|Devon Hedge near Coffinswell - cant actually see the use of Crooks here - image by Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
""By Hook or by Crook"—I imagine that the expression "By hook or by crook" is in very general use throughout England. It was familiar to my ear forty years ago in Surrey, and within these four years its origin was (to my satisfaction at the moment) brought home to my comprehension in the north of Devon, where the tenant of a certain farm informed me that, by an old custom, he was entitled to take wood from some adjoining land "by hook and crook;" which, on inquiry, I understood to include, first, so much underwood as he could cut with the hook or bill, and, secondly, so much of the branches of trees as he could pull down with the aid of a crook.
Whether this crook originally meant the shepherd's crook (a very efficient instrument for the purpose), or simply such a crooh-ed stick as boys use for gathering hazel-nuts, is not very material. It seems highly probable that, in the vast forests which once overspread this country, the right of taking "Jire bote" by "hook or crook" was recognised; and we can hardly wish for a more apt illustration of the idea of gaining a desired object by the ordinary means—" a hook," if it lay close to our hand ; or, by a method requiring more effort, "a crook," if it were a little beyond our reach. J. A. S.
NOTES AND QUERIES. [No. 25. April 20. 1850.]
[We made use of Hooks (bill hooks) and Crooks hedge-laying on Dartmoor, but weirdly the crook was the piece of wood used to pin down the hedge - a sort of 7 shaped piece of wood hammered into the hedge (hedge here being the name for the bank, not the bits of tree on top.)]