Morwellham Quay is an historic river port in Devon, England that developed to support the local mines. The port had its peak in the Victorian era and is now run as a tourist attraction and museum. It is the terminus of the Tavistock Canal, and has its own copper mine.
The open-air museum includes the restored 19th-century village, the docks and quays, a restored ship, the George and Charlotte copper mine which is toured by a small train, a Victorian farm and a nature reserve with trails. In July 2006, UNESCO (the cultural arm of the United Nations) awarded World Heritage Site status to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape area.
Morwellham is strategically sited at the centre of the Tamar Valley Mining District which, together with nearby Tavistock, forms the easternmost gateway area to the rest of the World Heritage Site. The industrial Heritage museum is an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage.
*** – History – ***
Morwellham Quay was originally set up by the Benedictine monks of Tavistock Abbey, which was founded in 961, to carry goods to and from Plymouth on the River Tamar, since the River Tavy was unnavigable. By the 12th century, tin ore was being transported through the quay, followed by lead and silver ores in the 13th century.
Later, copper deposits were also discovered at the Quay itself and the George and Charlotte Mine opened in the 18th century. In addition, by 1800, manganese deposits were being extracted from the northern and western edges of Dartmoor and being brought to Morwellham.
By the end of the 18th century, the trail of pack horses across the rugged terrain was too much, and in 1817 the 4.5 mile long Tavistock Canal was opened. The canal included a 1.5 mile tunnel which ended 237 feet above the quay at Morwellham. From here an inclined plane was constructed to bring the iron barges down to the quay, powered by a water wheel.
Morwellham Quay was at its peak during the time Devon Great Consols was in production. The mine was only four miles north of the port and shipped copper and later arsenic via the quay for a period of almost 60 years beginning in 1844. Morwellham became known as the "richest Copper port in Queen Victoria's Empire", and the queen herself visited in 1856.
Another inclined plane was built to transport the ore down the hill and a new quay was added to handle the 30,000 tons of ore that were exported each year. Arsenic was also extracted and it became the world's largest supplier of the mineral in the latter part of the century. However, by 1903 the Consols' wealth was exhausted and the mines closed. By this stage, the railways had taken over and Morwellham's usefulness was also ended. The canal tunnel was used as a water supply for a hydroelectric plant and the inclined planes were abandoned.
Devon Great Consols was a copper mine near Tavistock in Devon. Led by Josiah Hugh Hitchens, a group of six investors who were comfortable with the risks in establishing a new copper mine, agreed to fund the project with £1,024. The group met with the Duke of Bedford's land agent and signed a lease for the property on 26 July 1844. Among those investing was William Morris, Sr.; his son, William Morris, served as the director of the company from 1871 to 1875.
The 21-year lease for the mine called for royalties to be increased at the time the mine made a profit. The mine was first named Wheal Maria, for the Duke of Bedford's wife. Work began at the site in August 1844. By November 1844, a rich copper lode was discovered at the depth of 20 fathoms below ground. It was determined that the lode was at least 40 feet wide and extended eastward for more than two miles. The company rapidly opened other mines in the vicinity: Wheal Anna Maria, Wheal Fanny, Wheal Emma and Wheal Josiah among them.
By 1847, steam engines were in use at the mine, but the cost of their operation became a concern. A plan was devised to cut costs by using water power. The company received permission to utilize the Tamar River by way of constructing leats in 1849. Three large leats were built to divert water from the river to the mine; 33 wheels at the mine were powered in this way.
The company became the Devonshire Great Consolidated Copper Mining Company or Devon Great Consols on 25 March 1845. In the first six years of operation, the investors extracted and sold close to 90,000 tons of copper; the Duke received £44,000 in royalties, with the investors earning £207,000. 1,024 shares were sold and shareholders received over £200 for each share of stock held; the value of shares in the mine continued to rise over time. The shares were sold in 1844 for one pound per share. By 1864, the total dividends paid to shareholders was £818,824.
The mine was 200 fathoms deep and employed 1,284 people in 1864. Of these 861 were men, 203 were boys; there were 220 female workers. The mine was considered to be the most productive copper mine in the world circa 1864.
Because of the amount of ore the mine produced, transporting it by horse and wagon soon proved inefficient. The company built its own five mile railway with completion in November 1858; this linked the mine with Morwellham Quay for the export of ores. It was the only mine to have its own railway.
In time, the rail line was extended to the Wheal Josiah and Bedford United mines. Devon Great Consols owned three locomotives and 60 wagons which both transported ore to Morwellham Quay and brought needed equipment and supplies such as coal, to the mine. An average run from the mine to Morwellham Quay consisted of 8 to 10 wagons of ore.
