To the west of the River Walkham, located between Merrivale Bridge and Shillapark Farm are the remains of a 19th century mine, which was rather ambitiously called Wheal Fortune (or Merrivale Bridge Mine). In the Dartmoor Historic Environment Record (ref: SDV358455) Tom Greeves records ‘Merrivale Bridge Mine, Wheal Fortune & Staple Tor Sett, 1806-1887’, which the author assumes was the period the mine was operational. The main ore extraction comprised a line of openworks, pits and shafts which can be found running up the hill between the river and the track which leads to Shillapark Farm.
The mine appears to have had three associated dressing floors (albeit one appears never to have been used), at least four wheelpits which were used for pumping out water at a shaft head and for stamps. Within the complex, there are two leat embankments with associated (dry) leats. Intriguingly, there is another feature cutting through the site in the form of stone embankment, which is approx 250m long running east-west. It is the only part of the planned Merrivale Light Railway (MLR) to have been built. The MLR was planned in 1908 at a cost of £12.6k and was to run from the GWR line near King’s Tor to Merrivale Quarry.
Sketch map showing the interpretation of Wheal Fortune. Note that the area sandwiched between the River Walkham and the wall (black line) running north-south (ish) is on private land. That said, there is plenty to see for any Dartmoor explorer.
Google Earth view of Wheal Fortune. The location made more evident from the view of Merrivale Quarry in the bottom left corner of the annotated screen print.
The Upper Dressing Floor is described in the Dartmoor HER (Tom Greeves) as being an artificial terrace with revetment wall to rear and stone-lined wheelpit below. The attached picture is where the author believes this description fits. It is located at SX54925 75570.
The description in the Dartmoor HER states “There is no launder embankment above the dressing floor and it is possible this floor was never used. Prominent tailrace running south-east”. The author is only 90% convinced this is the correct location as the HER states it is only 15m from the track, whereas in reality it is at least double that. That said, there is evidence of what looks like a wheel pit below.
The author believes this is the wheelpit described being below the Upper Dressing Floor.
If this is the wheelpit it is located at the top (western end) of the openworks.
The large rock at the top of the gully looks suspiciously like it was incorporated in some practical function. It lies between the Upper Dressing Floor and the Wheelpit.
The wheelpit is located at SX54931 75562.
A prominent leat embankment runs parallel to the main mine workings. This leat supplied the pumping ‘wheel’ at Wheal Fortune Mine. The leat can be traced up the slopes of Great Staple Tor. The leat branches from the well-defined ‘Longford Leat’.
The centre of the leat embankment was recorded at SX54906 75526.
These Linear trenches with spoil dumps on either side of the gully are believed that may represent an openworking phase of the Wheal Fortune Mine (ref: Phil Newman, Fieldwork and survey at Wheal Fortune Mine, May 1993)
A typical pit / shaft at the mine
The extraction at the mine consisted of line of pits and shafts running up the hill.
The main mine workings have been recorded as being from 19th century.
Zoomed in on the lower section of the openworks where there are piles of loose stones. It is suggested that these may have been a result of field clearance from the enclosure (which is on private land). The Walkham valley can be seen beyond.
This rubble filled wheelpit was identified during fieldwork by Phil Newman. He recorded that the wheel would have powered pumping equipment in the underground section of the mine.
This wheelpit is located at SX54964 75512.
A revetment wall can be discerned amongst the filled in pit.
Below the wheelpit (to the left in this picture) is the main shaft head. Also, below (to the right in this picture) is a leat leading away from the tailrace which would have taken water to the Middle Dressing Floor.
This photograph shows the (dry) leat which curves around the hillside (south). The Merrivale Light Railway stone embankment can be seen to the right and was built over the leat.
Below the wheelpit is a large shafthead has an adjacent hollow, which may have been a balance-bob pit to operate the pump rods (ref: Newman).
The main shaft was recorded at SX54992 75518. It is suggested that this underground phase of activity was of a later date than the adjacent pits.
The (dry) leat leading to the Middle Dressing Floor is quite discernible.
The (dry) leat looking north from neat the Merrivale Light Railway stone embankment.
Crossing the Merrivale Light Railway stone embankment the Middle Dressing Floor can be found. There are plenty of very discernible features at this location.
The Middle Dressing Floor looking east.
The wheel at the Middle Dressing Floor was served by a leat embankment which brought water via the leat from the pumping wheel at SX54964 75512.
To the west of the wheelpit was the dressing floor, where three square buddles were located.
Looking east across once of the square buddles and probable stamps area, showing the approx. location of the wheel here.
The leat embankment is 21m long and 1.5m high. The size of the wheel was probably (estimated) as being 1m wide by 3m in diameter. This wheelpit is located at SX54927 75386.
The Dartmoor HER records the ‘stamping mill with wheelpit’ being around 6.9m long. The three settling pits or square buddles have been interpreted by the author as shown in the annotated photograph.
View of the wheelpit, stamps area and buddles from the top of the leat embankment.
This picture shows the leat embankment looking north, towards the Merrivale Light Railway embankment which was built over the leat.
Contextual picture of the Middle Dressing Floor in relation to Merrivale Quarry. The Middle Dressing Floor ‘enclosure’, to the west of wheelpit, measures 20m by 7m.
The three square buddles
In the Dartmoor HER there is a reference to “Middle dressing floor of Wheal Fortune Mine leat passes through the tailrace of the wheel before being diverted to the dressing floor where another waterwheel was situated and probably powered stamps”. The author assumes this refers to the pumping wheel previously shown in this post. That said, this feature caught the eye. Was this a wheel pit or a tinners’ construction. It is located at SX54886 75404.
This gully around the Middle Dressing Floor appears to have either supplied water or indeed protected the site from flooding.
The Merrivale Light Railway stone embankment as seen from close to the Middle Dressing Floor.
At the entrance to the main part of the embankment are a pair of rather grand granite posts. It would seem it was a lot of effort for no reward.
The 250m long stone embankment is very substantial. Thankfully, this was the extent of the construction. There would have been two bridges needed to have been built plus a major cutting next to the Merrivale Bronze Age antiquities.
Merrivale Light Railway: In 1908 plans were drawn up by Prigg & Lindon (Engineers) for this railway. It was to be 1 mile, 5 furlongs and 7.25 chains long, which is 1.72 miles or 2.76km. (NOTE: A furlong is 220 yards and a chain is 22 yards). It was to be of standard 4 ft 8.5″ gauge and its departure point was just past the Swell Tor sidings on the main Yelverton – Princetown line. More information here: https://dartmoorexplorations.co.uk/merrivale-light-railway/
The Lower Dressing Floor of Wheal Fortune is located on private land and so access is not possible. This zoomed in view is from the hillside to the south east. The approx. location is annotated based on descriptions provided in the Dartmoor HER and where a dry leat appears to terminate. Without access, a 100% confirmation, of course, isn’t possible.
Tom Greeves states that the remains of a wheelpit and a settling pit are visible here and that a leat leads to this site from the River Walkham.
The author has estimated this location as there appears to be the line of a leat leading to the point indicated.
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