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Bachelor’s Hall

Sir Thomas (Tyrwhitt) may be regarded as the founder of Princetown, since it was through his instrumentality that the war prison, which called the town into existence, was erected on the Moor. Many houses were built in the neighbourhood of the prison; a mill and bakery were established at Bachelor’s Hall.” – William Crossing, 100 Years on Dartmoor, p.36.
There was also a corn mill from which the (prison) bakeries were supplied with flour, but may not have been built until after the opening of the prison. It was situated near Bachelor’s Hall, where a mine had been worked only a few years previously, and near it, and between the present Bachelor’s Hall farm and the Blackabrook, were four or five cottages, erected in all probability for the workmen. The mill and cottages have now disappeared, but wheel pits are still to be seen there, and until recently one of the stones used for grinding.” – William Crossing, Princetown, Its Rise and Progress, p.25.

Over the centuries Bachelor’s Hall has been seen various activities taking place at and around the estate. From a mine to corn mill to some naphtha works to a working farm to a youth hostel and finally a residential centre. Bachelor’s Hall – the term is defined as being “the residence of a bachelor or of a man whose wife is absent – usually used in the phrase to keep bachelor’s hall.” ‘Bachelor’s Hall’ is situated on the eastern edge of Princetown. Sometime in the 1790s Sit Thomas Tyrwhitt built the original house whose purpose was to provide lodgings for the workers at the nearby Bachelor’s Hall Mine and Whiteworks. The men would live there during the working week and then return home at the weekends – hence it became known as the Bachelor’s Hall. 

Batchelor’s Hall Mine – In the early 1790s a gang of workmen were cutting the Devonport Leat when they came across what they recognised as clear signs of a cassiterite lode. News of the discovery soon became common knowledge and those looking to make some money soon took an interest. At that time a Mr. Gray was the owner of the estate and along with some other ‘adventurers’ sunk a shaft to the lode and then erected the necessary stamping mill and smelting house. These buildings were built on the banks of a small stream known as the Bachelor’s Hall Brook which then provided the water power for the mine. At some time just prior to 1797  the Georgian topographer John Swete visited the mine and noted – “We ascended a  short hill to a shaft where we saw two men at work with a windlass… This mine was called Bachelor’s Hall, employed 16 men, and with those of the Warren and Fox Tor Meers, was the whole of what were worked on Dartmoor.” Travels in Georgian Devon,2000,  p.55. Tom Greeves noted how “Duchy of Cornwall records date from 1798-1804+ indicate that the number of ingots smelted in that period was 223 blocks weighing 27.43 tonnes with a further 1.07 tonnes listed for 1807. In sale particulars of 1828 the smelting house had been converted to a brewery. The site of the brewery is shown on the sale plan as being beside the west bank of the stream where agricultural buildings now stand.” – Greeves, T. A. P., Untitled Source (Worksheet). SDV69961.
Shortly after Swete’s visit some altercation occurred between Sir Thomas Trywitt and Mr. Gray which resulted with the mine being abandoned. Once the Bachelor’s Hall lease expired Tyrwhitt decided to re-open the mine and continue mining operation on his own behalf. This venture soon came to an abrupt end due to not being able to provide enough water power to drive the beam pumping engine. The mine then lay dormant until 1834 when a new company was formed which obtained a twenty-one year lease from the Duchy of Cornwall.  They believed that by clearing an old adit they would be able to reach a larger deposit of tin. On December 6th, 1834 the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette published the following report – “Bachelor’s Hall Tin Mine, near Prince’s Town is now in full working., by the late purchaser of  the Tor Royal Estate, G. Nicholson Esq., of Hertford, and promised to be one of the richest tin mines ever discovered in the county of Devon; the quality of the tin is excellent, and there are upwards of 25 lodes traversing the sett, nine of which, in a adjoining mine have produced upwards of £50,000 worth of tin.”  A few years later on May the 10th, 1838 the Exeter Flying Post announced the sad news that – “It is to be regretted that the mine called Bachelor’s Hall, a portion of the Tor Royal property, which skilful and competent miners thank a most valuable one, should be discontinued as it is believed if a capital were raised to erect a Steam Engine of sufficient power it would amply remunerate the adventurers by a return of vast quantities of tin.” It is thought that the venture failed due to lack of funding and poor management.
Following this closure two another attempts were made to reopen the mine in search of the supposed rich tin lode – this too failed thus heralding the final end of the mine. Hamilton-Jenkin, Mines of Devon, pp. 50 – 51. As you can see on the tithe map below the site of the mine is shown in enclosure number 119. On the left of the enclosure can be seen the original Bachelor’s Hall mine leat and running vertically beside it is  the Blackabrook Leat. In enclosure number 116 is what could well be the old smelting house as suggested by what maybe a wheel pit and its water source.

