Wonnacott Rights of Way appeal 1

National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
Appeal under Section 29(5)
Draft map and statement for parishes of South Tawton and Throwleigh.
Paths numbered 28, 29, 45, 9a, 9, 47, 48, 60, 49, 50, 51, 53, 57, 58 and 14.
Proof of Evidence of Mrs. E. B. Wonnacott, Appellant

Evidence of general application applicable to all appeals

ELIZABETH BLANCHE WONNACOTT of Ridge Cote, South Zeal, Okehampton, Devon, will say:-

I was born over 75 years ago in the Parish of South Tawton and have resided in the district all my life. My parents and grandparents spent their lives in the district. Until my retirement I worked as School Mistress for South Zeal School and other schools in Devon. Since 1934 I have served on the South Tawton Parish Council continuously and in the same year I was also elected as a Parish representative[s] on the Okehampton Rural District Council and I still serve in that capacity. From 1951 to 1955 I held office as Honorary Clerk to the Parish Council of South Tawton in addition to being a member. My husband is also a member of the South Tawton Parish Council. Throughout my life I have taken a keen and active interest in the affairs of the Parish and surrounding Parishes and in the history of the area. I am a keen walker and lover of nature. Both as a School Teacher, a Councillor and a resident I have always been interested in the preservation of the ancient public rights of way in the district. I am also an owner of land in South Tawton which is crossed by a public right of way and readily agreed to its inclusion in the plan prepared by the County Council. I am a member of the Dartmoor Preservation Association and the Ramblers Association.

Brief history of the area

The Parish of South Tawton is now approximately 17 1/2 square miles in area. The Parish of Throwleigh lies to the south of South Tawton. South Tawton Parish and the surrounding land form the ancient royal demesne manor of Black Hall which was part of the marriage dowry of Girtha, mother of Harold Godwin who was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The manor had many sub-manors including Itton, Collaford, Tawgreen, Ash and East, West, Middle and North Week each of which sub-manors had its mill for grinding corn. In the Middle Ages all the land was open common and tracks leading to the various manor houses, settlements and centres of trade, which were marked at intervals by mounds of stones, upright pillars or stone crosses which acted as guides to travellers. Some of these were illuminated by fires as, for example, the name Firestone Common suggests. These landmarks indicate the ancient ways and were frequently placed at their intersections. William Crossing in his "Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor and its Borderland" published 1902 says on pages 5 and 6 speaking of crosses:-

An object that could turn the thoughts to an event of such importance as the great sacrifice once offered for mankind, was peculiarly fitted for setting up in such places as the wayfarer might pass, for it became a guide to him in a double sense. And thus by the track that led from town to town, and by the lonely paths over the bleak and barren hills, was the cross erected, that he who journeyed might feel certain of his way. Where a road diverged from, or was crossed by another, it was frequently placed. As the old tracks of Dartmoor were in many cases nothing more than a grassy path, and in places scarcely to be distinguished, such marks were of the greatest utility, and no doubt often safely guided the traveller when pursuing his way over the hills and silent moor.

Later when the Lord of the Manor inclosed much of the Common land, these ancient tracks remained for public use gated or provided with stiles to prevent stock from straying and to permit access for the public to whom the tracks were dedicated by the Lord of the Manor from time immemorial.

These tracks or paths or bridleways are shown on ancient survey maps and in records available at the County Library as well as in more recent publications. The first survey map of Devon was prepared in 1809 by Lt. Col. Mudge at the time of the threatened Napoleonic invasion. The purpose of this was to show tracks which could be used by infantry and artillery and those in the Parish of South Tawton and Throwleigh were clearly set out. Miss Ethel Lega-Weekes F.R.H.S. provided a similar map from old records of metalled tracks mainly as shown on the 1809 survey and this map is included in the 1946 edition of "South Tawton" by the then Vicar (Rev. C.K. Burton). I produce copies of the relevant portions of Col. Mudge's map and of the book including Miss Ethel Lega-Weekes' map.

During the period between 1844 and 1847 the tithe survey with tithe map and apportionment award was published, being prepared in South Tawton by the visiting Commissioners and the vestry land owners. This map showed every metal track and the award gave details of private lanes which were free of tithe payments because such lanes could not produce corn or other crops although they were included in the acreage of the farm. I produce a copy of the tithe map and apportionment award which belong to the Parish Council.

The Ordnance Survey map of 1884/86 indicates not only metal tracks but footpaths marked "F.P.". I quite appreciate that the fact that a path is included in an Ordnance Survey Map is not evidence that it is a public path. This is clear from the footnote. However, it is evidence of the existence of a path, and I submit that where a path shown on the map leads from one public highway to another, then this is clear evidence that the path itself is public at any rate in cases where there are no dwellings along the line of the path, for such paths are of no advantage to the land owner who could go through his own fields. A second Ordnance Survey was made in 1904/06 and a third in 1953/54. Both of these show the footpaths disputed in this inquiry.

