Dartmoor Explorations

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

Peat extraction near Walkham Head

Steve Grigg and Frank Collinson

An exploration of the Turf House and the Walkham Head Peat Works. Peat is known to have been extracted from this area in the early decades of the 19th century for use in the Mary Tavy Mines (source; Crossing in “Dartmoor Worker, Butler “Dartmoor Antiquities” and Dr Newman in “Domestic and industrial peat cutting NW Dartmoor”). In the 1860s and early 1870s, peat was extracted for domestic purposes. Then in 1873 the Duchy provided the first commercial lease for peat extraction.

Walkham 1
This 1949-1969 map shows the (overlay) location of the turf house & the depicted location of the Walkham Head Peat Works. The tracks / turf roads that encircle Lynch Tor were differentiated by Crossing (Guide to Dartmoor); northern track served the commercial peat works, whereas the southern track was used by the peat cutters in the days of Wheal Betsy
Walkham 2
Turf House was used as store house for the Wheal Betsy peat cutters. The peat was used for the smelting of lead (Wheal Betsy had a lead smelter). All that remains nowadays is one standing stone, two fallen standing stones and mounds were the walls used to be. Originally there were eight standing stones.
Walkham 3
The purpose of the building was to dry the peat before transporting via Black Lane to the mines at Mary Tavy. The route would have been via Wapsworthy and Horndon.
View from Turf House across the upper reaches of the River Walkham to the peat (turf ties). The commercial operations or peat grant was issued in 1873 was bounded by Walkham Head, Tavy Head Cowsic Head and the River Walkham. This is difficult walking terrain ar the best of times.
Walkham 5
A view of the Queen from near Turf House
Peat Walkham Head 6
The Walkham Head Peat Works, which today comprises a raised platform (in foreground of the picture), where presumably the main building was located, plus a few piles of stones and a fallen wall in the surrounding marshy areas. SX57261 80652.
Walkham 7
The duchy released the first Walkham Head peat grant to William Taylor Jennings on 25th December 1873. The lease was for 21 years at £89 pa plus royalties (source Dr Phil Newman paper previously mentioned). This picture is from the platform and shows the ford (just) to the west and if you look carefully, one of the tracks leading to the south of Lynch Tor.
Walkham 8
The only true recognisable part of this commercial operation lies in this piece of walking, which wasn’t cleared from the site. This is at SX57280 80662.
Walkham 9
Another view of the walling. The demise of the buildings started in 1887, when parts were transferred to Rattlebrook Head. In June 1889, Millman and Vogwill builders bought the remaining wood, brick and galvanized iron from the site. It wasn’t until 1895, however, that the site was cleared (except this piece of walking!).
Walkham 10
This kestrel was just north of the Walkham Head peat works.
Walkham 11
Other evidence of the peat works. A small building just to the north of the main earthwork platform. The William Taylor Jennings operation had failed by 1878, with what seems very little peat having been cut. It is strange to think that Jennings bought the peat grant, without even having visited this remote location.
Walkham 12
A second set of foundations of a small building at the peat works. After Jennings, the West of England Compressed Peat Company Ltd, who already held the Rattlebrook Head peat grant took over the Walkham Head operation. The company folded in 1882 and with it operations at both sites.
Walkham 13
This is to the south of Lynch Tor, the route the original Wheal Betsy peat cutters would have taken. Apart from the flagpole, their view from here would have been pretty much the same.

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