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HER Number:MDV19108
Name:Plymouth Leat (Dartmoor section)

Summary

Constructed under an act obtained in 1585 by the Mayor in order to bring water from the River Meavy at a point now under Burrator Reservoir, over a distance of 17 miles to the city of Plymouth. Construction was carried out by Sir Francis Drake in 1589-91. Also known as Drake's Leat. The southern portion became disused in 1885 when Robrough Reservoir was built. The northern portion was abandoned when Burrator Reservoir was completed in 1898. Visible as an earthwork ditch on aerial photographs taken from 1946 onwards and on visualisations of lidar data captured in 2013.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 533 662
Map Sheet:SX56NW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishBickleigh (MD)
Civil ParishBickleigh (SH)
Civil ParishBuckland Monachorum
Civil ParishMeavy
Civil ParishWalkhampton
DistrictSouth Hams
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishMEAVEY
Ecclesiastical ParishMEAVY
Ecclesiastical ParishBICKLEIGH
Ecclesiastical ParishSHEEPSTOR
Ecclesiastical ParishWALKHAMPTON
Ecclesiastical ParishBUCKLAND MONACHORUM

Protected Status

  • SHINE: Earthwork and structural remains of the World War II RAF Harrowbeer airfield, as well as medieval fields and farms, industrial tin working, sections of the Devonport and Plymouth Leats, and part of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Tramway on Roborough Down
  • SHINE: Earthwork and structural remains of a section of the late 18th century Devonport Leat running between Roborough Down and Burrator Reservoir

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 1463430
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX56NW/70
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • LEAT (Constructed, XVI - 1590 AD to 1591 AD (Between))

Full description

Worth, R. N., Widey Court, 125-6 and 130-5 (Record Office Collection). SDV273787.

Various references to the Plymouth leat and Sir Francis Drake are in the Widey Court book.


Risk, J. E., 1884, Some recent revisions of Plymouth History (Article in Serial). SDV273794.

Plymouth Leat. Plymouth head weir, Roborough Down, where Warleigh Leat now runs out of the Plymouth Leat near Roborough Mills.


Hicks, H. R., 1942-1946, Drake's Weir, Tavistock, 299 (Article in Serial). SDV350139.

Plymouth Leat. Total length runs from Burrator, SX551680, to Plymouth, SX469541. Sir Francis Drake was granted 200 pounds sterling for its construction and given permission to erect and work six mills along it for 67 years. Location of mills not given.


Royal Air Force, 1946, RAF/106G/UK/1190, 3245-3247, 4195 (Aerial Photograph). SDV340833.


Royal Air Force, 1946, RAF/CPE/UK/1890, 4280-86 (Aerial Photograph). SDV169268.


Royal Air Force, 1946, RAF/CPE/UK/1890, DCC RAF/CPE/UK/1890 4341-4342 10-DEC-1946 (Aerial Photograph). SDV351061.

A cuvilinear earthwork ditch is visible.


Harris, H., 1968, Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, 136-138 (Monograph). SDV149229.

The leat was built between 1590-1591. The southern portion became disused in 1885 when Robrough Reservoir was built. The northern portion was abandoned when Burrator Reservoir was completed in 1898.


Hawkins, D. + Gray, V., 1982, Plymouth Leat worksheet, 4/10/1982 (Worksheet). SDV273786.

Most of the section north of the reservoir site is stone lined, in some places stones have fallen but are present. Section on the west side of Roborough down lane has lost the stones from the sides altogether. At approx SX51056445 a cutting has been made in both banks possibly a cattle crossing. At SX52266489 near a footbridge, a leat has been taken off, running downhill east towards a road. South section is less well preserved but it is traceable.
The channel is in fact the abandoned remains of the original Plymouth Leat left behind after, subsequent alterations and improvements (Hawkins cited by Gray in Parish Checklist).


Hemery, E., 1983, High Dartmoor, 113 (Monograph). SDV249702.

Granite slabs lining the leat were installed in 1871.


Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, 1985, Aerial Photograph Project (Dartmoor) - Dartmoor Pre-NMP (Cartographic). SDV319854.

Visible and recorded.


Hemery, E., 1986, Walking the Dartmoor Waterways (Monograph). SDV269544.

