The Post-Medieval Period

Simonsbath House Hotel style="height:auto; width:100%"

Simonsbath House Hotel, originally built during the Civil War (© ENPA 2017)

The great change that ended the Middle Ages was the Reformation, which brought about changes within parish churches and led ultimately to the rise of nonconformity and the building of chapels. The Civil War also left its mark on Exmoor and probably accelerated the decline of the Royal Forest, which was inclosed in 1815. The inclosure of common lands followed, but fortunately many like Winsford Hill remained open for grazing.

The 18th and 19th centuries were periods of agricultural innovation including the introduction of the bank barn (e.g. Marshclose Barn), the field gutter system (e.g. at East Nurcott) and water-powered farmyards (e.g. Ashway and Stone). In the former forest the Knights created Simonsbath village and several farmsteads. Although many of their farms survive, Larkbarrow and Tom’s Hill were destroyed during artillery practice early in the Second World War. Elsewhere on Exmoor the amalgamation of farms in the 19th century and the inaccessibility and unprofitability of more remote holdings in the 20th century led to a number of farmsteads being abandoned (e.g. Shortacombe Farm).

Apart from agriculture the Exmoor economy was built on quarrying and mining. By the early 19th century Exmoor’s arable land was extensively limed. Local or imported, limestone was burnt in kilns including notably at Newland and Bossington Beach. Silver and lead mining in the Dulverton area dates back to the Middle Ages, but was never very successful. Iron ore has been mined on Exmoor since prehistoric and Roman times, but mines proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th century, including those at Ison Hill and around Cornham Ford.

The arrival of the railway helped the agricultural economy, the expansion of mining and the growth of tourism. The Taunton-Barnstaple railway benefited markets such as South Molton and hotels like the former Carnarvon Arms. The proposed railway from Simonsbath to Porlock was never completed. Wealthy families came to hunt and sometimes to settle, building houses at Pixton and Cloutsham, and creating landscapes like the Aclands around Selworthy and Bossington and the Lovelaces at Ashley Combe.

Mary Siraut