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HER Number:MDV13882
Name:Weir Quay, Union Tin Smelting Works


The Union Tin Smelting Works at Weir Quay was established in the 1840s. Taken over by the Tamar Lead and Silver Smelting Company in 1864 and used as a jam factory in the early 20th century.


Grid Reference:SX 434 650
Map Sheet:SX46NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBere Ferrers
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBERE FERRERS

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX46NW/509
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II): 92615

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • METAL SMELTING SITE (XIX - 1801 AD to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

NMR, SX46NW39 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV258215.

English Heritage, 09/07/2012, Assessment of the Union Tin Smelting Works, Bere Ferrers (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV349706.

Assessment of the Union Tin Smelting Works complete. The Works are being considered for upgrade from Grade II.

The Union Tin Smelting Works are located at Weir Quay next to the River Tamar and were in operation as a tin smelter from 1849 to 1896. The tin smelter was originally one of two adjacent smelters, including a silver/lead smelter to the west and together they formed the Tamar Smelting Works. The silver/lead mine was the earlier of the two smelters, built in the 1820s. In 1845 the silver/lead smelter was acquired by the Tamar Silver Lead Mining Co. In 1849 they set up a separate company, The Union Tin Smelting Company, to specialise in smelting tin, and a specialist smelting works was constructed next to the existing silver/lead works. In 1854 the silver/lead works closed and in 1863 the tin smelting works followed suit. Both smelting works are depicted on an engraving in 1865; it shows the tin smelter with its two large chimneys, assay house to the east and store to the west. The tin works were reinstated in 1870 under the Tamar Tin Smelting Company and soon after the smelting house was enlarged to the east. The First Edition Ordnance Survey map (1883) shows the two smelters identified as ‘Tamar smelting works (tin and lead, disused)’; however various texts refer to the tin smelter in use until 1896. It was later used as an estate workshop until the end of the First World War, and the tin smelters were used as vats for manufacturing jam. Recent trench excavations (2009) through the length of the smelter floor showed the western half of the site to be built up of smelting waste from the silver/lead works site which is adjacent to the Union works. In the early C21 work was carried out to the assay house including the conversion to domestic accommodation, and repairs were made to parts of the boundary wall and some of the ancillary buildings. The range of shelter sheds in the lower yard underwent extensive repairs.
When the site was used as a smelting works the ores would have been brought in carts from the quay, to the west of the site, up an adjacent lane and deposited at the entrance gate and yard to the west of the smelting house. The weighing machine for the ore was originally located in this yard; although demolished, its original location can be discerned from a square mark in the surviving cobbles. The ore would then have been taken around the corner through the smelting house where the ore would be heated in reverberatory furnaces to extract the tin. The extracted tin would be stored in the adjoining buildings, unmanufactured metals in the store to the west (above which is an office) and manufactured tin in a strong room on the east side next to the assay house, where the metal was tested for tin content. Above this wing was the site manager's accommodation.

A former reverberatory tin smelting works built in 1849 including an assay office, ore store and manager’s accommodation, surrounded by stone floored yards and outbuildings.

MATERIAL: granite rubble wall with hipped slate floor and brick stacks over the assay house, yards with cobbled floors, and rubble stone perimeter wall.

PLAN: a large single-storey smelting works with a two-storey assay office to the east and two-storey ore store and accommodation to the west, forming a U-shaped arrangement. An L-shaped range of ancillary structures stands in the lower yard to the west, and the upper yard to the east contains the remains of the feeder pool.

EXTERIOR: the SMELTING HOUSE is a double-height building with an expansive hipped roof. Originally this roof would have had two large chimneys in the centre which are no longer extant. A cobbled yard leads to the west elevation which has a large brick archway, an oval brick opening above, and square windows which are now boarded up. On either side of the archway opening are low buttresses. The south elevation contains a large arched opening with
timber doors and three windows on either side all with elliptical brick arches and timber louvers. This elevation stands in front of a cobbled yard and an entrance way with stone piers and timber gates. At right-angles to the smelting house on the east side, the ASSAY OFFICE is of two storeys with a hipped slate roof. The west elevation, facing onto the smelting house, has a 21st centruy door with granite quoins to either side, or a window above, both under elliptical
arches. The east elevation has a set of stone steps leading up to a first–floor C21 entrance door. There are two C21 eight-over-eight sash windows on this level and two larger C21 ground–floor casement windows, all with elliptic arch brick heads. Attached to the south end of the Assay House is the east elevation of the smelting house, with oval windows above and two arched openings below with granite voussoirs, one of which is blocked. On the west side of
the smelting house at right angles is the UNMANUFACTURED TIN STORE AND OFFICE. The asymmetrical front (east) elevation has stone steps and an iron railing leading to first-floor four-panelled door. To either side of the entrance is a twelve-pane hornless sash window with brick arches above and there are smaller windows on ground floor to either side of the steps, with segmental arches, internal shutters and stanchion bars. The building is hipped and has two brick chimneys on the west side and one to the north.

