DORNAFIELD, A HISTORY

 

By Paul Presswell ARIBA (ret’d)

Written in the early 1980s

A CROMWELLIAN TARGET, AND A FINE EXAMPLE OF A GRADE ll * TRADITIONAL DEVON LONGHOUSE

 

 

It lies on the very edge of the parish boundary of Ipplepen, among low hills just off a country road running between the inn at Two Mile Oak Cross on the A381 south of Newton Abbot and the village of Denbury.

 

The location has attracted man for thousands of years. His stone slabbed burial chambers - protected by round barrows of earth dating from the first millennium BC when he was shaping his implements in iron – lie at the top of rising ground a little to the east of the house.There is a popular belief in the village that the boundary between the parishes of Ipplepen and Denbury passes through the middle of Dornafield farmhouse, but the son of the farm’s bailiff in the 1920’s, who still lives in the village, assures us that this is not so. The boundary passes at the side of the house and could not be followed by the “bound-beaters” at this point as it was overgrown with thicket and brambles, so his father permitted the men passage through the house. Hence the myth arose that by passing from one room to another one could walk from Ipplepen to Denbury.

 

This tradition is still followed today when Ipplepen parishioners beat the bounds (last done in 2008). Young lads from the village are given the bumps by the mounting block at the front door to help them all remember where the parish boundaries are, and all the beaters walk into the back door, through the cross passage and out at the front door where they are greeted with a glass of cider!

 

established and a Roger de Dornefeld was in possession. Nearly one hundred years later a Robert de Dornefeld was taxed in the sum of two shillings – a figure exceeded by only three others in the parish.

 

The ground floor of the house contains a classical example of a typical Devon late medieval single storey farmhouse, a plan adopted by early farmers both on Dartmoor and the surrounding countryside comprising three rooms and a cross passage. The hall was the main room for the family, there was a shippen for the animals at a slightly lower level, divided from the hall by a partitioned cross passage, and finally a parlour, a small room partitioned off at the other end of the hall.

 

In the times of the early owners these rooms were open to the roof, evidence of which is provided by the old cruck roof timbers – hidden by later ceilings – blackened by smoke from a centrally placed hearth in the hall. The cross passage would have had a wider door at the rear for the animals to enter the shippen. The material for the walls was probably stone as there is an abundance of small limestone quarries in the vicinity. Earthen floors were made as comfortable as possible with straw and reed. The small windows would be closed with shutters - few farms had the comfort of glass before 1600. Originally the roof was possibly thatched, although the local quarries would have produced tolerable roofing slates which may have been used from the beginning.

 

These early farmers knew the importance of selecting a site with the right characteristics, like those existing here – a firm base, preferably rocky; a ready source of building materials; the ground slightly sloping towards the shippen - where the animals were to live – for natural drainage. At some date in the 15th century the animals were turned out and the shippens were converted to a dairy or a kitchen, but before then Devon farmers and their animals lived under the same roof for centuries!

 

The hundred years after 1540 were particularly prosperous for farming and Devon farmers found themselves steadily accumulating more wealth than their forefathers had ever seen. With this abundance of ready money farmers everywhere were very active enlarging and modernising their medieval farmhouses or building new ones. The large cereal barn at the rear of the house was an early priority, followed by major improvements within the house, namely inserting another floor reached by stairs from the old cross passage. The accommodation was thus doubled. The new floor made it necessary to move the old central hearth to a side wall and provide a chimney. The massive new chimney stack on the right of the entrance was a prestigious addition and another hearth and chimney were added to the end wall of the shippen - turning it into a kitchen – with an external projecting traditional stone bread oven alongside.

 

Slatestone rather than thatch was the roof covering between the mid 16th and 17th centuries. The slatestone ground floor pavings, which replaced the earth and reed, contain interesting impressions of small fossilized sea creatures millions of years old.

 

A two storey wing joining the north end of the house to the cereal barn, originally stores, would appear to be the final stage of this intensive period of the farm’s development. An 18th century linhay (now stables) with round stone pillars, facing north to protect the cattle from driving rain, is built well away from the house and the nearer buildings are of a similar date and were used for storage. Cider making was a widespread farm activity in the 18th and 19th centuries, often assisted by animal power. There is evidence of this in the form of a low beam with a hole for the axle of the mechanism for crushing apples which is to be found at the end of one of the smaller barns.

 

One of the families who farmed Dornafield in the 17th and 18th centuries was the Crossings. Let into the floor of St Andrew’s Church in Ipplepen is a slab stating that William, son of William Crossing junior, was baptised and buried in 1650; also Elizabeth, daughter of John Crossing, gentleman of Dornafield, was buried in 1692.

 

In the Devon Protestation Returns of 1641 Richard and William Crossing of Ipplepen declared their allegiance to the Faith and their King – a declaration that was possibly responsible for disturbing the peace of Dornafield as never before or since. In the winter of 1645-46 the Civil War was drawing to a close. Exeter was under siege by Oliver Cromwell’s army and was soon to fall and it was necessary for the Royalists to secure the Port of Dartmouth. Leaving a force to keep Exeter blockaded, Cromwell moved south on the evening of 9th January 1646, surprised royalist troops in Bovey Tracey and captured the town. Cromwell’s general Sir Thomas Fairfax then pushed on with troops of horse to occupy Ashburton and Totnes which had been abandoned by the King’s forces in order to defend Dartmouth. On 18th January Dartmouth was stormed and fell to Fairfax within hours.

 

On the whole, Devon was more parliamentarily inclined than Royalist, with the peers and greater gentry on the King’s side and the lesser gentry and townspeople for parliament, yet there were many exceptions and even some families were divided. Having secured the Port of Dartmouth, Fairfax retraced his steps through Totnes and was heading for Exeter. Other than Compton and Powderham Castles - fortified royalist establishments - the smaller dwellings along the route did not usually attract his attention but it seems Fairfax knew of the Crossings’ declaration of loyalty to the Crown five years’ previously and decided to flush them out in case Dornafield’s occupants might be sheltering some Royalist soldiers. The farmhouse was bombarded with cannon-ball, many of which were dug up in the early part of the last century and stocked in pyramids in front of the house. Unfortunately they were removed by souvenir hunters when the house was unoccupied. Rev Robert Cooke, in his parish notes of 1924, recorded that shot marks could be seen on the entrance door, but sadly this door has since been removed.

 

The Crossings evidently survived the siege, as indicated by their monumental inscriptions of later dates in the parish church, and John Crossing commemorated the repairs and improvements to the front of the house, including the wide and impressive porch with a room over, and had his initials carved on the keystone of the granite arch to the porch opening together with the date 1664. The Crossings remained until the first half of the 18th century, after which a succession of farming families passed through until the farmhouse became derelict and the land fell out of use, when it was broken up and subsequently bought by Peter and Tina Dewhirst in 1973.

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