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HER Number:MDV43882
Name:Tavistock Wharf, Tavistock Canal


Former wharf on both the north and south sides of Tavistock Canal, shown with a number of buildings, including old kilns, on late 19th century Ordnance Survey map. The south of the canal was developed from 1816 by Gill & Company as their wharf, intended to be the canal's official terminus wharf. To the north of the canal was the Public Wharf, developed from 1803 by the Canal Company as their base of operations, until closure in 1873. Little remains of the wharf buildings here, but a number of those belonging to Gill & Company's wharf south of the canal can still be seen.


Grid Reference:SX 479 741
Map Sheet:SX47SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTavistock
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishTAVISTOCK

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX47SE/262

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CANAL WHARF (Constructed, XIX - 1801 AD to 1817 AD (Between))

Full description

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

Reconstructed plan with developments up to 1890 shows buildings and features no longer extant, as well as existing buildings.

Wood, J., 1842, Plan of Tavistock Town, T1258M/E10. (Cartographic). SDV350290.

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

'Timber Yard' marked in the centre, 'Old Kilns' in the south-west corner. Range of small buildings shown against south-eastern boundary walls, large building adjacent to canal with smaller buildings adjoining south-east side.

Ordnance Survey, 1953 - 1969, Ordnance Survey Six Inch Map (Cartographic). SDV340358.

'The Wharf' marked on the south side of the canal.

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, 9; figure 2, no27 (Report - Assessment). SDV256444.

The south wall of Abbey Wharf marks the southern limit of the original canal wharf, and presumably dates from circa 1817. Shown on Wood's 1842 map, with a range of buildings attached to its north-west side. These have almost entirely disappeared. The stone wall is generally featureless except for a blocked gateway in the centre, which lies directly opposite the rear loading-bay of the warehouse. At the north-east end a small semi-derelict storehouse survives. Cartographic evidence indicates this dates to the latter half of the 19th century.

The Tavistock and District Local History Society, 1994, About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks, 26 (Monograph). SDV354806.

Stead, P. M., 1999, Archaeological Investigations at Tavistock Abbey 1997-1999, 163, figure 5 (Article in Serial). SDV336200.

Wood's plan of 1842 shows Abbey Wharf on both the north and south sides of the canal basin.
Map object based on this source.

West Devon Borough Council, 2009, Tavistock Conservation Area Management Plan, 12 (Report - non-specific). SDV351411.

Waterhouse, R., 2010, Tamar Valley Industrial Archaeology (Website). SDV361017.

A website was set up in 2008 to showcase research into Industrial Archaeology in the Tamar Valley, which straddles East Cornwall and West Devon, in the South-West of England http://www.tvia.org.uk/index.shtml.

This well-preserved site survives in the guise of a public car park, across which the several buildings of the wharf are scattered. The plan incorporates map evidence from the Bedford Papers with information from this survey, carried out by kind permission of Tavistock Wharf Centre, Tavistock Guides, West Den Enterprises, the Society of Friends and West Devon Borough Council.

This was not the first wharf at the Tavistock terminus of the Canal. Abbey Wharf, which was active from c.1805 to 1817 during the canal's construction and early trading, was sited on the north bank of the canal, immediately downstream of the sluice where the canal's water was taken from the Tavy. It was sited so as to be prominently visible from Tavistock's central square, laid out in the classical style in the early 19th century by the Plymouth architect John Foulston. Later known as Bedford Square, it was redesigned in the Gothic style from 1859 onwards.

Abbey Wharf was considered too small and restrictive by Gill & Company: the Canal's principal promoters, who wished to have a limekiln on the wharf, a proposal which was fiercely opposed by the Duke's London agent, due to the public nuisance which this would have caused, but elicited only a luke-warm opposition from his Tavistock Agent William Bray, who had 'gone native' by being involved in business ventures with the Gills, including the Mount Foundry.

From 1816, they developed their own large wharf about 300m downstream on the south side of the canal from 1816-1818, against the wishes of the Bedford Estate.

