Haytor Granite Tramway

Granite tracks and the route going off to the north west side of Haytor.

Constructed in 1820 the Granite Tramway was for transporting blocks of granite from Dartmoor to the River Teign, but what I hadn’t realised until I came across a stretch on a walk around Haytor, was that the tracks themselves are built of granite.  Even more impressive is that the original track was around 8 miles long.


Haytor to Stover Canal


The granite from Dartmoor had been used for centuries to construct local buildings  – including my own home – but this was probably from stone found lying around rather than specifically quarried rock.  In the 19th century Dartmoor granite became a popular building stone for some of the finer structures in London: London Bridge (the one that now stands in Arizona) was specified to be constructed of “Light-grey Devonshire Haytor”.  So that was cause enough for establishing a quarry near Haytor.  But this doesn’t explain why the tramway itself was made of blocks of stone.


Tramways were fairly common and often used to serve canals.  One of the earliest, 1790,  was the Peak Forest Tramway which took limestone from Buxton to the Ashton-under-Lyne canal and this one did have stone slabs and stone sleepers.  By 1820 however iron rails were more common and locally near Tavistock on the western side of Dartmoor iron was used for rails in the tramway at Morwhellam Quay.  The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway was under construction in the 1820s and here the granite acted as sleepers but the rails were of cast iron.


The Templer family who owned the Stover Estate had constructed a canal to carry clay and coal between the upper Teign estuary and Heathfield where the potteries stood. George Templer developed the Haytor Quarry commercially and it appears that it was his decision to construct the tramway and cutting blocks of granite to form stone rails. It was most likely the abundance of stone that led to this decision.


The granite blocks were between 5 and 8 feet long, about 15 inches wide and 10 inches thick.  A longitudinal flange was cut and they were laid to provide a track gauge about 4ft3″. There were junctions and sidings and the track descended about 1300 feet from the quarries to the canal.  After the branches join together the main track curves along the contours and runs south east towards Bovey Tracey from where it follows the course of the River Bovey across Bovey Heath.


Today if you want to walk along the granite tramway it starts at Haytor (SX765771). though some of the route is on private land and inaccessible and parts the route were obliterated by the South Devon Railway.  There are mile markers to be found and some sets of points where tracks merge or diverge.  There are several walks that incorporate part of the tramway and further information can be found on the Historic England listing – the tramway was listed as an important monument in 1963.



The route of Haytor Granite Tramway as given in the Historic England Listing


So the Haytor granite was used in the construction of the British Museum, the National Gallery and parts of the old Covent Garden Market. William Pitt in Hanover Square stands on a block of Dartmoor granite and so does George IV in Edinburgh. At its peak the tramway was carrying 20,000 tons of granite each year.  Sadly the business did not last and George Templer struggled to control his outgoings and the quarry output fell to negligible amounts during the 1840s. The tramway fell into disuse by 1865 and although some granite was extracted from the quarries as late as 1919 (for Exeter War Memorial) it was transported by horse and cart, a much more laborious process.




Granite quarrying moved to the western side of Dartmoor and later Cornish granite proved to be much cheaper.  Now Haytor Rocks and Quarries are protected as sites of special scientific interest.   If the idea of a walk is too strenuous then you can try the virtual experience!


Sconces and Scuttles

I would never before have credited eBay as a source for learning, but today my vocabulary has increased merely by browsing to find an appropriate category for selling my two wall-mounted candle holders.

Sconce = candle holder attached to wall with ornamental bracket, from the Latin absconsus (secret, hidden)

The main fireplace in our home is one of the features specifically mentioned in the listing: 

  • The hall has a large hollow-moulded granite fireplace with pyramid stops (at present concealed) at the foot; back of the fireplace is of large ashlar blocks.  Above the lintel, and partly blocked by the upper floor beams, is a relieving arch of well-cut voussoirs, the space between it and the lintel filled with specially cut pieces of granite.  

Voussoir = a wedge shaped stone used to construct an arch

Lintel = horizontal structural block spanning opening between two vertical supports

Ashlar = square cut blocks of stone
When we bought the house the fireplace was dominated by a huge old wood-burning stove with a large hood.  It proved difficult to get anyone interested in assessing and repairing this but when we did, the stove was pronounced unsafe  – a fact that became obvious when removed as it had a hole in the firebox, which had been hidden by the hood.  We replaced it with the one seen in the picture above (a Charnwood Island II for the stove connoisseurs) – well, I say “we”, it was actually Ian who did the hard work. 

