Dartmoor Explorations

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


Steve Grigg and Frank Collinson

The Rattlebrook Head Peat Works history is believed to run from around 1867 through to 1931.The Rattlebrook Head Peat sett licence was first granted in January 1867. At that time the Doe Tor sett licence was also granted and the two setts combined had the following bounds:

“On the East by a line drawn parallel to the Rattlebrook at a distance of 400 fathoms Eastward thereof. On the South in part by the Tavy Cleave, in the other part by the lower Rattlebrook and for the remaining part by the southern limit of that portion of the Common of Devon which lies northward of Hare Tor and Doe tor. On the West by a straight line drawn through the centre of Doe Tor to the centre of Arms Tor and continued thence northward to the River Lyd and On or towards the North in part by the course of the said River Lyd – in the other part by a straight line drawn due west from the Rattlebrook Head to Sandyford by the Forest boundary.”

By 1873, the venture had entered a more commercial phase. At this time there were plans to build a works at Bridestowe. However, this was to be superseded and the peat works we drawn up near the head of the Rattlebrook. At the same time permission was sought to build a cottage, close to the peat road to Lydford as it crosses the Rattlebrook near the works, what we know today as “Bleak House”. The remains of the peat works and the cottage are the subject of this post. The peat works closed around 1932.

There is an excellent report by Dr Phil Newman entitled “Domestic and Industrial Peat Cutting on North-Western Dartmoor” and is a most interesting read. The information in the introduction to this post has been extracted from that report.

General view of the peat works from the path leading down from Great Links Tor. You can make out the peat cutting across the flanks of Amicombe Hill up to Kitty Tor (pimple on the horizon).
The railway embankment, which carried the line (which had standard gauge rails) the last few hundred metres to the works
2020 view approaching the works just before crossing the Rattlebrook
Picture from early 20th century taken from approx. same location as previous photograph. Note the railway lines and the large single and two storey buildings.
RPW Plan 1
OS 6 inch, 1888-1913 map taken from side by side. This is a useful comparison to the 1884 plan in next picture. There were 3 main tramways, heading off more or less in an E or SE direction to different parts (zones) of the operation known as ‘black peat’ and ‘grey peat’. The tramways were extended as the operation expanded (ie they were not built to their full extent immediately). The tramways didn’t go to Bleak House, the track running south served this purpose.
RPW Plan 2
1884 plan, with my 10 digit NGR’s annotated. There are the foundations of a “mystery building” (location is the red square) on site, for which I have no information
Bridge over the Rattlebrook near the entrance to the works.  This bridge being replaced in about 1998, after a military vehicle passed over it, crushing the previous one (which was the same design). The vehicle also damaged the larger bridge further down the track, and it was repaired at the same time (at which time the original wooden supporting beams were replaced by steel RSJs). Normally, military vehicles on the track are limited to Land rover size, but this was a larger lorry being used by the Ordnance Disposal Team at the time (source Nigel Sharpe).
Location of Long Shed from 1884 plan and old OS map. Not much to see I’m afraid. SX55912 87081. Hunt Tor on the horizon
Foundations of my “mystery building” at SX55925 87065
Remains of what are described as Tearing Shed, Boiler Engine and Loog Shed on 1884 plan at SX55936 87090.
Remains of Pressing and Storage Shed next to track at SX55942 87071
RPW 10
More remains of Pressing and Storage Shed next to track.
RPW 11
Location of Furnace and Office at SX55953 87078. I guess the guys in the office kept warm.
RPW 12
The Kiln (1) at SX55963 87085
RPW 13
The Kiln (2) at SX55963 87085
RPW 14
The Kiln (3) at SX55963 87085. Note all the bricks !
RPW 15
The Kiln (4) at SX55963 87085
RPW 16
The Kiln (5) at SX55963 87085
RPW 17
Electrical insulator amongst the ruins of the kiln
RPW 18
More interesting debris in the kiln.
RPW 19
The Kiln looking towards Hunt Tor
RPW 20
Entrance to the ovens
RPW 21
Typical bricks, made by MARTIN, Lee Moor
RPW 22
General view of the ovens at SX56006 87103. It is thought there were 4 to 6 arched brick-vaulted chambers here.
RPW 23
Bricks on side of the oven. View to the railway line and Hunt Tor.
RPW 24
Remains of arched brick-vaulted ceilings for one of the chambers.
RPW 25
Remains of arched brick-vaulted ceilings for one of the chambers. Red line is my interpretation of the line of the ceiling of the chamber
RPW 26
More parts of the ovens. What was the metal post for?
RPW 27
Side wall of ovens. Assume the lock and chain is used hereabouts ?
RPW 28
Part of storing and drying shed at SX56036 87110. Note Higher Dunnagoat Tor in the background
RPW 29
Location of reservoir at SX55995 87140. Although stilted the 15m x 12m earthwork is still discernable. The water would have been fed to the boiler house and the “feed” is shown on the old OS map.
RPW 30
No trip to the area would be complete without a visit to Dunnagoat Cottage (aka Bleak House)
RPW 31
Bleak House with its fallen chimney in the foreground. 
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  1. Brian April 22, 2021

    Question : what fuel was used to fire the furnace and ovens here? Did they have to bring in coal?

    • SteveGrigg1961 April 25, 2021 — Post author

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you for your question. In truth, I am unsure how the boiler was fuelled to heat the kilns. I cannot find anything definitively in the paper “Domestic and Industrial Peat Cutting on North-Western Dartmoor, Devonshire: An archaeological and historical investigation” by Dr Phil Newman. The report, which you may have read states that the process in the kilns used the Kidd’s process.

      The report describes it thus:

      “Kidd’s process for carbonizing peat consists of a large chamber or drying-room connected with a boiler which supplies super-heated steam; from the boiler a steam-pipe passes through the furnace, and from thence into the flue; the steam, in its passage over the boiler fi re, becomes super-heated and together with the smoke, passes into the drying chamber; the peat, cut into pieces the size of bricks, is put into a framework which runs upon wheels, so that it easily runs into the drying chamber, and is run out again when finished, thus saving a great deal of labour”.

      Thnaks for your question


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