The majority of the structures on the plan belong to this wharf, which was eventually accepted by the Estate, to the extent that the Public Wharf was developed opposite, with a broad basin between them. The majority of the buildings on the Public Wharf have gone, the site now being occupied by Tavistock Library. Only the Canal Company Offices survive, now a pair of houses fronting Canal Road.

A second early wharf was sited just upstream of the warehouse (G1 on the plan) and backed onto the Canal Company's offices (P1 on the plan). Buildings to its north, fronting the Plymouth Road and backing onto the canal with their own private wharf, were developed from c.1820 as offices and an assay laboratory for the Tavistock Mining Syndicate, which developed from the Canal Company's mining interests. These also survive as a mix of offices and private houses.

The Public Wharf was largely devoid of buildings, with the exception of single-storey open-fronted wharfage buildings which also fronted a turning eye for barges. It seems that a plateway was also present, linked with Gill & Company's wharf via a (presumably) removable bridge, identified during the survey by notches in the granite edging stones on either side of the basin.

The extent of this plateway on the public wharf is not known, though it may have been short-lived, during the construction period only, given the awkward access across the canal, less than a foot above water level.

Company's Wharf was, and is still dominated by the large coal warehouse (G4 on plan) on its north side, in which coal for domestic customers was dry-stored. This is now the Wharf Theatre and Cinema, preserving its remarkable early 19th century tiebeam and kingpost roof structure. The warehouse had large doors on its south and north sides; the latter having fixings for a wall-mounted cantilevered crane on its outside face: a common feature of canal warehouses in England and Wales.

On the east and west ends were large, narrower doors, set centrally; the eastern of which was arched, to match the windows and doors of adjoining buildings; presumably copying the blind arcaded front of the Company Office opposite. These doors at either end of the coal warehouse were almost certainly made tall to allow plateway wagons to pass through the warehouse, linking the general wharf to the east with the limekiln wharf to the west, which of course handled coal in addition to limestone.

The existence of plateways on these wharfs is described in a letter of 1832 by William Hodge, a limekiln owner of Liskeard, in a letter to Robert Coad, the engineer of the Liskeard & Looe Canal in Cornwall. Hodge had been to view the Tavistock kiln in response to Coad's suggestion, in preparation for his construction of a similar kiln at Moorswater, where this canal met the Liskeard & Caradon Railway.

The basic layout of the limekiln on Tavistock Wharf is known from a sequence of 19th century maps and plans. It was demolished in several stages from the late 19th to early 20th centuries and only a small fragment now survives, against the south perimeter wall of the wharf. This contains evidence for a draught/access tunnel running across the kiln structure; a feature shared with Hodge's surviving kiln at Moorswater, whose winding apparatus was sited within such a tunnel. The layout of the Tavistock kiln in the interpretation plan is inferred from the Moorswater kiln, as are the likely arrangements for the railways on the kiln top and the kiln eyes, by which the lime was unloaded. This is of course an interpretation, and the exact layout can never be known for certain without archaeological excavation.

The building which housed Gill & Company's offices at the wharf (G2 on plan) survives in the use of the Society of Friends. While the adjoining cottages have been heavily altered for use as offices, this survives reasonably well with much of its original interior woodwork, including an alcove for a longcase clock at the top of the stairs. In common with the adjoining cottages, the external doors and windows have semi-circular arches; a feature shared with the wharf-keeper's house at Mill Hill Wharf.
Straddling the bridge by which Canal Road crosses the Canal, the Granary or Warehouse (G1 on plan) is one of a pair of very similar buildings on the canal; the other being at Mill Hill Wharf. It was built in 1816-17 as one of the first buildings on Tavistock Wharf and had the unusual feature of a removable floor, enabling barges to be loaded and unloaded directly into the building. After the canal closed in 1873, it had various uses, being a furniture warehouse for a while until the 1930s, when it was taken over by the Tavistock branch of the Girl Guides Association, by whom it is still used.

