The Birch Tor and Vitifer Mine was originally separate mines on opposite sides of the Redwater Valley, with Vitifer on the west side and Birch Tor on the east side. That said, they were mostly worked together. The first known recorded reference is of Vitifer Mine is 1750, albeit the area had been (mainly surface) worked by the “old men” from medieval times. By 1796, it is recorded that 13 shafts had been sunk and that 40 men were employed. The mine was profitable until 1820s when there was a slump in the tin price. Shortly after this (around 1834), Captain John Paul (or Palk) acquired the lease at a knock down price having reputed to have kept his knowledge of the most profitable lodes from the owners.
In the early 1860s the mine had a revival with 150 people employed following a change of ownership. The peak of production appears to be around 1864 with 150 tons of black tin being sold. The mine declined after the peak and closed in 1882. There was a mini-revival in the early 20th century between 1903 and 1913 and was moderately successful employing 35 people. After the first world war there was a small amount of both surface work and underground work until the mine was finally abandoned in 1939.
This post and information contained herein has made reference to The Dartmoor Historic Environment Record (HER), two superb books, namely: “Tin Mines and Miners of Dartmoor” by Dr Tom Greeves and “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – The North” by Jeremy Butler and finally a 1883-84 map, which the author was given with most of the lode and shaft names annotated to it . To add to the post, the author has added a few letterboxing stamps, which his father created in the 1990s.
This sketch map shows all the key features covered in this post. The exception is the “Dressing Floor and Sheds”, which once had stamps and two water wheels. These were destroyed during the second world war, when unexploded bombs were brought to this location from Plymouth and safely detonated.
Bennett’s Cross is oddly misshapen and is probably one of the most photographed crosses on the moor. It is a good starting point for exploring Birch Tor and Vitifer mine workings in the Redwater Valley.
Bennett’s Cross is also a boundary stone between Chagford and North Bovey parishes.
Bennett’s Cross has been used as a boundary stone for Headland Warren as it has “WB” (Warren Bounds) inscribed on its north face, which is evident in the above (right) photograph taken on a night walk by the author.
The dotted red arrowed line shows the route (photographs) shown in this post. The photographs are from visits to the area by the author at various times of the year, hence the variation in light conditions and the apparent change in vegetation seen.
Top of Hamblys Lode (East) where footpath crosses before passing the field known as Jan Reynolds Ace (Diamond). The path then crosses Birch Tor Lode en-route to the granite outcrops of Birch Tor.
Looking down Hamblys Lode (East)
Looking up Hamblys Lode (East) from the footpath
Jan Reynolds Ace – Diamond as viewed from the path between Bennett’s Cross and Birch Tor. There is a further description of the “Jan Reynolds Aces” later in the post.
Birch Tor Lode Adit. This can be found at SX68458 81555, near the highest point of the lode and close (20m up) from where the modern footpath between Bennett’s Cross and Birch Tor crosses the workings.
Birch Tor Lode Adit on closer inspection (and at a different time of year than the first picture) shows access today is still possible (albeit not recommended unless with an experienced group). The adit descends at a steep angle into the hillside. There are great views looking west (down the lode) towards Warren House Inn
Looking down Birch Tor Lode (in winter)
Birch Tor Lode in Spring
Descending Birch Tor Lode from the footpath, the explorer will pass two old shafts en-route to Prideaux Shaft.
Prideaux Shaft can be located about one third the way down Birch Tor Lode from the footpath to Redwater Valley.
Prideaux Shaft was recorded at SX68329 81422.
The picture showing miner John (Jack) Webb shows the method of hand drilling c1912, where miners would work in pairs, one would hold the drill and the second would hammer it. Alongside John (Jack Webb) is Freddy Warne. John (Jack) Webb is recorded in “Tin Mines and Tin Miners of Dartmoor” (by Dr Tom Greeves) as coming from Postbridge and who was killed during the First World War The letterbox stamp was designed by the authors father with “hh” being his nom-de-plume.
Guppies Shaft lies in Birch Tor Lode between Prideaux Shaft and the Redwater Valley floor. Guppies Shaft is now engulfed by a fir tree and can be found at SX68286 81364.
Further down Birch Tor Lode from Guppies Shaft is a quite spectacular retaining wall. It is located at SX68285 81342. Ore from Birch Tor Lode was transported up the south side of the gully on a tramway, which was buttressed at its lower end. The author surmises that the picture is the aforementioned buttress.
Looking back up Birch Tor Lode with the retaining wall in shadow (just to the right of the area of rubble). The “line” towards the top right hand side of the picture could be the tramway location previously described.
Pond at the bottom of Birch Tor Lode. The author is unaware of the use of this – it could be a flooded shaft or possibly a tinners’ reservoir used provide supplementary water to a waterwheel further down the valley.
Next to the pond at the bottom of Birch Tor Lode amongst some trees is another shaft. This shaft is at SX68230 81271.
Shaft in main Redwater Valley at SX68165 81173.
