This walk: 2013-4-17. Powdermills, Lych Way, Powder Mills Leat, incorporating mills, gunpowder, maidenhair spleenwort, tar, water wheels, wheel pit, magazine, reservoir, Cherry Brook, chimney, flue, unidentified mosses. Proving mortar, bombard or éprouvette - Helen Wilson, page 131 - iron ball, 68 lb, powder graded by how far it flew.
Walk details below - Information about the route etc.
Link to Google Satellite view of the area - the car park is on the B3212 road under the top right "B3212" label, 240 metres north-east of the Lych Way path eunning north-west onto the moor from the road.
This walk took place in mist with
strong wind and rain. The latter got onto the camera lens and is seen as 'blobs'
on some photographs.
A previous walk in this area - 13th September 2012, with a blue sky!
On the Lych Way or Way of the Dead, the B3212 road is just the other side of the hedge. When people from the ancient tenements of Dartmoor died, they had to be carried to Lydford for burial. Also, Lydford was the administration centre for the area. It is believed that corpses were probably carried over a horse until they reached Coffin Wood, near Lydford, when they were placed in a coffin for a more appropriate entry into the town.
Notice that greets the walker, or rider. This notice was at the other end although they are the same at each end of the causeway area.
Powder Mills Leat, at SX 63357 77880. The water came from the East Dart River, above Postbridge. Another leat came from the Cherry Brook, originating at about SX 6285 7814 and joining this leat before the mills at about SX 6298 7762. The water was used to power seven water wheels in the gunpowder mills complex.
First view of the powder mills: the two leats came together somewhere over this hedge, about 70 metres to the right.
A merry band of smiling walkers, wrapped up against the weather and with their backs to the wind!
The first ruins encountered are an 'incorporating mill', where the gun powder (sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre (potassium nitrate) was actually mixed, this being an end gable of the building. Gun powder was made here 1844-1896 and was used mainly for quarrying, tin mining and clearing ground for farming. It closed due to the increased use of dynamite and a slump in mining. My own father used dynamite sticks (post-1926) for blowing tree stumps out when clearing ground for farming in West Cornwall, Nobel's dynamite coming along after gun powder. Gun powder was also used for military purposes as well as shotguns and other firearms, these being called "black powder" weapons. As an aside, they do not have the recoil of the modern weapons because the powder 'burn' occurs within the length of the barrel as opposed to the very short length of a modern cartridge. However, a 4-bore has a hell of a recoil - it was the old-fashioned elephant gun and fired round lead balls weighting 1/4 lb i.e. 1.75 kg (nearly a bag of sugar in weight) and about 1-inch in diameter. At game shows, punters are caught by two strong men! The 12-bore is a much safer thing to try, normally offered as a clay pigeon exercise.
The factory was established by George Frean - he was involved in a syndicate that built the village of Clearbrook, with 51 houses, the hamlet being about 200 years old, inhabited originally by miners and labourers, . Either Frean or the syndicate supplied biscuits to the Royal Navy. George Frean went into business with James Peek in 1857 in Bermondsey to form Peek, Frean & Co., biscuit makers, whose products included the Garibaldi and Custard Cream biscuits, now known as the Bourbon biscuit. They amalgamated in 1921 with Huntley & Palmers although each kept their own brands and identities etc.
Maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes subspecies trichomanes, (subspecies named according to the rounded, not oblong, pinnae), a lime-loving plant on the old mortar in the wall .....
Unidentified moss .....
Moss fruiting bodies.
Tar on the inner wall of the incorporating mill that has come from coating the wooden or thin canvas roof against the rain. The walls were very strong, the roofs were flimsy in case of accidental explosions.
Incorporating mills consisted of two buildings with a water wheel shared between them. Water was leated in and used very cleverly, going from one building to another, being stored in reservoirs along the way .....
A window in a 2-metre thick wall .....
Vertical montage of three photographs showing the whell pit between buildings from roof apex to the bottom of the wheel pit ..... the wheels were 'undershot' i.e. the water did not run over thwe top of them and it came from the leat bank that can be seen through the gap in the photograph above .....
It's strange how when you are quietly taking photographs, smiling faces appear - you watch, going down this page !!!
Looking right through the incorporating mill.
Another view through in another direction ......
Wheel pit showing the water exit onto other buildings ......
Looking back at the mill over the ruins of its storage magazine building where the final product could be stored. The bank behind it brought the leat water in for its first use.
General view, showing the second chimney to be visited later.
Looking back at the first incorporating mill, across the reservoir of the next mill.
Tar on the walls, from coating the roof.
Lookimng through the second mill, much the same as the first. There are three incorporating mills with three magazines.
The third of three incorporating mills.
Zoomed view to the second chimney visited, at SX 62720 77398 - actually, you can hardly miss it!
Looking down at the Cherry Brook.
Well, well, who's here again?
We thought we saw the sun, but it was a passing illusion.
Vague attempt at something artistic. Failed.
Ruins of a storage magazine.
Looking towards the second chimney to be visited, later.
Approaching the first chimney, at SX 62913 77168 ......
Looking across the track in through today's modern Powder Mills complex, where there is a pottery and tea room (Powdermills Pottery), adventure centre (Spirit of Adventure) and meteorological company (Dartcom) - their web cam is shown live on the Dartmoor CAM web site's Weather page (with their permission). The building is believed to be the Cartridge Press House. There are a total of eighteen buildings and very little is definitely known about them.
There is a Heritage Gateway web page about the site that describes the leats and the mills in some detail although not every building. A more recent description is given by Phil Newman (2011), in The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, English Heritage, pages 227-230. He cites Pye A. (1994) 'An example of a non-metalliferrous Dartmoor industry: the gunpowder factory at Powdermills'. Proc. Devon Arch. Soc. 52, 221-240 for detail of the buildings.
Believed Stoving House/charcoal production building, with a long covered flue to the first chimney that we visit .....
Dartmoor Pixy emerging after crawling through the chimney .....
Standing on the covered flue. Click the image to see a larger version
Looking up at the chimney, with two raindrops on the camera lens (the white blobs) .....
Zoomed view, looking at the construction.
Zoomed view to Bellever Tor.
Looking down the flue to it's origin .....
Another view .....
Panorama of the presumed Stoving House, along the flue to the chimney. Click the image to see a larger version.
Cherry Brook, looking upstream .....
Cherry Brook, looking downstream.
That presumed cartridge press house, again.
The first chimney, at SX 62908 77166 .....
Victorian plant pot, somebody said!
Believed Corning house ..... where powder was reduced and rounded ..... the powder was also graded here somewhere depending on its proposed use .....
Believed Glazing House ..... where powder was covered with graphite or lead for water-proofing .....
Building 9, believed used for corning, dusting, packing and as stables. There is a wheel pit in the centre ..... look at the corner stones at top-right .....
Unidentified moss .....
As previous photograph.
Corner stones, how long will they stay there?
The second chimney - part of a drying house for gunpowder .....
Just a view.
Last look up at the first incorporating mill that we saw, with the leat bank behind it.
MAP: Red = GPS satellite track of the walk.
© Crown copyright and database rights 2012 Ordnance Survey Licence number 100047373
Also, Copyright © 2005, Memory-Map Europe, with permission.
This walk was reached by driving from Two Bridges towards Postbridge and parking at either of the two yellow crosses or at the quarry car park, slightly further south-west and marked by the P symbol, on the map.
All photographs on this web site are copyright ©2007-2016 Keith Ryan.