MDE20928 - Valley of Rocks (Place)


The Valley of Rocks became a tourist attraction in the late 18th Century and was subject to an enclosure dispute in the 19th Century. It was accepted that the valley should be left unenclosed in September 1856.

Please read the .

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

The 1864 Enclosure Award for Valley of Rocks is held at Devon Record Office. [1] In the late 18th Century, the Valley of Rocks, with its gigantic dry valley, remarkable rock formations and "stone circles," had begun to attract tourists. In 1789 the Reverend John Swete visited and described seeing 'several circles, large masses of stone, in diameter above forty feet' which he believed had 'been appropriaed to the uses of the Druids'. In 1799, Robert Southey considered the Valley of Rocks to be 'one of the greatest wonders in the west of England'. The influx of visitors caused Lynton to develop a small tourist industry, with hotels and lodging houses being opened in the village. In 1792, William Locks (a Lynmouth merchant) purchased the manor of Lynton and soon announced his intention to enclose part of the Valley of Rocks, to wall off a large rabbit warren for his private use. The other landowners feared he would cultivate the land (making it less attractive to tourists) and didn't want him to take a portion of the commons, and refused. William assigned his manorial rights to his son John Lock in 1799, who in 1800 persuaded most of the people with rights on the Lynton commons to sign a private agreement to divide the land and in 1801 the commons were shared out by independent arbitrators. John Lock ensured he was allotted the eastern part of the Valley of Rocks and enclosed part of it and many thought his stone wall "desecrated the wild grandeur of the valley". John also gained most of the common land near Lynton, which he enclosed and sold for development. Most of the other landowners didn't enclose their lands as it wasn't thought to be profitable and they would lose their right to turn out stock on the remainder of the commons. The arbitration agreement of 1801 was rediscovered in 1850 by Charles Bailey, a London based land agent who had decided to create a country estate of his own. In 1841 he bought Ley and Six Acre, situated immediately to the west of the Valley of Rocks, and rebuilt Ley as Lee Abbey. By March 1850, John Lock had died and his sister Mary was lady of the manor, although her husband (the Reverend Thomas Roe) had effective control. At this time, Bailey suggested to the manor authorities that the remaining common lands should be enclosed, but over the course of three years Roe continued to refuse him. Late in 1853, Bailey persuaded a number of local landholders to sign a petition to the Enclosure Commissioners seeking sanction for a division of the Lynton commons. In January 1854, an Assistant Commissioner held public meetings in the Valley of Rocks Hotel to consider the proposals, which were met with bitter local opposition as it was thought the western end of the Valley would be fenced off and public access denied. Bailey wrote a public letter to the residents of Lynton and Lynmouth to reassure the inhabitants who were concerned about his proposal that the remaining common land in the parish should be enclosed, including the Valley of Rocks, saying that he wanted to 'preserve them to the public from the despoiling hand of man' and the Valley should be 'set out for public recreation.' He also alleged that some of the 'immense Druidical stones and circles' had been taken away for use as gateposts under the auspices of the lord of the manor (although this is unproven). In March 1854 the Assistant Commissioner agreed that the remainder of the 'waste' could be enclosed but this was contested by the Reverend and Mrs Roe, who issued legal proceedings against the Enclosure Commissioners. The case was heard in March 1855 and the Roes won as it was held that they had a right to object to any enclosures as owners of the manor. Thomas died in January 1855 and his wife followed in September. Their son, John Colwell Roe, inherited the manor and decided to allow the remaining commons to be enclosed. Another meeting was held in September 1856, where agreement was reached on a fair division of the commons and it was accepted that the Valley of Rocks should be left unenclosed. [2] The GIS mapping for this record is indicative only, based on the modern MasterMap data for the area and the existing sources. It requires confirmation. [4,5] A pocket guide for the site was published by the National Park Authority in 2019. [6]

Sources/Archives (6)

  • <1> Unpublished document: 1864. Valley of Rocks Enclosure Award.
  • <2> Monograph: Gray, T.. 1996. Devon documents. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 1st Edition. Travis, F.J. "An enclosure dispute at Lynton in 1854". 190-196.
  • <3> Article in serial: Dalzell, D. and Durrance, E.M.. 1980. The evolution of the Valley of Rocks, North Devon. Transactions of Institute of British Geographers. 5. 1, 66-79.
  • <4> Map: Ordnance Survey. 2016. MasterMap.
  • <5> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. Catherine Dove, 25 April 2017.
  • <6> Unpublished document: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2019. The Valley of Rocks pocket guide.



Grid reference Centred SS 709 495 (1689m by 998m) (Estimated from sources)
Map sheet SS74NW

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Events/Activities (1)

External Links (0)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 21040
  • Devon SMR: SS74NW/90

Record last edited

Aug 17 2020 12:03PM


Your feedback is welcome. If you can provide any new information about this record, please contact us.