Haytor and Bagtor Walk

Leaders S. Holley and D. Eeles (helped by P. Watson)

These mines are among the most interesting on the moor, featuring as they do the largest dam, longest tramway and largest waterwheel on the moor as well as puzzling features which, unusually, we were able to go some way to demystifying. After parking cars at the bottom of the walk the 30-odd walkers, including a goodly contingent from Ilsington, in whose parish the Bagtor Mine lies, returned to near Hemsworthy Gate (SX744761) to park on what was the very site of the Old Engine Shaft. Thanks to beautifully drawn Abandoned Mine Plans from the Coal Board we are able to reveal much more than is often the case about both these mines. There are the remains (most hidden under gorse but prominent enough to be identified) of no less than 9 shafts on the three roughly E-W lodes. On the original North lode the main shaft was Old Engine Shaft, with Western shaft to the West and Engine shaft to the East, with two more trial shafts visible beside the road and the tramway further to the East. Joining these shafts together is the main adit at about 5 fathoms, and the map shows that at this level a considerable amount of stoping had taken place labelled “Ground taken away by the Ancient Workers”. This adit was extended North Westward by a cross-cut which led to the tail of the adit which drained into the prominent gully and open-works to the North of the Old Engine shaft, although it is not now possible to identify the entrance. The map shows that there was a smithy down in the gully of which little now remains, and a chimney near the Old Engine shaft which research by Steve Holley can throw light on. There was one shaft on the middle lode, and three more on the South lode, all served by the main adit, but all those working areas were developed by the “ancient workers”, probably in medieval times, although there is reference to early workings in the 1840’s. However in 1851 Haytor Consols was formed and large scale construction of plant took place. The Western Times reports in 1853 that a new steam engine was set to work and there was “beautiful machinery for preparation and dressing of tin”. Woolmers Gazette in the same year reports that the steam engine was heated by peat, and the Devonport Journal, most significantly, reports that “the able engineer, Mr Finney (was) presented with a silver snuff box by the workforce of Haytor Consols for the working of the steam engine and beautiful construction of the wheels and stamps at Crowley Park.” The mine at Hemsworthy Gate is too high for water power to be used, and it is clear from the plans that the new company drove the Old Engine shaft down to 18 fathoms and most of the recovered ore came from the new 10 fathom level. However the only way this could be pumped dry was clearly by steam power, hence the chimney marked on the map by the shaft, although very little is to be seen now of any engine house. This also clearly shows that the Crownley Park works, and therefore the linking tramway, were part of these new works, although there is evidence of tin mining of a much earlier date in the slopes above the dressing floors down there. The group then set off down the tramway, diverting to the slopes of Rippon Tor at the old wall after noting the still remaining two posts set in the wall where the tramway passed through. This route not only avoided a very boggy area, but also allowed us to reach the first evidence of the second, and clearly completely separate, mining entity, the Bagtor Mining Company. The Haytor company is reported as having produced 16 tons of black tin, but despite the heroic scale of the construction it ceased operations in 1856. However the new Bagtor company was set up in 1862, and in 1863 it is recorded that a 60ft wheel was installed to pump out Wheal Prosper and Engine shafts (but no Engine shaft is marked on the maps of the workings near Bagtor). We headed for the shaft in the quite spectacular openworks on Horridge Common opposite Bagtor Down (SX755755). Above the open works a reservoir system probably used to create the beam was observed with a fairly clear sluice gate. The new? shaft there was originally worked by a whim the platform of which was still evident although the shaft itself is not now visible. The Coal Plans show that the flat rods from the enormous waterwheel at Bagtor cottages extended right up to this mine, the drawing showing wooden posts with a wheel on top which the rods would have rested on, which explains the lack of remains such as those at Ailsborough. To help ease the task of driving the rods up the hill, there were large balance bobs at the Western shaft and at Prosper shaft (SX758758), our next destination, where the need for elevation for the rod system probably explains why there is a prominent pile of waste material there. Down in the valley the drawings also show another large balance bob the site of which was not evident. Prosper shaft also had a whim platform, this time with a mellior stone, and was driven down 16 fathoms where a fair amount of stoping took place. A shallow adit was driven in just below the spoil heaps, the collapsed entrance of which can still be seen. Presumably in an attempt to de-water these workings without the complicated and probably inefficient pumping system a deep adit was driven in near the bottom of the valley and our group, with the help of a local resident, was able to rediscover this largely overgrown adit which never reached its target, extending only some 40 yards.

We then made a detour to observe the spectacular remains of the large dam which was presumably built to ensure that the massive waterwheel(s) had a reliable source of water. On the other side of the valley a barbed wire fence marks the site of Quickbeam shaft, still very much in evidence. There is a whim platform beside this shaft too although it is hidden under the gorse. The flat rod system also extended to this shaft which was also drained by a shallow adit. Below this there was some evidence of a site for a waterwheel at the bottom of the slope by the River Sig where a revetment has been cut and we found the leat which would have supplied the water. Such a wheel is clearly shown on the drawings but confusingly they also show rod lines leading from the big wheel at Bagtor cottages. There is another shaft, Adit shaft, further up the hill which is marked by more openworks and trial shafts to the top of Bagtor.

We then followed the tramway again down to Bagtor cottages (SX762756), passing on the way the remains of an angle bob which is shown on the plans. This was situated on the actual tramway proving that this was not used by the Bagtor company, although there is evidence of a new tramway from the cottages to the aforementioned deep adit. The cottages include what was the mine-captain’s residence. After looking at the contentious “wheelpit” in the nearest building, latterly used as a sawpit but according to some reports previously an under shot waterwheel whose tailrace runs underneath the other buildings, we examined the now much obscured (by silt and probably stone-robbing) remains of the waterwheel pits and dressing floors. Until now it has been thought that the two tunnel entrances to be seen here were adits, although their purpose was not clear. However in a revelatory piece of deductive reasoning, Steve has averred that these were the tail-races for the two big water-wheel pits, one powering the rod system and the other the stamps. There is even the possibility of a third for the buddles. He remembers when the outline of the lower wheelpit was much clearer, and it does lie where the water from the tail-race of the upper wheel could be re-used. Steve found traces of a leat leading to the upper wheel-pit, but all that now remains of that pit is a shallow depression of the right dimensions. In 1864 plant from nearby Smiths Wood was purchased.

Sadly at this point time ran out, and we were not able to continue along the tramway (through private property for which permission had been given) to the Crownley Park works of the Haytor Company. This will now form the subject of another walk in the spring of 2015. The Bagtor Company was wound up in 1866, another short-lived company whose main beneficiaries seem to have been the men who constructed the works, as there is no record of any output.