Old Crockern the ancient deity of Dartmoor is reputed to have warned that; “if you scratch my back then I’ll rip you pockets out.” which basically signalled that there was/is no profit to be made by exploiting Dartmoor’s natural resources. In the cases of numerous Dartmoor mining ventures this certainly came true.
In the October of 1853 a very enthusiastic newspaper report heralded the opening of a new mining venture; “The interesting ceremony of christening a mine took place near Ashburton, on Friday week. At about 12 o’clock a numerous party from Ashburton, Totnes, and the neighbourhood assembled; and one of the proprietors, Mr. T. D. Coleridge, in a very appropriate speech, stated that only a few weeks since the mine had been discovered, and the results, so far, had been most cheering. Some of the mineral wealth was before them, and it was very probable that by perseverance the mine would prove a good speculation to all interested in the undertaking. He then christened the mine ‘The Queen of the Dart.’ At this moment Miss Elizabeth Bradridge of Pridhamsleigh Barton broke a bottle of old claret against the rock amidst cheers of all present. The company then repaired to a building near the mine, which was tastefully fitted up with flags and evergreen – where a most substantial dinner was served by Mr. H. Stentiford of the Exeter Inn. The chair was taken by Mr. J. D. Sawdye; Mr. Edward Sawdye acted as vice. On the removal of the cloth the usual loyal toasts were drank. ‘The Queen of the Dart’ was proposed amidst much enthusiasm. The afternoon was spent most harmoniously. Songs, speeches and recitations were given… The miners and workmen were regaled with plenty of roast beef, ale, &c. The mine is situated near the South Plain Wood Mine. The lode is within sight of the surface, and at present it seems to be an extraordinary discovery.” – The Western Times, October 8th, 1853.
So there you have a day full of celebration and optimism about the bounties which Dartmoor would hopefully supply in the form of copper ore. It is interesting to note that the ceremony of christening the mine took place – seems a pity to have wasted a bottle of ‘old claret’ though?
During 1854 the first trial shaft had been sunk which reached a depth of 5 fathoms (30 ft) In the July of 1854 a rather non-committal report was published simply stating that; “work was most satisfactory.” By the end of 1854 the Queen of the Dart mine had produced a total of 50 tons of copper ore.
In the April of the following year – 1855 – it was proudly announced that a new steam engine would commence working. It was also noted that very little progress had been made by this time due to the large quantity of water in the shafts. Presumably the new engine would be used to pump out the excess water. However, not to be daunted; “There is now cheering at the prospect of this mine.” There was some improvement by the June of 1855 as at a shareholders meeting it was announced that; “A large number of men will be at once employed, and a stream of water from the River Dart will be conveyed to propel machinery on the mine.” During this year a second lode had been worked which gave a total output of 124 tons.
By the February of 1856 things were looking up at the mine as it was in this month a fourth sample of copper ore was submitted to the sampler consisting of 120 tons. By the end of the year a total of 408 tons of 4% copper ore had been sold which was valued at £586. When using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator works out at around £60,000 in today’s money. It was also announced that; “A powerful stream from the river Dart is forthwith to be taken for driving the machinery by water power, instead of the steam engine, as at present is at the mine.” Clearly it had taken a good 9 moths for this to happen. Then the vengeful Crockern exacted his wrath for in the April of 1856 a fire broke out on the roof and building of the engine house which caused a considerable amount of damage. It appeared that the night watchman had fallen asleep and was totally unaware that the fire had broken out. That is until his clothes were actually set alight but thankfully he escaped serious injury. Despite the structural damage the engine was still working which meant the mine could function. That same month a noticed was published in the local press inviting contractors to place tenders for the construction of a timber bridge and launders across the river Dart. Also at this time tenders were invited for the building of two water wheels. In the June of 1856 it was announced at the quarterly meeting of the shareholders that Messrs. Webber of newton Abbot had won the contract to build the water wheels one with a diameter of 30 ft. the other 35 ft’. Messrs. Hext and Elliot of Ashburton to construct the suspension bridge across the Dart. The shareholders were also informed that a call of 5 shillings a share had been made and that; “The copper lode still looks satisfactory.” Messrs. Hext and Elliot of Ashburton won the tender to construct the suspension bridge across the Dart. The shareholders were also informed that a call of 5 shillings a share had been made and that; “The copper lode still looks satisfactory.”
By 1858 the copper lode had been followed eastward where an adit was driven in Shere Wood and another shaft of 30 fathoms was sunk.
In 1959 the deeper main shaft was sunk at 40 fathoms with 4 levels at 5, 10, 20 and 30 fathoms. but the returns were nothing spectacular, in fact meagre.
Sadly in 1860 both the mine sett and all the materials were advertised for sale and that virtually was that – Old Crockern strikes again! Today the mine is on private land and very little is left. In 2004 the owners of the land decided that the timber and asbestos mine cottage needed replacing. This was done by constructing a building in the spirit of the old Devon longhouse which was joined to the old barn.
Hamilton Jenkin, A. K. 2005. Mines of Devon. Ashbourne: Landmark Publishing. pp 115 – 117.