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Beams & Gerts

Having recently just completed a webpage on the ‘Pits of Dartmoor‘ it does seems logical to follow it with a page on the Beams and Gerts of Dartmoor. Mainly due to the fact that both beams and gerts began life as pits before they actually formed. I must admit it has always confused me as to when a gert is a gert and a beam a beam or?  William Crossing defines a ‘beam’ as having: “a mining signification, and where it is found on the moor a deep. open working will usually be seen… (sometimes) the name has attached itself to the hill near the workings”, p11.. Worth is complete agreement with William Crossing but also adds that the word: “may refer to the ‘rocking beam’ of a pump used for mining purposes.”, p.420. Hemery gives the following interpretation: “Suffix found in the vicinity of opencast tin workings.”, p.23. He also points out that the term ‘beam’ pre-dates the invention of the rocker beam pump. The most recent definition comes from Phil Newman who suggests that a beam is a: “large steep sided gully where tin was worked using opencast methods.”, p.69. So it is pretty safe to assume that in most cases the place-name element of a beam refers to a large gully which has been formed by the activities of opencast mining. Today the majority of these are filled with vegetation of various kinds and varying degrees of water. Quite often small trees, especially rowans have made them their home along with a variety of wildlife. Below is a list of beams that I have listed in my Dartmoor Database, there certainly are many more, most of which have been lost over time. In a lot of cases even when such place-names are found it is impossible to actually pin them down to a precise location.

Name (some taken from Brown’s Gazetteer) OS Grid Ref Also Known As
BLACK BEAM SX 664     679  
CATER’S BEAM SX 64         68  
CURBEAM SX 559     857 AKA Wheal George
GIBBY BEAM SX 667     776  
HIGH LINERS BEAM SX ???     ??? Location unknown
HOLMING BEAM SX 590     722 AKA Omen Beam
OMEN BEAM SX 590     776 AKA Holming Beam
OWLACOMBE BEAM SX 767     735  
PIPER’S BEAM SX 659     660  
RIDDIPIT BEAM SX 573     701  
SCUDLEY BEAM SX 692     802 AKA Scutley Beam
SCUTLEY BEAM SX 692     802 AKA Scudley Beam
SHABBA BEAME SX 6028 6526  
SHILSTONE BEAM SX ???      ???  Location unknown
WILLABEAM SX 594     701  

Below is a wintry picture of Omen Beam when the deep mining scars can be seen, incidentally the picture also shows the outlines of the old turf ties which stripe the far hillside.

Next we come onto the question of gerts, Crossing describes them as being: “a deep, open working of the miners; larger than a gulley.”, (p.21). I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw the term ‘gulley’ into the mix as it will cause even greater confusion. Hemery defines a gert thus: “a deep, opencast working driven by miners to expose the tin-lode.“, (p.50). Newman simply records for a gert: “see beam.”, (p.69). Once again below is a list of known gerts that dwell in my Dartmoor Database, again there will be numerous omissions

Name (some taken from Brown’s Gazetteer) OS Grid Ref Also Known As
BAGTOR GERT SX 764     759  
CLAY TOR GERT SX 56?? 79??  
COMBESHEAD GERT SX 593     693  
CRAMBER GERT SX 589     710 AKA Blue Burrows
DEADLAKE GERT SX 5720 7035  
DEANCOMBE GERT SX 578     686  
DRY LAKES GERT SX 661     707  
FOX TOR GERT SX 628     697  
GREEN GERT SX 554     832  
GREENWELL GERT SX 540     657  
HEADLAND GERT SX 691     809  
HOOPER’S GERT SX 607     683  
KINGSETT GERT SX 5746 6991  
OVER TOR GERT SX 560     755  
RIDDIPIT GERT SX 5713 7006  
SKAUR GUT SX 647     679 AKA Skir Gut, Gert.
SKIR GERT SX 647     679 AKA Skir Gut., Skaur Gert.
SKIR GUT SX 647     679 AKA Skir Gert., Skaur Gut.
STONEY GERT SX 6555 6640  
T GERT SX 634     696  
T GERT SX 662     679  
T GERT  SX 623     699  
WELLA BROOK GERT SX 665     680  
WOODER GOYLE SX 712     788 A Goyle is a north western moor term for a Gert
WORKMAN’S GERT SX 684     702  

So basically there is no real distinction between a beam and a gert, maybe a study of old mining documents would suggest that the term beam was originally used and this was then later replaced by gert? There are many other descriptives that could be used instead of beam or gert such as ‘gash’, ‘scar’, incision, but they sound a little too dramatic.

Now just to complicate matters there are also a couple of other terms that are used to describe mining openworks on Dartmoor, they are; ‘gut’, which simply has mutated from gert. Also there is ‘goyle’ which tends to be found at locations on the north western side of Dartmoor. You can also throw in for good measure the ‘gulfs’ which could be described as beams or gerts with water running down them.

Lastly when is a beam not a beam? If you look at the map below you will see clearly marked the hill of Cater’s Beam along with Blacklane and its post. Firstly, the actual tin working beam is further to the west of that marked on the Ordnance Survey maps and the place-name in its true sense has been wrongly allocated to the hill. Secondly, over the years there have been several ‘posts’ which in all reality are railway sleepers and act as a markers for the Blacklane. This in itself has caused some confusion because the ‘beam-like’ sleeper has been taken as representative for the actual beam place-name element.

Brown, M. 1995. The Gazetteer of Dartmoor Names. Liverton: Forest Publishing

Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.

Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Hale Publishing.

Newman, P. 1998. The Dartmoor Tin Industry – A Field Guide. Newton Abbot: Chercombe Press.

Worth, R. H. 1988. Worth’s Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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