THORNCOMBE'S LOST ROADS & HIDDEN HOLWAYS
Many of Thorncombe parish's footpaths are survivals of an earlier road network consisting of prehistoric ridgeways, forgotten medieval holloways and lost roads.
During the late 18th century these lost roads provided alternative routes for travellers
wishing to avoid paying tolls to use the newly upgraded turnpiked roads. See Thorncombe's
Old Marshallsay Road © Eve Higgs
Medieval holloways or sunken lanes (also known as hollow ways or holways) were worn down over the centuries into the fabric of the landscape by countless pairs of feet, pack horses and herds of sheep, cattle, pigs and geese being driven to market. The geology of West Dorset, South Somerset and East Devon facilitated traffic erosion which makes holloways a familiar feature in the regional landscape. Thorncombe's weekly Tuesday market and Easter Fair dates back to 1313, though no records relating to its trading activities survive in the intervening 400 years until 1724 when the market house and market place was repaired. Thorncombe Market stopped trading in 1773 or thereabouts but the annual Easter Fair continued to be held for the next 250 years or so. In 1983, elderly residents recalled going to the annual Easter Fair as children, circa 1910. 'Held in the main street of the village', they remembered buying ' gingerbread, etc., from the stalls'. Records are patchy so it is not known when the last one was held. Nearby Chard, Crewkerne and Axminster each had their own weekly markets and regular cattle fairs. These towns are all roughly equidistant from Thorncombe. Under a 1327 charter, to protect trade, markets had to be at least 6¾ miles/10.86km apart; a day's walk to and from, for those living furthest away from them.
Four thousand years ago, itinerant prehistoric hunter gatherers travelled between winter and summer grazing grounds with their families, cattle, sheep and other animals. Lush grass grown in the hills and valleys of Dorset provided their winter grazing. Somerset gets its name from the rich summer meadows on what is now known as the Levels. Prior to being drained, The Somerset Levels were flooded throughout the winter. Draining the flood plains began in the sixteenth century and still continues today. To reach the grazing these early farmers travelled along ridgeways, the tops and sides of hills, tracking the watersheds of rivers in the valleys below. Sadborow Road, a ridgeway shadows the course of the River Synderford.
Holloway near Thorncombe© Eve Higgs
Less muddy than the valley bottoms, so easier to negotiate, ridgeways also provided a clear view of the way ahead. Ridgeways were the main trade routes until the end of the 17th century when building of new roads and canals began. However, ridgeways and holloways continued to be used by drovers taking their charges to market, until the coming of the railways in the 19th century.
Walk 10 travels backwards and forwards through four thousand years linking fragments of these lost roads and ancient hidden highways.
© EVE HIGGS
Devon Heritage Services, QS/113A/193/1 Thorncombe (now in Dorset). Stopping up roads from Hursey's Cottage and Carpenters Shop on Lyme Regis road to Green Close Gate and then on to Sadborow Pound on Broadwinsor Road. Owner: John Bragge. Plan, order certificate and receipt. (Aug 1798).
Ordnance Survey, First Series, Sheet 18 (1811) on-
British Library, Ordnance Survey Drawing OSD54 Beaminster (1806) on-
Ordnance Survey, OS County Series DORSET 1:2,500 (1889) (accessed 27.12.2017)
Higgs, Eve, A Brief Overview of Thorncombe's History Covering the Period from
the 11th Century to the Present day (2011) on-
K.J. Bonser, The Drovers. Who They Were and How They Went: An Epic of the English
Countryside (Newton Abbot: Country Book Club, 1972), 17-
Dorset History Centre D-
Henson, Mrs E.J., Dorset Garden Gazette, 1951 quoted in Joint Parish Magazine, Winsham, Thorncombe, Cricket St Thomas, March 1983, 8.
W. Addison, English Fairs and Markets (London:Batsford, 1953), 61.
G.B. Grundy, 'The Ancient Highways of Dorset, Somerset and South-