Early travel in Moreton was not on the roads as we know them today, although old tracks and paths, often with a good stone base, are still visible everywhere in the parish. Linking isolated farms and hamlets, they led to Moreton with its church, markets and inns.
Wheeled vehicles came late to Dartmoor, sleds being used on the farms, and pack ponies being more practicable on the rough surfaces . The account given by Sir John Bowring of his journey to Moreton as a schoolboy in the 1790’s shows this, though he exaggerates a bit – wheeled carriages were certainly crossing the moor by 1799 (see travel quotations).
The long distance routes went north and south of Dartmoor, missing Moreton altogether. The early route from Exeter to Tavistock followed the Teign valley, via Dunsford, Clifford Bridge and Chagford, to Postbridge and Two Bridges. Moreton’s trans-moor route was a primitive track marked only by standing stones to aid direction.
Moretonhampstead was a busy market town, but until the late 1700s you reached it on foot or on horseback. Your goods came on your back, on pack ponies, on sleds towed behind ponies. Soldiers marched, the gentry – landowners, clergy, magistrates, government or estate officials, merchants and others – rode, but usually on fairly local business. The poorer people could seldom go far from home. Farmers brought cattle and sheep to market, walking the living animals. They also took potatoes to a market at Two Bridges. Pedlars and entertainers came from all over to the major fairs – so did pickpockets and cheats. Moreton serge-makers sent cloth to Exeter and other ports for export. Farmers took grain to the mills, and millers sent out flour – but not over long distances.
Tracks and bridle-paths (often with a good stone base, still visible today) were plentiful round Moreton, linking the hamlets, isolated farms, churches and inns, but avoiding Dartmoor – the popular long-distance routes went north or south of the moor and missed us altogether. Rivers were often crossed by fords or stepping-stones. If you had to cross Dartmoor from Exeter, one route was via Dunsford, Clifford Bridge, Uppacott and Chagford, then up across Chagford Common to King’s Oven or Bennet’s Cross, and so to Postbridge and Two Bridges. You found your way through the mist by standing stones or crosses, and hoped for the best, crossing streams by clapper bridges if possible. A very early trackway from Exeter probably came by Ide to cross the Teign at Leigh Cross (Sowton), then Bridford and Langstone to reach the moor and Bennet’s Cross. There was another old road up the Wray valley, though its exact route is not known, and there was also a north-south route from Ashburton to Chagford by way of Long Lane and Beetor Cross, and not far away the Mariner’s path was believed to link Bideford to Teignmouth. The way to Chagford was via Drewston and Great Week, and the way to Crockernwell (where the magistrate sat) was via Cranbrook, Fingle and Drewsteignton. When Fairfax?s troops marched in 1644 (in icy weather) from Crediton via Fulford to Bovey on their way south, one contingent went down the Teign valley but Fairfax himself spent the night in Moreton, sending messengers to Bovey.
Road improvements – 1750-1850
Roads were improved everywhere during the 1700s, partly by greater efforts on the part of the parishes responsible but also by the formation of Turnpike Trusts, who were authorised by Act of Parliament to charge tolls for stretches of road which they built and cared for.
The first improvements in our area were to the Exeter to Launceston and Exeter to Plymouth roads, though not yet exactly on their present routes – the nearest point to Moreton on the Launceston road was Crockernwell. The Moretonhampstead to Exeter turnpike, with extension across Dartmoor, was planned in 1772 and built during the next twenty years, but for a long time the western part was of poor quality, narrow and rough. The Moreton to Dunsford section was re-routed in 1814, avoiding some of the steeper hills. With the better roads came more frequent travel, and more use of waggons on the roads with regular carrier services. However the road from Moreton to Postbridge continued to be a subject of complaint through most of the 19th century.
The road from Newton to Whiddon Down had existed for a considerable time, but the turnpike dates from an Act of 1826, which proposed several new “cuts” to improve the old road – though they hadn’t been completed by 1834. The milestones showing distances from Newton and Moreton in miles and furlongs (there is one in Station Road), which are certainly earlier that 1835, may date from that Turnpike.
On Greenwood’s map of Devon (1825), the turnpike from Dartmoor through Moreton to Steps Bridge and Exeter is shown as an important road (in contrast to pre-1800 maps), but notice the “unimproved” state of the modern Whiddon Down to Bovey road, with many sharp turns, some of the present sections missing, and different degrees of importance of the various lanes. Although the map is dated 1825, the Moreton to Dunsford road appears as it was before the 1815 improvement, running high over the shoulder of Mardon instead of round by Cossick.
