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A private estate established in 1337 which funds the public, charitable and private activities of the Prince of Wales and his family.

The History of the Duchy and it's Dartmoor Estate, by Tom Stratton


Map of Dartmoor

Dartmoor’s landscape is, of course, much admired and enjoyed by many; however, few visitors (and probably the majority of residents) will be aware of the exact nature of ownership.

The Duchy of Cornwall is Dartmoor’s largest landowner with 67,500 acres of land extending from part of Brent Moor in the south to Princetown leading west past Peter Tavy and up to Okehampton. From Okehampton the Estate runs to the east towards Gidleigh and then to Chagford and Postbridge before encompassing the land surrounding Hexworthy and the West Dart Valley (see map).

Apart from the years of Interregnum, the Duchy has been in continual existence as a private Estate since 1337. The Duchy has owned the majority of its Dartmoor Estate since this time, with the exception of its land surrounding Chagford, which was purchased over a seven-year period between 1911 and 1928 from a number of individual owners. Fernworthy was purchased in 1917 from Sir W.A.F. Davie, then sold to the Forestry Commission in 1931.

His Royal Highness Edward VIII, the previous Prince of Wales (seated front left) at Cranmere Pool with members of the Prince’s Council and Willie Proudfoot, the Land Steward at the time (centre rear)

The Duchy was created by Edward III for his son Edward (later known as the Black Prince) who became the first Duke of Cornwall. Edward III laid down the principle that only the eldest surviving son and heir apparent of a reigning Monarch can inherit the title Duke of Cornwall. The name of the Estate is derived from the Earldom of Cornwall. Edward elevated the Estate to a Duchy and endowed it with lands, many of which remain in the Estate’s possession today.

The Duchy’s primary function is to provide an income to the heir to the throne; the current Duke being His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who is entitled to the revenue surplus of the Duchy but not its capital assets. The revenue surplus (on which The Prince voluntarily pays income tax) funds his private, public and charitable activities and those of his family.

Today, the Estate comprises approximately 141,000 acres of land, with the Dartmoor Estate forming the largest single landholding. The Duchy has property interests in 25 counties and whilst the majority of the Estate is rural land and property, the Duchy also owns commercial properties together with an investment portfolio of stocks and shares.

His Royal Highness Edward VIII, the previous Prince of Wales (seated front left) at Cranmere Pool with members of the Prince’s Council and Willie Proudfoot, the Land Steward at the time (centre rear)

Scotch Blackface on Duchy land at Winneys Down

The Estate is operated on a commercial basis as required by the Duchy of Cornwall Management Acts of 1863 and 1982; however such management is carried out with high regard to standards of environmental good practice.

The Estate is split into three geographical Districts for management purposes and the Dartmoor Estate (which falls within the Devon and Cornwall Western District) is managed from Princetown. The Duchy employs 130 staff nationally and there are four staff who deal with day–to–day management on Dartmoor.

That the Duchy is a landowner on Dartmoor is common knowledge, but few will know the extent of ownership and the types of property owned. Within the 67,500 acres are 50,000 acres of common land, 21 farms, 60 houses not within farm tenancies, 40 commercial properties (including many of the pubs and hotels) together with 500 acres of woodland and 26 miles of river including several miles of the East and West Dart and their tributaries.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales with David Colton, the Duchy’s tenant of Tor Royal Farm, during a visit there in 2011

The Prince takes an active role in the Duchy’s management, holding regular meetings of his Prince’s Council, a collective of individuals with specialist knowledge in a range of areas who advise him. In addition, The Prince meets regularly with the Secretary and Keeper of the Records who leads the management of the Duchy from its head office at 10 Buckingham Gate, London and the locally based Land Stewards.

The Prince also makes regular visits to different parts of the Estate and has come to know many of its tenants over the years. In 1983 The Prince spent a week working at Yardworthy Farm, Chagford, to gain experience of farming on Dartmoor and he takes a ‘hands on’ approach to the management of the Duchy. His philosophy is to nurture and improve the Estate in order to pass it on to the next generation in a stronger condition.

Indeed, The Prince’s passion for farming, the environment and people underpins much of the Duchy’s work and on Dartmoor. The Duchy works closely with a wide range of individuals and organisations involved with its management, and particularly the farming and commoning communities together with Dartmoor National Park Authority.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales with David Colton, the Duchy’s tenant of Tor Royal Farm, during a visit there in 2011

Among the initiatives supported by the Duchy are:

• Moorskills An apprenticeship training scheme designed to provide upland farming skills to young people
• Dartmoor Farmers Association A farmers’ cooperative inspired by the Prince of Wales comprising 60 farmer members selling beef and lamb direct
• Dartmoor Wader Project A project to assist with preventing the decline of key wading bird species on Dartmoor
• The Hill Farm Training Scheme Funded by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, this scheme provides on farm training to conservation and land management staff to enhance their understanding of practical farming
• The Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme A scheme to maintain the Dartmoor pony
• Dartmoor Woodfuel Cooperative The Duchy has assisted with the development of a biomass cooperative at Brimpts Farm, Dartmeet which now supplies locally sourced, chipped timber to a number of boilers on Dartmoor
• Dartmoor Hill Farm Project Providing information and support to Dartmoor’s farming community

The next feature in this series will look at fishing and fisherie management. It will be published in the summer issue of Dartmoor magazine

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