Dartmoor’s First Guide James Perrott

Laura White
Laura White

Canadian David Perrott and his wife Karin arrived in Chagford the other day with Dartmoor tour guide Alex Graeme.

David’s great-great-grandfather was James Perrott, Dartmoor’s first ever moorland guide, who was born in 1815 near Gidleigh Mill and buried in the churchyard of St Michael’s Church Chagford.

With the railway reaching Devon by the 1850’s there was an increased mobility among the middle-classes who wanted to see the country and especially Dartmoor.

But this could be a dangerous place, so guides like James Perrott were one of the first to see the ‘tourist’ bring a windfall for Dartmoor.

James established a family business in the town providing saddled horses and other horse-drawn transportation, in addition to fishing tackle and guided tours of the moor. The fishing shop in the square in Chagford was later sold to Gideon Webber and became part of Webber & Sons hardware store, which has only recently closed after 120 years trading in the town.

James Perrott is best known today for establishing the first Dartmoor letterbox. In 1854 he built a small cairn at Cranmere Pool where visitors could leave their calling cards. Since that time letterboxing as a hobby has spread around the world.

Many famous names accompanied him on his treks over the years, including writers Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley and R.D. Blackmore; the latter being famous for his novel Lorna Doone, based on the Chagford legend of Mary Whiddon.

David and Karin Perrott are visiting from their home in Ajax, near Toronto in Canada for three weeks and have spent a few days on Dartmoor with tour guide Alex Graeme. While in Chagford they met with Gideon Webber’s great-great-granddaughter Kate Webber.

David Perrott’s grandfather William James Perrott left Chagford in 1912 for America, but failed to get a berth on the maiden voyage of the Titanic so took the next transatlantic ship.

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