Higher Uppacott is a Grade 1 Listed Farm building situated near Poundsgate, Dartmoor. Most people driving on the road up from Ashburton to the Bel Tor car park must have admired it nestled into a tight bend just beyond the Methodist chapel. It has been undergoing conservation work of late, but guided visits have been offered during the last couple of months before the final phase of internal work begins. At the time of writing there is one tour still left open on 6th May. We attended the one held on Sunday 30th April.
There has been almost no rain in Devon for several weeks, so we were a bit dismayed on Sunday morning to see a heavy band forecast to be moving South West to North East throughout the day, but we still looked forward to our visit. The longhouse would not look quite the way it does in the official DNPA booklet in the absence of blue skies, but at least there were spring flowers to enjoy. A photograph of the plot viewed from the road helps give an idea of the length of a longhouse!:
Our guide, the excellent NPA volunteer Ralph Mackridge, was keen to point out the value of the building in allowing a rare understanding of the lives of working families as far back as the 14th century when the original building was constructed. This contrasts with the comparative wealth of information we have about the homes of the nobility. Longhouses were evident across much of the country in medieval times, but seem to have lasted longer in places such as Dartmoor, perhaps because by their nature they allowed human and cattle to live together under the same roof.
We were first taken around the back of the building to the ‘shippon’ – the area where the cattle were housed, with its sloping cobbled floor and drain, complete with a hole for the disposal of animal dung. There is a ‘cross passage’ which runs between the shippon and the hall of the house, connecting the two.
The contrast between the light outside and in is very evident even on a rainy day.
Hay would have been stored in the roof space. The majority of the carpentry now visible in the roof dates from more recent times (probably 18th and 19th centuries), but the upper cruck truss has been dated back to the 14th century.
We were taken next into the main hall. The ceiling here is a more recent addition, and originally the room’s height would have extended to the roof area, with a fire set in the centre of the hall floor; blackened thatch is present under the roof.
A curious rectangular hole has been built into the granite wall near the main hall window. It may have been a ‘bible hole’ or possibly a place to store and keep cool any valuable ingredients such as spices.
It seems the bedroom built above the hall dates from the 17th century. A glass viewing panel has been built into the ceiling of that room to view the blackened thatch in the roof space.
We briefly visited the rooms in the main part of the building, and were told that a NPA ranger was still living there until very recently. There are already signs of extensive damp in the bedroom we visited, an indication of the scale of work still to be done.
At the end of the tour we were encouraged to continue to explore the building on our own, which allowed time to take more of these photographs without the presence of the other people in the group. I asked Ralph Mackridge if I could take of photograph of him standing still, and he graciously obliged!
I ended the visit at the back of the shippon again in the pouring rain, but having much enjoyed the morning. Anyone wishing to do the same should move quickly for the last opportunity this Saturday!