A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park
May 7, 2023
Owlacombe Beams, Wheal Beam, West Beam Mine and Brothers Mine
Owlacombe Beams, Wheal Beam, West Beam Mine and Brothers Mine are all located a few miles to the north east of Ashburton on private land adjacent to the road between Owlacombe Farm and Owlacombe Bridge. The Dartmoor Tin Mining Research Group (DTRG) held an ‘Ashburton Parish’ event in late April 2023 which included a visit to these mines and tinner’s workings. The author was fortunate enough to attend these events and is grateful to Stephen Tolley (DTRG Chairman), who led a walk to these sites and who provided a fabulous insight into their history and their operation. As well as DTRG information provided on the walk , further information on the tinners’ workings and mines used in this post has been gleaned from the Hamilton Jenkin, Mines of Devon publication and from the Heritage Gateway.
The first tinners’ activities in the area was at Owlacombe Beams, a large tinners’ cutting, which was dug by manual labour alone in the medieval period. They were first mentioned thus: “Major tin works, known as ‘Owlescomb worke’ in 1492″. Nearly 200 years later it is recorded that: “In a petition dated 1688 Richard Strode, of Newnham claimed ownership of tinworks called Owlacombe Beam within Ashburton Stannary”. Owlacombe Beams are now a tree lines impressive cutting, 1200 feet long, 30 to 40 feet deep and between 50 and 100 feet wide. In modern times there were attempts to fill in this rather impressive gorge, which fortunately ceased.
Hamilton Jenkin (HJ) records that during the 1840s, Owlacombe Beams were developed into shaft mining. There were two known lodes here, with the most northern one being exploited. The shaft mining here was known as Beam Mine or Wheal Beam and yielded £6,000 of Tin (£780k in todays terms) from depths of only 31 fathoms (186 feet) below the adit level. There are at least four shafts (Murray’s, Parry’s, Engine Shaft and James), in Owlacombe Beams. It is unclear from Hamilton Jenkin, which of these four shafts were part of Wheal Beam. That said, given that HJ records the depths of Wheal Beam (at 31 fathoms below adit) and then further mentions the depths of Murray’s and Parry’s shafts which are deeper, it is possible that Engine shaft and James shaft were the only shafts of Wheal Beam.
Adjoining the Beam Mine (Wheal Beam) was West Beam Mine, which had started a few years before Wheal Beam in 1836, when a shaft (West Beam Engine Shaft) to the west of Owlacombe Beams was sunk. The West Beam Engine shaft lay on the same northern lode as the shafts at Wheal Beam. West Beam Mine yielded £10,600 of Black Tin (£1.5 Million in todays terms). The shaft was limited to 40 fathoms (240 feet) due to having to use a water wheel based pumping system and water was rather lacking. The mine briefly ceased between 1848 and 1851 before the shaft was extended to 66 fathoms (396 feet) as a steam powered pump was installed at the shaft head to improve pumping. The last production figures recorded for this mine were around 1866 when the mine was abandoned with the production of 30 tons of black tin and 22 tons of copper ore being recorded.
To the south east of Owlacombe Beams is a further lode which is named Brother’s or Union lode, which was probably part of Brothers Mine / Wheal Union. Hamilton Jenkin records this as being a copper lode.
Although Hamilton Jenkin and the Heritage Gateway have recorded the mines, shafts and lodes in this area in some detail, the timeline and some of the information is a little confusing and doesn’t ‘knit together’ in some places. Thus, if anyone reading this post is able to add detail or correct assumptions made by the author, these would be most welcome.
Dr A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, 2005, Mines of Devon
J.S. Amery, 1924, (Presidential Address) The Ashburton of past days: its manners, customs and inhabitants).