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The vast openworks and streaming associated with East Birch Tor Mine
extend from the eastern flanks of Challacombe Hill and along the West Webburn River near Headland Warren Farm downstream to its junction with Redwater Brook. The western limit of the sett is located in Chaw Gully and is defined by an inscribed boundary stone. The earliest tinners workings are said to date from the Medieval period and were in use until the 18th century. However, during the 19th and early 20th century these techniques were replaced by nucleated shaft and adit mines and it is probable that the 19th century revival at East Birch Tor Mine was instigated in 1836 by Captain Paul (having made his fortune at Birch Tor and Vitifer Mines in the Redwater Valley). In the 19th century a number of shafts (up to 24 fathoms) were sunk on the West Webburn valley floor and lower valley sides and adits were driven into the hillside. The sett was abandoned by 1867 but had a short revival between 1903 and 1927. On the valley floor there are three main areas of interest; firstly, the remains of some mine buildings and foundations, a wheelpit, a walled mine shaft and horse whim near Headland Warren Farm; secondly, there is a probable stamping mill with a wheel pit near Grimms Lake as it meets the West Webburn river; and finally a possible tinners’ mill with a a wheelpit and other features approx 1km downstream from Headland Warren Farm. Information contained in this post has been obtained from the Dartmoor Historic Environment Record (HER) and from Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities by Jeremy Butler (volume 2, the north) pages 25-27.
Sketch map of the area covered in this post. As well as the the three main features covered in the introduction, other features of interest in the area are three vermin traps, the “East Birch Tor” boundstone, the Challacombe Stone Row and a series of “V” shaped ditches.
Entering the East Birch Tor sett tinners’ gullies / lodes from near the Challacombe Stone Row.
“East Birch Tor” Boundary Stone marks the western boundary of the sett. Behind the tree in the picture lies a working known as Lane Shaft Gully.
“East Birch Tor” is inscribed on the eastern face of the upright slab. It is believed it was erected about the middle of the 19th century to mark the western limit of the East Birch Tor tin mine in the valley below.
View of the boundstone looking west. The boundstone can be found at SX68888 80883.
Above the boundstone are “islands” of rocks left stranded by the tinners’ workings.
This boulder is a rocking logan.
Looking west into the upper reaches of Chaw Gully at the eastern end of East Birch Tor sett. Warren House Inn can be seen in the distance below Water Hill.
The early tinners took great care to avoid unnecessary damage to prehistoric antiquities such as Challacombe Stone Row. This row, overlapped their workings and was spared. The picture shows part of the row looking north towards towards Birch Tor.
At the northern end of the stone row is a grouping of stones, which could indicate a fourth row, but is more likely to be the result of partial reconstruction in the 19th century. This rather curious re-erection is recorded as having taken place in 1893.
Challacombe triple stone row is recorded as being 141.7 metres long with 57 upright stones.
Challacombe Stone Row terminal (blocking) stone at the south end.
View from the southern terminal (blocking) stone looking north towards Birch Tor.
Looking down the mine workings to the east of Challacombe Stone Row towards Headland Warren Farm.
East Birch Tor Mine workings as viewed from the slopes of Hookney Tor
Headland Warren Farm with more tinners workings between the buildings and the road to Widecombe.
Headland Warren Farm comprises a small farmhouse with an adjoining barn. It was probably built in the late 16th/early 17th century but was considerably altered in the 20th century. As the name suggests, this farm was once used for the warrening activities in the area which date from the late 18th century.
Evidence of the warrening activities from the area can be seen in the shape of a vermin trap (marked as Vermin Trap 1 on the sketch map) some 200 metres to the west of the farm. The trap is in quite a ruinous state and a three metre wall alongside it is covered in moss and grass and is virtually invisible. None of the trap stones are present but the giveaway of this being a vermin trap is the backstone which contains a hole, which was part of the trigger mechanism.
Challacombe Hill and tinners workings as seen from the footpath heading down to Headland Warren Farm.
Headland Warren Farm had part of its roof re-thatched in 2020. The 19th century building doubled up as an ale house and was renamed Birch Tor Inn, for a short period, no doubt to cater for the tin miners who were working in the immediate area. The warrener at the time of Birch Tor Inn was Jan Roberts. The modern OS map shows a footpath through the farm but there are now signs up suggesting the permissive path is to the east and north.
Exiting the area of Headland Warren House heading towards Challacombe, the extent of the tinners workings can be seen from below.
Llamas at Headland Warren Farm
Remnants of possible original mine buildings, now being used by the farm.
East Birch Tor mine workings on eastern flanks of Challacombe Hill.
A flat area with low walls / mounds where possibly more mine buildings had been erected.
Moss covered walls, possibly old mine buildings. These are located around SX69337 80898
Next to where the possible mine buildings are lies a wheelpit. The wheel here was fed by a short leat coming off the West Webburn river. The power generated by this wheel might have been used for draining the nearby shaft. The wheelpit is located at SX69333 80904.
