Swell Tor Quarries are believed to have began working around the time of the opening of Plymouth to Dartmoor Railway (officially opened on 26th September 1823). Three years earlier, an agreement was signed on 21st September 1820 when William Johnson and his business partner Brice were granted a long lease for the granite of Walkhampton Common from Sir Massey Lopes. The railway was horse drawn and terminated at Kings Tor (from Sutton Pool). The railway carried lime, coal, timber and other items in the northerly direction and granite in the southerly direction. Work continued at Swelltor until the First World War in 1914, when around 90 men were employed. Production declined in the early 20th century and the workings closed, although they were briefly reopened in 1937 when waste granite was taken for use by the Devon County Council as road metal. Swelltor finally closed in 1938.
No post about Swelltor quarries would be complete without reference to London Bridge. In November 1823 a letter was sent to the engineer of London Bridge protesting that Hay Tor granite had been specified, which had left Kings Tor / Foggintor / Swelltor out in the cold. Roger Hopkins (from P&DR) and Williams Johnson were asked to quote as a result. It is believed that they stated they could save £20,000 by using their granite. It is believed that they did they not succeed in their quest. However, interestingly, in the book “stones of London” it states that London Bridge was built from Princetown quarry granite with some from Haytor. The evidence does suggest that Swelltor (and indeed Walkhampton Common) granite was not used in any part of the building of the new London Bridge in the 1820s.
The Johnson Bros (who owned the Walkhampton quarries) in the late 1830s secured a 7 year lease for Haytor quarries then proceeded to close them down. To add insult, they renamed their own company the Haytor Granite Company, thus eliminating the competition and having the wherewithal to pass their own products off as superior quality than they actually were. Was this done as it rankled them that Haytor granite had been used in the construction of the London Bridge 1820s instead of theirs ? This renaming of the company is probably the reason why sometimes it is recorded that Swelltor granite was used in the London Bridge construction.
Dressed granite from Swelltor was, however, supplied for widening of London Bridge, which commenced in April 1903. The lease holders at that time were Pethick & Co. from Plymouth. Part of the supply was subcontracted to Duke & Co. from Merrivale quarry (which had opened in 1876). The source of information for this post has been obtained from “The Railways, Quarries and Cottages of Foggintor” by Kath Brewer.