“The quarry lies like a gash in the slope of the hills. To the dizzy edges of it creep heather and the bracken; beneath, upon its precipices, a stout rowan or two arise, and everywhere Natures has fought and laboured to hie this wound driven so deep into her mountain-side by man. A cicatrix of moss and fern and many grasses conceal the scars of pick and gunpowder, time has weathered the harsh edges of the riven stone; the depths of the quarry are covered by pools of clear water, for it is a hundred years since the place yielded its stores.“, Phillpotts, p.77.
Then you saw me, now you don’t, an excellent analogy of Foggintor because as Eden Phillpotts remarks above, the tor has been virtually quarried away between the 1800s and early 1900s leaving little evidence of its existence. For those who know the area it would seem the place-name – Foggintor is most appropriate as it does spend quite a lot of time enshrouded in the infamous Dartmoor fog and mist. However, in the assize rolls of 1408 it appears as Vokketorre Gover et. al. p.245. Clearly the ‘torre‘ element alludes to a ‘tor’ but what the ‘Vokke‘ refers to I have no idea, nor do the Place-Name Society? I did think that maybe the word could have originally began with a ‘F’ as in the Devonshire dialect it’s pronounced as a ‘V’ but having done a Google for ‘Fok’ I decided it was best left there, especially as far as Norwegian is concerned.
By why was the tor quarried out? Possibly in some quarters for this simple reason written in 1841; “Foggintor Granite is at present extensively used for all the purposes which granite has been hitherto applied. It is superior to any other in this country for steps. plinths, string and blocking courses, ashlars, pedestals, obelisks, columns, cornices, and indeed for all the other purposes of architecture because of the freedom and comparative ease with which it can be worked… whilst the purity and evenness of its colour, and the fineness of its texture in the deep beds, give it an advantages not possessed in an equal degree by the produce of any other quarry in Great Britain.”, Civil Engineer & Architect Journal, p.322.
I do not propose to delve into the historic minutia of (known originally as Royal OAK Quarry) Foggintor Quarry here because that alone would take an entire website but for anyone who is interested there are some recommendations below for further study. It is supposed that stone was first quarried here for use in the construction of Tyrwhitts’ Tor Royal, other buildings in nearby Princetown and the prison (at a later date) from around 1785. Prior to the building of the railway the stone was transported by horse draw wagons along a purposely built tramway similar to that at Haytor.
Initially the land lease from Sir M. M. Lopes was owned by the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway Company whose plans very much associated the earlier building of the railway with the working of the quarry. In 1823 the lease was re-assigned and both the railway construct and the quarry to Messrs. Johnson & Brice who at the time owned the Haytor Quarries . Harris, p.83. In the early 1840s and having previously worked Haytor Quarries they closed these down and formed the Haytor Granite Company to work Foggintor. The granite at Haytor was by far more superior to that of Foggintor and having established a reputation for good quality granite from Haytor they then sold granite from Foggintor under the Haytor Granite Company’s name. Which, to the cynical eye may well have mislead some people into thinking the stone had come from Haytor. Hallett, p.37. It is for this very reason that in some quarters people say that the granite used in the construction of the London Bridge came from the Haytor Quarries.
Large quantities of granite were quarried on and off throughout the 19th century, one report from 1833 suggests in one year 8,374 tons of granite were removed from the quarry. Brown, p.8. In the November of 1858 it was reported in many newspapers that a 10 pound powder blast removed a single block of granite weighing over 1,000 tons, it measured 45 ft. long, 25 ft. wide and 14 ft. thick. This just gives some idea as to how effective the quarrying operation was at Foggintor.
To give an idea of the extent of work going on at Foggintor Quarry during the 1840s it was noted that at least 300 men were employed there. Among the workers were about 20 blacksmiths, carpenters, turners, stone masons, labourers, horsemen and their horses. There were numerous building on the site which included; a foundry, a smithy, stables, office and tool store house, a powder store, a manger’s house, a cottage and at a much later date a chapel. By the late 1840s a series of workers cottages had also been constructed. Brewer, pp. 70, 81 & 94. As you can imagine this was a place full of hustle and bustle and with many of the workers living nearby quite a large community grew up in and around the quarry. As noted above there even was a chapel although surprisingly enough there was no inn or pub, the closest being at either Princetown or Merrivale. However there is no question that granite from Foggintor was used in some of London’s landmarks the most famous being Nelson’s Column.
