Morwellham Quay, Tamar Valley Mining District.  HES.


The Tamar Valley Mining District
[location map] [historic landscapes] [WHS GIS mapping]

The mines of this district worked an important group of tin and copper lodes whose outcrops can be traced from Callington and Kit Hill eastwards to the fringes of Dartmoor, crossing the Tamar Valley between Luckett and Calstock and centred on the settlement of Gunnislake. Devon Great Consols and Bedford United to the east of the Tamar and Drakewalls and Gunnislake Clitters to the west were the most important mines at the heart of this area, but other successful groups of mines were worked around Kit Hill and to the south of Tavistock, with a detached group on the western flanks of Dartmoor at Mary Tavy. The mines of the Bere Alston peninsula, which worked north-south aligned silver lead lodes and which are amongst the earliest documented in the south-west, are another important component of this mining district.

Most of the land flanking the Tamar Valley has long been cultivated and settled, and for this reason, mining appears at first glance to have little impact on the landscape. Patterns of land ownership have also had a bearing on this, most particularly in Devon, where one large estate controlled some of the most significant sites, and the reversion clause laid on the shareholders of Devon Great Consols by the Duke of Bedford ensured the clearance of almost all its buildings within months of its closure, to be followed by the cloaking of the site in conifers.

The isolated chimneys, occasional ruined engine house or the revegetated mine dumps scattered through this predominantly agricultural landscape are only part of the story, and the wooded slopes of the Tamar and Tavy hide the remains of once famous sites, including, of course, Devon Great Consols, for a few years the most spectacular mine in the whole of south-west Britain.

The east and west of the district are, in many ways, quite distinct from one another. The mining landscape on the Cornish side of the Tamar has much in common with other areas of the county - particularly around and to the south of Kit Hill, where mines developed in open moorland or within unenclosed land flanking Hingston Down.

Gunnislake Clitters Mine (Scheduled Monument, Listed Grade II). Some mines are located in the Tamar Valley itself and here the topography imparts an unusual character, some having been worked beneath the river bed. This engine house pumped river water for dressing purposes.  Barry Gamble.

Although relict medieval field systems can be seen away from the ridge, as for instance at Harrowbarrow, Metherell or Latchley, most of the fieldscape is plainly of recent origin, and within this zone, the cottages are typical of mining districts elsewhere in Cornwall and are generally clustered together in rows, often in small hamlets.

To the east of the Tamar, farms tend to be large and there are few settlements. Tavistock itself is unlike any town within the Cornish mining district. The dramatic remodelling of much of the medieval town by the 7th Duke of Bedford during the mid-19th century was achieved with profits from his mines, whilst a substantial proportion of the mining workforce was housed in model cottages built within the town, at the mines and across his estate

Kit Hill Consols (1856, Listed Grade II). The ornate chimney stack - a prominent landmark - on the summit of Kit Hill.  HES.

The Tamar unites the two areas and has served as an essential means of communication and transport for many centuries, though the quays which lined its banks proved inadequate to deal with the volume of traffic created during the 19th century, and both Calstock and Morwellham were developed as industrial ports with rail links to mine sites.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covering much of the Tamar Valley, including many significant mines, settlements, former mineral railways and quays was established in 1994 and enables the strategic and appropriate management of this area (

Tamar Tin Smelting House, (Union Smelter, 1849, Listed Grade II), Weir Quay. This is the best survival of a reverberatory tin smelter in the nominated Site.  English Heritage.

Places to Visit
Morwellham and Tamar Valley Trust - An award-winning, evocative museum and visitor centre based around the historic port and mine workings on the River Tamar.
Dartmoor National Park Authority - Dartmoor was designated one of the National Parks of England and Wales in 1951. It is a beautiful moorland landscape with wooded valleys and wind swept Tors covering 368 square miles (953 sq. km.) in area.
Tamar Valley Tourism Association - The Tamar Valley is an area rich in beauty and history, possessing some of the finest scenery in the West Country. The Estuary is an important haven for wildlife, such as the avocet and little egret. The valley of the river Tamar - and its tributaries, the Tavy and Lynher - is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.