Probable site of large wheel pit (number 3 on map) in centre of Redwater Valley at SX68175 81220. The wheel would have been 40′ in diameter and used to help pump out the lower Birch Tor lode shafts, North lode shafts and Hambly Lode shafts. The wheel would have been supplied by the Birch Tor and Vitifer Mine leat and supplemented by a branch of the Redwater spring.
In the centre of the Redwater Valley is the “mining village” complex. Most of the buildings today are now reduced to their foundations. The photo from c1950 showing some of the mine buildings ruins. 1 = Blacksmiths shop and miners dry, 2 = Carpenters shop, 3 = Birch Tor.
Redwater valley clapper looking west towards the blacksmiths shop and miners dry. The carpenters shop is just visible to the left (and behind) the tree.
The ruins of the Blacksmiths Shop and Miners Dry. The building was over 40m long and was subdivided into five or six compartments.
20th Century miners superimposed outside the 21st Century ruins of the Blacksmiths Shop and Miners Dry.
John Sowden was known as “Captain” Sowden and is recorded as being a regular chapel man at Postbridge, ref : “Tin Mines and Tin Miners of Dartmoor” (by Dr Tom Greeves). The letterbox stamp was designed by the authors father with “hh” being his nom-de-plume.
Blacksmiths shop and miners dry can be found at SX68175 80956
General views of the Blacksmiths Shop and Miners Dry.
Part of Blacksmiths shop and miners dry. The piece of iron with the hole can be found at SX68175 80956
The remains of the chimney at the Blacksmiths Shop and Miners Dry
Remains of chimney stack at Blacksmiths shop and miners dry at SX68175 80956
Ruins of the Carpenters Shop, as recorded following an archaeological field survey in 2001 is 4.6 metes wide, comprising two compartments. The two compartments are 9.8 metres long and 3.2 metres long. ref Dartmoor HER.
Carpenters Shop wall with “Johny Rose” plaque attached to the remaining south wall. A modern addition whose history the author is unaware of.
Another general view of the Redwater valley “mining village” complex, with all buildings intact, taken c1912. 1 = Dormitory, kitchen, canteen, mine captains house and a cottage, 2 = Mine offices, 3 = Bungalow for miners families, 4 = Managers House, 5 = Birch Tor, 6 = Garden Lodes
Jan Reynold’s Ace – club (field) from Redwater Valley with the ruins of the miners dormitories complex.
Remains of the miners dormitory, kitchen, canteen, mine captains house and cottage next to one of Jan Reynolds aces (the “club”). The building was constructed in the early 20th century at the time of the 1903-1913 period of operation of the mine.
The complex of buildings included a dormitory. The upper floor had a central corridor divided into cubicles.
The complex of buildings included a dormitory where the miners would have lodged for the week having walked from villages from around the edges of the moor. The ground floor had a kitchen range and a canteen. Behind the dormitory were two buildings, comprising the Mine Captains house and another cottage where a mining family lived.
The Mine Captains House is the oldest building in the area and is believed to date from the late 18th century. It had four bedrooms upstairs and 3 rooms downstairs, when occupied by Captain Richard and Anna Jory in the late 19th century. It had a small garden. There was a kitchen, sitting room and a pantry but no toilet (which was in the garden).
These foundations are the remains of the mine office building, where the accounts were kept and wages were paid. Between 1896 and 1906 it was also the home of John Coaker and his family.
The dimensions of the mine office is recorded on the Dartmoor HER as 13.5 metres by 5.3 metres.
The mine office had two main compartments and a lean-to structure on the rear east side.
The mine office can be found at SX68271 80992
The mine office was constructed from mortared stone.
This building foundation is the remains of a single-storey timber bungalow. It was L-shaped on plan.
The miners bungalow is recorded on the Dartmoor HER thus: “The main building plinth measures 10 metres by 3.5 metres and the smaller section, which may include the entrance is approximately 5.3 metres by 2.8 metres”.
The miners bungalow is located at SX68277 80970
Bottom of the Garden Lode with Birch Tor in the background.
The Garden Lode is the smallest in the area and is located near the Managers House.
Outline of Managers House slightly above the track heading towards Headand Warren. Challacombe Down on the horizon on the other side of Chaw Gully.
The Managers house is recorded as having been rather an imposing bungalow with a veranda of wood and glass. It was built for a Mr. W.A. Padfield (Mine manager). The building was burnt down before the first world war.
Corner of Jan Reynold’s Ace (4) – spade (field). Challacombe Down in the background.
Part of Vermin Trap found at the corner of the Jan Reynold’s Ace- spade (field)
The part vermin trap comprises three individual stones each with a linear slot. Vermin traps were constructed out of granite with slate shutters to catch weasels and stoats and so to protect the warrened rabbits (at Headland Warren). Vermin traps can be found around the moor predominantly in the area of upper River Plym.
The vermin trap is located in the corner of one of the Headland Warren enclosures (aka Jan Reynolds Ace – spade)
This part vermin trap can be found at SX68382 80896.
This vermin trap was probably associated with Headland Warren.