The work was completed in 1898, when the Roborough Down section of the Plymouth Leat became redundant, although restoration work was carried out by Plymouth Corporation at the beginning of WWII to provide an emergency alternative in the event of an interruption to the main supply.


Hawkins, D. J., 1987, Water from the Moor: Illustrated History of the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Leats (Monograph). SDV273793.

Constructed under an act obtained in 1585 by the Mayor in order to bring water from the River Meavy at a point now under Burrator Reservoir, over a distance of 17 miles to the city of Plymouth. Construction was carried out by Sir Francis Drake in 1589-91. Also known as Drake's Leat. The section on Roborough Down comprised a simple ditch some 6-7 feet wide according to one account (see Hawkings) although the curate of Bickleigh, around 1750, referred to it as being abut 8 foot broad, 1 foot deep. It was deepened and repaved in the 1870s but this proved insufficient and in 1893 another act was obtained enabling Burrator reservoir to be constructed together with a pipeline linking to the recently opened reservoir at Roborough.


Reed, S. J., 1991, Archaeological Recording on the SWW South Devon Spine Main (Roborough to Littlehempston), 2 (Report - Watching Brief). SDV163500.

Approximately 9.0 metres east of the point where the pipeline cut the leat, a shallow subsidiary channel was observed. This had originally diverted water west to either Roborough Mill or Roborough House. Water flow was controlled by sluices. Only a 4.0 metres length survived the construction of Roborough Reservoir.


Exeter Archaeology, 1996, Archaeological assessment of South West Water Burrator to Crownhill water main upgrade, 3-4 (Report - Assessment). SDV273792.

Plymouth Leat SX50946345.
This was constructed under an act obtained in 1585 by the Mayor and Corporation of Plymouth, in order to bring water from the River Meavy, at a point now under the Burrator Reservoir, over a distance of 17 miles to the City. The work of construction was carried out by Sir Francis Drake in 1589-91, and it was also known as Drake's Leat. The section on Roborough Down comprised a simple ditch, some 6-7 feet wide, according to one account (Hawkins, 1987, 7-8), although the Curate of Bickleigh, responding to Dean Milles' Questionnaire around 1750, referred to the leat being 'about 8 feet broad, depth 1 foot'. It was deepened and re-paved in the 1870s, but this proved insufficient, and in 1893 another act was obtained enabling Burrator Reservoir to be constructed, together with a pipeline linking to the recently-opened reservoir at Roborough (Hawkins, 1987, 24). The work was completed in 1898, when the Roborough Down section of the Plymouth Leat became redundant, although restoration work was carried out by Plymouth Corporation at the beginning of the last war to provide an emergency alternative, in the event of an interruption to the main supply (Hemery, 1986, 85).
The head weir and upper section were drained by Burrator Reservoir but the highest surviving section is only some 50 metres from the start of this pipeline. However, the requirement for an open leat to follow the contours forced it to take a circuitous course largely to the north of the pipeline.


Bayer, O. J. + Sage, S. A., 1997, Archaeological recording on the South West Water Burrator to Crownhill Main water upgrade: Stage 2, 4 (Report - Survey). SDV273785.

Much of the Roborough-Crownhill section was in use until being superseded in 1885 by 24 inch cast iron pipes from Bellever Reservoir. Leat was maintained during WWII as a precaution against disablement of the Bellever supply. Fell into disuse after the war. Cut by South West Water pipeline just south of Roborough Reservoir at SX50946345. The width at this point was approximately 1.6 metres, 0.8 metres deep with a flat concrete base 2 metres wide. The vertical sides were lined with rectangular of course granite measuring on average 0.63m x 0.3m x 0.3m. These had been set on end into the concrete base, indicating the extent of the wartime maintenance programme.
South bank represented by a wall 1.5-1.7 metres high, capped with concrete. Earth was banked up on its south side, giving the appearance of a hedgebank. North wall formed by low revetted wall 1.0 metre high, with 0.25 metres projecting above ground. The leat itself was in relatively good condition, although much overgrown, with the concrete base 0.2 metres deep in leaf litter.


NERC, 2013, LiDAR DTM data (1m resolution) Tellus: South Devon to Dartmoor, LIDAR SX5166 Environment Agency DTM 01-JAN-1998 to 31-MAY-2017 (Cartographic). SDV361514.

