Devon Perspectives

Belstone

introducing belstone

Belstone is a village of some considerable charm, lying just inside the northern extremity of the Dartmoor National Park above Belstone Cleave, a steep-sided wooded valley concealing the nascent River Taw shown here with many of the trees displaying their late autumnal colours.

Belstone Cleave in autumn seen from Belstone
This first glimpse of the village is revealed on continuing beyond the carpark on the northern edge.
Entering Belstone down Tongue End lane
Traversing the village out to the west leads us into a large expanse of open meadow known as the Great Green from which we have a splendid view of Cosdon Hill on Dartmoor. The tops of the trees in the cleave can be seen in the middle distance. Belstone is one of the five Beacon Villages, each one having a clear view of Cosdon Beacon, as it is also known. To find out more about the village, visit this page.
view from Belstone Great Green

Back in 1862 The Gentleman's Magazine found nothing noteworthy on passing through the village, save what remained of the stocks:

Belstone stocks
...taking the road from Sticklepath along the beautiful valley of the Skey, we presently turned off to the right, in order to ascend the mountain ridge to Belstone, a village standing at a very appreciable height above the level of the sea. We passed nothing of interest on our way through the village, en route to the Tors above, except the remains of the stone stocks, wherein the Belstone dissolutes of past days did public penance for their misdeeds.
The wooden boards and padlock in the present-day stocks were installed in 1975. Prior to 1953, when wooden boards and the granite seat were first added, it consisted of only the two side pillars. Much more about the history of these stocks can be found on this site.
Porch of St Mary's church, Belstone, in 2007
In the same magazine piece the author passes comment on St Mary's Church and deduces that the Belstone womenfolk eschewed the more ostentatious female attire of the day:
The church is a diminutive structure, and without any external pretensions to beauty: it has but one entrance, namely, through a porch at the north-west end....Whatever its age may be, it is clear that the Belstone ladies of those days were not encumbered with hoops or other like superfluous array, for the inner door of the porch is certainly not more than 2ft wide.
St Mary's Church today is not as it would have appeared in 1862, and the inner door of the porch appears no narrower than that of the exterior. According to W.G.Hoskins, writing in 1954:
The granite church was deprived of nearly all its interest by a drastic restoration in 1881, when it was practically rebuilt except for the low 15th century tower. It had been allowed to fall into a deplorable state, but the subsequent 'restoration' swept away everything indiscriminately.
St Mary's Church in 2007
bibliography
The Book of Belstone by Chris and Marion Walpole, private publication, 2002.
The page on the Nine Maidens quotes material from Mysteries and Folklore of Dartmoor by Ruth St. Leger-Gordon, Robert Hale 1965; reprinted Peninsula Press, 1994.
Devon by W.G. Hoskins, Collins 1954; new ed., Phillimore, 2003.
Children of the Mist, A.D.Innes, 1898, and The Secret Woman, Methuen 1905, both by Eden Phillpotts who is featured on this page.
River Taw in Belstone Cleave
acknowledgements
Thanks to Chris and Marion Walpole for permission to reproduce material from their Book of Belstone on these pages. This is a lively, comprehensive and well-researched volume documenting the life and customs of the parish in times past and present, illustrated with reproductions of old black & white photos. It can be purchased from the authors price £12.50. Please contact me if you would like to find out how to obtain a copy. Alternatively, visit www.belstonevillage.net where you can find this information together with testimonials in praise of the book and some interesting photos from the Belstone archive. This is a friendly community website, frequently updated to provide full coverage of events in and around the village.
The page about Commoners is based partly on information from the Dartmoor Commons Factsheet published by the Dartmoor National Park Authority.