Hidden in the rocks and trees at Hisley Woods in the Bovey Valley there are stories to be told; long before the nature reserve we see today, we know our Dartmoor ancestors were busy farming this magnificent landscape. We already understand the derelict Boveycombe farmstead and how it was used. There are maps and documents, recording its useful life through hundreds of years, right up to the 20th century. The volunteers in the Natural England History Hunters have revealed many of the secrets of the buildings, walls, gateways, tracks and banks. They have used a combination of the latest LiDAR technology, detailed ground surveys and produced accurate hand drawn plans.
Throughout all this time the nature reserve managers, the archaeologists, local archivists and the History Hunters themselves have known about the mysterious Vinnimore farmstead lower down in the valley, lying hidden in a wet woodland on the banks of the River Bovey. For many years this intriguing site has held onto most of its secrets … until now.
Based on the scantest information, a group of local organisations will be part of a Lustleigh Parishscapes project to reveal more about the fascinating history of the Bovey Valley. We know the most basic facts about Vinnimore, the most rudimentary records are available. So far we have the Devon Historic Environment Record No.28070 stating that there is a “deserted settlement consisting of a group of ruined structures approximately 150 metres above Hisley Bridge”. After limited surveys the information on record shows it was occupied through early to post medieval periods. The name “Vinnamore” appears on the 1840 Tithe map and, further back, Donn’s map from 1765 shows “Ferny Moor” on the site next to the Bovey. But these hints of the past only increase the interest in this site, the desire to know more grows stronger.
The HLF funded Moor than meets the eye scheme has now provided the opportunity to finally look back at the history of this old settlement and, at long last, to record in detail what was going on here in the past. The Lustleigh Parishscapes project team includes the Lustleigh Society, the History Hunters, Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust and Andy Crabb, the Dartmoor NPA archaeologist. The team has already put together all the available information from the written records but more lies hidden in the ground.
There are vague records of families who lived at Vinnimore through the 15th and 16th centuries but these are incomplete. There are many reports of slotted gate posts, drainage features and building stones lying redundant on the site but to get to the bottom of these mysteries, an archaeological excavation is planned for the spring of 2017. There are so many questions to answer. What did the buildings look like and where was the chimney? What were the surrounding fields used for? Can we manage the site to prevent future erosion? Though the excavation is yet to start, the investigations on site have already begun and the History Hunters have been hard at work. So far, they have produced detailed maps and plans including a number of finds and features that were previously not recorded. But this is just the start of something that will, over the next year, tell us so much more about the settlement at Vinnimore and how it links with other remains found on the moor and in the woods of the valley.
by Matt Parkins