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HER Number:MDV3879
Name:Tavistock Canal, Western Section

Summary

The Tavistock Canal built in the early 19th century to connect Tavistock to the Tamar at Morwellham. Four and a half miles long, it transported minerals from the mines in the Tamar valley to the quay at Morwellham, bringing in timber, coke, limestone and coal. Railway competition from 1859 reduced the canal's traffic and it closed in 1873. This section runs from the western end of the tunnel to the inclined plane north of Morwellham.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 446 701
Map Sheet:SX47SW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishGulworthy
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishTAVISTOCK

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX47SW/505

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CANAL (XIX - 1801 AD to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

Unknown, L1258/55/MC/C5 (Record Office Collection). SDV238313.


Ordnance Survey, 1907, 111NW (Cartographic). SDV323423.


Finberg, H. P. R., 1945, Morwell, 168 (Article in Serial). SDV215737.

The opening of Wheal Friendship Copper Mine, Mary Tavy, in 1796 or 1797 led to the construction of this canal, begun in 1803.


Hadfield, C., 1967, Canals of South West England, 127-35 (Monograph). SDV58.

Work began on the tunnel through Morwelldown (see PRNs 4069 & 3882) in 1803 and the whole canal finished in 1816. A branch to the Millhill Slate Quarry (see PRN 18721) was finished in early 1819. The canal closed between 1883 and 1898, chiefly due to competition from the railroads.


Booker, F., 1967, Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley, 103-26 (Monograph). SDV240774.

First iron barges ever used on English canals were used here. The canal carried ores from Wheals Crebor (see PRN 3954), Crowndale, (see PRN 3956), and Friendship (see PRN 4185), granite, limestone, pig lead, and slates. Carriage was affected by the trade depression of the 1820's and 1830's. By the 1840's and 1850's the mines for which the canal had been built had failed. Although some attempt was made to compete with the railways, the canal had disappeared from the list of canal returns by 1889. Full details of construction etc in Booker. Other details: Plan & Photograph.


Minchinton, W. E., 1973, Industrial Archaeology in Devon, 30 (Monograph). SDV7016.

The Tavistock Canal built by John Taylor between 1803 and 1817 to connect Tavistock to the Tamar at Morwellham, this canal carried copper ore to Morwellham and coal, lime and sand in the opposite direction. Its usefullness declined after the railway was built in 1859 and it was closed in the 1880's. The canal is now used as a source of water to power the Morwellham generator of the Central Electricity Generating Board. From Tavistock the towpath can be followed to the northern entrance of the tunnel cut through Morwell Down.


Hedges, C., 1975, The Tavistock Canal. A Short History (Monograph). SDV361772.


Turton, S. D. + Weddell, P. J., 1991, Archaeological Assessment of Four Areas of Land Adjoining the River Tavy and Plymouth Road, Tavistock, 7 (Report - Assessment). SDV256444.

The canal connected with an inclined plane at the Morwellham end (see PRN 5449) runs for c7km between Tavistock (Abbey Bridge Weir) and The Tamar. Ceased to be actively navigable in 1873. Other details: Fig 2.


Cox, J. + Thorp, J. R. L., 1992, Canal Cottage, Morwellham, 2-5, 7, 13-15, 49-52 (Report - Survey). SDV336711.

Morwellham was the outport for Tavistock from at least the mid 13th century. In the early 19th century the quay was developed through the copper boom & the construction of the Tavistock Canal opened in June 1817. The 4 1/2 mile canal stops high above Morwellham Quay & was connected to it by an inclined plane powered by a large water wheel fed by the overflow from the canal. The machine shed was located to the northeast of the wheel. Canal Cottage or Incline Cottage was located next to the machine shed. The end of the canal was built of stone rubble capped with concrete although the end wall does include some large granite blocks which may be part of some canal feature. The northwest side is interrupted by a shelf of slate - presumably provided as a slipway. The 1867 map shows rail tracks along the southeast side of the canal where there was also a crane to load & unload the wagons. There were 2 overflow channels from the canal end, both with slots for a sluice gate. The canal fell into disuse between 1870 & 1872 & was described as 'Disused' by 1885. A track followed the former canal towpath in 1992 from the tunnel under Morwell Down to incline to Morwellham Quay. Other details: Figs 1-3, Plates 17, 20, 22.


