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HER Number:MDV4067
Name:Tavistock Canal, Northern Section


Northern section of the Tavistock Canal, from Tavistock to the Morwell Down Tunnel. Built under engineer John Taylor between 1803 and 1817, to transport minerals from the mines near Tavistock to the quay at Morwellham for transportation.


Grid Reference:SX 471 730
Map Sheet:SX47SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTavistock
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishTAVISTOCK

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX47SE/27
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CANAL (XIX - 1803 AD to 1817 AD (Between))

Full description

Waterhouse, R., Plans of Tavistock Wharf (Plan - measured). SDV351507.

Waterhouse, R., Tavistock Feeder Canal Bridge Drawings (Plan - measured). SDV351513.

Ordnance Survey, 1855-1895, First Edition 1:500 Town Map (Cartographic). SDV338879.

Map object based on this source.

1867, 1867 Map, Tavistock Canal Incline, Morwellham (Cartographic). SDV360348.

Partial image of 1867 Tavistock map showing canal incline, Morwellham.

Ordnance Survey, 1904 - 1906, Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map (Cartographic). SDV325644.

'Old Canal' marked.

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

The Tavistock Canal was 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 usefulness declined after the railway was built in 1859 and it was closed in the 1880s. The canal is now used as a source of water to power the Morwellham generator of the Central Electricity Board. From Tavistock the towpath can be followed to the northern entrance of the tunnel cut through Morwell Down.

Devon County Council, 1975, Tavistock Town Walk, 91 (Article in Monograph). SDV352474.

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

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 172 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

The Tavistock and District Local History Society, 1994, About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks, 13, 23, 54-5 (Monograph). SDV354806.

Water is abstracted for the Tavistock Canal just above the weir, below Abbey Bridge. The canal was built between 1803 and 1817 under engineer John Taylor. It was built primarily for transporting copper ore from the Mary Tavy mines to Morwellham but was also used for slate, limestone, coal and other products. The four mile canal includes a one and half mile tunnel and there was also a two mile branch to slate quarries at Mill Hill. The fall in level at Morwellham was achieved by an inclined plane.

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., 2009, Tavistock Canal Devon: Interim Archaeological Report, 5; figures 5-6 (Report - Interim). SDV345014.

Repairs took place on the section of the canal between the swing bridge at Tavistock and the lock gates at the Lumburn Valley. With reduced water level in the canal many stones that had fallen out were found on the canal bed not far from their original bank location. When the canal was constructed the stones were originally set on edge, a minimum of two/three stones height (approximately 0.6-0.8 metres above water level). Where there was insufficient stone to replace the collapsed sections, a similar stone was imported from Trebarwith Quarry, North Cornwall. The new or original stone was reset on edge, following the original profile of the canal bank, and earth was backfilled into the top sides of the stone to reform the edge of the towpath, which was then re-seeded.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

Map object based on this source.

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.

Buck, C., 2013, Tavistock Canal, Devon: Archaeological Impact and Recording Report, 9-10, 14-15; Figures 5-11 (Report - non-specific). SDV356300.

Buck, C., 2015, Buctor Farm, Tavistock (Report - Assessment). SDV359746.

This study was commissioned by the landowner on behalf of Natural England as part of a Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Agreement Scheme and produced by Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Cornwall Council.
Background: Refer to Section 4.2.5 for the background history of the Tavistock Canal. The canal currently is owned and maintained by South West Water, to keep it free flowing and free of blockages, etc (Fig 24). Repair works to the canal’s east side (and towpath) have been undertaken in the past, sometimes inappropriately using cement and concrete formwork. The 2009 repair work to both sides of the canal and re-surfacing parts of the towpath continued with the theme of patching damaged sections (as part of the Tamar Valley Mines Heritage Project – TVMHP, Buck 2013).
Survey: For much of its length the canal’s west and north sides (see Fig 24), cuts into both of the Lumburn Valley’s east and west sides – revealing bed-rock and forming the bed of the canal. Excess stone material from the rock cut was used to form the rounded profile edge of the east side of the canal – using slate/killas stones set on edge. The tow path was formed along this eastern/southern side. The canal is approximately 4m wide, 0.3m to 0.5m deep, with the east side approximately 0.6m to 0.8m deep from tow path surface to water level. Water slowly flows along the canal, through the tunnel and to the reservoir pond.
Significance: High
This site has a High significance rating, given its site history, its impact upon the landscape and its designation as being part of the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site. The tunnel portal and tunnel itself are Listed Buildings (Grade II).
Recommendation: Site should be retained after any obscuring vegetation clearance. If there is to a site interpretation strategy for this higher stewardship scheme, this could include the provision of an interpretation panel, for example near Site 52.1, (near the towpath and overlooking the site of the Wheal Crebor water wheel), a viewpoint perhaps towards Wheal Crebor mine across the Lumburn Valley. The provision of occasional guided tours around Wheal Crebor Mine could also visit this impressive feature.