In the March of 1864 an advert appeared in many newspapers announcing the lock, stock and barrel sale of all the Haytor Granite Company’s assets due to them going into liquidation in the November of the previous year. Amongst the assets were Foggintor Quarry along with the buildings, machinery, etc., the tenders to be submitted by the 4th of April 1864 (see facsimile below) . In the early 1900s the ownership of the quarry was in the hands of a Plymouth company called Pethicks, the demise of Foggintor quarry came in 1906 when quarrying was stopped in favour or working the nearby Swell tor Quarry. Harris, p.83. I can’t find any information as to who owned Foggintor Quarry between the Haytor Granite Company and Pethicks
One cause of confusion are the famous ‘Corbels’, which today sit beside the old rail track to the west of Swell Tor. These originally were intended to be used for the construction of the old London Bridge but for whatever reason were never utilised for that purpose. The bridge was sold to the chairman of the McCulloch Oil Corporation in 1967 and was shipped stone by stone to his Arizona estate. During this process some of the corbels got damaged so these was replaced the redundant originals sat near Swell Tor. Brown, p.8. So what causes the confusion in some minds is from whence did the granite used to make the corbels come from, was it Foggintor Quarry or Swell Tor Quarry? Hemery states that they were cut in 1903 from Swell Tor Quarry, p.1029, Mike Brown also opts for Swell Tor, p.8, as does Brewer, pp. 49 -56, and Hayward, p.244. Whereas Hallett, p.35, opts for Swell Tor as do various other authors on the internet. Harris is very non-committal and just suggests that the ‘London stone’ came from the quarries (Foggintor and Swell Tor), p.83. I think it’s safe to assume they the corbels originated from Swell Tor.
However there is no question that granite from Foggintor was used in some of London’s landmarks the most famous being Nelson’s Column. In the April of 1842 it was reported in The London Standard newspaper that the supply of Foggintor granite was not keeping up with demand. This in turn led to a delay in the construction of Nelson’s Column which meant that Edward Bailey, the sculptor of Nelson had to resort to using a more perishable kind of stone for the statue. This turned out to be Craigleith Sandstone which at the time cast doubts as to its durability over the Dartmoor granite. In the may of 1842 it was also reported that the cause of the supply delay was due to the Foggintor masons striking in support of their London counterparts who were in dispute with the monument’s contractors.
But what about now? As noted above the quarry ceased operations in 1906 and some 22 years later it appears that nature had begun to reclaim its own and from what was a busy place had transformed itself into a haven of tranquillity as you can see below:
“One great silence is the quarry now – an amphitheatre of peace and quiet hemmed by the broken abutments of granite, and opening upon the hillside. The heather extends over wide, dun spaces to a blue distance, where evening lies dim upon the plains beneath; round about a minor music of dripping water tinkles from the sides of the quarry; a current of air brushes the pools and for a moment frets their pale surfaces; the dead rushes murmur and then are silent; here and there, along the steps and steep places; flash the white scuts of the rabbits. A pebble is dislodged by one of them, and falling into the water beneath, sets rings of light widening out upon it and raises a little shadow.”, Phillpotts, p.78.
Some 88 years down the line things are not quite so peaceful as the various 21st century outdoor leisure activities make their presence felt . Having worked on this page for a while I decided to travel down and take some photos. Originally I was intending visiting on the 6th of May but things got in the way and the trip was postponed. As it happened this was an excellent outcome as on that very day a film crew from the BBC descended on the quarry to film an episode of ‘The Coroner’ – just one of the modern day intrusions. According to UKClimb.com there are 10 different climbing routes around the quarry, I particularly don’t like the sound of the ‘Fogginard’ route but the ‘Swan Lake’ sounds like a ‘classic’. The military also use the various quarry faces for training exercises as can be seen by the permanent picket fixtures above the quarry floor. The quarry was the location for part of the 2012 ”South-west Sword Exercise’ where members of 45 Commando practiced various vertical assault skills. The Tavistock branch of the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team also train in the quarry as the waters provide excellent conditions for recovering fallen climbers. Whilst on the subject of people in the water Foggintor Quarry is also a popular spot for ‘Wild Swimming’ mostly due to the shelter and tranquil waters although how it could be described as ‘wild’ I know not. For those of a literary bent the quarry was also the location for Eden Phillpotts novel ‘The Red Redmaynes‘ published in 1922 in which it was the scene of a murder mystery novel.