INTERIOR: the SMELTING HOUSE is a full-height open space with a large intact timber queen-post roof structure supported by two rows of cast-iron beams, some of which have a date stamp of 1849. The room would have originally contained three furnaces where the ores would have been heated to produce the tin. These are no longer extant; however their locations can still be identified through depressions in the floor. In the east corner is a small room which forms the corner of the assay house. This was originally a strong room for storing the tin ingots, and the windows retain their protective iron bars. These windows and the entrance door are now blocked and the room is part of the converted assay house and used as a bedroom. The ASSAY HOUSE has recently (2009) been converted into living
accommodation with an open plan first-floor and central staircase leading down to two bedrooms and bathroom below. Most of the internal decoration is modern; however the doorway and window openings which would have led through to the smelting house survive, albeit blocked. The building has a timber king-post roof. The UNMANUFACTURED TIN
STORE AND OFFICE is over two floors. The store room on the ground-floor is a long open room which is accessed via a timber plank door in the south-west corner of the smelting house. The first-floor office is largely late-C19 in character. The King-post roof is intact and a section of the lath and plaster ceiling to the north end survives. An internal lath and plaster division wall survives at the south end. The north end is now largely open, with some fragments of internal lath and plaster wall remaining, together with a chimney breast.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: A granite stone perimeter wall, circa 2 metres high, runs around the whole of the site, part of which has undergone patch repairs. It also encloses an upper yard at the top of the site, to the east of the assay house, which contains the crater originally used for the feeder pond and a heated building which now acts as an ancillary structure to the assay house and has been largely rebuilt in the C21. Also leading from this yard is a stone-lined culvert that runs along part of the north end of the site. The wall also encloses a yard at the bottom of the site, to the west of the tin store. The lower yard has perimeter walls of approx. 2.5 to 3 m height and it contains an L–shaped range of shelters and sheds on the south and east side of this yard, with stone walls and slate roofs which have all undergone significant rebuilding in the C21. On the north side are the remains of covered tanks, the surviving walls are circa 1m high and retain underground flues. This yard contains large areas of original cobbled floor.

McDonald, D., 1951, Percival Norton Johnson (Monograph). SDV240075.

Barton, D. B., 1964, The Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon, 101 (Monograph). SDV240068.

Booker, F., 1967, Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley, 62-4, 256 (Monograph). SDV240774.

Booker, F., 1970, The Story of Morwellham (Monograph). SDV323432.

Union Tin Smelting Works at Weir Quay. The surviving buildings lie adjacent to the Tamar Smelting Works (see PRN 5442) on Weir Quay. the surviving buildings consist of the main smelting house, set back from the road with a courtyard, flanked by two 2-storey buildings. On the southwest of the courtyard was a storeroom with assay office (now a flat) over. On the northeast was the count house, now a ruin. The smelting house itself is a large single storey building with roof supported on 14ft high cast iron columns, one bearing the date 1849. The works were in operation from 1849-1890. Sale particulars of 1855 refer to other buildings and plant. The smelting house is the most complete survival of the 19th century smelting industry in the Tamar Valley. Whether or not it was always a separate entity from the Tamar Smelting Works is not clear. The buildings were the subject of planning application for conversion in 1977/8. Whether this has taken place is not known. Other details: Photographs & Plan.

Minchinton, W. E., 1973, Industrial Archaeology in Devon (Monograph). SDV7016.

Other details: Photograph.

Hamilton Jenkin, Dr. A. K., 1974, Mines of Devon. Volume 1: The Southern Area, 39 (Monograph). SDV336694.

Beddow, Rev. A. J. C., 1975, A History of Bere Ferrers Parish (Pamphlet). SDV325357.

English Heritage, 1977, Bere Ferrers (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV325361.

Union Tin Smelting Works. Former smelting works including assay office now used as a flat. Probably built in 1849. Rubble walls. Hipped asbestos slate roofs. Assay office has 3 brick stacks one at right-hand gable end and 2 lateral stacks at rear. Large_smelting house with smaller room divided off at one end as a strong room probably for the purpose of storing bar tin after smelting. Attached at right angles at the left-hand end is a 2 storey building with former assay office on first floor reached by external steps (now converted into a flat), and store on the ground floor. Attached at right angles to the smelting house at the opposite end is a derelict building originally the count house. Smelting house is single storey, assay office is 2 storey. Symmetrical front to smelting house with 3 windows on either side of double doors, all with elliptical brick arches. Assay office is attached to left-hand end of smelting house projecting at right angles. Asymmetrical front has stone steps with iron railings at left of centre leading to first floor 19C 4 panelled door. To either side of it is original 12 pane hornless sash window with brick arch. Small window on ground floor to either side of the steps have segmental arches, internal shutters and stanchion bars. Adjoining this building and in front of the smelting house is a paved granite yard. Dividing this from the road is a high rubble wall with roughly central square granite gate piers. Interior: the smelting house has a roof supported on cast iron columns, one of which is dated 1849. The smelting works were in operation from 1849 to circa 1890. Other details: LBS No 92615.

