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Widecombe History Group Talks
Dr Tom Greeves gave a most interesting Illustrated talk on the history of The Golden Dagger Mine through the 1920 -1930 period.
Dr Greeves commented on the unusual name and posed the question did it refer to something that happened there in the distant past? We do not know.
Mining took place on Dartmoor for ages in the area of Vitifer and Golden Dagger (G. D.) tin mining sites possibly medieval and certainly in the early 19th century.
Tom showed pictures of the Redwater stream and the valley leading on to the Webburn and so to the Dart, these pictures in themselves were fascinating showing the old wheels, stamps, buildings and even more interestingly the people who worked on these sites. There had been deep mining for several years previous but in this period there had been a lot of surface work. Some of the pictures showed Sousons and Challacombe area before the conifer plantations that we know today had been planted. A panoramic view of the area with the wheels and buildings still in situ made for a real insight into how it was then. Pictures of Vitifer cottages, the huge 22 foot diameter wheel and its associated stamps, the miner’s dry, where they rested and ate their food, and Dinah’s House where the captain of the mine lived.
Tom has brought all these photograph together with an example of a mine shares certificate and letter headings, receipts and letters all allied to these mines. A share certificate of 'Dartmoor Tin Mines Ltd' of the 1925-30 era. A letterhead - “Tor Trust Ltd”. Donald Smith’s business card. A bill head from Jewson’s c 1927. All added to the interest. He mentioned a Mr and Mrs Flewin whose son William, was taken to the site by Tom, when he was 92 years old and he was able to tell Tom much about the mine site of the early 20th century. He had installed the first electric stove at Golden Dagger and he had a ‘pet’ saying “The Possibility Arises” !
The nearby Warren House Inn , a place frequented by many of the miners, was mentioned and the landlords of the pub were recalled. The Warne and Webb families, good old Postbridge, Dartmoor names, George Austen of Moretonhampstead, Harry Trude born in London but featured a great deal in the history of G. D. and one name in particular was a Donald Smith, born in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire in 1907, who began working in the theatre in London as an electrician, but at the age of 19 was working at G. D. Evidently his aunt knew the Flewin family and after a short time working at the Petter engineering works in 1927, was persuaded to work on Dartmoor at G. D. and he really made a name for himself. He lodged for short time at Dinah’s House with the Flewin family but soon moved to Sousons to live. More local names came to light. Stan and Jack Norrish appeared in some of Tom’s photographs at the mines, and in the fields of the farms nearby. Donald Smith took many of the photographs shown by Tom and at the age of 20/21 Donald is recorded as being the mine manager. He instigated the creation of a new leat to work a turbine in 1928, and some of the pipe work to the turbine can still be found there.
The equipment used at this time, Trommels, a set of three different meshes used to grade the ground ore, launders for the water, inside a shed where the tin extraction was done, including an interesting shovel. An inventory of the items sold when Dinah’s house contents were sold off, all this made fascinating reading. Men at that time earned 2 guineas a week.
A photo of a lorry from Pedricks of Princetown taking the rough tin off to Princetown to be railed away. The mine closed in 1930. There was however a continued interest in tin mining and for a short while after, there is a record that a Captain Vernon Olver, was the last man to work at G. D., a photo of him there in 1938 was shown. A report made in September 1938 forecast that there could still be up to half a million pounds worth of tin still there to be extracted and Mr Stanhope of Widecombe showed interest in being an investor. It appears that he eventually had the turbine shifted from G. D. to Stone, his home at Widecombe, and Tom paid tribute to Rodney Cruze, one of our members, who had shown Tom a three stamp mortar stone reputed to have also been brought from G. D. to Widecombe in the 1930’s.
We enjoyed once again a talk by Tom about a subject on which he is an authority, one that he has researched for so many years. He is still looking for more knowledge, photographs and information on the archaeology of the Tin Mining of
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