The “Jonathan May” map (1835), produced in connection with the murder of Jonathan May on the road to Dunsford (after the “improved” turnpike of 1815 but before the railway) shows Turnpike gates on the Exeter road, the Newton Abbot road, the Whiddon Down road, the new road which is now Station Road, with the “Two Furlong Post” (still standing, it also marks 12 miles from Newton) and three stages in the road to Exeter: the “old road” (24), the “middle road” (25), which was the first turnpike (after 1772) and the improved turnpike of 1815 (26) which is still used.
Better routes led to better means of transport. Waggons came into regular use to replace the pack ponies, and before long carriers (the first local public transport) were regularly taking goods and sometimes people to Exeter and other places. Although travellers still complained of the Moreton to Postbridge road, at least one gentleman drove his coach on it in 1799, and a great many others, including the army, travelled it to Plymouth or Tavistock in the early 1800s. The trade link between Moreton and Exeter was firmly established by this period, with business families intermarrying.
Roads were improved everywhere during the 1700s, partly because of greater efforts by the parishes responsible but mainly because of the formation of “Turnpike Trusts”. These were authorised by Acts of Parliament and could charge tolls for the building and upkeep of roads in their care. Tollhouses, small cottages with substantial tollgates across the main road, were strategically placed at intervals along the main road; old tollhouses can still often be recognised by their strategic position looking out in both directions, with a blank window space where the list of charges was displayed (see the old picture of the toll house at King’s Bridge, at the south end of Moreton).
In 1772 the Moretonhampstead Turnpike Trust was responsible for 13 miles of new road between Cherrybrook on Dartmoor and Reedy Gate at Dunsford, where it joined the Exeter Turnpike. This road became known as Carter’s Road after the contractor who built it. The building of this road was violently opposed by Okehampton and Launceston, who feared a loss of trade. There were tollhouses at both ends of the town, at Bughead Cross for travellers from Tavistock and at Toll House Cottage, just east of Steps Bridge for those from Exeter. All that remains of the Bughead tollhouse now is a surprisingly large gateway and substantial stone in the hedge. The first line of this road is shown in Greenwood’s map of 1827 (which doesn’t show the improvements which were made in 1814).
The Moreton to Dunsford section was improved in 1814. Originally passing through Bridford Wood and over several steep hills, it was re-opened in 1815. Moreton diarist, Silvester Treleaven, reports: “a delightful alteration, the high hills are completely avoided and scenes at once new and romantic present themselves for the contemplation of the admiring traveller” (March 1st, 1815). The original road, now Shute Lane, gradually dwindled.
In 1826 the “Newton Bushell Turnpike Trust” planned a new line of road from Whiddon Down to Newton. Whereas the old road to Newton (see Greenwood’s map) previously passed by Folly Toll house through Folly Lane, the “new road” followed the route of the present day Station Road. Much of the route to Whiddon Down lay along the present road (though it went through Drewston). There was provision in this Act for a tollgate at King’s Bridge, with the proviso that there should be no charge for travel between King’s Bridge and the White Hart. Although the Act was passed in 1826 (consolidating all the previous acts concerning turnpikes from Newton), the improvements promised were slow in coming, and in 1834 Moreton took the Trustees to court for charging tolls on a road they had failed to complete in 8 years.
The “Jonathan May map” produced for the trial of the supposed murderers of Jonathan May shows accurately the first part of the Moreton to Exeter road in 1835, and also shows the turnpike gates on the Exeter road (by Folly Cottage) and on the Newton Abbot road, and the short-lived one on the Whiddon Down road; it also show a new road which is now Station Road, with the “two furlong post” which is still standing, and marks 12 miles from Newton.
In 1772 the charges for turnpikes were as follows:
- Coach: 6 horses 1s. 0d, 4 horses 9d, 2 horses 6d, 1 horse 3d
- Waggon: 5 horses 2s. 0d, 4 horses 1s. 6d, 3 horses 9d, 2 horses 6d, 1 horse 3d
- Horse: 1d.
- Oxen, cows per 20: 10d
- Calves, sheep per 20 5d
For further news items from the newspapers relating to the turnpikes, see the entry in the Online Archive.
Although roads were the responsibility of the parish or later the Turnpike Trusts, the 1530 Statute of Bridges required the county to maintain all bridges. Two surveyors were appointed to see that every decayed bridge was either repaired, or if necessary rebuilt. Because of this, bridges often survived better than the roads which crossed them. Fingle Bridge and Steps Bridge, both over the Teign, are two typical examples of old stone bridges in the parish. Crossing the River Teign their three arches are supported on foundations called “cutways” which helped to split the force of the water when in flood. These bridges are usually surmounted by a low stone parapet, often with projecting passing passes. Between them comes Clifford Bridge.
