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Morwellham Quay: transport infrastructure, part of the water control system and a manganese mill

A Scheduled Monument in Gulworthy, Devon

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Latitude: 50.5054 / 50°30'19"N

Longitude: -4.1932 / 4°11'35"W

OS Eastings: 244574.045

OS Northings: 69587.1377

OS Grid: SX445695

Mapcode National: GBR NT.KGRS

Mapcode Global: FRA 273Q.G79

Entry Name: Morwellham Quay: transport infrastructure, part of the water control system and a manganese mill

Scheduled Date: 17 December 2010

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021461

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30973

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Gulworthy

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon


The monument is situated at Morwellham on the east bank of the River Tamar,
strategically sited at the river's highest navigable point for large
sea-going ships. It includes the earthworks, standing and buried remains of
the former port, including quays and docks; its associated transport
infrastructure and water management systems; and the ruins of an early-C19
manganese mill.

Morwellham Quay lies within the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape;
designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006. Four listed buildings
fall within the scheduled area, all listed at Grade II: the probably mid-C18
century lime kilns, Quay Cottage and Assayer's Laboratory, The Old Dock quay
and the circa 1850 Canal Cottage. With the exception of Old Dock quay, all
these listed buildings are excluded from the scheduling, though the ground
beneath them is included. The quay forms an intrinsic part of the monument.

Morwellham was established as the port for Tavistock Abbey by the C13 and a
quay is first recorded here as early as circa 1235-40. It soon became an
important port serving the local area as well as the Abbey; goods such as
food, wines and building materials were imported through the port and tin was
exported. Following the Dissolution in 1539, Morwellham was granted to Lord
John Russell, later the Duke of Bedford. The completion of the Tavistock
Canal in 1817 and construction of an inclined plane down to Morwellham
improved the port's transport connections, ensuring that it flourished as a
mineral export centre for the Tamar Valley, initially for manganese and then
copper ore.

In 1857-58 a standard-gauge railway was constructed between Devon Great
Consols Mine, described as the largest copper and arsenic producer in the
world at that time, and Morwellham; the former described as the largest
copper and arsenic producer in the world at that time. The lower (southern)
section of the route took the form of an incline that lowered ore and raised
materials from the end of the railway down to a newly-built quay. This
purpose-built railway and incline thus greatly reduced the mine's transport
costs since ore had previously been carried by horse. This period in
Morwellham's history was one of great prosperity, with the port focussing on
the storage and export of massive quantities of copper ore. However, the
slump in copper prices from the 1860s and the subsequent decline of the Tamar
Valley mines, along with the arrival of the railway at Tavistock in 1859,
combined to seriously affect river trade, resulting in the swift decline of
Morwellham as a commercial port by the early C20.

Although there is a mid-C13 reference to a quay at Morwellham, one of the
earliest documented on the Tamar, the first record of a dock was in 1765. The
Old Dock (the Canal Company's River Dock), which is also listed at Grade II,
was in existence by 1768 and is the earliest known extant dock at the site.
It appears to have been enlarged and re-lined in the early C19 after the
construction of the Tavistock Canal. It is surrounded by buttressed walls
that define the Canal Company's boundary. Partial excavation at Morwellham in
2002 uncovered evidence for a late-C18 dock on limekiln quay to the
north-east which appears to have been infilled in the mid-C19. A third dock
was added in circa 1820 to serve the manganese mill that was also constructed
at this time. It is faced with vertically-set rubble walling and its south
side has granite coping. Limekiln quay is believed to have been used from the
medieval period through to the late C18 and excavation has located stone
sleepers and some rails on the quay. The early-C19 lower copper quay is
situated at the north-eastern extent of the site. Along its north side is a
slightly battered retaining wall of random stone rubble that stands
approximately 6m high. Set within the wall are a number of ore chutes:
arch-headed openings that are arranged in five vertically-set pairs, some
retaining evidence for timber chutes. A track, running along the top of the
wall and terraced into the hillslope, was used initially by packhorses and
later, once the canal incline had been built, by wagons on a railway to
transfer ore onto the quay below. In 1933 a hydro-electric power station was
built on the eastern end of the quay and the retaining wall broken through
for a supply pipeline for the power station. Higher copper quay to the
south-east of the manganese dock was constructed in the mid C19. There are
the remains of wooden hurdles along part of the waterfront.

