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Industrial archaeology of Dartmoor

The industrial archaeology of Dartmoor covers a number of the industries which have, over the ages, occurred on Dartmoor, and the remaining evidence surrounding them. Currently only a few industries are economically significant, yet all three will inevitably leave their own traces on the moor: china clay mining, farming and tourism. A good general guide to the commercial activities on Dartmoor at the end of the 19th century is William Crossing's The Dartmoor Worker.

Mining

In former times, lead, silver, tin and copper were mined extensively on Dartmoor. The most obvious evidence of mining to the casual visitor to Dartmoor are the remains of the old engine-house at Wheal Betsy which is alongside the A386 road between Tavistock and Okehampton. The word Wheal has a particular meaning in Devon and Cornwall being either a tin or a copper mine, however in the case of Wheal Betsy it was principally lead and silver which were mined.

Once widely practised by many miners across the moor, by the early 1900s only a few tinners remained, and mining had almost completely ceased twenty years later. Some of the more significant mines were Eylesbarrow, Knock Mine, Vitifer Mine and Hexworthy Mine. The last active mine in the Dartmoor area was Great Rock Mine, which shut down in 1969.

See also: Dartmoor tin-mining

Quarrying

Dartmoor granite has been used in many Devon and Cornish buildings. The prison at Princetown was built from granite taken from Walkhampton Common. When the horse tramroad from Plymouth to Princetown was completed in 1823, large quantities of granite were more easily transported.

The granite quarries around Haytor were the source of the stone used in several famous structures, including the New London Bridge, completed in 1831. This granite was transported from the moor via the Haytor Granite Tramway, stretches of which are still visible.

Peat-cutting

Peat-cutting for fuel occurred at some locations on Dartmoor until certainly the 1970s, usually for personal consumption. The right of Dartmoor commoners to cut peat for fuel is known as turbary. These rights were conferred a long time ago, predating most written records. The area once known as the Turbary of Alberysheved between the River Teign and the headwaters of the River Bovey is mentioned in the Perambulation of the Forest of Dartmoor of 1240 (by 1609 the name of the area had changed to Turf Hill).

An attempt was made to commercialise the cutting of peat in 1901 at Rattle Brook Head, however this quickly failed.

Warrens

The significance of the term warren nowadays is not what it once was. In the Middle Ages it was a privileged place, and the creatures of the warren were protected by the king 'for his princely delight and pleasure'.

Until early in the 20th century, rabbits were kept on a commercial scale, both for their flesh and their fur. The evidence for this is plentiful as there are still extant a number of warrens which are manifestly man-made, and in place names such as Ditsworthy Warren and Warren House Inn. Also, whilst walking on Dartmoor near one of the many warrens, it is entirely possible that you might accidentally stumble into a weasel-trap, placed there originally to capture weasels and stoats attempting to get at the rabbits.

The subject of warrening on Dartmoor is addressed in Eden Phillpotts' story The River.

Farming

Farming has been practised on Dartmoor since time immemorial. The dry-stone walls which separate fields and mark boundaries give an idea of the extent to which the landscape has been shaped by farming. There is little or no arable farming within the moor, mostly being given over to livestock farming on account of the thin and rocky soil. Some Dartmoor farms are remote in the extreme.

See also

References

  • Harris, Helen Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

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