2. James Boevey's House and Farm
There were no buildings in the vast Royal Forest of Exmoor - an area of wild, open moorland - in historic times, indeed erecting buildings was illegal under Forest Law. This all changed in the mid 17th century when wealthy merchant, lawyer and philosopher, James Boevey purchased the land following the execution of Charles I. He decided to build a house in this remote, isolated location close to where the ancient trans-Exmoor trackway crossed the River Barle. A hundred years earlier in 1540 John Leyland passing this way described the scene: “There runith at this place called Simonsbath a river betwixt two great Moorish hills in a deep bottom and there is a bridge of wood over this water.” His description of the River Barle rings true today: “in summer most commonly runith flat upon stones easy to be passed over but when rains come and storms of winter it ragith and is deep”.
It was here, overlooking the river and the ancient bridge that carpenters would have toiled to construct James Boevey house but their names are not known to us. The house was completed in 1654 and when, after the restoration of Charles II, the Crown again took possession of the Royal Forest, it continued as a centre of Royal Forest activity for the next 150 years. Carpenters, too, might have helped build the telling houses around the edge of the Royal Forest where the number of livestock being brought to the moorland for summer grazing were recorded.
In the early C18th a carpenter would certainly have been needed in Simonsbath to repair the damage caused to the house by the tenant, John Dennicombe, who, in 1718, had “burnt just about all the timber, doors, etc., in the house and buildings for fuel”.