BLTC Press Titles

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The Bhagavad Gita


The Characters of Theophrastus


Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

An exploration of Dartmoor and its antiquities

by John Lloyd Warden Page


Of the early history of Dartmoor but little is known. Its cairns and barrows have given forth many remains of the stone age, and some few of the bronze; and a tumulus on Hameldon has disclosed implements which point to a Scandinavian occupation. The Damnonii, although not indisposed to resist invasion, appear to have been less warlike than the other inhabitants of the southern part of Britain, and to have confined themselves to tillage where the land admitted of it, and to pasturing large flocks and herds upon such wastes as were not easily brought under the plough. We therefore hear little or nothing of conflicts with the Romans; and if the lowland clans had attempted to assert their independence, it does not seem probable that the tribes of Dartmoor would have joined them, but trusting in the inaccessibility of their 'wild forest and morisch land,' have rather kept to themselves. No Latin name is borne by tor or river, and even Saxon nomenclature is of comparatively rare occurrence; Celtic or Cornu-Celtic are the titles of both, as they were 2,000 years ago.

20 The Phoenicians.

In addition to the hunters and shepherds who made their home in its recesses, it is generally conceded that from a very early period the surface of the Moor was worked for tin. According to Diodorus Siculus, a settled trade in this metal was carried on with the West of England nearly twenty centuries ago, and Strabo tells us of the Phoenicians being the first traders with the Cassiterides, and relates how a Punic captain ran his galley on the shoals rather than divulge the secret to a pursuing Roman ship. Hence some writers favour the idea of a Phoenician settlement, and the names of certain tors are adduced in evidence to support this theory. There is little doubt that the Phoenicians did visit the West in quest of tin, but whether Dartmoor formed a part of the district in modern parlance 'prospected' by them must, in the absence of proof stronger than that at present brought forward, ever remain an open question. That Scandinavian rovers sought the metal is an assumption which stands a far better chance of being reduced to certainty, and the discoveries on Hameldon, before referred to, justify to a great extent the suggestions of those who would place a village of the Northmen at Grimspound.

The Saxon Conquest of Devon was an almost bloodless one, and has been ascribed to Cynewulf about the middle of the eighth century. For a hundred and fifty years Celts and yellow-haired conquerors would seem to hav.e been upon fairly good terms; but shortly after the commencement of the ninth century Athelstan drove out the British inhabitants of Exeter, and following up this severity, attempted to confine them beyond the Tamar. It is not too much to imagine that many a British chief, indignant at the king's harshness, betook himself to the wilds of Dartmoor, whither, like David of old, he was soon followed by those who were ' in distress' and 'discontented,' and especially by such as were aggrieved at the stern rule of the Saxon, and who doubtless revenged Saxon Perambulation. 21

themselves by many a descent upon the fertile settlements of the king's thanes.

The connection of the Danish pirates with our subject was not so slight as has been generally imagined. That they destroyed Tavistock Abbey in 997, and laid waste the country between it and Lydford, the quaint pages of the Saxon chronicle testify; but that they in all probability had a settlement at Henbury Castle, overhanging the Dart, is known only to those who have heard the legend still told in the neighbourhood of Buckfastleigh, and which will be found in another place.*

A Saxon perambulation preserved among the archives of Exeter Cathedral, and dated, it is thought, about the ninth century, is the first known document relating to Dartmoor.f We are not aware whether this perambulation throws any light upon the question as to who possessed the Moor at the time, but there is evidence that it was in the hands of the Crown prior to the Conquest, though by what process of acquisition does not appear. Some are of opinion that all wastes became royal possessions when the Druid ceased from off the face of the land; but, as we have endeavoured to show, it has yet to be proved that he was ever upon Dartmoor at all. For what period then, antecedent to the reign of King John, the forest was held by the Crown is purely a matter for conjecture. No mention is made of it in Domesday Book, or even of the tin-works which must at that tim»> have seamed it in every direction; but that is rather an argument in favour of the contention that it was at that time terra regis. With the exception of Dartmoor and Exmoor, John disafforested such parts of Devonshire as were

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