Book review. Bonehill – Evolution of a Dartmoor Hamlet within Widecombe-in-the-Moor

Information about this page

Author(s): Greeves. Tom; Year published: 2010; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 435–436
Topic(s): history; Location(s): Widecombe

E. H. T. Whitten, Bonehill – Evolution of a Dartmoor Hamlet within Widecombe-in-the-Moor. (Ryelands, Halsgrove, Wellington, 2009), 128 pages, colour and b & w illustrations. Hardback. ISBN 9781906551155. £19.99.

Bonehill is a fascinating cluster of ancient farmsteads about 1 km north-east of the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Consisting of an introduction and five chapters, only Chapter 4 (pp. 80–118) is specifically about the hamlet of Bonehill, from the seventeenth century onwards. Chapter 1 is particularly heavy going, covering mostly Domesday, Saxon and Norman landholding and tenure, but improves with a section on Widecombe manors which is of some interest. On p. 43 we at last learn some specific information: that John Smerdon’s children were born at Bonehill in 1570, and it is clear that there is extensive documentation relating to that family until the mid-nineteenth century. It is not until pp. 56–8 (Figs. 12–13) that the first really useful images of Bonehill appear: an aerial photograph, the layout of fields, and a ground view of the landscape setting. These should all have been near the start of the book, as should the tithe map detail shown on p. 85 (Fig. 26) and the useful Table 3 (p. 90) on fields.

Unfortunately, there are then eleven pages (58–69) of a curious and largely irrelevant digression on maps and homage. Chapter 5 is a further digression about James Holman Mason of Widecombe and his niece Caroline Drake, but has nothing to do with Bonehill.

Tables 1 (p. 47) and 2 (p. 72) are useful summaries of ownership of Widecombe from 1030 and Bonehill from 1680 to 1750. Strangely, there is no analysis of the census returns for 1841, 1861, 1871, 1891 or 1901. Nor is there any mention of Jim Ford’s important collection of horse-drawn farm vehicles recovered from Bonehill in the 1980s by Dartmoor National Park Authority and subsequently stored at Bullaton. The suggestion (p. 114) that the field names of Higher Bonehill which contain the element ‘bunny’ relate to rabbits is indicative of the level of understanding of historical sources.

Curiously, even the buildings of Bonehill are inadequately illustrated and discussed. On the plus side, it is very good that the author cites manuscript and published sources in the text, but although there are four pages of bibliographical references they are not in a standardised or consistent format. There are also numerous relatively minor typographical errors, many relating to spelling of names, and several cited works are not in the bibliography, all of which indicates a lack of proof-reading care. Inexcusably, there is no index.

This is not how the Devon landscape and its history should be presented. Despite an attractive format and a worthy topic, this book is in serious need of a copy editor. The author’s enthusiasm has unfortunately been misappropriated by the publisher who has allowed the creation of a mish-mash of material dressed up as something much more significant than it is.

Tom Greeves
(First published in Transactions 2010)