History of Some Farms in Cheriton Bishop


Sophia Lambert

These histories were compiled between 2005 and 2018 by Sophia Lambert, a descendant of the Gorwyns and Lamberts that were associated with the farms as owners or tenants at various periods between the 13th and 20th centuries. 

•    Bowden
•    Coxland
•    Gorwyn
•    Hole
•    Honeyford (a farm that has now disappeared)
•    Lambert
•    Medland
•    Spirelake (a farm that has now disappeared)
•    Treable


    At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, parishes did not exist and England was divided into manors. What is now the parish of Cheriton Bishop was divided into five small manors: Cheriton; Medland; Eggbeer; Lampford and Little Lampford. The lord of each manor had a “demesne” or land that he farmed directly. There were also a number of “villeins” or free peasants who had their own landholdings but owed service to the lord of the manor. Some of Cheriton Bishop’s farms date back to that period, especially those that correspond to the demesne of the lord of the manor – Medland, Eggbeer and Lambert (formerly Little Lampford). Some of today’s farms may also be based on the holdings of the villeins of Domesday Book times. One such is Treable, the name of which is Celtic in origin, indicating that it was in existence well before the Norman conquest. Gorwyn is probably the “Rook’s Fen” mentioned in a 10th century Saxon charter deed, and so may also predate 1066.

    In those days much of today’s parish was probably covered by forest reserved for the use of the monarch for hunting. In the first half of the 13th century, the “men of Devon” obtained a charter from the Plantagenet monarchs permitting them to deforest the land. In some cases, the lord of the manor probably cleared the forest himself. But he would also let areas of the forest to free peasants, who would clear the trees, build themselves a house and begin cultivating the land. Some of Cheriton Bishop’s farms were probably created then, their occupants becoming the forerunners of the yeoman farmers of later times. 

    There is in any case documentary evidence that almost all today’s farms were in existence by the mid-to-late 1200s and 1300s. The surviving old farmhouses were mostly built in the 16th or 17th centuries. Those were prosperous times for Devon farmers and many built new cob-and-thatch farmhouses to replace whatever primitive buildings had been there before. There are several farms in the parish, however, that still retain part at least of the earlier building. 

   The farmhouses were built as typical Devon long-houses accommodating both people and animals. The house had a central passage from the front door to the back door. The family lived on the higher side of the passage (the houses were usually built on a slight slope), and the animals on the lower. Although the houses were subsequently altered to take over the whole house for human habitation, the outline of this central “cross passage” plan can still be seen in many. The houses were large, as apprentices and unmarried farm labourers working on the farm were usually accommodated with the family.

    In feudal days, all land in a manor belonged to the lord of the manor, who “held it of the King”, and all the farmers were tenants of the manor. The manor system gradually disintegrated over the centuries, and by the 1500s and 1600s quite a few farms were effectively freehold properties that their owners could pass on to their descendants or sell – although they usually still paid a nominal “chief rent” to the lord of the manor, in lieu of their erstwhile feudal duties. Many farms, however, continued to be owned by the lord of the relevant manor until the 18th or 19th centuries and were let out by him to tenants. The main lords of the manor with property in Cheriton Bishop were the Fulfords of Great Fulford in Dunsford and the Davys (later Davy Foulkes) of Medland Manor.

    The normal form of tenancy was the 99-year lease, for which an up-front payment was made, followed by a yearly rental. The 99-year lease was, however, dependent on the lives of up to three people nominated by the tenant at the time that the lease was signed. In other words, once all three of these people had died, the lease came to an end even if the full 99 years had not yet run. The tenant would normally nominate himself and possibly his wife and/or one or more of his sons, thus ensuring the farm remained in the family during their lifetimes. In practice, when one of the “lives” or nominated people died, it was common for the tenant to renegotiate the lease so as to add an extra “life”, for which he would pay a small extra premium to the landlord. So tenancies could last for generations. This system lasted until the early 1800s.

    The manors of Eggbeer, Cheriton and Little Lamford ceased to have any significant existence fairly early on. But Medland and the farms belonging to it remained in the hands of the Davy/Foulkes family until the early 1800s, when the family ran out of heirs and the Medland estate was sold. Lampford belonged to the Fulfords of Great Fulford, but when they ran into money problems in the late 1700s, they sold most of their farms in Cheriton Bishop to the incumbent tenants. One other family, the Gorwyns or Lambert Gorwyns, were significant holders of land in the parish, although they never more than prosperous yeoman farmers. They took their name from the farm of Gorwyn, where they are documented as early as the 1200s. In the 1500s, they acquired the neighbouring farm of Lambert and added “Lambert” to their name. For many centuries they were the most numerous family in the parish, and many of the farms in Cheriton Bishop were at one time owned or rented by them. They were, for instance, major purchasers when the Medland and Lampford estates were broken up. The last Lambert Gorwyn to farm in Cheriton Bishop was Arthur Lambert-Gorwyn of Coxland who died in 1952.

    The normal size of farms in the parish in manorial times was probably 40-80 acres. Over the centuries, however, the more successful farmers acquired neighbouring farms or fields, adding the land to their own and putting their farm labourers into the farmhouses (farms in those days were extremely labour intensive. Farmers might employ anything from one to a dozen farm labourers and apprentices, who had to be accommodated in tied cottages or – in the case of young unmarried labourers or apprentices – in the farmer’s own house). This process of consolidation accelerated in the 20th century. The development of modern machinery and farming methods meant, that the number of farm labourers reduced sharply. The old farm labourers’ tied cottages were sold off, as were in many cases the farmhouses – although often with a few acres of land as paddocks for horses. As a result, many of the farms that originally existed in the parish have completely disappeared, and many of the remaining historic farmhouses are no longer part of working farms.

    The following are histories of some of the farms in Cheriton Bishop, based on mentions in deeds, legal records, parish registers, tax and census records and other documents, with the addition of memories from the descendants of people who lived in them. The boundary between Cheriton Bishop and the neighbouring parish of Drewsteignton was moved a short distance north in 1993 and two of the farms below (Bowden and Lambert) are now in the parish of Drewsteignton.