The story of Great Week Consols Tin Mine is one of intrigue and may well be a case of “All that glitters is not gold.” According to the Cultural Heritage Desk Based Assessment of Chagford the first mine may well date back to medieval times? In relation to medieval tinning in the Chagford area Omerod states: “At Week in this valley, trails have been made for tin: and the remains of some levels exist.” p. 113. However the main period of mining activity took place during the late 19th century and what remains today is a rare example of what was an openwork mine located within an enclosed lowland landscape.
Hamilton Jenkin describes thus; “The main stockwork stands a short distance SW of the hamlet of Great Week and is of impressive size being 30 to 40ft deep and approximately 50ft wide. From the bottom of this now tree-lined avenue the ore body was followed own on the northerly underlie in Lydia’s Shaft to a depth of 24 fathoms below the 12 fathom adit, the latter having been driven by the old men through almost the entire length of the sett. A second shaft, 65 yards SW of Lydia’s reached only to adit level.” pp. 107 -109. As can be seen on the 1888 -1913 map below there was also a tramway running a short distance from Lydia’s shaft.
Very little evidence of the tin working can be seen from aerial photographs today but adits and spoil heaps can be seen in and around the old workings. What is surprising is that as will be seen below there was a large waterwheel at the mine but I can find no mention of in Hamilton Jenkin’s book?
The Great Week Consols Tin Ming Company was first formed in 1886 and its purpose was to work around 7,000 acres of the Great Week Estate on a 21 year lease. In the April 1887 a newspaper report detailed a “very pleasant ceremony;” which took place on Primrose Day (19th of April). The purpose of the ceremony was to commemorate the laying of a foundation stone which was to carry a 40ft high water wheel. The stone was laid by Mrs Leach who was the wife of the managing director. She proudly announced that; “With the help of God I lay this stone in the great hope that the ponderous wheel that this stone is to bear will prove a true and constant labourer, and a real gain to the promoters of the Great Week Ming Company and the inhabitants of Chagford.” Then Mr W. Ellis, the owner of the Great Week Estate added his words: “Neighbours, friends and fellow workmen, I have great pleasure in following the lady who has just laid the stone, and to endorse every statement she so well uttered. I hope very workman will do his duty to promote the interests of the mine, and that it will be a lasting benefit to us all.” The last words came from Mr. Leach the managing director; “It is with great pleasure that I stand among you today to witness the laying of this stone, and may it be a rock of of prosperity for ages to come. When I look about I am surprised to see such a large undertaking and so much work done in such a short time. I never thought it could be done so soon. It began in November last, and now you see its present state of progress. We brought tin ore to the surface on the 18th of December last, and a large bulk of tin ore material now lies on the banks waiting for the coming wheel and stamps for to complete the work, to enable us to test the value of this undertaking. Our best thanks to Capt. C. H. Maunder for his energy and the help he has given the promoters of this mine in obtaining the lease.” Another director, one Mr. Bulland then stated that the complete opening of the mine would not take place until the following end of July or beginning of August. He then promised that on that occasion all the workmen and those concerned with the mine would sit down to a, “good dinner,” and make it a holiday for Chagford with plenty of entertainment such as bell-ringing, band-playing and damsel-dancing. With respect to the folks of Chagford all these fine words promised plenty of year-round opportunities of employment both at the mine and its associated suppliers. However, the most poignant remark regarding this adventure came from a one-time butcher from Chagford who commented that he had lived in the area all his life and no tin was ever found. His final comment was; “Let folks come all the way from Plymouth and find our tin: can’t make it out.”
As promised on the 3rd of August 1887 the mine was bedecked with bunting, flags and evergreenery along with a huge banner at the entrance to the mine stating; “Success to the Great Week Consols Tin Mines.” The official opening ceremony was attended by the directors and shareholders of the mine, the workers and numerous people from Chagford and the surrounding area. At precisely 1.00pm the machinery was started up and the audience of several hundred people watched the wheel and stamps in operation. At the time it was estimate that between 400 and 500 tons of ore was waiting o be crushed. Having set the mighty wheel in motion Mrs. Basch, a directors wife wished that it would be; “a wheel of fortune; that there would be plenty of water to turn it and plenty of tin to crush.” The directors and their friends were then taken off to a “spacious tent” for lunch after which a clock was presented to Captain Maunder which had the following inscription; “Presented to Captain Maunder by the employees under him at the Great Week Consols Mine 1887.”
In the June of 1889 an advert appeared in the press stating that to date £7,000 had been invested in the mine and that new machinery was then needed to cope with the excess ore that needed to be stamped. It also noted that the mine was producing 3cwts. 0 qtrs. 14lbs of black tin to the ton of ‘stuff’, in other words for every ton of material mined it produced 3cwts. 0 qtrs. 14lbs of black tin. A few days later another advert appeared offering 3,000 shares in the company each at £1 a share.
Over the next 4 years the mine continued to operate when it only produced a meagre 55 tons of black tin after which it was taken over by various owners until the workings were finally abandoned in 1904. At this point it’s worth recalling the words of the Chagford butcher in whose opinion no tin had ever been found in the area and how he couldn’t understand why people from Plymouth (the directors) would want to come to Great Week to find the tin. It has been muted that just maybe the whole operation was a scam aimed at conning money out of unsuspecting investors with virtually no chance of any profit. Additionally it did seem strange that such a large mine produced such a small amount of tin in comparison with other mines. This led to the suspicion that perhaps not all the tin was officially assayed, taxed and sold on the tin exchange, Rice, p.67. In other words somebody was salting off the tin and selling it on the ‘black market’ for personal gain?
The story of this mine serves to illustrate how despite all the pomp and circumstance along with the flags and buntings and no matter how fine the words things at times can be slightly misleading. Granted the intentions of these mine owners may have been honourable and just maybe they had a misplaced faith in their beliefs of extracting tin and making a profit but either way fortunes were never made.
Hamilton Jenkin, A. K. 2005. Mines of Devon. Ashbourne: Landmark Publishing.
Omerod, G. 1862 – 1866. On the Traces of Tin Mining in the Vicinity of Chagford. Transactions of the Devonshire Association – Vol. 1.
Rice, I. 2002. The Book of Chagford. Tiverton: Halsgrove Publishing.