Exmoor and the Doones

Talk on Exmoor and the Doones (CAHMS event)

John Stuart (2nd left) with (l to r) Roy Webber, Alan Sharpe, Peter Budd and Tim Sedgwick

When: to February  2015
Where:Boniface Centre, Church Lane, Crediton
Who:John Stuart

More than 50 members and friends of Crediton Area History & Museum Society attended the latest monthly talk on the 9th February. This was given by former CODS member now living in Exeter John Stuart, on the subject “Exmoor and the Doones”, and the talk related events in the book to many evocative Exmoor photographs taken by John whilst travelling on Exmoor. 

The talk began in Tiverton, at Old Blundells School in the late 17th century and the  audience was told that the book was really about Jan Ridd who at the age of about 12 was a pupil there for a short while. Richard Doddridge Blackmore the author of Lorna Doone (in 1869) was also a pupil there as was Mr Stuart, and he recounted to his audience how when has was drum major there he had once thrown the mace over the arch that leads into the school from Station Road!

After a very short time Jan was removed from the school because he was needed at the family farm, and the story then moved on to Dulverton (the HQ of the Exmoor Nation Park where stands a statue of Lorna Doone) where Jan, accompanied by one of his father’s farmhands, John Fry took refreshment on their way back to the farm at Oare on Exmoor. Whilst there they met by accident young Lorna the girl who would one day become his wife. Moving on they passed Chibbets Post – so named because of gallows that used to stand there – and further out onto the moor, when they had to hide because horsemen were approaching. These turned out to be the feared Doone brothers, who had with them young Lorna who they had kidnapped.

After market day at Porlock, Jan Ridd’s father had been murdered at Robbers Bridge, which is why Jan had to return to run the farm, and Jan subsequently became a well respected yeoman farmer.

The story also took the audience to North Molton, where Tom Fagus the local blacksmith was ruined after a law suit with a man called Barnfield, and to this day Barnfield’s Copse still exists there. Fagus subsequently became a highwayman and was arrested in the Anchor Inn at Exbridge and reputedly hanged in Taunton Prison.

The audience was taken up Badgery Water (The Doone Valley) to Badgery Wood where in the book Jan Ridd scrambled up the “Water Slide”, where copious amounts of water spilled down over and left him exhausted at the top. Here he was found by Lorna. Lorna was apparently heiress to a Scottish estate, which is why the Doones wanted to marry her but she would have none of it.

Eventually Lorna marries Jan in Oare church, only to be shot there by the jealous Carver Doone, who after is knocked off his horse by Jan to sink into a mire (apparently there are no mires on Exmoor but why let the truth spoil a good story!), Lorna recovers and in that time honoured phrase, “they live happily ever after.”

John’s engaging talk was illustrated by many photographs of the places referred to as well as others setting the Exmoor scene and thanks are due to him for an interesting expose of Exmoor and the Doones.

Keith Mortimer