The Lord of the Manor of South Tawton, Sir Henry H.A. Hoare Bart, in 1911 disposed of his remaining property in the Parish. The Catalogue of Sale which I produce, contains maps showing the footpaths and bridleways across his properties which were submitted for public Auction. In the case of Oxenham, the site of an ancient mansion, it was stated in the Catalogue, a public footpath ran through the part of the farmyard, see page 19 near the bottom. Condition 8 of the Conditions of Sale on page 29 provides that the Lots are, except where otherwise expressly stated, sold subject to all rights of way and condition 25 indicates that the plans shall be taken as correct. Private roads are specifically mentioned in the Lots, see for example, the inclosures numbers 1766 and 1763 on page 17, and that numbered 2047 on page 21. Footpaths are clearly marked on the plans and are not given enclosure numbers. Prospective purchasers were, therefore, warned of the public rights of way and purchase prices would, presumably, have been reduced because of them. Some of the present owners of lots sold at the 1911 sale dispute these public rights of way including the right of way through Oxenham farmyard.

South Zeal was the populated centre of South Tawton Parish and was an old Borough Town with markets and fairs. The chief manor was "the Great House" (now the Oxenham Arms) which belonged to the Burgoynes and has the chief mill at the rear in the mill fields. Water was brought by the mill leat from Blackaton Brook by agreement with the owner of the Frog Mill of Ash Manor. The cottage holdings at South Zeal were inclosed and had strips of land behind each dwelling known as "borough acres". Behind these strips, before the period of wholesale inclosure, were the manorial commons with defined dedicated paths and tracks leading through them which are now public rights of way. The main occupations, in addition to agriculture, were tin and copper mining and quarrying for lime and wool weaving. The weavers travelled to North Tawton to get supplies of wool from the woollen mill, following the tracks between South Zeal and North Tawton and the miners followed the same tracks to get to the mines and quarries such as Vitafer [sic] Mine and Golden Dagger on Dartmoor.

The Parish Council's consideration of public rights of way

Under the Rights of Way Act, 1932, the South Tawton Parish Council was asked by letter to survey public rights of way in the Parish and the Council's unanimous decision, recorded in the Minute Book in 19th September, 1933, was "that the letter lie on the table". Significantly, more than half the members of the Council were owner/occupiers of land crossed by public rights of way. The Minute Books of the Council are available at the Inquiry for inspection. During the War period, 1939 to 1945, many field paths were ploughed but were not properly reinstated and, in 1944, Okehampton Rural District Council sent O.S. maps to the Parish Council asking that the public rights of way should be marked on the maps. The Chairman of the South Tawton Parish, Major G. Underhill, arranged for the marking of these public rights of way, the Councillors assisting him having no paths on their land or no paths which they disputed. Another survey was required by the Devon County Council under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, and this survey was commenced under the same Chairman, Major Underhill. After considering Ministry circulars, Council letters and pamphlets, the paths were marked and perambulated. Schedules written with the Chairman's approval up to the time of his death in 1952. Major Underhill's successor was Mr. W. G. Hocking who was the owner/occupier of land crossed by public rights of way, as were several of his fellow Councillors. The survey was delayed by various excuses, recorded in the MInute Book, and arrangements made for walking the paths on several occasions were broken. Circulars and advice sent to the Parish Council were ignored and frequent reminders from the County Council and Rural District Council were likewise ignored. The meetings were convened as "the Footpath Committee" and so were not attended by members of the public. The majority of Councillors at these meetings had interests as owners of land crossed by public rights of way. I attended these meetings but no member ever declared his interest and all took part in discussions and voted. For example, 1955, December 12th, (page 255) shows that Councillors Hocking, Buckingham and Kingsford-Lethbridge all objectors at this inquiry, took part in the discussion, for example on 6th March 1956 and 18th August, 1958. On one occasion work was conducted when there was no quorum. The Minute Books are proof of these irregularities.

Each of the disputed paths at this inquiry is a short cut leading from one classified or County Road to another and in some cases from or to the A30 Trunk Road. My view is that it is essential in these days of heavy transport to retain every public path for the enjoyment of the public and for their safety from the hazards of the roads. South Tawton Parish is a popular tourist area and is in the Dartmoor National Park. It has considerable scenic beauty and is richly wooded. Of the concern of local people to keep these paths open there can be no doubt. My husband and I have recently been round the district and 240 residents have signed the petition which I now produce.


South Tawton Local History Group has an active Facebook page with interesting historical and recent photographs regularly appearing.

Map of South Zeal

In 2013 the South Tawton Local History Group installed a board with a historical map of South Zeal at the South Zeal car park:

Map of South Zeal