Booker, F., 1977, Union Tin Smelting Works, Weir Quay, Bere Alston (Un-published). SDV359153.

These works were established in 1849 and smelted tin including probably parcels of black from Dartmoor mines, until the works closed in about 1890. At the time of writing the buildings consist of the main smelting house with a ruined cottage (formerly the count house) and a store room with an assay office over it flanking it on the east and west sides. The two buildings are of no great intrinsic worth in themselves except that they contribute to the unity of the site. The smelting house however has considerable interest. See report and photographs for full details.

Timms, S. C., 1981, Smelting Works (Worksheet). SDV359167.

Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N., 1989, The Buildings of England: Devon (Monograph). SDV325629.

Greeves, T. A. P., 1991, An Assessment of Copper Mining in Devon (Copper, Brass, Tin), 1,5 (Report - Assessment). SDV60709.

The last tin smelting house operating in Devon was at Weir Quay near Bere Alston - quay and foreshore littered with slag. Several phases of operation from 1847-1898 but Tamar Tin Smelting Co Ltd not dissolved until 1923 & site subsequently became a jam factory. (much of fabric of site survives at NGR SX434651 on north side of road between Weir Quay & Bere Alston in the form of substantial buildings.

Cranstone, D., 1991, The Lead Industry (Report - non-specific). SDV90317.

Intact and unaltered smeltmill, retaining louvres, cast iron columns etc though the interior has been stripped. Office and assay house are adjacent. These buildings are all derelict but roofed. The surrounding grounds contain ruined buildings, a boundary wall and the site of a stamp mill. Complete externally intact smelt mill complex. NGR given as SX434650. Flues may survive to the north. Other details: Manuscript.

Dyer, M. J. + Manning, P. T., 1998, Objective 5B: Lower Tamar Valley Recreation and Land Management Iinitiative: Cultural Heritage Appraisal, 51 (Report - non-specific). SDV319814.

Union Tin Smelting Works operated from 1849-1896. Built immediately to east of Tamar Smelting Works but was originally a separate concern processing tin ores. From 1865 worked with Tamar works as Tamar Lead & Silver Smelting Co Ltd. Reused as a jam factory in early 20C. Described by English Heritage as 'of considerable national importance' & under consideration for scheduling.

Buck, C., 1998, Preliminary Assessment of Sites of Archaelogical Importance in the Tamar Valley, 51 (Report - Assessment). SDV241750.

Buildings grouped around cobbled courtyard externally complete, with some original internal fixtures and fittings.

Claughton, P. F., 1998, Untitled Source (Un-published). SDV325362.

The Union Smelter at Weirquay was established to the east of the Tamar smelter (see PRN 5442) in the late 1840s to process tin ores. It combined with the Tamar works in 1864 & was subsequently used as a jam factory. Other details: Sketch plan & photograph.

Bodman, M., 1998, Water-Powered Sites in Devon, 27, 1 (Report - non-specific). SDV305931.

Buck, C., 2008, Weir Quay Smelters, Devon: Impact and Conservation Assessment, 23-24 (Report - Assessment). SDV344723.

The Union Tin Smelter dates to 1849, when it was built on ground that had been cleared and enclosed by 1844. The upper part of the site consisted of three main building elements, the smelter building and two buildings on its south side. Adjacent and to the east of the buildings is the reservoir pond area, and immediately to the west of them is the coal yard and store. At a lower level is a yard with the roofless remains of buildings, described as stores, on the south side, and the low walled remains of buildings described as 'cemented tanks' on the north side. The condition of the site made it difficult to view and record, due to overgrown vegetation or storage of vehicles and other materials in the buildings, however the assay house and tin store buildings had been cleared in advance of conversion for residential use. Other details: Figure 5.

English Heritage, 2011, Bere Ferrers (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV348376.