On the 13th of May the weather forecast for the following day looked good so a trip down to Foggintor was planned. It’s a long time ago since I last visited there and was eager to see if it had changed much. I remember on my last visit early one foggy morning a slight feeling of unease whilst walking among the derelict buildings which had the appearance of some catastrophic post-apocalyptic event. The quarry itself was deathly still with the continual drip, drip of water as it fell droplet by droplet from the sodden ferns clinging to the quarry face.
Early start, well not so much as far as I was concerned but to a teenage daughter 5.00am is regarded as the middle of the night, I think she was amazed to see that daylight had the affrontery to appear at that ungodly hour. On the trip down I was trying to extol the virtues of getting to the quarry early and how atmospheric the place would be when deserted and only the early morning wildlife to share it with. It was 7.30am when we arrived and found the small car park at the top of Yellowmeade Lane full along with the small one opposite – I knew we should not have stopped to do some ‘pony peeking’! But strange as it was I managed to squeeze the car in and in the shake of a boot we were trolling off down the track. At the Red Cottages we found the famous chimney pot remains, well I say we, it was Holly really, I was more interested why a Landrover was parked right up at the quarry. Having reached the quarry the questions as to what the Landrover was doing along with what looked like a Bedouin camp was soon answered. On the side of the vehicle was a sign – ‘Bear Grylls Survival School’ – bloody marvellous, so much for silence and solitude. I am not sure as to exactly which of Bear Grylls’ Survival Course this was but if it was the 24 hour one then that set the participants back £349 and if it was the 4 day one then they were £999 lighter in their wallets? Bloody hell, join a Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team and get it and more for free. Cursing we made our way into the mouth of the quarry half expecting to hoards of people dangling from ropes like monkeys in a banana tree. But hey, it was deserted, just the two of us, a few birds, a light breeze lapping the waters against the quarry faces and silence. The only things missing from Phillpotts’ description above was the dripping water and the rabbits. Just to recreate the scene we threw a chunk of wood into the pool and watched the ever widening rings of ripples. The surface water was also shimmering silver as the breeze blew tiny waves out and across the quarry. Having drank in the solitude and peacefulness for a good twenty minutes we moved on the photograph the various ruins dotted around the place.
In the distance we could see a herd of Bear Grylls’ ‘guests’ continually running up to the top of the Swell Tor ridge and back down again inter-dispersed with sit-ups, imagine actually paying for that pleasure? That explained why the quarry was still deserted, they were all surviving the early morning work-out, mind you it does say on the company Landrover; “It May Hurt a Little’ – too true blue. I think we managed to get all the ruins we needed, certainly got the mysterious arch which Holly said made the ruin look just like a Medieval castle. By the time we left the quarry the survival instructors were preparing the ropes and climbing gear, guess the next round of torture would be traversing the quarry on a single rope, abseiling upside down the quarry face etc. All I could think was ; “good luck to them, we’re off to the cafe for a sausage and bacon bap.”
Bray, E. 1838. Traditions, Legends, Superstitions and Sketches of Devonshire. London: John Murray.
Brewer, K. 1997. The Railways, Quarries and Cottages of Foggintor. Newton Abbot: orchard Publications.
Brown, M. 1999. Dartmoor Field Guides – Vol. 13. Plymouth: Dartmoor Press.
Civil Engineer & Architect Journal. 1841. Scientific & Railway Gazette – Vol. IV. London: The Proprietor.
Hallet, J. 1994. Around Princetown’s Quarries. Newton Abbot: Orchard Publications.
Hayward, J. 1991. Dartmoor 365. Curlew Publications.
Harris, H. 1986. The Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.
Phillpotts, E. 1928. A West Country Sketch Book. London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd.
Gover, J. E. B., Mawer, A. & Stenton F. M. 1992. The Place Names of Devon. Nottingham: The English Place-Name Society.
For those who are on the Dartmoor 365 challenge Hayward selects the corbels, a trough and a bollard as his main features for this grid square although all are related to Swell Tor.