To the west (across the infant West Webburn river) lies a granite wall line shaft and a horse whim. The horse whim was used to raise ore from the shaft.
The mine shaft close up shows the granite wall lining. The shaft is located at SX69307 80922. The details of production of East Birch Tor mine were estimated by D.G Broughton (1968/9 – The Birch Tor and Vitifer Tin Mining Complex) as being only around 55 tons of black tine between 1848 and 1864, which were the most active period of the mine.
The Mine Shaft and the Horse Whim looking south. The author has agonised as to whether to publish this picture due it showing a clear fly tip and its location may cause embarrassment to those who placed these items here. The author has decided to publish this picture on the basis of it being an industrial archaeology artefact (ie a Horse Whim) and is a part of the history of the East Birch Tor Mine story.
On the east side of the Challacombe / Headland Warren track near to Grimms Lake (where it descends the hillside from Grimspound), the faint course of an old leat can be picked up.
The faint course of the old leat terminates at the top of an earth embankment, which overlooks a wheelpit and an area where there was possibly a stamping mills and dressing floor.
A good indicator of the location of this site is the line of the wall and a small copse to the east.
The wheel would have been very narrow as the pit is just under 1m wide. The stone lined pit is just under 7m long. The wheelpit is located at SX69446 80659.
To the west of the wheelpit is a large flat area with a small retaining (revetment) wall where the waterwheel powered stamps would have been located.
The revetment wall is recorded as measuring 16.5m long.
The stamping mill is depicted on an 1852 plan of the area.
The area contains a trench of unknown origin.
Within the area lies at least two buddles which are faint rectangular earthwork depressions.
General views of the Stamping Mill, leat embankment and wheelpit.
To the immediate west of the stamping mill lies a series of earth banks amongst which is a depression, which might represent a former shaft. It can be found at SX69417 80655.
Alongside the Headland Warren Farm / Challacombe track lies a shallow “V” shaped trench, which looks like a 19th century leat. The Dartmoor HER (ref: Pattison) states it is a leat but the map in Jeremy Butler Atlas of Antiquities (The north, volume 2, fig 24.6) indicates this section to the south of the wall (which can be seen in the photograph) might have been a pump rod track.
The author is inclined to think this is a leat as there is a wheelpit not far to the south and the fact the “V” shaped channel has a clapper bridge across it at SX69385 80458
One of a number of “beams” crossing the lynchets on challacombe common
A possible Tin Mill works are sited in the lee of the steep tinners’ slope alongside the Headland Warren Farm / Challacombe track. As recorded in the Dartmoor HER: “They are in fragmentary state and appear to be extensively robbed”. That said, an east-west aligned wheelpit can easily be discerned.
The wheelpit is recorded as being around 7.5m long, 1.9m wide and around 0.6m deep. It is reed filled which is a giveaway as to its location. The picture shows an upright 1m granite post which is part of a small section of masonry still in situ.
At the top of the embankment above the wheelpit is an iron spike, whose purpose is unclear. One assumes the spike was part of the feature but may well not be in its original position. A great view of the broad back of Hameldown can be had from this location.
The wheelpit is located at SX69405 80253.
The course of an old leat which fed the overshot water wheel can be made out from the top of the embankment above the wheelpit. The works were in use c.1852 and operated as part of East Birch Tor mine. Dr Tom Greeves suggests the position of these works might indicate a pre-c19th origin.
View of the course of the old leat above the wheelpit. The full function of the works is not known exactly but it was probably a stamping and/or dressing plant.
Sandwiched between the tin works and abutted against the east side of the Headland Warren Farm / Challacombe track is a rectangular building platform. It is located at SX69394 80231.
The platform is recorded as measuring 5.6m by 3.7m. It is clearly man made but true purpose is unclear. It may have been for a building.
A little further south from the platform is a revetment wall possibly associated with some building(s). It is 0.4m high and runs north-south for around 15m. This piece of walling is recorded in the Dartmoor HER and is located at around SX69403 80208.
Near to the wheelpit is a rather boggy area containing a rather ill defined pit. It is assumed this was part of the c.1852 operation. The pit is located around SX69424 80238.
Heading north back up the Headland Warren Farm / Challacombe track lies another shallow “V” shaped trench, which is crossed by a clapper at SX69374 80567. The author believes this was a 19th century leat and not a “flat rod” channel as speculated by Jeremy Butler.
Zoomed in view of Grimms Lake descending the hillside enroute to West Webburn River. The 19th century miners were very astute at using all sources of water, this stream included.
Built into the high southern boundary wall of Headland Warren are two vermin traps (labelled Vermin Trap 2 and Vermin Trap 3 on the sketch map). There are no funnel walls as they are carefully built as a hole into the wall.
Vermin trap 2 or “hutch” is located at SX69238 80454.
Vermin Trap 3 is of similar construction to Vermin Trap 2.
Vermin trap 3 or “hutch” is located at SX69277 80486.
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