A cuvilinear earthwork ditch is visible.


Ordnance Survey, 2013, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV350786.

Depicted on the modern mapping.


Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R., 2019-2020, The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 2, Avon Valley to Plymouth (AI&M, formerly NMP) (Interpretation). SDV362982.

The leat is visible as a curvilinear earthwork ditch, approximately 2.5 metres wide, on aerial photographs taken from 1946 onwards and on visualisations of lidar data captured in 2013. Only the section that falls within the project area and the buffer covered by the loaned aerial imagery has been transcribed, to indicate what is visible on the aerial photograph resource.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV149229Monograph: Harris, H.. 1968. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. A5 Hardback. 136-138.
SDV163500Report - Watching Brief: Reed, S. J.. 1991. Archaeological Recording on the SWW South Devon Spine Main (Roborough to Littlehempston). Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 91.36. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV169268Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946. RAF/CPE/UK/1890. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 4280-86.
SDV249702Monograph: Hemery, E.. 1983. High Dartmoor. High Dartmoor. Hardback Volume. 113.
SDV269544Monograph: Hemery, E.. 1986. Walking the Dartmoor Waterways. Walking the Dartmoor Waterways. Unknown.
SDV273785Report - Survey: Bayer, O. J. + Sage, S. A.. 1997. Archaeological recording on the South West Water Burrator to Crownhill Main water upgrade: Stage 2. Exeter Archaeology. 97.24. A4 Stapled + Digital. 4.
SDV273786Worksheet: Hawkins, D. + Gray, V.. 1982. Plymouth Leat worksheet. Worksheet. Unknown. 4/10/1982.
SDV273787Record Office Collection: Worth, R. N.. Widey Court. Widey Court. Unknown. 125-6 and 130-5.
SDV273792Report - Assessment: Exeter Archaeology. 1996. Archaeological assessment of South West Water Burrator to Crownhill water main upgrade. Exeter Archaeology. 96.56. A4 Stapled. 3-4.
SDV273793Monograph: Hawkins, D. J.. 1987. Water from the Moor: Illustrated History of the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Leats. Water from the Moor: Illustrated History of the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Leats. Unknown.
SDV273794Article in Serial: Risk, J. E.. 1884. Some recent revisions of Plymouth History. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 16. Unknown.
SDV319854Cartographic: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1985. Aerial Photograph Project (Dartmoor) - Dartmoor Pre-NMP. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Aerial Photograph P. Cartographic.
SDV340833Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946. RAF/106G/UK/1190. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 3245-3247, 4195.
SDV350139Article in Serial: Hicks, H. R.. 1942-1946. Drake's Weir, Tavistock. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 22. Unknown. 299.
SDV350786Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2013. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #82405 The polygon has been extended to incorporate the aerial survey transcription., ]
SDV351061Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946. RAF/CPE/UK/1890. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). DCC RAF/CPE/UK/1890 4341-4342 10-DEC-1946.
SDV361514Cartographic: NERC. 2013. LiDAR DTM data (1m resolution) Tellus: South Devon to Dartmoor. Digital. LIDAR SX5166 Environment Agency DTM 01-JAN-1998 to 31-MAY-2017.
SDV362982Interpretation: Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R.. 2019-2020. The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 2, Avon Valley to Plymouth (AI&M, formerly NMP). Historic England Research Report. Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV34224Related to: Bank on Roborough Down (Monument)
MDV2226Related to: Brokencrosse, Roborough Down (Monument)
MDV103325Related to: Burrator Reservoir (Monument)
MDV25645Related to: Cryme's Leat, Roborough Down (Monument)
MDV105293Related to: Leat on Roborough Down, Buckland Monachorum (Monument)
MDV28253Related to: Leat on the southern part of Roborough Down (Monument)
MDV28821Related to: Quarry adjacent to the Plymouth and Dartmoor Tramway (Monument)
MDV48997Related to: Quarry north-west of Coombe Park Lodge (Monument)
MDV19902Related to: The Devonport Leat, Dartmoor (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV8098 - The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping (formerly NMP) Survey, Area 2, Avon Valley to Plymouth (Ref: ACD2040)

Date Last Edited:Jul 4 2019 3:55PM