History Group Talk July 2012



Andy Crabbe Archaeologist of Dartmoor National Park gave an illustrated talk on ‘Whiteworks’ an interesting Tin Mining site near Princetown.
Whiteworks appears to have been a mining site of considerable interest since 1790 until 1926. There is not a great deal of written documentation in existence about that area but Andy has uncovered some interesting facts which he shared with us that evening. Dartmoor has a tremendous amount of remains of industrial activity and the archaeology associated with it makes for interesting research.  The site is near Nun’s Cross and Nun’s Cross Farm and the Devonport Leat. An area known as Fox Tor Mire, or The Swincombe Valley. Archaeological evidence is all around that area and some of it dates back 6000 years. Flints, arrowheads, scrapers and flakes have been found around Nun’s Cross farm. Within the area there are about 12 cairns, burial sites, and some 7 sites of old settlements. The Medieval Childe’s Tomb, complete with cross, one of several there about and the famous Nun’s Cross sometimes known as Seward’s Cross. These crosses are considered to be way markers for what is now known as the Abbot’s Way. This was a route from Buckfast to Buckland Abbey and the Abbey at Tavistock. Childe’s tomb is on the site of where Childe the hunter was found dead inside the body of his horse - a Dartmoor Legend. There is a lot of evidence around Whiteworks of early tin streaming some of which may date back to the Bronze Age (bronze is a mixture of tin and copper). Activity from the 12th Century is there is be seen and streaming was carried on well into the 16th C. From documents that have been uncovered it appears that efforts to mine tin in this area continued in a fairly erratic way. Different people attempted to make a fortune from the metal but only lasted about two years, then other financiers would take over and so it continued. The remains of leats, wheelpits, buildings and associated activities can be seen when visiting the site and this will be demonstrated to us when we visit the site with Andy on Wednesday 18th July at 6.30 p.m. for a guided walk. The old Ridge & Furrow cultivation marks are well visible as are the remains of exploratory pits and mine shafts. Track ways will also be still evident to the keen archaeologist. Andy mentioned many dates associated with Whiteworks and one in particular created interest, this was a ‘bill of sale’ dated 1818 when much of the equipment was purchased by a Mr Trewicke who took his purchases to Vitifer Mine near the Warren House Inn. The mining licenses were bought from the Duchy who are the owners of the land and in c1842 there was concern that animals were falling into the abandoned mine shafts. Various claims of the quantity of tin mined were listed. Some of these may well have been exaggerated to induce investors to put money into some if the mining schemes. There did appear to be a ‘boom’ period c1868 when more that 20 tons of tin are reputed to have been successfully mined each year form Whiteworks. Andy showed a few very interesting pictures related to tin mining on Dartmoor. A huge water wheel, and associated ‘stamps’, a group of men outside a mine adit. An O.S. Map of the area from c1887 showed the outlines of buildings, leats etc. An inventory of equipment c1876 listed chains, stamps, wheels, iron rods, wheel barrows, 50 saddles, cages, shafts and even pick handles - quite fascinating. A bill of sale dated Monday 4th October 1880 when three wheels were offered for sale, one 46 ft wheel and two 30 ft wheels. It is amazing how these massive metal objects were brought out onto Dartmoor in those days to equip the mines. Every two years or so someone took the gamble to try and make a success of mining in this area and have left quite well defined features. It was believed that in 1924 the last serious attempt to mine at Whiteworks was made and this failed within two years. Whiteworks is a complex site but very fascinating and we shall enjoy looking at it with Andy and who knows make our own interpretation of the area. In 1971 a plan to flood the whole area was considered, to make a large reservoir. If this had taken place most of what Andy talked about would have disappeared under water. This idea was abandoned so we still can visit and try to understand the workings of Whiteworks and the men who laboured there.

 

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