Harris, W. B., 1995, Hydro-Electricity in Devon: Past, Present and Future, 273-5 (Article in Serial). SDV125385.

In 1932 the West Devon Electric Supply Company negotiated a long term lease to use the canal as a leat to convey water to a hydro power station on the quayside at Morwellham.


Dyer, M. J. + Manning, P. T., 1998, Objective 5B: Lower Tamar Valley Recreation and Land Management Iinitiative: Cultural Heritage Appraisal, 36-7 (Report - non-specific). SDV319814.


Greeves, T., 2003, The Tavistock Canal: A Review, 2 (Report - non-specific). SDV356552.

The purpose of the present review is to draw attention to the key elements of the canal and its history from the start of work to the present day, to provide a summary of known sources of information, both published and unpublished, and to identify illustrative and other material that might be suitable for one or more information boards. See report for full details.


Buck, C., 2005, Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment, 45-6 (Report - Assessment). SDV336659.

The Tavistock Canal (Ste 58) connected the River Tavy at Tavistock to the River Tamar at Morwellham Quay. The first iron barges ever used on English canals were used on this canal. The barges c30 feet long x 5 feet wide were towed along the open canal by horses & worked through the tunnel by two men using iron bars against the rock face. When surveyed in 2005 the 3.5 meter wide canal was still carrying water to a leat which powered the Morwellham electricity generating power station Other details: Figs 24-5.


Waterhouse, R., 2012, Tavistock Canal: Surveying a Forgotten Marvel of the Industrial Age, 35-38 (Article in Serial). SDV351508.

The Tavistock canal was the subject of many ‘firsts’ now taken for granted in transport engineering, including containerisation, the earliest documented use of wrought iron for boats, systems designed to reduce goods handling, and tunnel ventilation. Unlike most canals, the main line and parts of its branch (known as the Collateral Cut) were designed to flow. This powered several waterwheels erected along its length and served an extensive system of leats beyond its western end, along the Devonshire bank of the Tamar. Flowing for more than twice the length of the navigable canal, these leats delivered water to around 15 mines and associated service industries over 3 miles distant. See article for full details.


Waterhouse, R., 2017, The Tavistock Canal. Its History and Archaeology (Monograph). SDV361789.

Built between 1803 and 1817, the Tavistock canal was four and a half miles long, connecting Tavistock and Morwellham. A two mile long branch line up the Lumburn Valley was added between 1817 and 1819 to the slate quarries at Mill Hill.
The canal transported minerals (copper, lead and tin ore) from the mines in the Tamar valley to the quay at Morwellham, bringing in timber, coke, limestone and coal to fuel the mining industries, as well as for domestic use. The water from the canal was also used to power many mines and industries. The canal is important for its early use of wrought iron barges, containerisation and technical aspects including the use of canal water for power. Canal features several unusual features, including a 1.5 mile long rock-cut tunnel, inclined haulway, horse railways at Morwellham, powered incline and extensive use of plateways; one of the most complex canal set-ups in the south-west. The Canal Company's mining activities are extensive and almost unique in British canal history.
Railway competition from 1859 reduced the canal's traffic and it closed in 1873.
The south portal of the canal tunnel emerges into a wood near a valley called Lobscombe. Before 1990, this portal had a similar form to that at the north end of the tunnel, but was damaged by heavy rain and partially collapsed. It has been reconstructed, but the reconstructed form has lost much of the original character. Just downstream of the tunnel entrance, the canal channel splits in two, with one course running to the south to power the Morwellham hydro-Electric Station. The original, now dry, canal bed, turned sharply north-west to cross the Lobscombe Valley, on a rubble embankment similar to that at the Lumburn Aqueduct (112 metres long, 38 metres wide, 11 metres high). At the north-west end of the embankment, the canal turns sharply westwards along the steep valley side. The southern terminus of the canal is 570 metres further on, when the canal simply stops on the hillside in a small, rectangular basin, with flanking wharfs to the south supported on the embankment and the north cut into the hillside. A small cottage on the northern wharf was occupied by the operator of the winding engine of a double-track inclined plane, which commenced on a broad platform at the same level as the wharf to the west (MDV37331).

