Before we start – there will be a more in-depth webpage about the Finch Foundry in coming shortly, this page is more about our visit.
Tradition has it that on the last day of our pilgrimage we visit one of the local attractions, two reasons really; the need to leave fairly early for the long trip home and it’s usually a late start due to the previous night’s festivities. This year the options were Okehampton Castle and then the Museum of Dartmoor Life or the Finch Foundry. After checking the various opening times we settled on the Finch Foundry mainly because the museum is shut on Sundays. This is somewhere I have only briefly visited due to the fact that after waiting a good ten minutes to pay the entrance fee (well Ok it seemed like ten minutes) we rapidly departed in a huff. I must admit there were reservations as to how interesting the place would be and the hope that it was not too short a visit. One has to bear these things in mind when other folk are involved you know.
The day started dark and dank with the odd spot of rain but with a distant promise of some clearer skies on the far horizon – rain before seven, dry after eleven. As it happened by the time we had packed, cleaned up and eaten breakfast it was eleven o’clock and sure enough it was dry. So having said a sad farewell to our adopted Dartmoor home we set off for Sticklepath.
Now the first surprise we got was how narrow the entrance to the foundry is as is ducks under the archway between the buildings. The clearance room of the archway is 2.3 metres high and 2 metres wide which does tend to make one breath in as you pass through. Just a minor point here, there is no mention that I could find of the width and height restrictions on their website for those driving Chelsea Tractors or the like? Unless I have missed something it might be an idea to give prior warning of this on their website? Anyway once in there is plenty of parking space that gives the opportunity for picnics etc.
Thankfully this time there was not a long wait to gain entry but I must admit after being relieved of £13.50 I was still very sceptical about the place. The moment we stepped through the door of the main forge any previous misgivings immediately went. There was so much to see with tools and machinery everywhere, on top of this was a whole host of sounds and smells, all making for a very atmospheric place. It almost felt as if you has stepped back in time to the 1800s, one nearly expected the workers to appear.
As there was so much to see we decided to wait for one of the scheduled talks that occur regularly throughout the day. If ever you do visit here I strongly urge you to attend one of these as they impart loads more information. The first must-see in these demonstrations is when the machinery is actually started up, this in itself is an opportunity not to miss as it is the only working water-powered machinery left in the country and can’t be seen elsewhere. We actually saw the two trip hammers beating metal, the guillotine cutting metal and the drop hammer flattening metal. This really brings home what hard work it must have been back in the day. Not only was the 10 hour working day a long one but the clanging of the hammers, the gushing of the water powering the waterwheels and the creaking of the drive belts must have affected folks hearing. As if that was not enough the heat surely would have been hard to handle especially on hot days. The other thing to bear in mind that lads as young as 13 were working there in fact most folk who lived in Sticklepath had a family member grafting at the foundry. If a health and safety inspector of today ever inspected the place back in the 1800s he would immediately shut the whole lot down. One rather amusing incident occurred during the lady’s demonstration, a tiny mouse appeared and scuttled off under the machinery much to the guide’s alarm, mice were clearly not one of her favourite beasts. All praise to the girl, she gave a very informative talk and practical demonstration – normally I drift off into the wide blue yonder at such things.
Having watched the demonstration we had a wander upstairs to see the waterwheel turning and its power source, the leat, gently flowing around the building. Again the very noise of the sloshing water spilling into the over-shot buckets was truly atmospheric. I could not help but wonder what the folk that live in the next door house think of the endless gushing sounds of the water? Personally I think it would be quite a relaxing sound once you got used to it.
Having seen the forge, the waterwheels (yes there are three of them) and the leat we then mooched upstairs to see the displays in what was the carpenter’s shop and the grinding room. Again this was full of machinery, grind stones and tools but it seemed to be a much calmer place in contrast to the forge below. There are some fascinating displays on show that expertly give a flavour of the life and times of the foundry. Especially interesting are a couple of walls filled with the various types of tools once made at the foundry. It was quite a challenge to guess what purpose they served.
Having spend a good hour and a half browsing around the foundry there was still plenty else to see. Just below is the old Quaker Graveyard in which old Tom Pearse, the man who unfortunately leant his Grey Mare to Uncle Tom Cobley) is buried. There are also some other interesting gravestones dotted around the small graveyard, one being that of a Crimean War veteran who fought at the battle of Balaclava along with several members of the Finch family. Just outside the cemetery is a splendid summer house that was made by Tom Pearse and which stood in his garden. The visit was then finished off with some cream teas sat in the peaceful garden and surrounded by a whole host of colourful and fragrant flowers, the perfect end to an amazing visit.
Should you visit the Finch Foundry with plenty of time on your hands there is still a lot more to do based around the place. There is planned scenic round-trip walk from the foundry which takes you along besides the river Taw, through Skaigh Woods and back. On the 2.1 kilometre route the trail passes Tom Pearses’ serge mill, the weir, and the old Lady Well.
So all in all a very pleasant surprise and well worth the visit. The only down side was that after we had finished our cream teas it was time to head back home – that was if the car did not breakdown. Hopefully we are going to try and fit another Dartmoor Pilgrimage in before the end of the year thus giving us all something to look forward to.