Dartmoor Explorations

A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park

KINGS OVEN (FURNUM REGIS)

Steve Grigg

Whilst completing my fourth Perambulation of the bounds of the Forest of Dartmoor as part of the 780th anniversary (1240-2020), one of the waypoint locations, I transited was Furnum Regis (literal translation “oven to the king”). In the later Perambulation of 1608 the name had changed to Kinges Oven or Kings Oven. It it thought that Furnum Regis refers to an ancient blowing house, from the fabled King Arthur’s era, sometimes referred to as King Arthur’s Oven.

But where exactly is Furnum Regis (Kings Oven)? Most of the Victorian Antiquarians and the modern OS map place it on the eastern slopes of Water Hill, whereas some evidence suggests it is the cairn on Water Hill. This post is my attempt to provide some photographs of the area and my understanding and brief summary of information I have found. Due reference to: a) Dartmoor Magazine Summer 1995 – article by Dr Tom Greeves; b) High Dartmoor – Eric Hemery; c) Atlas of Dartmoor Antiquities, the North – Jeremy Butler, d) Dartmoor Boundary Markers – Dave Brewer, e) A perambulation of Dartmoor – Samuel Rowe, f) Guide to Dartmoor – William Crossing, g) An exploration of Dartmoor and its antiquities by John Page

OS 1888-1913 map, showing Kings Oven to the east of Water Hill. Two buildings are also shown to the north and south of the “ruin”.
This sketch is based on the one found in the Dartmoor Magazine, Summer 1995 edition and is not too dissimilar to fig 26.1 in the Butler publication. The main part of the area is a historic enclosure, which has a probable cairn, an old building, tinners’ pits and an unfinished millstone within its perimeter. There are also the foundations of two modern buildings to the north and south. This area contains the suggestive locations that Rowe, Crossing, Bate, Burnard and Hemery speculate were Furnum Regis, Kings Oven.
Foundations of the modern building (B) to the south of the “Kings Oven” enclosure. It is believed (Greeves) that this is a mine building and the stones for its construction would have been robbed from the enclosure.
Overlay showing the foundations of Modern Building B. Samuel Rowe in his publication “A perambulation of Dartmoor” (P195), states: “The original Furnum Regis, the King’s Oven, the tin smelting place, was destroyed probably sometime during the last century, and was reduced to further ruin by the removal of stones, or the construction of the buildings of Bush Down Mine….” Was this one of the Bush Down Mine buildings, Rowe was referring to ?
Unfinished millstone at the centre of the enclosure. It is interesting to note that Robert Burnard has a picture of a similar stone he found in the area stating it: ‘looks something like the nether stone of a crazing mill’. Note: A nether stone is the lower stone of a rotary crazing mill that was used for grinding tin ore. He states that the stone was found at Furnum Regis, Kings Oven in July 1888. Picture can be seen at: https://dartmoortrust.org/archive/record/3089
Close up of the unfinished millstone, which is in the centre of the enclosure. Crossing states (P247) that: “All that is to be seen is a low rampart, composed of small stones, forming a circular enclosure rather over 700 yards in diameter….”, thus suggesting the ancient blowing house of Furnum Regis was within this enclosure.
This building outline is within the enclosure wall. In the Dr Tom Greeves article in the Dartmoor Magazine, he noted that Spence Bate had thought this was the where the furnace of the Kings Oven had been located.
Possible site of cairn as note by Dr Tom Greeves (Dartmoor Magazine) and Jeremy Butler (Atlas of Antiquities).
Another view of the possible cairn.
Modern Building A, north of the enclosure. Eric Hemery in High Dartmoor (P706) states that: “Due east of the cairn on Water Hill (E.Dart), and on a shelf about 150 feet below it, is the ruin traditionally known as “Furnum Regis”, “Kings Oven”. A rectangular building, with a central partition and some corner stones, still in-situ, it has external dimensions of 41′ x 16′. Whether this was the smelting-house it was thought to be….” This is most likely the building Hemery was referring to as it has corner stones, unlike the Modern Building B shown previously in this post.

Summary: It would appear that William Crossing, Spence Bate, Robert Burnard, Samuel Rowe and possibly Eric Hemery believed that Furnum Regis was either the associated with the enclosure to the east of Water Hill or the modern building slightly to the north.

This sketch is based on the one found in the Dartmoor Magazine, Summer 1995 edition and is of the Water Hill cairn complex.
The cairn on Water Hill. In 1831 Mr and Mrs Bray went in search of the King’s Oven, and believed this was the site. They further stated: “It is not improbable this (the walled pit) was really the King’s Oven, or used for the purpose of baking by some British chief…..” Also, Page suggests this was the site, stating “….the low cairn, the stone-lined trench, and the little pits, are all that now remain of what is generally regarded as a smelting house of the old men”, albeit Crossing scathingly dismissed this. Butler (P26) suggests this is the site of King’s Oven, in part as it is a prominent landmark and that is is further from the previous perambulation waypoint (Wallabrook Head) than that of the enclosure on the east side of the hill.
More detail of the cairn on Water Hill, with walling. Is this walling Hemery’s (1983, p.506) Natty’s Castle? He describes a small shelter built on the east side of the cairn, which was probably used by a shepherd or a warrener as a look-out. Dr Tom Greeves in his article in Dartmoor Magazine, Summer 1995, concluded that this was the fabled King Arthur’s Oven, partly due to its prominent location, which the ancient chronicler would have wished to record. Dave Brewer in his publication on Dartmoor Boundary Markers (P28), states: “Now considered opinion leans to the conclusion that it was the cairn that was intended, and that the early perambulators of 1240 had noted the entrance passage on the eastern side of the cairn… This theory was again put forward in recent years and makes sense in that the cairn is just the sort of landmark they used‘.

Summary: It would appear that Page, Bray, Butler, Brewer and Greeves all believe that Furnum Regis was either is associated with cairn / walled structure constructions on Water Hill.

So where does you believe the original perambulators located Furnum Regis, Kings Oven ?

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