[This piece illustrates a classist diatribe of the age, the sort of ranting one would only find now-a-days in the Daily Mail or its ilk talking about 'Illegal Asylum seekers eating the queens swans' etc. A discussion of this story in its social context is to be found here.]
|A circa 1860's image of the house of the Cheriton family at Nymet Rowland|
"Although much has already been written about the North Devon Savages, a short though painful narrative of their habits and manners may not be uninteresting. The Cheriton family, fifty years ago, resided in the parish of Nymet Rowland, a hamlet sixteen miles from Exeter, situated in the very centre of the most picturesque part of our fair county.
The Doones mentioned by Mr. R. D. Blackmore, in Lorna Doone, had no connection whatever with Devonshire, nor were the Gubbings, of whom Mr. Baring-Gould writes, in any way connected with the Cheritons, who owned a small freehold farm, valued at about £1500, which had been their inheritance for a great many years.
In the early days of their possession they were respectable, hardworking yeomen, living on and cultivating their estate to advantage. Then a son married badly, and the children of this union grew up idle and dissolute, consequently the farm was neglected and in a short time it fell into a low state of cultivation. Each successive generation sank lower in the social scale till a condition insensible to shame was reached. The family lived in a most disreputable way.
Their language was, as Tickler in his Devonshire Sketches, says, " too horribly foul for repetition : they poured forth copious streams of the dirtiest and most obscene words conceivable."
A correspondent, who when a young man lived in the neighbourhood, tells me that no one could beat them at rough language, horseplay, and filthy discourse. They were a disgrace to the neighbourhood and a nuisance to their neighbours. One day, when passing the house, he was accosted by a woman of the tribe, who called him disgusting names, pelted him with mud and stones, performed indescribable offensive acts, and finally chased him brandishing a hay fork, with which she would have undoubtedly assaulted him had he not beaten a hasty retreat. The fame of these people spread through and beyond the county. Many inquisitive persons went to Nymet Rowland to get a peep at the "Savages."
One man, more curious than the general public, approached too near the house, and was at once pounced upon by a couple of Amazons, who demanded a reason for his visit.
"Ladies," said he " I have lost my way, will you be so good as to put me on the right road to Dartmoor ?"
" Aw, ess, tii be sure," replied Miss Cheriton, " come thease yer way an' I'll shaw'e."
She took him into the adjoining yard for the ostensible purpose of directing him, and the unsuspecting wayfarer, venturing too near the edge of the horse pond in following his guide, was suddenly thrust into the filthy liquid, as a "There, thicky's the way tii Dartymoor and be tii you," fell on his ears.
The farmhouse and outbuildings were originally trim and well kept, but had been gradually allowed to reach the last stage of dilapidation. The thatch was stripped from the rafters, and the rooms below received all the rain which fell, the wind played havoc with, and carried away every scrap it could dislodge. The windows had long been denuded of glass, and in winter were stuffed with bundles of hay or straw to protect the inmates from the severity of the weather ; the air had free passage from basement to roof. A person standing in what was at one time the kitchen, could see the clouds passing and the birds flying above the roof. The doors were nowhere. The living room was almost destitute of furniture, and in place of seats a hole had been dug in the lime-ashfloor in front of the fireplace, which was on the hearth. Into this hole the legs of the members of the family rested as they sat on the bare floor around the fire.
In this hovel resided as many Cheritons, men, women, and children, as could find resting-places; the surplus members of the family found shelter and repose in holes cut into hayricks and woodstacks. The patriarch of the tribe, Christopher Cheriton, slept at night, and reclined during the greater part of the day in solitary state, within the friendly shelter of a cider cask well bedded up with hay and dried ferns. A more primitive state of things could not possibly be found anywhere.
Their land being freehold no one dared interfere with the family so long as they kept upon their own ground. Many strong efforts were made to clear them out of their holding but without success, and for many years these disgraceful conditions continued.
Over their social life one would wish to draw a curtain, for they regarded not the holy rites prescribed by the Church, nor the authority of bishops, archdeacons, or civil laws. They had all things in common, and multiplied into a large family without marriage. Their conduct, habits, manners, and language, made them a terror and a nuisance to their immediate neighbours. Their misdeeds were the cause of their making frequent appearances before the magistrates in the local police courts. The surrounding farmers, after a time forbore to summon them as their ricks, stacks, barns, and homesteads were fired. By whom ? None could tell, though pretty shrewd guesses were levelled at the Cheritons. Their larder was at all seasons well filled. Game and every portable kind of dairy and farm produce found a way to it, brought thither by the sons, who were noted poachers and purloiners of other men's belongings. They baked three kinds of bread, namely, black or barley bread for the men servants, whole wheaten meal bread for the family, and white bread for the children.
The only persons who dared venture to visit them with impunity, were Lady Portsmouth and the Revd. and Mrs. Gutteries. This was in 1870-3. A former rector of this parish, a tall robust man, standing six foot, two inches, in his stockings, whenever he passed the premises was assailed with showers of stones and inexpressibly revolting abuse. The property has long ago changed owners, and of the fate of the Cheritons very little is known. The old folks are dead, and the younger ones have emigrated or married, thus breaking up a family notorious for evil in all its forms."
Map - Nymet Rowland