Frederic Moorman came of a stock which, on both sides, had struck deep roots in the soil of Devon. His father’s family, which is believed to have sprung ultimately from “either Cornwall or Scotland”—a sufficiently wide choice, it may be thought—had for many generations been settled in the county.(1) His mother’s—her maiden name was Mary Honywill—had for centuries held land at Widdicombe and the neighbourhood, in the heart of Dartmoor. He was born on 8th September 1872, at Ashburton, where his father, the Rev. A. C. Moorman, was Congregational minister; and for the first ten years of his life he was brought up on the skirts of the moor to which his mother’s family belonged: drinking in from the very first that love of country sights and sounds which clove to him through life, and laying the foundation of that close knowledge of birds and flowers which was an endless source of delight to him in after years, and which made him so welcome a companion in a country walk with any friend who shared his love of such things but who, ten to one, could make no pretence whatever to his knowledge.
In 1882, his father was appointed to the ministry of the Congregational Church at Stonehouse, in Gloucestershire; and Frederic began his formal schooling at the Wyclif Preparatory School in that place. The country round Stonehouse—a country of barish slopes and richly wooded valleys—is perhaps hardly so beautiful as that which he had left and whose memory he never ceased to cherish. But it has a charm all its own, and the child of Dartmoor had no great reason to lament his removal to the grey uplands and “golden valleys” of the Cotswolds.
His next change must have seemed one greatly for the worse. In 1884 he was sent to the school for the sons of Congregational ministers at Caterham; and the Cotswolds, with their wide outlook over the Severn estuary to May Hill and the wooded heights beyond, were exchanged for the bald sweep and the white chalk-pits of the North Downs. These too have their unique beauty; but I never remember to have heard Moorman say anything which showed that he felt it as those who have known such scenery from boyhood might have expected him to do.
After some five years at Caterham, he began his academical studies at University College, London; but, on the strength of a scholarship, soon removed to University College, Aberystwyth (1890), where the scenery—sea, heron-haunted estuaries, wooded down to the very shore, and hills here and there rising almost into mountains—offered surroundings far more congenial to him than the streets and squares of Bloomsbury.