The Devon Great Consols Great Dock and its adjoining quay were constructed in
1856-58 on former water meadows at the south-western end of the site. The
sides of the dock were supported by large timbers, held in place by iron
collars, and the dock was restored in the late C20. Granite bollards and the
remains of a fixed crane survive on the quay. Morwellham was served by a
network of railways that ran from the base of the two inclines to the various
quays. Excavation has demonstrated that well-preserved sections survive close
to and on the quays themselves, including cast-iron plateways of 1816-17;
cast-iron edge rails; granite sleeper blocks; and the remains of two

The Tavistock Canal was built between 1803 and 1817 by the engineer John
Taylor, originally to carry metalliferous ores from western Devon and the
mining district around Tavistock, and for importing products such as coal,
limestone and timber in the opposite direction. The canal ran for a distance
of 4.5 miles, two of which are through a tunnel under Morwell Down, and its
western end terminates at the summit of the canal incline. This western
section of the canal (some 560m) follows the contour of the valley side and
is included in the scheduling. The west end of the canal is built of stone
rubble and granite blocks; on its north side is a possible slipway. The
incline which linked the canal with the quays dates from circa 1816 and has a
gradient of approximately one in seven. It is built of earth and stone and
originally had a cast-iron plateway, though this was re-laid with
wrought-iron rails set in killas and granite sleeper-blocks in the mid-C19. A
number of the sleeper-blocks survive in situ.

The incline was dismantled by 1889 after the canal fell into disuse.
Approximately 190m south of the incline head, the incline splits into two.
One branch heads south-east towards lower copper quay and the other continues
into the centre of Morwellham. Wagons were raised and lowered along the
double-tracked plateway by means of a water-powered winding drum at the
incline head. The stone rubble walls of the wheelpit survive to the west of
Canal Cottage (listed at Grade II) and, although there is no surface evidence
for the former winding house, excavation has shown that it survives as a
buried feature adjacent to the wheelpit. Also visible in the vicinity is a
network of leats and overflow channels in the form of stone-lined, earthwork
and rock-cut channels that were originally fed from the canal.

In 1857-58 a mineral railway was built to connect the Devon Great Consols
Mine with the port. The last half mile of the line was by a steam-hauled
incline with a gradient of one in three. From the base of the incline the
trucks passed through a tunnel which runs beneath the eastern half of Bedford
Cottages and onto raised wooden viaducts (reconstructed) on the purpose-built
quay. The mine closed in 1903 and the track was taken up and the tunnel was
infilled. The south tunnel portal and the adjacent railway cutting to the
north of the quay were excavated and partly restored in 2007. This incline,
which is included in the scheduling, survives as a steep embankment running
north-westwards from Morwellham for approximately 570m. Wagons were drawn and
lowered along the incline by means of a wire rope powered by a stationary 22'
steam engine situated at the head of the incline. The winder engine house and
other ancillary structures survive as earthworks and buried remains and were
partly excavated in 2009.

Manganese was mined in West Devon from the late C18 and much of the ore,
largely destined for use in the glass, cotton and steel industries, was sent
to Morwellham to be milled, packed and then transported by river. A
water-powered manganese mill was constructed at the port in circa 1820. Water
was supplied from a reservoir some 230m to the north, via a leat that can be
traced for most of its length to a launder-fed waterwheel. The reservoir,
which was dredged in 2010, has a semi-circular dam wall of stone and earth on
its west side. A sluice towards the south-western end of the dam controlled
the water supply to the leat which is visible running parallel with the canal
incline for a short section, then as a slight earthwork within the garden of
Harewood View, before turning south-east alongside the track. The leat was
carried across the track in the centre of the village by means of a wooden
launder to the top of the waterwheel. The existing launder which dates to the
1970s, and the waterwheel, which was installed in 1973, are both excluded
from the scheduling. However, the stone launder support, which partly re-uses
the west wall of an earlier granary of 1790 and the wheelpit itself are
included. The manganese mill went out of use by 1868 but the walls of the
building survive. It has a three-room plan and retains some areas of stone
paving, a granite millstone, and the remains of a domestic hearth.

