Historic Environment Record images

MEM22088 - Exmoor Royal Forest

ENPHER Number:MEM22088
Name:Exmoor Royal Forest
Type of Record:Monument
Grid Reference:SS 7758 3852

Please read the Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record caveat document.


The Royal Forest is thought to originate in the Saxon period and was the land legally reserved as hunting grounds for the king.


Royal Forest Boundary at Farley Water  © Exmoor National Park Authority

Royal Forest Boundary at Farley Water © Exmoor National Park Authority

Monument Types

  • HUNTING FOREST (Early-Middle Saxon to AD 19th Century - 410 AD to 1815 AD (Possible))

Designated Status: none recorded


The forest of Exmoor, or Exmore, was one of the 67 Royal Forests. It was probably a forest in Saxon times as the Domesday Book records three foresters holding land at Withypool. In its old legal meaning the word 'forest' did not imply trees, it referred to any area in which the deer were reserved to the king. In its earliest form the forest probably stretched from Porlock to Bray and from Martinhoe to Dulverton. The Royal Forest was disaforested in 1819. [1]

Following the Conquest the wardenship of the forest was leased until 1508 when the royal forest itself was also leased. The Aclands held the royal forest from 1769, inheriting the wardenship from the Dykes through marriage. In 1814 the lease (under the tenth baronet, the third Sir Thomas Acland) came up for renewal. It was at this time that the crown decided to sell off the Royal Forest and the estate was put out to tender in 1818. The highest bidder for the crown allotment (less than half of the Royal Forest) was John Knight. Over 3000 acres had been given to Thomas Acland to compensate for the forest tithes. These lands were also then purchased by Knight, who came to own more than three quarters of the royal forest. The boundary, as it was legalised in 1327 surrounded the current parish of Exmoor. [2]

A Research Framework was developed for the former Royal Forest in 2012, based upon a seminar in which parties with knowledge of, and interest in, the area participated. [3]

The history of the Royal Forest is charted in a Field Guide, from its use as a medieval hunting forest to its transformation in the 19th Century. [4]

In the medieval period the boundary of the Royal Forest was marked by river valleys, boundary stones and Bronze Age barrows, later John Knight built a thirty mile long wall around the former forest. Those who had rights to the common land were upset by the enclosure and some walls and banks were destroyed. [5-6]

The Norman and Angevin kings imposed the Forest law upon districts where clearing and cultivation had made comparatively slow progress because of the unfavourable terrain. Exmoor, which was sparsely populated, was decreed to be a royal forest at this time.
In the 13th Century, the royal forest of Exmoor was sometimes referred to as "the chase of Exmoor."
All deer within royal forests were property of the king, even if they strayed outside. At the Somerset Forest Eyre held at Ilchester in 1270 it was presented that a fawn had come out of the Exmoor Forest and had been taken by Henry Boniface, Richard Absalom and Thomas son of Henry of Bossington. They had taken the fawn outside of forest bounds and carried it to their houses in Bossington (at that time within the forest), passing through the forest to get there. As a result, they were sent to prison and fined 10 shillings.
There were occasions when Forest wardens could not perform their duties in person. Hereditary wardenships, for example, were from time to time inherited by priests: in 1207 William of Wrotham, Archdeacon of Taunton, received from King John seisin of the lands he held in chief in Somerset, and the wardenship of the forests of Somerset and Exmoor in Devon. The archdeacon in the king's presence appointed his brother Richard to perform the duties of his Forest office in his place, and agreed to be responsible for him.
On 20 November 1508 Henry VII leased Exmoor and Neroche Forests to Sir Edmund Carew for life, at an annual rent of £46. 13s. 4d., including allowing him to hunt all deer, stags, bucks and does, providing that at his death there were 100 deer left in the forest of Exmoor and 200 in Neroche. The lease was renewed for 300 years until the final disafforestment and enclosure of these forests.
In 1651, during the Commonwealth, Parliament appointed commissioners to sell Exmoor Forest, which was reported to be "mountainous and cold ground, much beclouded with thick fogges and mists and… overgrown with heath and yielding but a poor kind of turf of little value there." This measure, as with a subsequent Act passed in October 1653 "for the Disafforestation, Sale and Improvement of Royal Forests" proved ineffective.
Between 1810 and 1855 Acts were passed for the disafforestment of various forests, including Exmoor, where commissioners were appointed to "divide, allow and inclose" the open forest wastes. A proportion was allotted to the Crown "in severalty," varying according to the area of the forest wastes in which the property in the soil belonged to the Crown. In Exmoor, the Crown's share was twelve twenty-seconds. These Crown lands were freed from the common rights hitherto exercised over them, in compensation for the extinguishment of royal forest rights. In 1812 it was hoped to use the Crown allotment in Exmoor Forest to provide the Royal Navy with oak timber by enclosing and planting, but after partition the Commissioners decided that it would not in fact be suitable and in 1818 it was sold for £50,000 to Mr Knight, who enclosed it.
Exmoor Forest was disafforested in 1815. [7]

Bonvoisin, P., 2013, The boundary of the Royal Forest of Exmoor: An archaeological survey (Report). SEM8167.

<1> MacDermot, E.T., 1973, The History of the Forest of Exmoor, 1, 3, 433 (Monograph). SMO5058.

<2> Eardley-Wilmot, H., 1990, Yesterday's Exmoor , 3, 6, 144-146 (Monograph). SMO5568.

<3> Balmond, F., 2012, Royal Forest, Exmoor: Research framework for the Royal Forest (Report). SEM7996.

<4> Siraut, M., Royal Forest, Exmoor: A guide to the Royal Forest of Exmoor (Monograph). SEM7997.

<5> 2013, Badgworthy, Exmoor: Exmoor moorland archaeology walks series (Leaflet). SEM8012.

<6> 2013, Hoaroak Valley, Exmoor: Exmoor moorland archaeology walks series (Leaflet). SEM8013.

<7> Grant, R., 1991, The Royal Forests of England, 5, 30-1, 56, 98, 119, 137, 155, 158, 183, 203, 210, 211, 224 (Monograph). SEM8362.

Related records

MSO10896Parent of: Broadbarrow stone at Roosthitchen (Monument)
MDE20910Parent of: Forest Boundary stone on Twitchen Ridge (Monument)
MEM22089Parent of: Forest Wall (Monument)
MSO7000Parent of: Horsehead Stone (Monument)
MDE20907Parent of: Medieval or post-medieval boundary stones north of Winaway, Thorn Hill and Benjamy (Monument)
MSO7950Parent of: Post-medieval boundary stone south of Black Barrow (Monument)
MDE1211Parent of: Site of Sandy Way Stone (Monument)

Related Pages

Other References

  • Local List Status (Unassessed)
Date Last Edited:Oct 3 2018 1:10PM


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