Browse crosses

LocationAbout 1 kilometre to the North East of Gidleigh village. It is built into the roadside wall, just a few yards to the West of Blackaton Bridge and right opposite the entrance to Blackaton House.

O/S Grid Ref:  SX/67780/89036       Longitude/Latitude (Degrees+/-):  -3.87306/50.68590

Map location:  Click here to view map.

Purpose:  Waymarker.

Size:  1 foot 10 inches (0.55 metres) tall. 1 foot 7 inches (0.50 metres) across the shaft and the remaining arm.

Information:  The cross is built into the roadside wall, with only the top of the shaft and one arm being visible. Unfortunately, the other arm and head are completely missing. As the shaft extends down inside the wall it is not possible to measure the full height of the cross.

In the centre of the roadside face there is an incised cross set within an incised circle. The circle measures 11 inches (0.30 metres) in diameter. That part of the cross that is visible measures 10 inches (0.26 metres) high and 10 inches (0.27 metres) across the arms. However, with the head of the cross now missing, the top section of the incised circle and cross has disappeared with it. I would estimate that, when intact, the incised cross was equal in height and width, at 10 inches, and was centred within the circle.  It seems as though this cross came to light during the 1950s when a nearby wall collapsed and it was found lying amongst the rubble. It was later set up in its current position.

blackaton_bridge_venville.jpg (181776 bytes)Quite close to the cross and at ground level another interesting stone has been built into the wall.  The stone, which is completely covered in moss, is round and measures 16 inches (0.41 metres) in diameter.  A large hole has been drilled into the centre of the stone, but stops short of going all the way through.  The hole has a diameter of 7 inches (0.18 metres) and is 4 inches (0.11 metres) deep.  Our thoughts are that this was once a Venville Stone.  Venville rights date from really early times and applied to farmers who were situated around the edges of the moor.  For a set fee, these farmers had the right to graze their livestock on the moor and to cut peat for their fire, but no farmer was allowed to graze more animals on the moor than he was able to accommodate on his own farm over the winter.  With the grazing rights came certain duties which the farmers had to undertake such as attending the Duchy Court at Lydford, when summoned, which was held three times a year in May, July and September.

Another of the Venville Tenants' duties was to attend the Dartmoor drifts which were held four times a year.  There would normally be three drifts in the summer and one in winter.  On the morning of a drift the forest reeve would send his messengers out onto the moor, at 2.00am, to blow their horns from the surrounding tors and other high places to summon the tenants to the drift.  Some of the messengers would blow their horn into a Venville stone, which was thought to amplify the sound and make it easier for them to be heard.  No prior notice was given of the drifts in order that anyone who was illegally pasturing livestock on the moor would not have time to remove them and would be caught out.  During the drift, all the cattle and ponies would be rounded up and herded down to the local pound where the animals would be identified for each Venville farmer and released.  The remaining animals could be reclaimed by their owners on paying the appropriate fine.  Any animals not claimed after 21 days would automatically become the property of the Duchy, who would then be able to sell the animals and keep the proceeds. 

Blackaton Bridge is a nice quiet little spot on the back road between Gidleigh and Throwleigh. The Blackaton Brook runs down the valley and through the grounds of Blackaton House. The house, itself, is an unusual shape, with a thatched roof and is probably very old. The extensive grounds have been landscaped to include this completely natural water feature.

Our thanks to Chris Hannon for bringing the Venville Stone to our attention.