Application received to amend the entry for the Union Tin Smelting Works.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV240068Monograph: Barton, D. B.. 1964. The Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon. The Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon. A4 Stapled. 101.
SDV240075Monograph: McDonald, D.. 1951. Percival Norton Johnson. Percival Norton Johnson. Unknown.
SDV240774Monograph: Booker, F.. 1967. Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley. Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley. A5 Hardback. 62-4, 256.
SDV241750Report - Assessment: Buck, C.. 1998. Preliminary Assessment of Sites of Archaelogical Importance in the Tamar Valley. Cornwall Archaeological Unit Report. A4 Bound. 51.
SDV258215National Monuments Record Database: NMR. SX46NW39. SX46NW.
SDV305931Report - non-specific: Bodman, M.. 1998. Water-Powered Sites in Devon. A4 Spiral Bound. 27, 1.
SDV319814Report - non-specific: Dyer, M. J. + Manning, P. T.. 1998. Objective 5B: Lower Tamar Valley Recreation and Land Management Iinitiative: Cultural Heritage Appraisal. Exeter Archaeology Report. 98.60. A4 Stapled + Digital. 51.
SDV323432Monograph: Booker, F.. 1970. The Story of Morwellham. The Story of Morwellham. Unknown.
SDV325357Pamphlet: Beddow, Rev. A. J. C.. 1975. A History of Bere Ferrers Parish. Unknown.
SDV325361List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 1977. Bere Ferrers. Historic Houses Register.
SDV325362Un-published: Claughton, P. F.. 1998. A Brief History of the Tamar Smelting Works.
SDV325629Monograph: Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N.. 1989. The Buildings of England: Devon. The Buildings of England: Devon. Hardback Volume.
SDV336694Monograph: Hamilton Jenkin, Dr. A. K.. 1974. Mines of Devon. Volume 1: The Southern Area. Mines of Devon. Volume 1: The Southern Area. One. Hardback Volume. 39.
SDV344723Report - Assessment: Buck, C.. 2008. Weir Quay Smelters, Devon: Impact and Conservation Assessment. Cornwall County Council Report. 2008R137. A4 Stapled + Digital. 23-24.
SDV348376List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 2011. Bere Ferrers. Additions and Amendments to Checklist. A4 Stapled.
SDV349706List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 09/07/2012. Assessment of the Union Tin Smelting Works, Bere Ferrers. Amendment to List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interes. Digital.
SDV359153Un-published: Booker, F.. 1977. Union Tin Smelting Works, Weir Quay, Bere Alston. Typescript + Digital.
SDV359167Worksheet: Timms, S. C.. 1981. Smelting Works. Devon County Sites and Monuments Register. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV60709Report - Assessment: Greeves, T. A. P.. 1991. An Assessment of Copper Mining in Devon (Copper, Brass, Tin). A4 Stapled + Digital. 1,5.
SDV7016Monograph: Minchinton, W. E.. 1973. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Paperback Volume.
SDV90317Report - non-specific: Cranstone, D.. 1991. The Lead Industry. English Heritage Monuments Protection Programme Step 3 Site Assessments. A4 Stapled.

Associated Monuments

MDV78001Parent of: Assay Office, Union Tin Smelting Works (Building)
MDV78003Parent of: Cemented Tanks, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77996Parent of: Covered Tank, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV78004Parent of: Lower Yard, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77997Parent of: Outhouses and Shed, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77995Parent of: Outhouses at Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77993Parent of: Pond at Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77989Parent of: Reservoir Pond, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77999Parent of: Smelting House, Union Tin Smelting Works (Building)
MDV78006Parent of: South Upper Yard, Union Tin Smelting Works (Building)
MDV77998Parent of: Store for Manufactured Tin, Union Tin Smelting Works (Building)
MDV78000Parent of: Store For Unmanufactured Metals, Union Tin Smelting Works (Building)
MDV78002Parent of: Storehouses, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77991Parent of: Tank at Reservoir Pond, Union Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV78007Parent of: Tank, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77994Parent of: Water Course at Reservoir Pond, Union Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV77992Parent of: Watercourse at Reservoir Pond, Union Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV78005Parent of: West Upper Yard, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV69020Part of: Tamar Smelting Works, Bere Ferrers (Monument)
MDV78009Related to: Possible Packing Shed, Union Tin Smelting Works (Monument)
MDV5442Related to: Tamar Smelting Works, Weirquay, Bere Ferrers (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV3641 - Assessment of lead industry
  • EDV3642 - Preliminary assessment of sites of archaeological importance in the Tamar Valley
  • EDV3643 - Objective 5b: Lower Tamar Valley recreation & land management initiative: cultural heritage appraisal
  • EDV3644 - Preliminary assessment of industrial sites of archaeological importance in the Tamar Valley
  • EDV4767 - Archaeological Assessment of Weir Quay Smelters
  • EDV4768 - Field Survey of Weir Quay Smelters, Devon

Date Last Edited:Mar 22 2019 2:12PM