnstaple, Plymouth, and Falmouth intersect each other on Sourton Down. At the angle of the roads appears, or did appear, a venerable cross of the middle ages, and on the left is the hostelry of the Pig’s Leg. Each has its chronicle. The Pig’s Leg stands on the spot of a border fortalice that belonged to Okehampton Castle, commanding the approach to the several roads, and was the cause of many a bloody strife betwixt the Courtenays and the governors of Lidford Castle, which was held by the Crown. The name of the Pig’s Leg is derived from a tradition of the feudal times, when some unpopular Jews were taken by a set of outlaws that infested the purlieus of Dartmoor, confined in the old tower, and fed on pork until they consented to pay a heavy ransom. The fortalice has crumbled away, and a tiddly-wink reigns in its stead, but the derisive name has remained even unto this hour to commemorate the popular revenge upon forty per cent. The old cross of the middle ages, hallowed by faith and antiquity, has been displaced. The combined wisdom and good taste of the turnpike trustees and the parish waywarden so ordered, and it is partially buried in the adjoining hedge. This was sound Protestant discretion, to mark the impropriety of retaining Roman memorials, and these worthies of Devon would have still further advanced their claims to the gratitude of Puritans if they had ordered the cross to be publicly flogged. “And they said, with Solomon, as it happeneth to ‘the fool, so it happeneth even unto us.” On arriving at Sourton Down, the appearance of the country changes altogether. The fertile vales and clear brooks are left behind, and before is bleakness and desolation. To the south rise the rugged tors of Dartmoor, Yestor, Links Tor, Haretor, Noddon Hill, and the quaint church of Brentor, built on the apex of a high rock of volcanic matter in fulfilment of a vow, whilst to the north stretches away a series of moors in an undulated country that extends nearly to the Bristol Channel. The inaccessible hills of Devon have departed, the moorland wastes of Broadbury reach far and wide, and the mounds of the old Roman castle on the summit of the ridge command an expanse of hunting-country that may well presume to take a prominent rank amongst provincials.”
Bailey’s Magazine,  Vol. 13, 1867. Gone Away, London: A. H. Bailey & Co. pp. 31-32.

This extract begs two questions, well maybe three or even four- 1) what is the evidence for the Pig’s leg hosterly? 2) Is there a location known as the ‘Pig’s Leg’? 3) What is the evidence for the ‘fortalice? and 4) what is the evidence for the tradition of the unfortunate jews?

So to begin, is there or was there a location known as the ‘Pig’s Leg’? – Normally the term ‘pig’s leg’ when occurring in a place-name alludes to a field or road that is very angular. If you look at both maps of early 1800 road routes and distances on the map below you will see that when travelling from Okehampton to Tavistock the ‘Pig’s Leg’ is just over half a mile from Sourton. Then on the OS map roughly half a mile from Sourton is a very angular junction just opposite Colaven Manor – is this the ‘Pig’s Leg’? However there is also a Pig Leg Lane as you descend into the village of Bridestowe. But assuming both early itinerary routes and mileages are correct there would have been no reason from diverting off of the Okehampton to Tavistock road to visit Bridestowe.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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