Widecombe History Group Talk on the Moorland Erme


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The Moorland Erme

by Mike Perriam

An interesting illustrated talk on The Moorland Erme began with a view of the area where the Erme rises. At Pitts a stone engraved A HEAD led to the comment that the Erme was always known as The Arme hence the letter A engraved on the stone. All around the Erme valley are the remains of the workings of the tin miners. Spoil heaps, deep ravines and the remains of sheds and other buildings are very numerous. Erme Pitts Ford where some people think was part of The Abbott’s Way but now considered to be more likely to be part of The Wool Jogger’s Way between Sheeps Tor and Buckfastleigh by wool traders. A photograph of Broad Rock and Blatchford Parish boundary and more tinworks led Mike to tell that the type of tin mined in that area was considered to be of a particularly good quality and known as ‘Zill Tin’. He would like to know more about this type of tin and its qualities. Man has had a lot of influence on the landscape. Blacklane Brook or Wool Lake was mentioned and how in 1938 at Duck’s Pool one of the early ‘letter boxes’ was erected to celebrate William Crossing and all that he did to further an interest in Dartmoor. This is one of the first three or four letterboxes placed on Dartmoor and now there are thousands!

William Crossing was so engrosed in writing books and articles on Dartmoor that he neglected his family business at South Brent and died in poverty. What he has left us is of immense importance and his ‘Guide to Dartmoor’ is still treated as the bible for Dartmoor.

The Blacklane Track getting its name from “Black ‘ood”, black wood, being another name for peat. Some of these tin miners and peat cutters ruins were hostels for the workers to stay in during the week when they worked on the moor for five or six days at a time, others were stores for material and even perhaps cashes of their tin. A variety of names are given to places on the moor to associate them with particular people. Who was Grant of Grant’s Pot for example?

Red Lake clay works worked from 1911 to 1932 was depicted with the associated leats, micro drags for the finest of the clay or sediment settling pits and the buildings connected to the works, and the waste quartz and mica dumps, the rising main which was pipe line to shift the liquid clay up to the settling tanks. There are a tremendous array of industrial archaeological examples of the tin and clay industries still to be seen on the moors and the example nearby of a Bronze Age Cist, plan of the site made for interesting viewing. Similar plans of Green Hill Works, Left Lake and Cantrell Works were shown. One photograph of three different bricks showing the manufacturer’s stamp led to the comment that the one showing what appeared to be GWR was in fact GWP - Great Western Pipes the forerunner of Candy’s Tiles of Liverton. The Redlake Railway was used to bring material and men to the site to work but not used to convey the china clay to Ivybridge or Bittaford. The clay was moved in a liquid form by pipes and the final settling beds and the dryers were close to the main railway line used for railing it away. The Western Machinery or the old Watkins and Rosevear Machinery Depot near Bittaford was the old drying site. The chimney is still standing and the remains of the old Redlake Company’s Engine House can still be seen, from where the winding gear operated. There was a railway siding there for loading the clay.

Back near Redlake there is a Prehistoric Pound, a holding pound where stock, that by right could be grazed by day on the Forest of Dartmoor, but had to be removed by night, could be held till they could be put out to graze again the next day. This clay workings were in the reign of Elizabeth I. The question of whether the Prehistoric man did mine tin in this area is an idea that many now feel is a possibility. Another interesting feature are the ‘tinner’s burrows’, walls of dry stone behind which is the tinner’s spoil. The walls were built to hold back the waste as they methodically worked their way across and down the valley.

Whenever one walks on Dartmoor the presence of the wide variety of wildlife has to be considered and some photographs were shown to emphasis this. Buzzards, golden plovers, rabbits, dippers just to mention a few.

The longest stone row in the world running for about 2 miles, is known as The Erme long Row, and at the end of the row is a circle known as ‘the dancers’, which according to legend was the result of a group of girls dancing on a Sunday. The Cornwood Maidens is an impressive stone row, some stones are as much as 9 feet high and very close to it is a hut circle, this is unusual as the row is a religious ritual monument feature where the circle is a dwelling and they are not normally found so close together, the living and the dead are normally kept very separate. Hillson’s House, built on a cairn where again stories say a man of that name lived and while there, made 8 day clocks. Tinner’s bee-hive huts can be found in this area and one named ‘Smugglers Hole’ all help create an atmosphere of whether it was used for illicit purposes. Nearby there are three burial mounds or cists referred to as Three Barrows and one of Dartmoor’s ancient oak forests or woods, Piles Newtake and Piles Copse. The others being Blackator Copse and Wistman’s Wood.

A possible monastic route connecting Buckfast Abbey and Plympton Priory can be found here and nearby is Spurrow’s Cross, an unusual design of knobs on the arms, a feature found on very few crosses, there is one similar at Ermington Church with its leaning/crooked spire. The talk ended with a photograph of a nice view of Harford Church and a Cross that may once have been used as a gatepost. Near Cornwood on the way to Ivybridge the old columns of Brunel’s Viaduct beside the more modern mainline railway can be seen.

Some of this we hope to see on our guided walk with Mike on Saturday 9th July. Meet at Cornwood Square at 12.00 noon.

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