No doubt numerous folk have sped through Swallerton Gate on their way to Jay’s Grave or Manaton, likewise many people would have parked in the car park near to Swallerton Gate before tripping up to Hound Tor. On the surface there is not a lot to see at Swallerton neither is their much evidence of the associated Dartmoor heritage attached to the location. However, stop a while and have a good look around, you would be surprised what history lies hidden.
The name Swallerton stems from the old corrupted Swine-a-Down (now Swine Down), this being a tract of land just to the north of Swallerton. Swallerton Gate shows no evidence of a gate today but at one time such a feature would have stood there. Its purpose was to stop animals straying from one common to the other. It is also at the intersection of three roads, one leading up from Bovey Tracy and Ashburton and going to Moretonhamstead and the other two travelling to Manaton and then on to Moretonhampstead. There can be no question that during the past these roads would have seen drovers herding their livestock, journeymen carrying their goods and folk making their way to and from the towns, villages and hamlets. According to the Dartmoor Crosses website at one time a young boy was known to stand at the gate and charge people to pass through it, maybe justifying this by opening and shutting the gate? So with all that traffic passing what better place to locate an inn to provide the weary travellers with cider, beer and food. That is exactly what happened and what today is Swallerton Cottage was originally called The Hound Tor Inn but later changed to the Green Dragon Inn. Brown, p.5. Very little is known about the inn apart from the fact it was built sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries and originally consisted of two buildings, these were later converted into one and an extension was added in the 1920s. The inn closed down sometime in the 1880s, Hemery suggests that another inn, the Newhouse Inn some 4 km away at Blackslade took its custom away. p.651. Today the old inn is a private residence and small farm known as Swallerton Gate, in 1987 the building became a grade II listed building (ID No. 84979). Who would not envy the owners living in such a spot, the panoramic views are outstanding and the location to die for. However, everything comes at a price and in 2013 it was placed on the market for a guide price of £750,000. There is an old black and white photograph of the cottage to be found on the Dartmoor Archive’s website which shows how little the place has changed. Just opposite the cottage on a small green sits a relict from Dartmoor’s agricultural past in the form of an old granite trough which undoubtedly at one time belonged to the inn or farm.
A careful examination of the roadside wall of the cottage will reveal an ancient cross head carefully built into it, this is the only fragment of a wayside cross which probably stood nearby. There are many instances of wayside crosses being located at Dartmoor’s road and track intersections. Some will say that early travellers considered that they provided divine protection for those making their ways along remote tracks. There is also a theory that they provided protection from unearthly spirits travelling along ‘ghost paths’ which tended to follow straight roads.
Apparently in 1939 it was found lying in a hedge and removed to the garden, Harrison, p.170. In 1987, it was rediscovered and as luck was have it at that precise moment Harry Starkey happened by and pointed out to the owner exactly what he had found. As there was no trace of the cross’s shaft it was decided to build the artefact into the wall where it sits today. Baldwin et. al. p.19. The cross head contains a 14.5 cm high and 15 cm wide incised cross sat within a head measuring 0.46 metres high and 0.37 metres wide, Sandles, p.100. Why the ancient cross was destroyed is a mystery but it could well be it was the victim of the Puritans who were hell bent on destroying any such Popish symbols and ordered their destruction. In some cases the local people could not bring themselves to knock down such sacred symbols and simply hid parts of the crosses.
So should you ever be at Swallerton Gate, pull into the nearby car park, maybe grab a mug of coffee from the refreshment wagon and have a wander around. If you want to see what a busy bird feeding station looks like have a peek over the wall just past the car park.
Baldwin, J and Others. 1999. The Book of Manaton. Tiverton: Halsgrove Publishing.
Brown, M. 1998. Dartmoor Field Guides – Vol. 48. Plymouth: Dartmoor Press.
Harrison, B. 2001. Dartmoor’s Stone Crosses. Tiverton: Halsgrove Publishing.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale.
Sandles, T. 1997. A Pilgrimage to Dartmoor’s Crosses. Liverton: Forest Publishing.