Waterhouse, R., 2017, The Tavistock Canal. Its History and Archaeology, 316-329, figs 10.1-10.24 (Monograph). SDV361789.

The Main Line from Tavistock to the Morwelldown Tunnel
The main line of the canal starts at Abbey Weir on the right bank of the River Tavy, bends sharply as it passes Gill & Company’s short-lived Abbey Wharf, then diverges slowly from the river, heading in a straight line in a south-westerly direction for 270 metres. At this point it is a shallow, rubble-revetted cutting, no more than 2.5 metres deep (317).
From Tavistock Wharf (MDV43882) to Fitzford, the course of the canal remains straight, running on a slight terrace, embanked on its south side where it adjoins The Meadows public park. The gardens, bowling green and tennis courts alongside Plymouth Road to the north are revetted with a low drystone wall, with several concrete blockwork repairs. After Fitzford bridge, the canal turns sharply to the south-west, passing Tavistock Community College. At this point it passes the western working of Wheal Crelake, with the earlier workings of Wheal Pixon a little to the north; no surface remains of these copper mines now exists (319). The canal runs in this cutting (initially 3 metres deep and rubble-faced), for about 200 metres alongside Fitzford Cottages, the site of the ancient courtyard mansion; Fitzford House. This was the site of a proposed private wharf and limekilns for Gill & Company in 1803, but these were never built.
After coming out of the Fitzford cutting, the canal no longer runs straight, but hugs the sloping northern side of the Tavy Valley. Curving round the edge of Crowndale Wood, here its right bank is rock-cut, while there is a broad but shallow earthwork embankment on the southern side, partially obscuring the short-lived Wheal Crowndale leat (MDV123099) (320). The canal passes the Crowndale model farm through a straight embanked channel on a terrace against the farm buildings, then enters a shallow cutting, passing beneath a stone bridge (MDV123100) linking the eastern and western parts of Wheal Crowndale. Ground to the south of the canal is artificial here, having been made up with mine waste. Somewhere in the vicinity was Crowndale Wharf, but the precise location is unknown.
The section beyond the Crowndale Bridge runs through the Shillamill Wood, on an increasingly narrow terrace, partially rock-cut on the north bank, before the route of the canal curves round to head west, then north into the Lumburn Valley (321); one of the most dramatic and impressive sections of the canal. The Shillamill Viaduct (MDV73904) is discussed in separate record, but is one of the most unusual features of the canal. After passing under the Shillamill viaduct (MDV51335), the canal heads northwards past the eastern workings of Wheal Crebor including a large waterwheel driven by canal water in use in the 1870s-1880s. For details of Lumburn Lock and the associated lock keepers cottage see related records (MDV106271 and MDV123103). A small basin (c.1813) adjoins the cottage, constructed into one of a pair of the large borrow pits, excavated at either end of the Lumburn Aqueduct, the most significant civil engineering structure on the Tavistock Canal, other than the Morwelldown Tunnel. At the western end of the aqueduct, a T-junction was formed: the Main Line turned sharply to the south, while the Collateral Cut to Mill Hill headed northwards up the west side of the Lumburn Valley.
After turning south, the Main Line passes through the agricultural hamlet of Crebor, where the earthworks are relatively slight, then arrives at Wheal Crebor Wharf, which is edged with granite blocks on its south side with a stop gate at its east end (325). The remains of Wheal Crebor’s (MDV3954) dumps and surface works occupy a huge area of disturbed and semi wooded ground in the valley bottom to the south. The tunnel construction service yard, developed from 1805, survives as ruins in an area of scrub woodland to the south of the canal.
The long, straight approach cutting to the tunnel portal starts at the west end of Crebor Wharf and is partly rock-cut. A high arched stone bridge (MDV37343) carries the access track to Wheal Crebor House over the cutting into the Morwelldown Tunnel. This was the canal's first bridge, built in 1805 (326).

