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Eden Phillpotts 

The Forest On The Hill – A Novel Dartmoor Centenary

Eden Phillpotts (see picture below, top left) was probably the most prolific of all Dartmoor writers. He was born in India in 1862 and brought up in Plymouth. In 1879 his family moved to Ealing where he lived until he moved back to Devon in 1899. His cycle of eighteen Dartmoor novels were written over a twenty-five year period between 1898 and 1923 and each one was set in a different locality.

The Forest on The Hill was published in 1912 and is set in and around Ilsington and Yarner Wood. Several of the buildings and sites featured in the novel still survive including the disused copper mine that plays such an important part in the novel (see picture below top right) and the cottages of the leading characters (see picture below top right) as well as many of the ecological features. In the words of Kenneth Day (1981, David & Charles) Phillpotts: ......observation and recording of nineteenth-century life on the Moor and his.....evocative descriptions of Dartmoor in all its varied moods can never be equalled or surpassed.

The 1911 Census

Online publication of the online census reveals the identity of some of the local characters who might have provided inspiration for Phillpotts when he was researching his novel. Locating this information was, however, easier said than done as the entry for Yarner is incorrectly transcribed as Garner !

In the 1901 Census the cottage at Yarner Well, also known as North Lodge (see 1955 picture below, bottom left) was occupied by Edward Joint, born in Ashburton who is described as The Head Keeper of the Yarner Estate which at that time was still owned by Harry Chadwick (soon to be sold by him to Sir Harry Eve).

In 1911, Yarner House was occupied by Richard Lee and his family although it was still owned by Sir Harry Eve until 1919 (when it was purchased and owned by Richard Lee until 1950). Yarner Well is occupied by The Head Keeper, Edward Low born in Marldon Parish and his wife Emma, born in Southsea Hampshire.

The 1920s

1919 brought a change of landowner and the new regime might have brought a change of staff on the estate. By the 1920s the Head Keeper, Len Evans, was resident in the Lower Lodge at the eastern end of the Estate. Len Evans was a dapper dresser and photos of him and his wife and anecdotes from relatives show us how the characters in the novel might have looked and behaved at the time (see picture below, bottom right). As was the case in Phillpotts time the general public were barred from entering Yarner Wood.

After a long period of neglect Yarner Wood was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in January 1951 and in May 1952 was one of the first six National Nature Reserves (NNR) to be declared in the UK. Yarner Wood is now part of the East Dartmoor Woods & Heaths NNR and the site has since been extended to include adjoining farm and moorland. East Dartmoor Woods & Heaths NNR is managed by Natural England and associated partners (www.naturalengland.org.uk)

Forest On The Hill - The Movie!

The Forest on the Hill was made into a B&W silent film in 1919 directed by Cecil Hepworth - sadly no copies survive.

The leading lady, Drusilla Whyddon, was played by Alma Taylor (1895-1974) who was one of Britains leading actresses of the time. In 1924, she was named by the Daily News , along with Betty Balfour, as Britains top star. Her last film appearance was in Blue Murder at St Trinians (1957)

For further information please contact Phil Page on 0785 8421 148

or e-mail enquiries@dartmoornaturetours.co.uk