East Nun Walk

Leader: David Eeles

Sadly a lovely day for walking and a relatively short planned route only tempted out 7 of us, but there was no lack of expertise as four committee members were joined by Tom and Lis Greeves and Dartmoor Ranger Paul Glanville. We set out from the quarry car park on the Whiteworks Road on the track which heads towards Nun’s Cross Farm. At the brow of the hill we diverted to the right to follow a line of increasingly deep prospecting pits that followed the usual roughly E-W line of the lodes in this area. After crossing the main Princetown – Eylesbarrow track there are some even more impressive pits, which eventually branch South perhaps on a caunter lode towards Nun’s Cross Mine and which were presumably part of the sett of that mine. After following a gulley down the hillside, which may have been a drainage channel providing water for a leat still just visible on the valley bottom which may have supplied water to a long disappeared dressing floor in this area, we walked through the almost lunar landscape of craters and pits to the old building near the lower Devonport Leat tunnel entrance. Guarded by a distinctive tree these walls once were home to workers building the leat around 1793-5 and housed a smithy where tools were made and sharpened. It was probably later used by the tinners and then became a farmhouse. We walked down to the portal at the entrance to the Leat tunnel. Eric Hemery in his “Walking the Dartmoor Waterways” says that this impressive portal was built c1850 to replace the original leat tunnel which had used the adit from Nun’s Cross Mine. However this was found to be too sluggish so a deeper tunnel had to be built. At the tunnel entrance we reflected on the plan of the tunnels and levels that are to be found in the Leat tunnel that we were shown earlier in the walk by one who had been inside. It is said that daylight can be seen through concrete struts placed across a shaft on the surface. Not a lot is known about the mining remains in this area and there appear to be no records of output.

Hamilton Jenkin notes that “a tin work adjacent to the “cross of St Siward” (Nun’s Cross) is referred to in a document of 1343, but Tom Greeves says that the date is erroneous and refers to the reference number of the document in question. The date of the tinwork is in fact 1632.

Jenkin continues: “The mining sett granted during the last century was stated to contain three East-West tin lodes and two caunter lodes, all of which showed signs of having been extensively developed on the backs by the old men. In 1862-4 exploratory work was carried out on these by a small cost-book company. Investigations revealed two long cross-cut adits driven at shallow depths, whilst on one of the caunter lodes a third adit, some 10 fathoms deeper, was found to carry fair values of tin. It was estimated that £500 would be needed to clear this adit and sink ventilation shafts. In June 1863 it was reported that a shaft then sinking from the surface would shortly reach the adit level when driving would be resumed. A sum of £10 was also voted for exploring other lodes which it might seem advisable to work, more especially since a rich branch had recently been laid open in the Devonport leat tunnel which passed through the sett. About 30 fathoms remained to drive in the adit before reaching the Nun’s or Main Lode where hopes were entertained of finding good values when it was intersected below the old bottoms. Operations, however, appear to have ceased before the end of 1864 without recorded production.”

Eric Hemery, writing in 1982 but referring back to information gleaned over the previous 30 years, notes: “that the venture was industrious but short-lived. A deep shaft, named Dawes shaft, was sunk a hundred yards south-west of Siwards Cross, and a level driven from it for three hundred fathoms (1800ft/ 547m) East-South-East direction, passing underneath Nuns Cross Ford and ending upstream in another shaft on the right bank of the brook. Both shafts were filled in following the closure of the mine.”

We followed Hemery’s instructions and found what was probably Dawe’s shaft (SX604698). Crossing under Nun’s Cross ford, in an ESE direction, would have taken this level more in the direction of the Western end of “T” girt, where there is a line of very impressive deep pits which certainly could have been shafts. Following the line of these shafts reveals a fairly shallow gully cut down the slope to the North on what might have been a caunter lode, and then further along is the main stem of the “T” girt which is much deeper. Hemery refers to a building at the head of this girt and we found the foundations of a structure with a curvilinear wall above the Eastward side near its junction with the E-W line of pits. Uphill, on the Southern side of the gully are the clear remains of an early reservoir which presumably provided water to help cut the girt. Tom Greeves noted there were early tinworks called Easter Nun and Wester Nun operating in the years around 1600 by William Stockman of Sheepstor and Peter Woodley of Ashburton, and this may have been the site of them.

We proceeded down the girt to what was almost certainly the site of an adit, with water still issuing and a wide apron of now boggy spoil spreading down the hillside. This may have been the one referred to by Hamilton Jenkin. From the adit we followed the path diagonally across the hillside to a ladder over the newtake wall, then East beside the wall until coming to a small rock outcrop at the summit . Heading North downhill we passed some small workings and then the very faint higher leat which may have fed the wheelpit we were to see later near Nun’s Cross Ford. Below this leat is the very clear main Whiteworks leat which contours round the South of the mire from the R. Swincombe near Fox Tor Farm to Nun’s Cross ford and then Northwards to Whiteworks. It is from this leat that the small dressing floor below (SX 614701) probably drew its water. Tom ‘discovered’ this floor on 11 June 1969 – almost exactly 49 years ago to the day! As he says, definitely long overdue for a proper survey! This would appear to be associated with East Nuns Mine which is marked on William Wood’s map of about 1850.

Both Tom and Phil Newman say the dressing floor at E. Nuns is of classic type dating to the years around 1800. There is a small wheelpit about 2ft wide and 14 ft. long, with a clear classic revetment and some squarish buddles. As always the leat embankment and tailrace are the most prominent features. It is too late in date for mortar-stones to be found.

Phil Newman says that William Horsewell was working “a little mine near Nun’s Cross” in 1854.

After a pleasant lunch admiring the view across to Whiteworks we followed the leat back towards the ford, breaking off to descend to the quite impressive streamworks at the head of Foxtor Mire which were probably of medieval or earlier date. On the other side we found the remains of the tinner’s building which unusually has a porch at its Northern entrance. Just to the North East of this were some features and on the path some tin slimes which may indicate another dressing floor in the vicinity. Moving upstream we looked at the older wheelpit, embankment and dressing floor on the right bank of the stream just above the newtake wall, originally discovered by Paul Glanville (SX608697). In the photo (left) the embankment is shown in the foreground and the hillock to the right further down is probably spoil from the wheelpit which lies obscured below. Downslope of the hillock are two possible square buddles. We looked in vain for the probable mortar-stone which Tom and others had seen built into the newtake wall in previous years.

Finally after a very rewarding and enjoyable walk we strolled back along the Devonport Leat to the road and up to the carpark.