Towards the southern end of the canal incline is a roofless building of slate
stone with granite dressings. It contains an overshot waterwheel that was
installed in the mid-C19 and which has been restored. It raised water from a
well beside the incline, providing a piped domestic water supply to Bedford
Cottages to the west. These cottages were built in 1856 as part of the
expansion of Morwellham necessitated by the increased trade at the quay.

All telegraph and electricity poles, inspection chambers, fence posts and
modern surfaces are excluded from the scheduling. Of the standing buildings
and structures at the site, Bedford Cottages; the hydro-electric station and
its pipeline; the warehouses in the timber yard to the north-east of the Old
Dock; the reconstructed timber railway staging on Devon Great Consols Quay;
the Garlandstone (a restored boat of 1909); the former cooperage (now a
blacksmith's shop) adjacent to the manganese mill; the restored waterwheel
erected on the site in 1974; the restored manganese shed (now the
audio-visual building); the boathouse; and Sampler's Cottage and culm yard to
the west of lower copper quay are all excluded from the scheduling. In
addition, the Grade II listed Canal Cottage (and its outbuildings); the Grade
II listed Quay Cottage and Assayer's Laboratory (including the pigsties and
privies); the Grade II listed lime kilns; and the south portal to the
Tavistock Canal are also excluded. The ground beneath all of these is,
however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Quays are structures designed to enhance the natural landforms of coastal or
riverside locations by providing sheltered landing places with sufficient
depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal cycle.
The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on
their date, but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the
underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need
to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres
of trade and administrative authority. Usually in locations already sheltered
to some extent by natural features, basic elements of quays may include
platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is
naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a
small dock on a riverside or coast. Such features occur among the earliest
surviving quays in England known from larger Roman urban centres, notably
London, where they form the basis for an almost continuous development of
quays to the present day. Quays display a considerable diversity of form,
setting and construction. They comprise valuable sources of information on
patterns of earlier trade, authority and settlement, and their medieval and
later development shows clearly the relationship between economic forces and
technological innovation in adapting the natural landscape. All medieval
quays that are disused and survive substantially intact as upstanding
monuments are nationally important. Disused post-medieval examples surviving
substantially intact and forming distinctive indicators of pre-19th century
trades and activities are also considered likely to be of national

Morwellham Quay ranks as one of the country's most complete C19 inland ports
and it retains clear evidence for the C18 and C19 expansion of a medieval
river port. It is an industrial complex that retains great integrity, and the
unintensive use of the site since it ceased to operate as a mining port in
the early C20 has resulted in few modern modifications. Morwellham's
principal significance lies in its role in the development of the orefields
in the C18 and C19; it was probably the most important copper ore exporting
centre in Europe during the mid-C19. It survives in an unusually complete
state and many of its archaeological features reflect this significant period
in the site's history. The extensive range of docks and quays in particular
provides evidence that the port was a key interface between the mines of West
Devon and global trade. Much of the integrated transport infrastructure
survives well as either surface or buried remains including the sub-surface
remains of in situ early-C19 plateways and turntables which are particularly
rare and significant survivals nationally. The Tavistock Canal is considered
to be a good example of a mineral canal and its associated incline is the
only known extant example of a water-powered inclined plane in the country.
The site of the manganese mill is of particular importance as possibly the
only known surviving example in the South West, and it will retain buried
evidence for the technology and processes used in this industry. In addition
there is a considerable archive of documentary material relating to the
history of Morwellham; it is accessible to the public and thus serves as an
important educational resource and amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Booker, F, Morwellham in the Tamar Valley, (1976)
Buck, C, Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Buck, C, Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Cornwall County Council, , Wheal Russell Mine: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Cox, J, Thorp, J, Canal Cottage, Morwellham. Keystone Historic Buildings Report, (1992)
Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit, , An Archaeological survey of Devon Great consols Mine, (1989)
Gaskell Brown, C, Morwellham, An Archaeological Assessment, (1977)
Patrick, A, Growth and Decline of Morwellham, (1974)
'Cornwall Archaeological Unit' in Devon Great Consols Mine: Archaeological Assessment, (2002)

Source: Historic England

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