A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park
October 27, 2023
The West Dart Aerial Ropeway – (aka The Brimpts to Princetown Aerial Ropeway)
In order to support the war effort, around 1917 (according to the Royal Commission for the Historical Monuments of England), an 8 mile aerial ropeway, or more accurately ‘cableway’ was set up and in use convey timber cut from Brimpts (Little Newtake, Outer Newpark and Snider Park Plantations) to Princetown railway station. The timber was then despatched to Plymouth for onward transportation. The ropeway was supported by a series of wooden pylons (some known to have been set in concrete and others driven into the ground), which supported two ‘wire’ ropes. One wire carried a cradle full of wood to Princetown (rail head) from Brimpts, while the other returned one empty. A concrete masonry bed for an oil engine, the power plant of an aerial ropeway still stands today approx. half way between Brimpts and Princetown in a rough pasture field near Moorlands Farm. The mid-point for the power plant providing equality of pull and thrust for the load.
Before the construction of the ropeway had began, part of the historical background is that on 24th November 1915 the Board of Agriculture set up the ‘Home Grown Timber Committee’ in order to increase the supply of timber for military needs. To this end, it purchased woods and erected sawmills, partly by labour directly engaged for the purpose, partly by battalions of the Canadian Forestry Corps. By April 1916 the ‘committee’ had been given power to acquire standing timber compulsorily, to purchase and convert standing timber, to supply such timber to government departments and generally to make arrangements for the further utilisations of native timber resources. By May 1917 the directorate was transferred to the Board of Trade where it became the ‘Timber Supply Department’ under a Controller of Timber Supplies. (ref: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/).
It is likely that the ropeway only lasted for a few years probably from 1917 through to 1919 or 1920 at the latest. However, during that time timber carried amounted to roughly to 4 /5,000 tons. When the war ended the ‘Timber Supply Department’ was replaced by a ‘Timber Disposal Department’ to dispose of the stocks and equipment remaining from its former operations. The directorate was wound up in 1922. Very little appears to have been written about this short lived Dartmoor venture and the author knows of only two pictures in existence of the ropeway dating back to the period of WWI or just after. One of the pictures appears in Hemery’s High Dartmoor and it was in this publication the author first became aware of the ropeway in the 1980s.
This post records research the author has undertaken plus the results of an exploration between Princetown and Brimpts Plantation(s) to look at the probable route the ropeway would have taken and to see if there were any remaining remnants of the venture.
Bibliography and Acknowledgements
High Dartmoor – Eric Hemery – 1983 (pages 408, 492-3 and 562)
Dartmoor Chris – extracts from newspaper articles (Exeter & Plymouth Gazette and Western Morning News)
The Brimpts to Princetown Aerial Ropeway – Dartmoor News (number 150)
The aerial ropeway is known to have still been in operation in 1919 by virtue of correspondence through the Western Morning News titled: ‘Ropeway at Brimpts’, thus:
Sir. – My attention has been called to an article in last Saturday’s issue of your paper on the question of the ropeway at Brimpts.
I welcome any criticism on the department’s operations, but I think when the real facts of the case are put before you that you will agree with me, instead of the ropeway being an extravagance, it is a sound economy.
The only unfortunate thing about it is that owing to the difficulty on account of the war in getting men and material, the work was unable to be finished by the time contracted for, August 1918, otherwise, of course, most of the wood would have been removed. The matter was very carefully considered before it was gone on with, and the cost of road repairs arising would have come to nearly as much as the cost of the ropeway; in addition to that this department would have had to supply a large number of motor lorries and men to deliver the wood, while the cost of transferring the wood by the ropeway is exceedingly small. No wood has been carried by road transport since it was decided to install the ropeway, and after the wood has been delivered the ropeway is being taken over by another buyer at a price which will reduce the cost by half.
The wood which has to be carried amounts roughly to 4 /5,000 tons, and I am pleased to say that instead of working badly, it is working exceedingly well. The only difficulty this department has in getting the wood away is caused by the trouble of getting trucks to load the wood when it is conveyed to Princetown by the ropeway.
Saml. [Samuel] Calder, Controller of Timber Supplies. Board of Trade (Timber Supply Dept.), 80, Newman-street, Oxford-street, W. 1st Nov. 1919
Western Morning News: Wednesday 3rd December 1919.
The evidence regarding the closure year for the aerial ropeway can be found in an advert published in Western Morning News on Saturday 1st January 1921. viz:
“Per Order of the Board of Trade Timber Supplies Department.
To Colliery, Quarry and Mine-owners, Timber, Machinery and Rail Merchants, Sawmill Proprietors, Dealers, and Others.
Peter Hamley and Sons are favoured with instructions by the above Department to Sell by Auction, Early in February, at Plymbridge and Tavistock, Devon, the whole of the Portable Traction Engines, Rack and Portable Saw Benches, Aerial Ropeway, Rails and Wagons, Buildings, Road Transport Wagons and Carts and Stores, at the Depots at Plymbridge and Brimpts.
Further particulars in future announcements and detailed catalogues in course of preparation from the Divisional Officer, Exeter, or of the Auctioneers. Telegrams: “Auctioneers, Plymouth.” Phone 269 Plymouth. Norwich Union Chambers, 32 Westwell-street, Plymouth”.
As a postscript to the story is a letter which appeared in the Western Morning News on Monday 25th June 1923, titled: ‘War Material at Princetown’ the letter was making a complaint regarding the amount of material relating to the aerial ropeway, which still existed at Princetown Railway Station at that time: “Since the Timber Supply Department of the Board of Trade ceased to exist, the Government have lost sight of a quantity of war material lying near Princetown Railway Station. It comprises the aerial ropeway, which was erected at great cost, from Princetown to Brimpts Plantation, a distance over the moor of eight miles. It was intended to convey pit props for use in the trenches and dug-outs, but as a system it was not a success. Many months ago it was dismantled, and the dump consists of ironwork, pulley sets, iron cradles, sixteen drums of steel cable, a traction engine, and truck”. It would seem the remnants of the operation remained well after it stopped