High up on Buckland Beacon you’ll not only get a glorious panoramic view, but will also be able to catch a glimpse of the Ten Commandments Stones. No -sadly, the Ark of the Covenant didn’t end up on Dartmoor. In the early 20th century, a local squire decided to have the commandments carved onto two large granite slabs to celebrate the rejection by Parliament of a revised Book of Common Prayer.
“On Buckland Beacon we may stand high above the village (Buckland-in-the-Moor) and 1280 feet above the sea, looking out as far as the Devon coast at Teignmouth and Torquay. Nearer at hand is Holne, where Charles Kingsley was born, and nearer still is Holne Chase with the River Dart circling round it.”
The King’s England’s – Devon – Cradle of our Seamen by Arthur Mee (1938)
It’s a well known secret among locals that from the majestic height of Buckland Beacon you have the best panoramic views from anywhere within the Dartmoor National Park. However, it seems that the Beacon has shrunk somewhat since Arthur Mee stood atop in the 1930s! – the actual measurement is 382 metres, which is 1253.28 feet.
Buckland sits roughly in the centre of a chain of beacons running across the length of Dartmoor and lit up the sky for all Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Celebrations and also to welcome in the new Millennial.
At the base of the Beacon sits the Ten Commandments Stones – created simply because of an argument over the Church of England’s Book of Prayer between opposing factions of the church.
The Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer was first used by the Church of England in 1549, during the reign of Edward VI and included a complete range of services for worship in the English language. (A very obvious break from the Latin mass held by the Catholic Church.)
The book was revised a number of times over the ensuing century until the final revision in 1662. This 1662 version has remained a permanent feature in Parish Churches across the length and breadth of Britain.
Upsurge of Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England
During the mid-19th century there was a discord between some High Church members of the Church of England arising from what was perceived to be a failure to recognise and appreciate its catholic origins and also the willingness to subject the Church to the State’s authority. This group of people became known as the Oxford Movement (or Tractarians).
It must be said that some of the most beautiful Victorian church renovations were carried out by members of the Tractarian movement. They wished to introduce elements of Catholicism back into the church. This included making the Eucharist central to the service and incorporating objects that were highly symbolic such as Vestments and reintroducing Rood Screens; many of these had ether been defaced or completely ripped out during the Reformation. Some of these intricate Rood Screens can be seen in Little Petherick, Blisland and Kenn.
The Oxford Movement only lasted for a brief period in the mid-19th century with many of its proponents eventually converting to Catholicism. However, the arguments about the role and influence of the Catholic Church within the Church of England continued to rumble on over the decades.
Attempted Revision of the Common Book of Prayer in 1927 and 1928
By the turn of the 20th century, there was a strong desire to try and bridge the gap between the opposing sides, within the Church, by producing a revised Book of Common Prayer. This book would give the Anglo-Catholics more liturgical freedom and allow the use of the reserved sacrament.
The updated Book of Common prayer was well received and approved by the various church assemblies. However, due to the sovereign being Head of State, the revisions were put forward to Parliament in the form of a Bill to see whether they should be approved by the Head of State, the King himself.
In both 1927 and 1928, the revised Book of Common Prayer Bills were put to Parliament and on both occasions were turned down on fears that the Church of England was in danger of being Romanized; especially with a view to the reserved sacrament.
Despite the refusal by Parliament to amend the Prayer Book, many of the proposed revisions were, in fact, gradually adopted by the Church of England.
William Whitley and the Greenall Whitley Brewery
The Ten Commandments Stones were commissioned by William Whitley, who had moved from Liverpool to Devon between 190-1907 along with his brother Herbert. They were the sons of Edward Whitley (1825-1892) part of the giant Greenall Whitley Breweries dynasty.
William bought the Buckland Estate whilst his brother, Herbert, the Primley estate, near Paignton. It was here that he created a private menagerie known as Torbay Zoological Gardens which opened to the public in 1923 and is now Paignton Zoo.
The Ten Commandments Stones
To say that William Whitley was a staunch Protestant with a passionate, maybe even zealous, aversion to any change towards a more liberal and catholic service is an understatement. Who else would celebrate the Parliament’s rejection of the revised Prayer Book Bills of 1927/28 , by commissioning the carving the Ten Commandments onto two granite slabs in the middle of Dartmoor.
Whitley employed a stone mason W. A. Clement to carve the Ten Commandments along with the dates of the readings of the failed Bills in Parliament – Dec. 15th 1927 and June 14th 1928 onto two large stone tablets. He also added the third verse of a hymn and verse 34 from the Book of John, chapter 13. It took Clement five weeks weeks to complete the work from the 23rd July 1928.
Over the years the lettering has had to be recut a number of times, due to weathering caused by the site’s exposed position. The most recent renovation was in 2016.
Nearby Attractions to the Ten Commandments Stones of Dartmoor
HAYTOR – The most famous of all the Tors on Dartmoor and nearby is a quarry and tramway constructed by the Templar family. Today, the quarries and their surrounds are a popular walking spot and a must-see for those interested in industrial history.
ASHBURTON – One of the ancient stannary towns, full of independent shops and an antiquers paradise. You should also know that Ashburton is filled with wonderful eateries, including Taylor’s, which makes some of the best cream teas to be found anywhere on the moors!
HOLNE VILLAGE – A typical moorland village with an attractive 14th century church and an ancient yew tree within the churchyard. Some say that Holne Village yew tree may even date back over a thousand years, though this is highly unlikely!