The railway was closed when the mine stopped production. Most of the track was removed and sold as scrap after the mine was closed in 1903. Some track was re-laid and some portions of the line were re-opened in the 1920s. Rail connections to Bedford United mine, Wheal Anna Maria and to the arsenic works were restored, however with narrow gauge track replacing the original standard gauge.
The rail line between Devon Great Consols and Wheal Emma was never disturbed. A later connection between Wheal Fanny and the new arsenic works was created circa 1920s. Much of what remains of the railway and its associated structures have scheduled monument status.
Since the mine was so productive, it was necessary for the company to build its own facilities at Morwellham Quay to handle the ore. Between 1856 and 1858, the mining company built its own Great Dock and quay at Morwellham. The company had built its railway with an incline for its last half-mile to the quay at Morwellham. Cars were lowered two at a time onto the incline where the power to move them on came from a steam engine. They passed through a tunnel and onto viaducts built on the quay.
After the mine's closure, the track was removed and the tunnel infilled; this was partially restored in 2007. The engine house and associated structures survive, as does the incline. The Devon Great Consols dock was restored in the latter part of the 20th century with the bollards and portions of a crane from the quay surviving. Most of the structures have scheduled monument status.
By 1884, the quality of the copper ore produced at Devon Great Consols was poor, yielding more arsenic than copper. After being sorted by the mine's bal maidens, the copper ore was sent to south Wales to be smelted. The company began exploring the possibility of tin deposits at the mine but found none.
As cheaper copper imports and the declining quality of its copper ore began to affect the profit of Devon Great Consols, the company found a new source of income to replace its copper mining; the mine scrap was able to be used for extraction of arsenic. Prior to this, arsenic was imported from Germany. Devon Great Consols expanded into arsenic production beginning in 1867. The company's arsenic facilities extended over eight acres; it was the largest arsenic producer in the world during the 19th century.
The works at Devon Great Consols now made Britain the world's largest arsenic producer; the mine produced more than half of the total output in Britain. The mine's high quality product was in demand by industry both at home and abroad; production was only limited by the need to sustain market prices for arsenic. There were about 700 persons still working at the mine in 1893.
The mine fell victim to low prices for arsenic and a need for capital for both improvements and exploration. The proposal was brought to the shareholders in July 1902, but was met with failure. The company was last able to pay a dividend to shareholders in June 1899. Despite this, the Duke of Bedford renewed the lease on the land, giving the company an opportunity to recover from its losses, The mine was abandoned in 1903, with the equipment being sold off in May of that year. During its 60 years in business, Devon Great Consols produced some 700,000 tons of copper and 72,000 tons of refined arsenic.
*** – History – ***
Morwellham Quay has been imaginatively preserved to give an impression of Victorian industrial and rural life. The assayers' offices have been carefully preserved and Victorian cottages, farm and schoolrooms presented. The ore-crushing plants driven by a 32-foot overhead waterwheel can be seen. A battery electric-powered tramway, constructed as part of the tourist attraction in the 1970s, takes visitors for tours on a single level of the copper mine. There is also an extensive ecological programme of visits to explore the valley by water and land. Old lime kilns can also be seen.
The three areas by the tunnel are listed as the bulk of sources of copper in the county in Lysons' guide to each county of Britain in the 1820s and the county's derived wealth from this metal alone was enormous.
At Morwellham you will find plenty to do to keep you and the children entertained and occupied during your visit. They suggest you allow two to four hours, or even the whole day, in order to fully explore this fascinating village. All the cottages and workshops are open for you to wander through: compare the wealthy Harbour Master’s house to the squalor of the miner’s cottage; Talk to the Blacksmith about his hot, dirty but vital work at the forge and watch the potter as she throws a pot on her wheel; Try on costumes and look like a Victorian lady, gent or child.
Join in with the Living History Guides’ hands-on activities, demonstrations and tours which give fascinating insights about the people who lived and worked here:
Take a trip on the famous mine train into the George & Charlotte copper mine for a fascinating insight into the harsh living and working conditions in the 19th Century. Escape the hustle and bustle of 21st century life as you wander through this enchanting village and the countryside beyond.
Morwellham Quay has easy wheelchair access to toilets & reception. Please note that due to the nature of the site there are some uneven pathways, steps & slopes. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead and are charged £1 for entry (apart from assistance dogs).
Location : Morwellham Quay, Morwellham, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8JL
Transport: Calstock (ScotRail) then taxi (2 miles). Bus Routes : 87 and 87A stop 30 minutes away.
Opening Times : Daily, November - February, 10:00 to 16:00; March to May,Sept.,Oct., 10:00 to 17:00; June to August, 10:00 to 18:00
Tickets : Adults £11.95; Concessions (includes carers) £10.95; Children (3 to 16) £9.95
Tickets Mine Train: Adults £4.80; Concessions £4.50; Children (3 to 16) £3.95
Tel. : 01822 832766