Dartmoor Explorations

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

‘V’ Stones – near King’s Oven

One of many Dartmoor mysteries is a pair of granite block ‘V Stones’, which are located on the north-east side of a wall to the north-east of where King’s Oven is labelled on OS maps. These granite blocks with their very distinct V-shaped grooves cut into their surface have always been assumed by many to have served some purpose associated with the nearby mine workings. However, the author has also read one source suggesting they were part of a Vermin Trap associated with a Rabbit Warren.

A poorly-recorded tin mine of the 1860s, called Kings Oven Mine was said to be located on the south-east slopes of Water Hill and in this area there is evidence of several blocked shafts and two buildings. The ‘V Stones’ are located close to one of these aforementioned buildings at the end of a track, thus they more likely to be associated with the mine operations of King’s Oven Mine than those of warrening. Also, close by is a Tinner’s openworks called Blackpool Lode.

The author has, over the years considered many interpretations of what purpose the ‘V Stones’ might have had. Research reveals that Jeremy Butler noted them in 1991, but did not offer any interpretation other that they were likely to be associated with mining operations. More recently, which is of interest, is that the Dartmoor Tin Research Group (DTRG) in their newsletters 58 (May 2020) and 59 (November 2020) offer a several more options as to the purpose of the ‘V Stones’. This post has been created to record a number of possible options to solve the mystery of these granite blocks and to record other features in the immediate environs. The author is sure anyone reading this post may wish to offer further thoughts on the subject.

0. Map
This sketch map shows the location of the ‘V Stones’ and other features covered in this post. Near to where the track meets the B3212 is a small car park, thus making a visit to this area very easy.
1. Blackpool Lode
Blackpool Lode. This may have been part of Kings Oven Mine or possibly an extension of Wheal Caroline or Bushdown Mines. Either way the Tinner’s openworks bisects the track which leads to the location of the ‘V Stones’. Dr Phil Newman (2002, Headland Warren and the Birch Tor and Vitifer Mines , Report – Survey) mentions two shafts named Valley Shaft and Waterhill Shaft possibly associated with Kings Oven Mine. One of these shafts (around SX 6760 8130) may well be the one which can still be located in Blackpool Lode, to the north east of where the track crosses it.
2. Building 1a
A short distance to the west, near the end of the track, lies the foundation ruins of a ‘modern’, which is possibly an old Mine Office. This is annotated as ‘Building 1’ on the sketch map
2. Building 1b
Dr Phil Newman in his survey noted that this building was probably associated with Kings Oven Mine. He further noted that the building, was built from stone and had internal dimensions 12.2 by 8.5m.
3. V Stones a
A very short distance (approx. 15-20m away) the ‘V Stones’ granite blocks can be located at SX67539 81374. It is possible that the positioning (and location) of the blocks has altered over time, which is considered in this post.
4. Windlass
In a short article in the DTRG Newsletter 58 (May 2020), Nick Walker speculated that the two blocks were support pillars for a simple Windass. The author is unaware of exactly what Nick had in mind but has created a slightly different interpretation by combining several pictures together of a the ‘V Stones’ and a Windlass (over a well). Nick stated that ‘hand windlass’ might have been on an ‘A frame’ so would have looked a little different from the above picture if this were the case. He further stated that the granite blocks and ‘A frame’ would have been set in the ground adjacent to a shaft (not necessarily across it as illustrated). The only downside to this theory is the current location of the blocks in relation to the nearest (known shaft) which is approx. 100m away.
5. V Stones b
Each of the ‘V’ grooves in the granite blocks has a hole at the “tip of the V”, perhaps suggesting that whatever was placed in the grooves also was secured with these holes.
6. Derrick a
Building on the Nick Walter’s idea, could the ‘V Stones’ actually have been placed end to end and been part of a small guy-derrick crane for lifting heavy objects? Would any lifting operation have been needed at the end of the track? It is unlikely that this kind of arrangement would have been used over a shaft as the preferred mechanism was the use of a whim, usually horse driven.
7. V Stones c
One consideration as to the use of these blocks would be the relative size of them. Could this size of block be used as a support for lifting anything heavy?
8. Derrick b
If the ‘V Stones’ were placed end to end they might have been been part of a small stiff-leg derrick crane if for lifting heavy objects was the requirement? That said two additional ‘blocks’ would have been needed. The author doubts whether this was how the blocks were used.
9. Building 1c
The key to unlock the mystery of the ‘V Stones’ may lay in their proximity to the mine building, which is suggested may have been the mine office. The building may have had a central dividing wall running along the long axis.
9. Building 1d
The proximity of the ‘V Stones’ in relation to this building (larger of the two in the area) and that the locale being at the end of a track suggests this is by design and not co-incidence. Dr Tom Greeves in the DTRG Newsletter 59 (November 2020) records that during the 19th century, mines would have a flag to indicate that they were actively working and suggests this is likely to be the answer to the mystery.
10. V Stones d
Dr Greeves interpretation is that the two blocks were once just one block, with the split occurring where the point of each of the ‘V’s’ is. The single block would have created a cross recess and with its drill holes would have anchored a metal or wooden base of a flagpole. This option seems very plausible, However, in the authors humble opinion it begs two questions: 1. Why go to so much effort to make a flagpole base if a flag could just be dug into the earth? and 2. There is no evidence anywhere else on the moor where such a base has been found? That said, if the flagpole base interpretation is correct, perhaps the block was deliberately broken when the mine closed.
11. Flagbase
Dr Greeves records that the best recorded example of a flag being flown at a Dartmoor Mine comes from an eyewitness account dated 4th July 1859 (from the Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal) which records there being a red, white and blue flag flying at Wheal Elizabeth (Beckamoor Combe) which ‘marked the spot of a successful venture’. The picture of the mocked up flag and pole with the ‘V Stones’ suggests what it may have looked like. The order or orientation of the colours on a flag are not recorded.
12. Building 2a
To the south west of the ‘V Stones’ and (marginally) larger building are the remains of a second building (Building 2). It is believed (Greeves) that this is also a mine building and the stones for its construction would have been robbed from the nearby enclosure.
12. Building 2b
This building sits on levelled ground cut away from the hillside. The walls were made from granite and its internal measurements are 12.3m by 7m. There is evidence of a central cross-division.
13. Millstone a
A short distance to the north of Building 2 is an unfinished millstone
13. Millstone b
The millstone has a flat edge on one side, which possibly indicates that it broke whilst being worked on. It is interesting to note that Robert Burnard has a picture of a similar stone he found in the area stating it: ‘looks something like the nether stone of a crazing mill’. Note: A nether stone is the lower stone of a rotary crazing mill that was used for grinding tin ore. He states that the stone was found at Furnum Regis, Kings Oven in July 1888.
13. Millstone c
The unfinished millstone, is in the centre of an enclosure at SX67471 81293
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  1. Mike Jeffery January 25, 2024

    Has anyone ever looked underneath these stones, is there some sort of clue on the bottom side of the stones. I just wonder if they are upsidedown and may have some workings on the underside and maybe they are placed on other stones.

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