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Widecombe History Group Talks
Paul Rendell gave the meeting an illustrated talk on Industrial Dartmoor.
Paul gave an enthusiastic talk about the various forms that Industry had taken within the bounds of Dartmoor over the centuries. He began by remarking that Dartmoor is not a wilderness, as it so often referred to as being. The evidence of man’s activities are all over the moor and readily available for all to see.
He began by looking at prehistoric days when the Bronze Age man was living and working on Dartmoor, he has left evidence of his activities. From buildings that he lived in, burial mounds, standing stones just to mention a few. The first industry considered was Tin.
The effects of streaming, mining and the many items made of granite associated with that industry over the years were discussed. Stamp stones, mortar stones, the leats that were used to bring water to the mines. The remains of the blowing houses, smelting and crushing sites, many still there to be seen today. He referred to Vitifer Tin Mines near Warren House Inn and the wheel pits and adits, the fields shaped like the aces from a pack of cards, whose hedges have fallen down now but their shapes still defined. The tin industry needed managing and the Stannary Parliament of Crockern Tor was mentioned, where matters concerning the tin working were decided. Punishment could lead to being incarcerated at Lydford Prison.
The Four Stannary Towns were Ashburton, Chagford, Tavistock and Plympton.
He considered that tin had been exported from both Devon and Cornwall for hundreds of years. Ships from the Mediterranean traded with the South West and in the 1500s a lot of tin was exported to Europe for the making of Pewter. Tin generated wealth and a great deal was ploughed into the upkeep of local churches including our own here at Widecombe.
After the tin in the rivers had been streamed and exhausted, mine shafts began to be dug and they were often named after the person who dug them. Timber was needed to prop up the roofs of these shafts and tunnels and a subsidiary business was created supplying wood for this purpose. Many men would walk to and from these mines each day, often working long hours in the depth lit only by candles, and returning home only to do it all again the next day. They would stay below ground for up to 14 hours, eat their ‘crib’ and climb dangerous ladders in the dark from very deep holes before walking several miles home. Children of 8 years are recorded having worked down the mines and many died before reaching the age of 30. In many local churchyards it is common to find headstones recording the deaths of young men killed down the mines as a result of accidents or ill health associated with the industry.
When a mine was opened, entrepreneurs were invited to put money into the project and Share Certificates were issued. A lot of money was lost on these ventures. Some mines had different names given to them over the years in the hope of getting more money invested into them.
Peat was another source of industry. Dug originally for fuel by the Dartmoor people for their own use then attempts were made to process it into gas, this was done unsuccessfully near Bridestowe.
The mixture of geological elements near Meldon led to several industrial activities. Limestone was found there in ‘pockets’ and used on the land after being ‘burnt’ in limekilns. An element that created a glass industry was also found there but only a green glass could be manufactured. Then a quality stone in a nearby quarry was found to be ideal for ballast for tracks when the railways became popular.
Water power meant Hydro-electricity could be produced, this led to power stations at Chagford, Morwellham and Mary Tavy.
The China Clay industry (Decayed Granite) of Lee Moor and the clay deposits of the Bovey Basin. There are a multitude of items in everyday use that uses china clay from quality paper, toothpaste, cosmetics as well as the dishes we use.
A Paper Mill at Ivybridge produced paper for banknotes as well as postage stamps.
The rabbit industry and the Warrens around Dartmoor another industry worthy of mentioning and recording. The pillow mounds, vermin traps associated with that industry can be seen today and are of great interest. The production of gunpowder at Powdermills was mentioned and the associated legend of ‘The Hairy Hands’.
All in all a very interesting talk, which will make walking on Dartmoor a little more interesting for the walker that keeps his/her eyes open to the remains of Industrial Dartmoor.
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