Tamar Valley with Tavistock

Morwellham areial view

The mines of this district worked an important group of tin and copper lodes.  

Tin and copper outcrops can be traced from Callington and Kit Hill eastwards to the fringes of Dartmoor, crossing the Tamar Valley between Luckett and Calstock and centred on the settlement of Gunnislake. Devon Great Consols and Bedford United to the east of the Tamar and Drakewalls and Gunnislake Clitters to the west were the most important mines at the heart of this area. There are other successful groups of mines around Kit Hill and to the south of Tavistock, with a detached group on the western flanks of Dartmoor at Mary Tavy. The mines of the Bere Alston peninsula, which worked north-south aligned silver lead lodes and which are amongst the earliest documented in the south-west, are another important component of this mining district.

The isolated chimneys, occasional ruined engine house or the revegetated mine dumps scattered through this predominantly agricultural landscape are only part of the story, and the wooded slopes of the Tamar and Tavy hide the remains of once famous sites, including, Devon Great Consols, for a few years the most spectacular mine in the whole of south-west Britain.

Most of the land flanking the Tamar Valley has long been cultivated and settled, and for this reason, mining appears at first glance to have little impact on the landscape. Patterns of land ownership have also had a bearing on this, most particularly in Devon, where one large estate controlled some of the most significant sites, and the reversion clause laid on the shareholders of Devon Great Consols by the Duke of Bedford ensured the clearance of almost all its buildings within months of its closure, to be followed by the cloaking of the site in conifers.

To the east of the Tamar, farms tend to be large and there are few settlements. Tavistock itself is unlike any town within the Cornish mining district. The dramatic remodelling of much of the medieval town by the 7th Duke of Bedford during the mid-19th century was achieved with profits from his mines, whilst a substantial proportion of the mining workforce was housed in model cottages built within the town, at the mines and across his estate

The Tamar unites the two areas and has served as an essential means of communication and transport for many centuries, though the quays which lined its banks proved inadequate to deal with the volume of traffic created during the 19th century, and both Calstock and Morwellham were developed as industrial ports with rail links to mine sites. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was established in 1994, which covers much of the Tamar Valley, including many significant mines, settlements, former mineral railways and quays.


Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of B Gamble at Cornwall Council

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