A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park
August 19, 2023
Sir John Davie early 19th Century ‘improver period’ at Fernworthy and the Newtake boundaries
From the late 18th Century, through land grants provided by the Duchy of Cornwall, certain estate holders began to expand the size of their holdings. This period of Dartmoor history is usually referred to as the ‘improver period’. One of the ‘improvers’ was Sir John Davie of Crediton. He owned Fernworthy and by the 1780s began to expand his holdings and additional areas of moorland outside his estate and absorbed the lands of the smaller farms in the area, namely Assacombe, Silk House, Lowton and Higher Lowton. By 1825, Sir John had acquired all of these farms (most were in ruins) and had effectively become part of Fernworthy. Silk House and the two Lowton farmsteads were absorbed into Fernworthy by 1796. Assacombe appears to have been the last farmstead to have been absorbed. The ‘Fernworthy Farms’ are considered at : https://dartmoorexplorations.co.uk/category/farming/fernworthy-farms/
The Fernworthy outer drystone wall which is marks the modern (early 20th Century) plantation boundary , is recorded to have been completed by 1807 and marks the limit of Sir John Davie’s absorbed lands. However, a map from 1796 only depicts this outer newtake wall as a series of points joined by straight lines. This, one would assume depicted the intended layout, which was constructed in 1807 and is what we see today. On the map, there were several ‘deviations’ of a marked line accompanied with the annotation ‘bound’. Two upright stones located are recorded at or near the southern boundary of the Fernworthy outer drystone wall which are inscribed with a ‘D’ which is assumed stands for ‘Davie’. Therefore, it is entirely possible that these stones were erected circa 1796, marking the boundary before the wall was constructed and that more stones remain to be discovered. With this in mind the author visited the area and (where possible) explored both sides of the south and west parts of the wall to see if he could find any more of the Sir John Davie ‘D’ stones. This history and post wouldn’t have been possible without information found in ‘The Archaeology of Fernworthy Forest, Dartmoor, Devon A New Survey – 2013’ by Dr Phil Newman. Some superb research work can be found in the survey.