“Gold was frequently found by the old tin streamers, in small grains, in the beds of moorland streams; and it is probable that it occurs, or has occurred, more or less in the beds of all the larger rivers,” Rowe, p.247.
“There’s gold in them thar hills,” but before everybody grabs their picks and pans and packhorse – there’s very little gold in “them thar hills“. In 1838, Mrs Bray commented how the old tin miners would collect small gold flakes and put them inside bird quills for safe keeping. Dartmoor legend has it that there is a rich lode of gold in the old ‘Roman Mine’ which lies in Chaw Gully. But sadly everyone who has tried to find it has mysteriously perished in the process so that possibility will have to stay in the realms of folklore.
On Dartmoor there are several place-names that would suggest the presence of gold and great wealth: The Crock of Gold, The Gold Box, Gold Park, Golden Dagger Mine, Golden Plantation, Golden Spout, Golden Spring and if you want to stretch things – Goldsmith’s Cross. Sadly, not a single one of these has any connection with actual gold, even the Golden Dagger Mine.
What is known is that where it does occur it is associated with rocks of the Late Paleozoic period which is to say they are between 409 – 245 million years old. Gold is considered a heavy metal with a specific gravity of 19.3 which means that along with cassiterite it is usually found in basal gravels which overly the bedrock in river valleys. It therefore is not surprising that during stream tin mining operations the tinners came across small amounts of gold in the alluvial deposits. In 1865 it was reported that an unidentified mine in the Tavistock area was yielding gold at the rate of 14 grams per tonne. In the early 1800’s a tinner named Wellington who was streaming in the Sheepstor area found enough gold to get £40 from a Plymouth silversmith named Pearce, Calvert,1853, p.91.
In 1920 Dr. Brammall carried out a detailed assay study of Dartmoor’s granite in which he discovered gold at various locations – below are his findings:
|Normal Tor Granites||Gold grains per ton|
|Normal Quarry Granites||Gold grains per ton|
|Cold East Cross Quarry||1.6|
|Haytor (East Quarry)||Trace|
|Haytor (West Quarry)||1.2|
|Princetown Prison Quarry||6.0|
|Vixen Tor Quarry||6.8|
|Welstor Cross Quarry||Trace|
|Miscellaneous||Gold grains per ton|
|Biotite – Princetwon Granite||1.5|
|Graphic Granite – Hambledon||Trace|
|Pegmatite – Ponsworthy||Trace|
|Pneumatolysed Granite – Vixen Tor Quarry||Nil|
|Manganese Rich Deposits – Merrivale Quarry||9.6|
|Vein Pyrites – Merrivale Quarry||1.5|
Other sites where gold has been found is on Holne Moor, Bagtor Wapsworthy and Crownley Park. The old Holne Chase Mine was recorded as assaying gold at 7.5 grams per tonne, this was found in the auriferous gossan or growan.
In the north of Dartmoor there are several reports of gold namely at Sourton Tors and the Okehampton Consols mine. In 1853 the Drewsteignton Copper, Silver-Lead, Tin and Limestone Mining Company began work on some old quarries to the north of Drewsteignton. By 1855 the company was reporting that gold had been found and it was yielding ½ an ounce per ton of gossan.
Whilst recently reading a novel by Laurie R. King called ‘The Moor‘ I came across a mention of fraudulent occurrences whereby mines were being ‘salted’ with tin and gold in order to increase their value. The author mentioned that this story came from one of Sabine Baring Gould’s books – ‘A Book of the West’ to be precise. Normally such references in a novel can be a use of poetical license but this particular book was very well researched and it seemed worth a follow-up. Sure enough:
‘Some years ago a great fraud was committed in the neighbourhood (South Zeal). It was rumoured that gold was to be found in the gozen – the refuse from the mines. All who had old mines on their land sent specimens to London, and received reports that there was a specified amount of gold in what was forwarded. Some, to be sure that there was no deception, went up with their specimens and saw them ground, washed and analysed, and the gold extracted. So large orders were sent up for gozen-crushing machines. These came down, were set to work, and no gold was then found. The makers of the machines had introduced gold-dust into the water that was used in the washing of crushed stone.‘, pp. 222 -223.
On a more personal level I once caught ‘gold fever’ and spent 3 days splashing around a very cold Dartmoor stream near the river Plym. For my efforts I got: a very stiff back, trench foot, wrist ache from sloshing a pan around, to know the local sheep population very well. Needless to say the BMW is not parked in the drive and I have no villa in Spain.
Having said there is no significant amounts of gold to be found on Dartmoor I will now contradict this and say the ‘color‘ as American miners call it can be found everywhere. Literally there is plenty of ‘colour’ in the evening sunsets, even more in the blankets of gorse blossom and ‘loads’ of it in the autumn leaves. OK they will not make you rich but the sight of them will certainly enrich your Dartmoor experience.
Baring Gould, S. 1899. A Book of the West – Vol. I, London: Methuen & Co.
Brammall, A. 1926. Gold and Silver in the Dartmoor Granite.
Calvert, J. 1853 The Gold Rocks or Britain & Ireland, Chapman & Hall, London
Camm, S. 1995 Gold in the Counties of Cornwall & Devon, Cornish Hillside Pub., St. Austell.
Hamilton Jenkin, A. K. 2005 Mines of Devon, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne.
Rowe, J. B. 1985. A Perambulation of Dartmoor. Exeter: Devon Books.