The remaining building surviving at the Wharf which has not been mentioned, is the stable block (G7 on the plan) - now the café attached to the Wharf Centre. This building was built by the Bedford Estate in 1890 after the canal closed, this drawing showing details of its intended appearance and layout.

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

Map object based on this source.

Waterhouse, R., 2017, The Tavistock Canal. Its History and Archaeology, 133, 317-18, 385-399, 498, Figs 5.15, 11.2-11.17 (Monograph). SDV361789.

This has been the site of canal wharfs since 1803, when the Canal Company developed the area to the north of the canal as the Public Wharf; their base of operations used until closure in 1873. After this time it may have been used a coal yard but from the early 20th century was the site of Carr's motor garage (until the 1990s) and later acquired by the West Devon District Council who built Tavistock County Library here. The ground levels have been raised substantially although remains of the wharf buildings and structures are likely to survive below ground.
The south of the canal was developed from 1816 by Gill & Company as their wharf, intended to be the canal's official terminus wharf. Although little remains of the buildings of the Public Wharf, a number of those belonging to Gill & Company's wharf can still be seen.
On the right bank of the canal was also a small wharf belonging to the Wheal Friendship Adventurers (built before 1816), some of whose granite edging stones survive. The Public Wharf, lay immediately to the south-west across Canal Road, which gave access to the canal from Plymouth Road.
On its south side, the Public Wharf fronted a broad rectangular basin, three times the width of the canal, allowing boats to moor up clear of the canal channel on its north and south sides. The basin was dominated at its upstream end by a two-storey warehouse straddling the canal (MDV23071).
Laid out between 1815 and 1817, Gill & Company's large private wharf lay on the south side of the basin and retains part of its walled yard and many of its original buildings, notably a number of cottages with semi-circular arched doors and windows, and a large coal warehouse which now houses a theatre and music venue, known as The Wharf Centre.
Limekiln plateways are thought to have existed at the wharf, although location and extent cannot be confirmed.
Waterhouse includes detailed phased plans and images of the wharf in his chapter on archaeology of the canal. See report for full detail.

Sources / Further Reading

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. 9; figure 2, no27.
SDV336200Article in Serial: Stead, P. M.. 1999. Archaeological Investigations at Tavistock Abbey 1997-1999. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 57. Paperback Volume. 163, figure 5.
SDV338879Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1855-1895. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. Map (Digital).
SDV340358Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1953 - 1969. Ordnance Survey Six Inch Map. National Grid A edition imperial. Map (Digital).
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital).
SDV350290Cartographic: Wood, J.. 1842. Plan of Tavistock Town. T1258M/E10..
SDV351411Report - non-specific: West Devon Borough Council. 2009. Tavistock Conservation Area Management Plan. West Devon Borough Council Report. a4 Stapled + Digital. 12.
SDV351507Plan - measured: Waterhouse, R.. Plans of Tavistock Wharf. Digital.
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. 26.
SDV361017Website: Waterhouse, R.. 2010. Tamar Valley Industrial Archaeology. http://www.tvia.org.uk/index.shtml. Website.
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. 133, 317-18, 385-399, 498, Figs 5.15, 11.2-11.17.

Associated Monuments

MDV23072Parent of: 4 Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV23073Parent of: 5 Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV123284Parent of: Crane at Tavistock Wharf (Monument)
MDV20309Parent of: Lime Kiln at Tavistock Wharf, south of Tavistock Canal (Monument)
MDV43880Parent of: Stables and Adjoining Buildings, Tavistock Canal Wharf (Monument)
MDV43879Parent of: Storehouse, 5 Canal Road, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV23074Parent of: Warehouse, Canal Wharf, Tavistock (Building)
MDV23070Related to: 2 and 3 Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)
MDV124667Related to: Abbey Wharf, Tavistock (Monument)
MDV4067Related to: Tavistock Canal, Northern Section (Monument)
MDV23071Related to: Warehouse, Canal Road, Tavistock (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Feb 11 2019 11:11AM