Sources / Further Reading

SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV338879Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1855-1895. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. Map (Digital).
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 172.
SDV345014Report - Interim: Buck, C.. 2009. Tavistock Canal Devon: Interim Archaeological Report. Cornwall County Council Report. A4 Ring Bound + Digital. 5; figures 5-6.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital).
SDV351507Plan - measured: Waterhouse, R.. Plans of Tavistock Wharf. Digital.
SDV351508Article in Serial: Waterhouse, R.. 2012. Tavistock Canal: Surveying a Forgotten Marvel of the Industrial Age. Current Archaeology. 273. Digital. 35-38.
SDV351513Plan - measured: Waterhouse, R.. Tavistock Feeder Canal Bridge Drawings. Digital.
SDV352474Article in Monograph: Devon County Council. 1975. Tavistock Town Walk. Devon Town Trails: European Architectural Heritage Year. Paperback Volume. 91.
SDV354806Monograph: The Tavistock and District Local History Society. 1994. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. A5 Paperback. 13, 23, 54-5.
SDV356300Report - non-specific: Buck, C.. 2013. Tavistock Canal, Devon: Archaeological Impact and Recording Report. Cornwall Council Report. 2013R046. A4 Comb Bound + Digital. 9-10, 14-15; Figures 5-11.
SDV356552Report - non-specific: Greeves, T.. 2003. The Tavistock Canal: A Review. Digital. 2.
SDV359746Report - Assessment: Buck, C.. 2015. Buctor Farm, Tavistock. Cornwall Archaeological Unit. 2015R055. Digital.
SDV360348Cartographic: 1867. 1867 Map, Tavistock Canal Incline, Morwellham. Digital.
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. 316-329, figs 10.1-10.24.
SDV7016Monograph: Minchinton, W. E.. 1973. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Paperback Volume. 30.

Associated Monuments

MDV123096Parent of: Bridges over the Canal in the grounds of Tavistock Abbey (Monument)
MDV106271Parent of: Lumburn lock and lock gate, Tavistock Canal (Monument)
MDV73904Parent of: Shillamill, Canal Aqueduct (Monument)
MDV123232Part of: Tavistock Canal, Main record (Monument)
MDV23070Related to: 2 and 3 Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV124667Related to: Abbey Wharf, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV37343Related to: Bridge South of Wheal Crebor House (Monument)
MDV123100Related to: Canal bridge at Wheal Crowndale (Monument)
MDV23075Related to: Canal Bridge, Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV123284Related to: Crane at Tavistock Wharf (Monument)
MDV116034Related to: Deep Lane, Shillamill (Monument)
MDV123098Related to: Fitzford Bridge, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV43878Related to: Granite Steps, Tavistock Canal (Monument)
MDV63122Related to: Headweir, Tavistock Canal (Monument)
MDV123103Related to: Lock keepers cottage, Lumburn Aqueduct (Building)
MDV37342Related to: Northern Portal to the Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Building)
MDV123101Related to: Quarry west of the Shillamill Viaduct (Monument)
MDV51335Related to: Shillamill Viaduct (Building)
MDV63067Related to: Smelting Works, Crowndale (Monument)
MDV4069Related to: Tavistock Canal Tunnel (Monument)
MDV124675Related to: Tavistock Canal Wharf at Wheal Crebor (Monument)
MDV3879Related to: Tavistock Canal, Western Section (Monument)
MDV43882Related to: Tavistock Wharf, Tavistock Canal (Monument)
MDV75619Related to: The Meadows Pleasure Ground, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV23071Related to: Warehouse, Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV23074Related to: Warehouse, Canal Wharf, Tavistock (Building)
MDV123099Related to: Wheal Crowndale Leat (Monument)
MDV116040Related to: Wheel Crebor House, Buctor Farm, (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4858 - Archaeological Watching Brief at Tavistock Canal (Northern Section)
  • EDV6414 - Archaeological Monitoring of Tavistock Canal Lock Gate and Timber Lifting Bridge
  • EDV7058 - Archaeological Management Plan, Buctor Farm, Tavistock (Ref: 2015R055)

Date Last Edited:May 9 2019 5:49PM