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Hedge Dating Blind Lane


     Thorncombe Village Trust - caring for Thorncombe's environment

Thorncombe Village Trust


There’s sometimes more to a hedge a than meets the eye. At this verdant time of the year, some gardeners curse their untidiness but we local historians love them. Out in the countryside apparently ancient hedges lining the footpaths raise interesting questions which then become the starting point for research, as footpaths are always there for good a reason with their own story to tell.     

  If  nineteenth century OS maps are the only available historical source, other methods are used to try and establish the date of a hedge boundary. In 1974 Dr Max Hooper carried out a scientific study which evolved into Hooper’s Rule. Based on the principle of self seeding, he was able to show that hedgerows can be dated accurately by counting  the number of species of indigenous shrubs and tree in a sample 30 yard (28 m ) stretch, each species representing 100 years.

Devon Hedgebanks

  However there is are contradictions. For example an eighteenth century document found among papers from the parish of Cruwys Morchard  in the Devon Record Office describes the construction of a Devon hedgebank. It confirms  that mixed species were  planted on new Devon hedgebanks during this period.  Self seeding may therefore not necessarily be a valid argument to support the rule. Founder father of contemporary Local Studies  W.G. Hoskins,  also pointed out that the number and types of  species vary from county to county, which casts further doubt on Hooper’s Rule as an accurate  dating tool. So unless it can be verified with historic  records, it cannot stand alone.

Blind Lane, Thorncombe © Eve Higgs

 Evidence here on the ground  in Thorncombe and the chance discovery of an obscure historic document during an indexing exercise, suggests that the Rule may be correct in this neck of the woods. Local walkers will  tell you that  their  most direct route between Thorncombe and Winsham is the footpath across the fields,  via the  bridleway which follows Blind Lane, (opposite Gribb View) passes through Chitmoor and eventually  links to an old track  to Shedrick  Mill which follows  the course of the Synderford to the footpath to Winsham from the bridge on Wheelhouse Lane. It would seem until the car became our prime means of transport, that local people have indeed been following this route between the two communities for centuries.

1811 OS map Sheet 18  1:63360 showing the track linking Blind Land to Winsham via Maudlin

                                                          © British Library (  Reproduced by kind permission

A hedge dating survey carried in September 2010 identified elder, holly, hawthorn, hazel and sycamore along a 30 yard stretch of Blind Lane. Applying Hooper’s Rule suggests it is at least  500 years old.  A transcription of  a 1549 charter in Somerset & Dorset Notes & Queries describes a transaction relating to land belonging to John Chydley abutting the tenement ‘in the lane called Blynd lane’, which belonged to John Veer, Earl of Oxford. This supports the 2010 survey findings.  

  We are  so very lucky that so many footpaths and historic boundary hedges survive around here. According to Hooper’s Rule if you also spot ash, blackthorn, oak, briar rose and dogwood in a hedge along a footpath, it is likely to be even older than Blind Lane.


August 2011