Dartmoor Explorations

A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park

Great and East Sortridge Consols Mine

The Plaster Down area at first glance seems to be devoid on any features of note, especially the area to the west of the road between Riland Plantation and Warren’s Cross. The area was however, a hive of activity in the mid-19th century with (at least) two major shafts and many trial pits being dug in relation to the Great and East Sortridge Consols Mine. Hamilton Jenkin wrote in his book on the mines of Devon (Southern Area) that “South of Whitchurch Down lie the Sortridge Mines – Great Sortridge, Great Sortridge United, Great West Sortridge, East Sortridge, North Sortridge – which sprang up like mushrooms in the 1850s”.

The Great Sortridge (or Plaister Down) Mine was once included in the Sortridge Consols sett (whose main workings were half a mile north of Horrabridge, near Sortridge Manor). The mine was originally set up to search for tin and by 1846 and adit had been driven 200 fathoms expecting to cut a lode at 12 fathoms from the surface. Records show that three shafts were initially sunk and small quantities of tin, native copper and spots of yellow ore were found. The position of the mine was formerly distinguished by a tall chimney stack (long since disappeared) which was adjacent to the main shaft.

By 1854, the mine is recorded as being named Great and East Sortridge Consols and was a copper mine (in spite deposits of tin having been found). It was at that time held under a lease for 21 years, at a royalty of 1-15th, granted by Colonel Harris, of Radford (Plymstock, near Plymouth). This post follows an exploration of the remaining features of these mine workings on Plaster Down and includes other notable features such as Higher Pennington Barn, two benchmarks, a milestone and aspects of Grimstone and Sortridge Leat.


