Hoar Oak Cottage

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The Women of Hoar Oak Cottage – An exhibition May 24th – June 28th 2024
Simonsbath Sawmill Hoar Oak connection

Most of you now know how much we enjoy sharing the origins of Simonsbath Sawmill. Our passion to keep the mill fully operational in our modern world is something we are extremely proud of.

We were delighted to be asked to host “The women of Hoar Oak Cottage an untold story” this summer. Bette and Will from the friends of Hoar oak Cottage shared some incredible stories regarding the connection to the cottage and the sawmill.

The Cottage

Hoar Oak Cottage is located in the valley of the Hoar Oak Water, on the Devon/Somerset border.  Follow this link to see the cottage in its setting on Google Earth.  This is a place defined by sheep. 

Once a temporary shelter for shepherds bringing sheep onto the moor for the summer pasture.  Later a permanent home to at least fifteen shepherd families who lived and worked on the remote Hoar Oak herding throughout the year.  When the last shepherd family left in the 1960s the cottage fell into disrepair but in 2014 it was conserved as a heritage ruin. Source The Place – hoaroak (hoaroakcottage.org)

Hoar oak cottage ruin

The Women’s Life

The first Hoar Oak housewife in 1810, Elizabeth Vellacott, would have found little changed if she’d visited the last Hoar Oak housewife, Gertie Antell, in the 1960s. A new iron range was fitted into the old chimney space around 1944 but some say that the ‘so say’ benefits of the modern range were outweighed by having to keep it cleaned and blacked and fed with precious coal. Both Elizabeth and Gertie and all of the housewives in between would share a life that was remote, isolated, without the benefits of running water, electricity or gas, plumbing or telephone or a road that could be used by a motorised vehicle. Source The Womens Life – hoaroak (hoaroakcottage.org)

Imagine the resilience of those women who lived there—no running water, electricity, or modern conveniences. They faced rugged terrain, isolation, and the elements, yet they persevered.

Family Connection

As we began reading through and looking into how our wonderful sawmill served the local community. We stumbled on a family connection with non-other than Mr Three Atop (Nick Hosegood). David Hobbs mentioned here Hobbs – hoaroak (hoaroakcottage.org) was born at Hoar Oak Cottage in 1915 to Alice Jones and William (Bill) Hobbs. Nick’s father, Gerald Hosegood told of a story that has been passed down regarding David’s birth at Hoar Oak. It was said the midwife had to travel on a pushbike from Porlock to Hoar Oak in the dead of night to deliver David

David would eventually marry Florence, known as Florrie, Rawle. Bette had provided us with several photographs, and in one specific photo, not everyone was identified. It depicted David and Florrie’s wedding day. We passed this photo to Gerald, who managed to recognize all the family members present, including Nick’s grandmother.

Gerald then managed to dig out some marvellous old photographs of times gone by with the Hobbs family. Gerald and Eric (David and Florrie’s son) being only 3 months apart in age, would spend 1 week at a time at each other’s homes. In those days, the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” really did apply. As we looked through the photographs and spoke with Gerald more and more tales emerged. What is now The Ramblers Rest Tearoom used to be the Hobb’s family home. Gerald remembers regularly cycling from Porlock to pitch a tent with Eric and friends on the lawned area outside the cottage.

Nick has often wondered why he has such a passion for our beautiful landscape of Exmoor. Was it chance or was this destiny and something in his blood!? Nicks Great Grandfather, Tom Rawle, was a sawyer right here on Exmoor. Tom was employed in the sawpits at Ashley Combe and can be seen in the wedding photograph, third from the right. We often joke that Nick’s family hasn’t moved far from Exmoor and this is likely the reason he avoids travelling (Bristol is really too far North for him). That said, and all jokes aside, he is extremely proud of his connection to Exmoor. Exmoor is in his blood from the people to the places. It is an honour to share these connections and those stories ensuring they live on through generations.

On Saturday 8th June we will be having a special open day. Nick’s Father and Adam Hobbs (Eric’s son) will be joining us. Regaling tales of the past and how they remember life after Hoar Oak Cottage. Please do come and join us.

Wedding picture credit goes to The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage alongside the information regarding the history of Hoar Oak itself