History of Hound Tor Deserted Medieval Village
The fine remains of this abandoned and isolated settlement lie on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, between the granite landmarks of Hound Tor and Greator Rocks.
The village, which was excavated in the 1960s, consists of a cluster of rectangular longhouses and barns which were shown to date from the 13th century, though the area may have been used for summer grazing during the Roman period.
There is evidence that the area was farmed during the Bronze Age, and it may have been first farmed even earlier.
During the Middle Ages a combination of population growth and favourable weather seems to have encouraged people to move higher up on to the moor, taking in marginal land that was normally too difficult to cultivate. Animals were an important element in this kind of husbandry – oxen to pull the ploughs, cattle for meat and milk, and sheep for meat and woollen clothing.
Medieval farmers liked to bring their beasts indoors, creating the typical Dartmoor longhouse – a rectangular building in which the family lived at one end and the animals at the other. There were at least four of these in the hamlet at Hound Tor.
The life of the permanent settlement may have been short. Pollen evidence suggests that cereal farming had ceased by 1350, but a recent re-examination of the pottery suggests occupation to the end of the 14th or early 15th century.
Today the first set of foundations you reach from the car park to the north-west are those of a barn, with a corn drying oven and a kiln.
A little further on lies the first of the four longhouses, which had a small lean-to to the left of the door. A passage dividing people from animals is clearly marked by the two entrances, and a drainage channel identifies the area for livestock. To the right, an additional room opens out from the back of the main family accommodation.
Continuing eastwards, the second and third longhouses are similar in plan. One of the doorways in the third house has been blocked, and the exterior suggests that this was done when the building was converted into a farm building. Beyond lies the largest building on the site, sometimes inaccurately called a manor house. It had a garden and two smaller associated buildings, perhaps the homes of dependants or labourers.
Two further rectangular buildings at the southern edge of the village may also have been dwellings. Behind them is an open area with faint traces of ploughing, probably 19th century rather than medieval.
The walls of the houses were made of granite boulders from the surrounding moor, possibly rendered in some way on the inside. None stands high enough now to show the positions of windows. Roofs would have been thatched with rushes or straw, and smoke from the open central hearth dispersed through the eaves.
From the top of Greator Rocks, there is an excellent view back over the village and the medieval strip field system around it.
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Butler, J, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, 4 vols (Plymouth, 1991)
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Griffith, F, Devon’s Past: An Aerial View (Plymouth, 1988)
Sale, R, Dartmoor: The Official National Park Guide (Pevensey, 2000)