Fingle Bridge appeared on Donn’s 1765 map and then carried a main road from Drewsteignton to Moretonhampstead, but the road south of the bridge is no longer a county road. It may have been built around 1636 when money was raised to repair an earlier bridge there. The north arch was damaged and completely rebuilt in 1809.
Clifford Bridge is another very old bridge, and at one time provided an important route between Exeter and Chagford across the river; it was widened in 1821.
The first Steps Bridge was constructed in 1710, replacing the old stepping stones which are still visible in the weir dam. above Steps Bridge. Many accidents had occurred, and it was built as a result of “the loss of a man and a woman who were taken downstream and drowned together with their horses”. Financed partly by private subscription, “the miller at Dunsford donating £10”, it needed more repairs almost annually. In 1801 and 1803 the parapet was raised and the foundations repaired. By 1814 a new bridge was needed and at the Quarter Sessions magistrates allocated £2000 for “a new bridge with three arches”. Completion was delayed and money was withheld until 1816, since the contractors had deviated from the contract by building it 2 feet too low and on shallow foundations. The present Steps Bridge (see above) was the result; see the close-up picture of the date stone on Steps Bridge.
Another bridge in the parish, Wray Bridge, carried the road from Moreton to Bovey over the Wray Brook and had date stone marked 1819. It was replaced by a new bridge, slightly upstream, in 1982. The name of King’s Bridge appears on old maps as crossing the stream where Folly Lane joins the Bovey road.
Note: For an account of the records available on all the Teign bridges, see D.B.L. Thomas’s article in Trans Devon Assoc., vol. 129 (1997), pp145-83.
At first, the great road reforms of the 18th century passed Moreton by. Exeter was the gateway to the south west with 70 coaches a day to and from London and elsewhere. The routes to Plymouth, Falmouth and Penzance passed north or south of the Moor. However with the advent of Turnpike Trusts and better roads, Moreton became a gateway to the Moor and a resting place on the way to Plymouth and the west. Major inns like the White Hart and White Horse were updated and refurbished, their yards re-modelled to accommodate carriages and extra stabling (see the advertisements of this period for the White Hart).
Half a century later the new railway gave impetus to increasing coach and later charabanc travel. Visitors from the Victorian seaside resorts of Paignton, Dawlish and Torquay arriving at Bovey and Moreton stations found coaches waiting to take them on their explorations of Dartmoor, and horse-buses to take them from Moreton station to Chagford, but horse ‘omnibusses’ arrived long before the railway reached us, as Cecil Torr (section 2, p. 70) comments:
‘In 1841 there was an innovation; and [my grandfather] writes to my father on 22 June: ‘Moreton, they say, is all alive: there are three vehicles which they call Omnibusses. Wills goes from Exeter (through Moreton) to Plymouth, Waldron and Croot to Exeter and Newton. All grades appear to go by this means, even the farmers go instead of horseback’
Mail coaches delivered the post in sealed bags to the postmaster’s house or a local inn, giving warning of their approach by sounding the post horn. Moreton’s mail came first from Crockernwell on the Exeter to Falmouth mail coach route (see the account of the appointment of John Treleaven as postmaster in 1792). At that time Newton Abbot, listed as a post town on the London to Plymouth route, exchanged mail daily with Chudleigh, the nearest “bye post” town. From here it came by horse to Moreton. By 1843, according to Cecil Torr, the mail was again brought by a horseman from Chudleigh (on the main Exeter to Plymouth road) to Moreton.
As packhorse travel became inadequate for the carriage of goods, carts and waggons began to take their place. These heavy lumbering vehicles with very wide wooden wheels sometimes carried passengers for ½d a mile. The passengers sat on the floor and slept in barns or wayside ale-houses overnight. Later these carriers became familiar figures on the roads, making regular journeys from town to town.
Mathew Bowden the elder was Moreton’s carrier in 1706. Others were listed in trade directories and advertised their timetables in the local press. Their journey was not without risk, as the following entry from Treleaven’s diary shows :
Fri. May 3rd 1799. Mr. Samuel Allent (alias Blanchford) in returning from Exeter with his Cart & one Horse which was stone blind, and Mr. A. very imprudently & contrary to law riding on the cart, and generally supposed to be asleep, by which means the Horse got too near Mr. Hemmen’s Mill Leat, and Cart, Cargo and Poor Sam, and Sharper were all plunged head and ears into the stream, fortunately some people just then passing, with great difficulty saved Sam & Sharper from a watery Grave, but the whole Cargo (consisting of Tea, Sugar, Confectionaries, Tobacco, Snuff, Bread &c &c to the value of some Pounds) was totally lost, and as the Goods were not insured consequently the ‘loss must fall on the owner’.
A search of the Directories database (see the Virtual Archive) for carrier will show many later carriers.