  1. Mines of Devon Volume – The Southern Area – A.K. Hamilton Jenkin
  2. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1856_Mines_in_Devon_and_Cornwall
0. Map
Sketch map of the area covered in this post. Using an 19th Century OS Map, the author identified there being at least 9 trial pits along with the main shafts of Great Sortridge and East Sortridge.
1. Bleak House
Approaching the area from the North West (near Shorts Down), there is a small car park adjacent to a house called Bleak House
2. Great Sortridge Map
This annotated screen shot of an 1873 OS map shows the location of the Great Sortridge Mine shaft and adjacent chimney. To the north of the shaft is a building (now known as Higher Pennington Barn). A benchmark (B.M 635.3) is shown on the field line which borders Plaster Down.
2. Higher Pennington Barn a
Gateway to Higher Pennington Barn and Great Sortridge Mine shaft.
2. Higher Pennington Barn b
The information panel on the gate describe the remedial works being carried out on the barn, which was once part of the mine. Of interest is that the panel calls the mine ‘Great West Sortridge’. This name is quite confusing because ‘West Sortridge’ is known to have been ‘Gem Mine’ in the Walkam Valley (to the WEST of Sortridge Manor). Hamilton Jenkin calls the mine here just ‘Great Sortridge’ as does Mike Brown in his gazetteer.
2. Higher Pennington Barn c
Higher Pennington Barn is loctated at SX50917 72418
2. Higher Pennington Barn d
Higher Pennington Barn appears to have been much larger at one point (or even possibly two buildings) as there are some old walls to the west of the building (see bottom left picture). The west end of the current building adds evidence to this as it is block built and no doubt was constructed to preserve the integrity of what remained of the original.
3. Great Sortridge a
The shaft at Great Sortridge is now highlighted by the trees which surround the main shaft
3. Great Sortridge b
Great Sortridge Mine main shaft. This is believed to have been the original engine-shaft sunk to 25 fathoms (ref: Hamilton Jenkin and Graces Guide). At the 25 fathom level, the lode was claimed to be between 8 and 14 fathoms wide. The Adit level was driven west 150 fathoms and the 20-fathom level, driven east 9 fathoms.
3. Great Sortridge c
Great Sortridge Mine main shaft. Hamilton Jenkin records that two further shafts, to 50 fathoms were planned but there is no evidence of them ever being sunk. The shaft is at SX50913 72365
4. Chimney
The mine was worked and drained by a 12-inch cylinder pumping-engine, with drawing-machine attached. One wonders how the chimney adjacent to the main shaft was incorporated into the operations.
5. Benchmark 1a
There is a benchmark (B.M 635.3) on the left (east) gate post of the boundary to Plaster Down. This would, in all likelihood have been inscribed at the same time as the mine was operational.
5. Benchmark 1b
Close up of the benchmark. SX 50931 72437
6. Benchmark 2a
A second benchmark (not recorded on OS maps) lies approx 200m to the south west of B.M 635.3. It is located behind rusty iron upright bar which has been used to support the gate hinge mechanics.
6. Benchmark 2b
Close up of the benchmark. SX51213 72269
7. Possible Adit
Although not recorded as such in documents referenced by the author, there is a small stream with an adjacent gully, which might have possibly been a shallow adit for the mine workings to the east of Great Sortridge. The author recorded a reference location of SX51158 72362
8. Trial Pit 1
Recorded in the Dartmoor Historic Environment Record are a line of “seven trial pits on east slope of plaster down”. The author believes there are at least 9 trial pits between Great Sortridge and East Sortridge shafts (by virtue of looking at an old 1873 OS map). Trial Pit 1 was recorded at SX51178 72373
8. Trial Pit 2
Many of the Trial Pits are surrounded by gorse and bracken and if visited, it is suggested Winter is best. Trial Pit 2 was recorded at SX51196 72391
8. Trial Pit 3
Trial Pit 3 was recorded at SX51244 72397
8. Trial Pit 4
Trial Pit 4 is evidenced by its earth upthrust and was recorded at SX51274 72402
8. Trial Pit 5
Trial Pit 5 was recorded at SX51305 72415
8. Trial Pit 6
Trial Pit 6 is very shallow and was recorded at SX51349 72393
8. Trial Pit 7
Trial Pit 7 was recorded at SX51339 72404
8. Trial Pit 8
One assumes that the trial pits running (more or less) west / east were a probable forerunner to the shaft being sunk at East Sortridge. Trial Pit 8 was recorded at SX51349 72427
8. Trial Pit 9
Trial Pit 9 is buried amongst dense gorse and was recorded at SX51452 72400
9. Miscellaneous Pits
Whilst crossing the down, there is plenty of evidence of earthworks to be found, which one assumes were part of the 19th century activities
10. East Sortridge a
East Sortridge main shaft described by Turton and Weddell (Dartmoor HER) as being 55m east of the north – south road crossing Plaster Down, albeit 200m from where the OS map suggests it is and where the author recorded the probable location emphasised by the large pool of water.
10. East Sortridge b
The pool (East Sortridge Shaft) is at SX51473 72422.
10. East Sortridge c
The author believes this was the site of the East Sortridge main shaft as it is in the same line as all the trial pits from Great Sortridge. This pool is around 50m from the road.
11. Milestone a
Recorded by Tim Jenkinson in a 2005 survey as a “Rough granite milestone erected by the Tavistock Turnpike Trust c1832 on Plaster Down c150m to the east of the road beside the Grimstone & Sortridge Leat. The 118cm tall stone is inscribed ’12/Miles/To/Plymo’. The stone had been moved away from the road…”
11. Milestone b
Close up of the milestone.
12. Leat
Behind the milestone and across the waters of the Grimstone and Sortridge Leat are some concrete pipes and foundations. These were part of the “Plasterdown Army Camp and Hospital which was established in 1943 and became the 115th Station Hospital. The hospital, dealt with wounded from D Day, continued to operate until 1945. The camp was demolished in 1976”. Ref: Tavistock Museum.
13. Rainbow
Heading north towards Warren’s Cross with a lovely rainbow on a showery day
14. Rainbow
Another view of the ‘growing’ rainbow as showers were sweeping in from the south west.

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  1. Clive Barnes January 29, 2023

    Well done, another excellent and informative addition to your brilliant website. keep it up it’s really appreciated.👏👏👏

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