Bachelor’s Hall Corn Mill and BakeryThe Devon and Dartmoor HER notes that a Duchy land lease was granted in the June of 1798 for the construction of a corn mill. The lease stated that its location was – “A certain building known as Bachelor’s Hall on the border of the leat lately made for supplying Plymouth Dock with water.” Following the establishment of Dartmoor Prison the corn mill was built which obtained its water from a weir pool fed by the Bachelor’s Hall Brook.  E. W. Martin notes that “at Bachelor’s Hall in a valley to the north-west of Tor Royal corn was ground for the prisoners, and evidence can still be seen.” – Dartmoor, p.36. There is also a mention of a bakery at Batchelor’s Hall and indeed the hill sitting just to the south-east was known as “Bakery Hill.” But shortly after the prison was built there were in fact two bakeries in Princetown itself which supplied the prison so it is very unlikely it had any association with the prison. 
Batchelor’s Hall Naphtha Works – In 1814 Mr. Peter Adams from Plymouth along with Jacob Hall-Drew along with other investors started a naphtha works at Bachelor’s Hall. Then in 1844 the British Patent Naphtha Company was formed when they were producing naphtha, tar oil, along with manufacturing candles and moth balls. According to a newspaper report of 1846 – “The British Patent Naphtha Company – This company has taken a portion of the Dartmoor Prison (which was formerly inhabited by French prisoners) for the purpose of erecting their chemical apparatus, and extracting from the peat (with which Dartmoor abounds) an excellent naphtha, ammonia, tar &c..” – The Western Courier,  May 6th, 1846. Another report of the company stated a few weeks later  -“The British Patent Naphtha Company held a meeting last week at the Royal Hotel, Plymouth, when the directors presented their report, which was of a very satisfactory nature. Arrangements have been completed with the Duchy for grants of land for cutting peat, and a large proportion of the Dartmoor prison as a manufactory. A railway of two miles in length will also shortly be made which is to extend from the works to the bog where the peat is obtained. Samples of the products recently obtained in the course of experimental workings were laid on the table. They consisted of pyroxylic spirit or naptha of first rate quality,; acetate of lime,  sulphate of ammonia, two kinds of oil, one of which is used as a substitute for camphine, and another for the manufacture of creosote, which made be obtained in great abundance; and vegetable tallow, employed as an anti-attrition for rough machinery and charcoal.” – The Western Courier, May 20th, 1846. In 1850 the business was purchased by Messrs. Hill of Deptford but not long after the acquisition and under the terms of the Governmental lease they were notified that the “property in their possession was now required and their materials are to be sold on the spot in consequence.” – The Western Courier, August 7th, 1850. With huge losses of around £19,000 the company folded.
Batchelor’s Hall Farm – It is hard to establish exactly when Bachelor’s Hall became an actual working farm. On the tithe apportionment of 1840 there are listed 21 enclosures of which five acres were of arable and four acres of pastureland and at the time George Nicholson was the lessee and William Mitchell the occupier. Taking this date into account it would suggest that after Nicholson’s mine closed there were some kind of arable/pastural farming operations taking place on the estate. In an auction notice of 1868 for Tor Royal it stated that viewing could be arranged by George Caunter, Bachelor’s Hall, adjoining the property. In 1884 the sad death of Betsy Caunter, wife of George Caunter of Bachelor’s Hall was announced, clearly he was still in residence at that time. In the January of 1926 a report of the Spooner’s Harriers described how the hounds had chased a hare past Bachelor’s Hall where “its line was spoiled by bullocks,” thus suggesting  evidence of cattle on the farm. By 1917 a clear idea as to what farming enterprises were being carried out on the farm. On the death of Oliver Caunter his executors arranged an auction. Listed in the sale were; 1 x cow and calf, 2 x cows in  milk and calf, 2 x superior heifers, 3 x growthy old steers, 4 x steer calves, 1 x black gelding 14.2 h.h., 1 x 4 year old black mare pony,  1 x slip pig and 12 x head of poultry. This would suggest the farm was a dairy and beef enterprise with a pig and some poultry added to the mix. It is likely that the Vigars family who previously were at Nattor Farm then took on Bachelor’s Hall Farm.  1928 Thomas Henry Vigars of Bachelor’s Hall was fined £1 for “selling a pint of milk deficient in fat,” which would point the the fact that he was milking cows.  Along with this he is also listed in the International Directory of  Pedigree Stock Breeders as breeding large white lop eared pigs. An auction notice published in the August of 1934 gives a clear picture of the farm. In that year Thomas Vigars was looking to retire and offered the following for sale; 9 x cows in milks and calf, 3 x 15 – 18 year old steers, 4 x yearlings, 3 x calves, 1 x Shorthorn Bull, 7 x slip pigs, 30 x head of poultry, a collection of agricultural implements, a new waggon and a horse grass mowing machine.” In 1938 the Duchy of Cornwall published a notice saying “to let from March 25th, 1938, Bachelors Hall Farm, comprising 96 acres with good premises.” Later that year the Duchy were advertising “To let – House at Bachelor’s Hall, containing kitchen, scullery, sitting room, 4 bedrooms, bath and indoor sanitation.” Looking through the local for sale notices one appeared in 1942 whereby J. G. Bittlestone was advertising that he had for sale a pedigree South Devon bull and 2 South Devon calves.  In 1943 Bittlestone was advertising that he will – “Graze 30 to 35 bullocks from Aug, 16th to Sept. at Bachelor’s Hall Farm, Princetown. Under personal supervision. Abundance of grass. Inquiries invited.” Basically he was advertising for other farmers who may be short of pasturage to graze their stock on his land for an arranged fee, normally on a headage basis. It is thought that the last farmer left Bachelor’s Hall Farm in 1944 and presumably was J. G. Bittlestone.
Batchelor’s Youth Hostel – After a series of purchases the farm buildings finally remained empty and the house boarded. It then became an outward bound residential centre for Plymouth School. The centre then came into the hands of the Young Men’s Christian Association better known as the Y.M.C.A. In 2019 Bachelor’s Hall was leased to a trust who refurbished the building and who still use it as a residential centre with bunk rooms and a couple of modern camping pods, it’s still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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