It looks much neater now!   Those large logs – so hard the axe just bounces off them, so before Autumn I definitely need to source a supply of kiln dried logs – suggestions welcome.  We found the coal box in an antique shop on The Quay at Topsham.  It isn’t, by definition, a proper coal scuttle, which I believe is more usually a truncated cone shape; though apparently the word “scuttle” comes from the Latin scutula meaning ‘shallow pan’ , not at all suggesting a vertical cylinder.  Maybe what we have is a log box. 

In 1662 in England a “Hearth Tax” was introduced, at two shillings per annum for each hearth in the home.  This was paid in two instalments, on Michaelmas Day, 29th September and on Lady’s Day which fell on 25th March.   From 1155 through until 1752 Lady’s Day was the first day of the year and this is why we have out current tax year start on 6th April – which is the new Lady’s Day after adjusting for days lost due to the calendar change. Schools and Almshouses were exempt from this hearth tax and there is a suggestion that our house was used as a school in the 17th century so it may have avoided paying the 6 shillings hearth tax.  I shall explore that part of its 400 year history in a later post. In 1664 the hearth tax was amended to a chimney tax and only payable if you had two or more chimneys.  I wish council tax was that simple.  
The Historic England Listing also mentions the other fireplace, which is described as in the “lower room” – this refers to the layout which is thought to be that of a medieval hall house, more about that too in a later post. 

  • Large fireplace with granite jambs; chamfered wood lintel, designed for a wider opening, with step stop at one end. 

I would love to know the origin of the markings on the lintel.   As you can see, this stove has been replaced and the resident chimney pigeon evicted.  
The granite stone was obviously from Dartmoor, probably from Haytor Quarry.  Characteristically it has inclusions of feldspar crystals, milky white rectangles.  There are also sparkles of small flecks of quartz and brown crystals of mica. 

The feldspar crystals identify it as from South Dartmoor since the blue-granite from the more Northern parts of Dartmoor tend not to contain them.  Quarrying was once an important element to the local economy but now only small amounts of granite are removed from Dartmoor, mainly for restoration projects. 
In a neat and definitely not contrived segue I am back to the sconces – we decided the fireplace looks neater without them so now I have two candle holders that I am hoping  will find a use in someone else’s restoration project.  Four candles anyone?

Do you have ghosts?

And so we moved in….


“No, of course not!” I answered, but a restless night followed as I anticipated a visitation from “Headless Nick”.   At least “Moaning Myrtle” didn’t turn up. I have never met a ghost and am not convinced of their existence  – this I say uneasily in case denial triggers a determined attempt by said ghosts to prove something to me – but non-belief has never helped me when I lie in bed scared after watching a vampire film.  Before we moved in I might have anticipated that a house over 400 years old would “spook” me, yet from the first night I have felt comfortable here, perhaps more so than in my previous, modern homes.

It was the ‘wild card’ or the ‘mystery house’ in our house-search, a “well, why not look, while we are here” but we had made an offer within three hours of the viewing. Never before have we owned an older house – 1974 was the furthest back our home roots went. Yet, in six months of hunting, this was the first house that had excited both of us.  I should say that the day before we had been ready to commit to buying a brand new build that didn’t even have foundations at that point.  This was definitely out of character.

Our children, now adults and running their own households, were politely interested with comments like “Gosh!” And “Oh!”  Two words carrying a weight of unspoken disbelief. Their parents had, four years ago, picked up sticks and moved to Bermuda, which was strange enough, and now this was another example – at what point do you need to meet to discuss parental behaviour?

So, though we had not yet sold our other home and had no previous experience of historic buildings, we moved in and ordered a four-poster bed! This is the beginning of our next adventure, and if there are ghosts, well, that is fine, we will fit them in somehow!


Wolves and winged serpents were no strangers to the hills.

Richard Polwhele lived from 1760 to 1838, apparently best known for his poetry.  While working as a curate near Powderham, Devon he commenced what was intended to be a 3-volume work entitled “History of Devonshire”.  He actually published the second volume before the first and never got around to finishing the third.

Although the works could benefit from punctuation, better paragraph arrangements and shorter chapters, his knowledge of Devon, particularly surrounding Exeter, was comprehensive and impressive.

That Dartmoor and surrounding forests once had wolves I do not doubt, the presence of dragons might be contentious – I will let you know if I see any.