Benchmark on the outside of the wall of the spade field. As seen on the phone this benchmark can be found at SX68420 80893.
The benchmark reference is B.M 1249.1
The benchmark can be seen from the footpath alongside the wall which is en-route to Headland Warren from Redwater Valley
Wheelpit (number 5 on sketch map) can be found in the centre of the Redwater Valley close to the buildings. It is quite hard to discern and is at SX68254 80918
View from the bottom of the South lodes overlooking the wheelpit at SX68166 80917 and part of the Redwater Valley complex
Part of wheelpit complex at SX68166 80917
Wheelpit at SX68166 80917
Most probable location of Dunstans Shaft at bottom of South Lodes at SX68134 80899 located near to a wheel pit (pictured in previous photographs). This shaft was named after the mine captain and was started in 1846 reaching 40 fathoms. It is difficult to photograph with the tree now in situ.
Looking up South lodes from near Dunstans shaft.
South Lodes from c. 1913
South Lodes provide a very interesting exploration. The lodes are 0.5km long and up to 80m wide.
Looking east down South lodes with Birch Tor on the horizon.
Narrowing point of South lodes
Just over half way up South Lodes – Birch Tor prominent on hillside opposite. The lode getting narrower as the hill is ascended
South lodes becomes more like a canyon as the hill is ascended and is characterised by large granite outcrops. The medieval miners had to work hard for their tin.
South lodes were excavated by the “old men”, probably from the 16th century.
More views of South lodes looking west (uphill)
Nearing the summit point of South lodes
South Lodes just down from Lances Shaft. The South Lodes have marooned “islands of rock” along its length.
Shaft close to Lance’s Shaft – was this an air shaft ?
Lance’s Shaft (ref Butler – Dartmoor Antiquities North) at SX67830 80768. Pump rods for draining the shaft ran back to the small water wheel (6m), most likely located in the wheel pit at SX67885 80829. Date shaft dug believed to be late 1840s.
Sidney French (1889-1976) came from a farming family (Middle Merripit) and had 8 brothers and sisters. He began working Vitifer Mine when he was just 13 years old, initially as a “buddle boy” on the surface before going underground at the age of 17. ref : “Tin Mines and Tin Miners of Dartmoor” (by Dr Tom Greeves). The letterbox stamp was designed by the authors father with “hh” being his nom-de-plume.
Providing some scale for Lances Shaft.
South Lodes above Lance’s shaft close to modern footpath
Paths crossing the top of South lodes
Shaft in Millman’s Lode at SX67736 80747
Vitifer and Birch Tor mine leat. Its source is taken from the East Dart and North Teign rivers and is 12.2km in length with slope average of around 1 in 150.
Vitifer and Birch Tor mine leat approaching South Lodes
Wheelpit (labelled 1 on map) fed by Birch Tor and Vitifer mine leat at SX67885 80829. The author believes this feed the pumping system for Lances Shaft.
View of the Jan Reynolds Aces. The Dartmoor myth involves a heavy drinking and gambling tin miner who had a brush with the devil in the 17th century. The enclosures are supposed to resemble four aces from Jan Reynolds card hand he had. The enclosures were first recorded on a map of the warren in 1797. In the authors opinion : 1 = diamond, 2 = heart, 3 = clubs, 4 = spade. More information can be found at: www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/jan_reynolds.htm
Jan Reynold’s Aces from Google earth
Jan Reynold’s Ace (1) – diamond. The purpose of these field is presumed to relate to the trapping and harvesting of rabbits as part of Headland Warren,
Jan Reynold’s Ace (2) – heart.
Jan Reynold’s Ace (2) – club.
Jan Reynold’s Ace (4) – spade.
Pauls Lode looking across at Birch Tor Lode
The walled shaft (ref Butler) around the area between Wall’s Lode and Paul’s Lode can be found at SX67984 81040
Close up of Walled shaft
Wheelpit (labelled 2 on map) in Paul’s Lode at SX68076 81114.
Close up of wheelpit in Pauls lode
Another view of wheelpit in Pauls lode
Hamblys Lode (West) from near Hamblys Shaft.
Another view of Hamblys Lode (West).
Hamblys Shaft at SX68067 81322 with Birch Tor behind
Hamblys Shaft was operational during the most prosperous period of the mine, in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
Looking down Hamblys Shaft which, in particular proved to be a rich source of ore.
Shaft at junction of Hamblys Lode and North Lode at SX68084 81424, known as New Shaft.
Possible shaft in North Lode at SX68132 81470
Harry Westcott (b.1861) wasn’t a local man having come from North Molton. It is interesting that he originally was a cobbler and harness maker before becoming a miner. Lewis Evely (b.1884), was one of 15 or possibly 16 children and came from Whiddon Down before moving to Shilstone Farm for a period. He was also a local preacher. ref : “Tin Mines and Tin Miners of Dartmoor” (by Dr Tom Greeves).The letterbox stamp was designed by the authors father with “hh” being his nom-de-plume.