The Crown land - the King's Allotment - was advertised for sale in June 1818. Tenders were opened on 23 July 1818. The highest bid was from John Knight of Worcestershire. The sale was completed on 15 March 1820.
John Knight planned to creat a great country estate here. As well as the King's land he bought other allotments to amass a total of 16,000 acres. He started to build a mansion, with gardens and a deer park. He planned to establish a profitable agricultural enterprise by reclaiming south facing slopes and farming them under established crop rotation systems and by introducing improved breeds of livestock on land unfit for tillage. He built a wall around his estate – nearly 29 miles long (completed before end 1824) and some 22 miles of public roads. He didn't make any attempt to exploit any minerals on his estate and he carried out little tree planting other than in his gardens and at Birchcleave.
In 1840 a major legacy he was expecting went to another branch of the family. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_v_Knight). In 1841 he passed the management of the estate to his son, Frederic and in 1842 (when 76 year old) John retired to Rome. He died there 1850.
Frederic Knight adopted new approaches to the management of the estate, creating and letting farms and trying to exploit its mining potential. Sadly his only son, also Frederic, died in 1879 and he sold reversion of the estate to Lord Fortescue in 1885. He lived until 1897 when the Estate passed to Lord Fortescue.
When John Knight acquired the estate in 1820 James Boevey's old house and the associated farm buildings were the only structures in the former Royal Forest. We know that there was a carpenter working in Simonsbath in the 1833 when an inventory of buildings and contents mentions “Mr Harvey’s Shop.” This appears to have been a joiner’s workshop where there were “two workbenches, two circular head doors, one part made wardrobe, two wood chimney pieces, four window frames, etc.” Some of these wood products may have been destined for John Knight's grand mansion still rising behind James Boevey's old house.
Exactly where James Harvey’s workshop was is not recorded but later carpenters used the building at the higher end of the Pound Cottages row, nearest to the Exmoor Forest Inn.
While James Harvey had his own workshop, other carpenters were employed in specific tasks during this period and were often sawing and cutting significant quantities of timber. For example, in January 1835 the carpenters George Chapple and William Bradford were paid at 2s 4d a day for 23 and 20 day’s work respectively. In May the same year James Pippen was paid for 7 days carpentry work @2s3d a day.
Other carpenters were employed by the estate including William Burgess who in October 1835 was paid £3 for sawing 1,512 ft of timber at 4s 0d per 100ft. The same month William Burnell was paid for cutting timber, spleating (sic) and making 8 doz of spoakes (sic), sawing and making ten hunting gates, and sawing and making 200 hurdles. Later that year George Gooding was paid for 60 Larch Poles and William Burnell worked for the estate again cutting timber and for making doors, 12 dozen spoakes (sic), 2 wheelbarrows and 200 hurdles and for repairing gates and chaff boxes.
As James Harvey had his own joinery workshop, these carpenters might have been using the separate Carpenters Shop and Yard in Simonsbath which is also listed in the 1833 inventory. This had, amongst other things, a work bench, pit saw and two saw benches, and, in the yard, a sawpit, with a roller, two bearers, and four dogs and a flywheel for a chaffcutter. The flywheel implies that this machine was for use either by waterpower or horsepower. (The same inventory also lists a “large shaft for a waterwheel by Cloven Rocks” implying that waterpower was already in use on John Knight’s estate by this time).
It is tempting to speculate that the Carpenters Shop and Yard might have been on the site of the current Simonsbath Carpenters' Shop and Sawmill buildings, close to the river bridge. Here there would have been sufficient head of water to power sawbenches and other equipment. The water could have been brought by the leat from Ashcombe, as we know it was in later years. This leat also supplied the Simonsbath House and possibly to other buildings at what was Simonsbath Farm. However there is no way to confirm this and the Carpenters Shop might have been situated behind Simonsbath House or elsewhere nearby.
An early map (Greenwood’s 1822 map of Exmoor) appears a show a building south of the road past Simonsbath House and this has led to supposition that this was in approximately the same position that the current Carpenters' Shop and Sawmill in Simonsbath now occupies. However closer examination of the early maps suggests that the building on the map was actually on the site of the later Wool Chamber (now holiday cottages) west of Simonsbath House. At that time the old road passed between the west end of the house and the Wool Chamber (and not to the south of the Wool Chamber as the access road to Simonsbath House Hotel now does). The extension of the house westwards to join up with the Wool Chamber buildings was carried out for Viscount Ebrington after his family acquired the property in 1897.
In 1841 John Knight decided to give up the management of the Exmoor estate. The previous year he had learnt that the courts had ruled that a huge inheritance he had been expecting would instead go to a different branch of his family. John Knight handed sole control of his Exmoor estate to his eldest son Frederic, then 26 years old, and retired to Rome where he died in 1850.
Shortly after Frederic Knight took over there were plans to convert the Carpenters Shop and “lumber rooms” to farmhouses. In 1845 among the items to be sold at an auction of some of John Knight’s implements was “A circular sawmill with jaws, etc., complete.” This is clearly a piece of equipment but it is often difficult to tell whether a reference to a “sawmill” is to a machine or to a building. For example, in 1846 the Agent, John Mogridge, reported that: “We have commenced covering the sawmill and part of the new stable is roofed. I trust most of the present building will be covered in a fortnight.”
It is not really clear whether “sawmill” in this context is referring to a building or a piece of equipment. If it is referring to a building, why does Mr Mogridge talk about “covering” the sawmill but “roofing” the stable or did he use these terms synonymously and interchangeably as is implied by the second sentence: “I trust most of the present building will be covered in a fortnight.” (And why would they have “commenced covering” the sawmill if it was simply putting a cover over a piece of equipment?).
Furthermore, it is not clear whether he is referring to a single building (sawmill and new stable), adjoining buildings or perhaps even separate sawmill and new stables on different sites? We may never know for certain but perhaps a reasonable interpretation of these two sentences is that he is informing John Knight about progress with putting a roofs on two separate buildings, one of which was to be used as a sawmill (and may have been an existing sawmill that had perhaps been open to the elements previously) and a second building to provide a new stables (perhaps even for working horses that were used to bring timber to the mill and other estate tasks).
Listed in the particulars for a sale held by Frederic Knight in 1851 (following the death of his father) is a “Circular saw with iron frame, bench grabs and driving pulleys.” Roger Burton believes that this was the same sawbench as that offered for sale in 1845 and that it was not sold on either occasion. (The oldest comparible sawbench at Simonsbath Sawmill today was manufactured by Sam Worssam and Co at the Oakley Woods in Chelsea. The firm did not move to these works until the 1860s).