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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Haytor Granite Tramway

This is part 2 of 3 posts, the first being about Haytor Quarry here. That post describes the quarry on the top of Dartmoor which explains why the Granite Tramway was built. The quarry was in a remote and difficult place to access, and the product, solid granite for building was extremely heavy and therefore problematic to transport to market.

These are the spoil heaps that mark the location of the quarry. The quarry is difficult to get to and difficult to find. Many walkers on the moor, walk right past it, not even knowing it is there.

Just near these spoil heaps are the remains of the Granite Tramway. The Haytor Granite Tramway was built to convey granite from Haytor Down, Dartmoor, Devon to the Stover Canal. It was very unusual in that the track was formed of granite sections, shaped to guide the wheels of horse-drawn wagons.

It was built in 1820; the granite was in demand in the developing cities of England as masonry to construct public buildings and bridges. In 1850 the quarries employed about 100 men but by 1858 they had closed due to the availability of cheaper Cornish granite.

The granite from the quarries near Haytor Rock was much in demand for construction work in the cities of England, but in an era when railways and reliable roads had not yet been developed, the transport of this heavy and bulky commodity was a significant problem. Coastal shipping was a practicable transport medium, and the Stover Canal was available from Ventiford to the Teign Navigation.

The Haytor Tramway was constructed to carry the granite the 10 miles (16 km) to the canal, which involved a falling vertical interval of 1,300 feet (400 m) to the basin of the Stover Canal. Its form was a close relative of a plateway, where longitudinal L-shaped metal plates were used to support and guide the wheels of wagons. In the Haytor case, the "plates" were cut from granite blocks.

The blocks were from 4 feet (1.2 m) to 8 feet (2.4 m) long and about 1 foot (0.30 m) square. The outer surface of the blocks was cut away to make the track leaving an upstand which guided the wheels of the wagons. The route was carefully engineered to follow a consistent downward gradient to the canal basin, following the contours of the land.

The Stover Canal had been built between 1790 and 1792 by James II Templer (1748–1813) of Stover House, Teigngrace, for the clay traffic, and was extended to Teigngrace in 1820. From here the granite was carried by canal boat to the New Quay at Teignmouth for export by ship, the quay having been built in 1827 for the purpose, making midstream transshipment no longer necessary.

A contemporary description of the official opening shows the extent of the achievement:

On Saturday Mr. Templer, of Stover House, gave a grand fete champetre on Haytor Down, on the completion of the granite rail road. The company assembled at its foot on Bovey Heathfield, and in procession passed over it to the rock. A long string of carriages, filled with elegant and beautiful females, multitudes of horsemen, workmen on foot, the wagons covered with laurels and waving streamers, formed in their windings through the valley, an attractive scene to spectators on the adjacent hill. Old Haytor seemed alive: its sides were lined with groups of persons, and on its top a proud flag fluttered in the wind. Previously to returning to dine, Mr Templer addressed the assemblage in a short and energetic speech, which excited bursts of applause...

The granite proved a good solution to the main problem of the landscape, which is unpredictable boggy conditions when the moorland gets wet. The waggons were heavy and the granite cross sections not only spread the weight, but also minimised erosion and did not rust like iron rails would have.

The wooden flat-topped waggons had iron flangeless wheels and ran in trains of usually twelve waggons drawn by around 18 horses in single file, in front for the upward journey and at the rear for the downward. An old sailor called Thomas Taverner wrote a poem which gives us this information:

Nineteen stout horses it was known,

From Holwell Quarry drew the stone,

And mounted on twelve-wheeled car

'Twas safely brought from Holwell Tor.

Much more rain falls on Dartmoor than in the surrounding lowlands. As much of the national park is covered in thick layers of peat (decaying vegetation), the rain is usually absorbed quickly and distributed slowly, so the moor is rarely dry. In areas where water accumulates, dangerous bogs or mires can result. Some of these, topped with bright green moss, are known to locals as "feather beds" or "quakers", because they can shift (or 'quake') beneath a person's feet. Quakers result from sphagnum moss growing over the water that accumulates in the hollows in the granite.

Dartmoor today, is a National Park. The moorland and surrounding land has been protected by National Park status since 1951. Dartmoor National Park covers 954 km2 (368 sq mi).

Some of the bogs on Dartmoor have achieved notoriety. Fox Tor Mires was supposedly the inspiration for Great Grimpen Mire in Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, although there is a waymarked footpath across it. Sabine Baring-Gould, in his Book of Dartmoor (1900) related the story of a man who was making his way through Aune Mire at the head of the River Avon when he came upon a top-hat brim down on the surface of the mire. He kicked it, whereupon a voice called out: "What be you a-doin' to my 'at?" The man replied, "Be there now a chap under'n?" "Ees, I reckon," was the reply, "and a hoss under me likewise."

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2 commenti

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
05 ott 2022

I'm guessing that it wasn't smooth and quiet! Quite a feat though.

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
05 ott 2022
Risposta a

It's hard to conceive how much effort it took to hand carve in granite about 7 miles of track.

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