Sources / Further Reading

SDV125385Article in Serial: Harris, W. B.. 1995. Hydro-Electricity in Devon: Past, Present and Future. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 127. A5 Paperback. 273-5.
SDV215737Article in Serial: Finberg, H. P. R.. 1945. Morwell. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 77. A5 Paperback. 168.
SDV238313Record Office Collection: Unknown. L1258/55/MC/C5. Canal Work Books. Unknown.
SDV240774Monograph: Booker, F.. 1967. Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley. Industrial Archaeology of the Tamar Valley. A5 Hardback. 103-26.
SDV256444Report - Assessment: Turton, S. D. + Weddell, P. J.. 1991. Archaeological Assessment of Four Areas of Land Adjoining the River Tavy and Plymouth Road, Tavistock. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 91.33. A4 Stapled + Digital. 7.
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. 36-7.
SDV323423Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1907. 111NW. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch Map. Map (Paper).
SDV336659Report - Assessment: Buck, C.. 2005. Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment. Cornwall County Council Report. 2006R0004. A4 Stapled + Digital. 45-6.
SDV336711Report - Survey: Cox, J. + Thorp, J. R. L.. 1992. Canal Cottage, Morwellham. Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants Report. K401. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2-5, 7, 13-15, 49-52.
SDV351508Article in Serial: Waterhouse, R.. 2012. Tavistock Canal: Surveying a Forgotten Marvel of the Industrial Age. Current Archaeology. 273. Digital. 35-38.
SDV356552Report - non-specific: Greeves, T.. 2003. The Tavistock Canal: A Review. Digital. 2.
SDV361772Monograph: Hedges, C.. 1975. The Tavistock Canal. A Short History. The Tavistock Canal. A5 Paperback.
SDV361789Monograph: Waterhouse, R.. 2017. The Tavistock Canal. Its History and Archaeology. The Tavistock Canal. Its History and Archaeology. Paperback Volume.
SDV58Monograph: Hadfield, C.. 1967. Canals of South West England. Canals of South West England. A5 Hardback. 127-35.
SDV7016Monograph: Minchinton, W. E.. 1973. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Paperback Volume. 30.

Associated Monuments

MDV3882Parent of: Southern Portal to Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Building)
MDV3882Related to: Southern Portal to Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Building)
MDV52866Parent of: Tavistock Canal, Weir & Sluice (Monument)
MDV52866Related to: Tavistock Canal, Weir & Sluice (Monument)
MDV123232Part of: Tavistock Canal, Main record (Monument)
MDV22884Related to: Bedford United Mine, Leat (Monument)
MDV72855Related to: Buildings at the south end of the Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Monument)
MDV37331Related to: Canal Incline Cottage, Gulworthy (Building)
MDV3862Related to: Devon Great Consolidated Mine, Gulworthy (Monument)
MDV21606Related to: Horse Tramway south of Millhill Quarry (Monument)
MDV18721Related to: Mill Hill Cut Canal Branch to Millhill Quarry (Monument)
MDV3882Parent of: Southern Portal to Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Building)
MDV3882Related to: Southern Portal to Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Building)
MDV47973Related to: Tavistock Canal Incline, Stables (Monument)
MDV4069Related to: Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Monument)
MDV5449Related to: Tavistock Canal, Inclined Plane (Monument)
MDV4067Related to: Tavistock Canal, Northern Section (Monument)
MDV52866Parent of: Tavistock Canal, Weir & Sluice (Monument)
MDV52866Related to: Tavistock Canal, Weir & Sluice (Monument)
MDV3954Related to: Wheal Crebor Mine (Monument)
MDV3956Related to: Wheal Crowndale Mine, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV72860Related to: Wheelpit at Tavistock Canal Incline, Gulworthy (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4040 - Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment

Date Last Edited:Oct 23 2018 11:56AM