Manager: Karl Jones
Contact Tel No: 0800 169 1144
2012 is our 80th anniversary year of producing energy from water. For further information on the power station please download the attached leaflet. Link: Mary Tavy Power Station
Welcome to Mary Tavy & Peter Tavy. We are twin villages and you may have wondered how we got our names. Well it is quite simple really. St. Mary’s Church on the river Tavy and St Peter’s Church (also on the river Tavy). The two churches are a mile apart and you can reach them by walking along a pretty bridle path with a bridge over the Tavy called the Clam – Mary Tavy Clam if you live in Peter Tavy and Peter Tavy Clam if you live in Mary Tavy. Each village has a famous beauty spot. There is the Peter Tavy Coombe, where the villagers have dammed the Colley Brook to make a swimming pool and the beautiful Tavy Cleave.
Years ago mining was the main industry and the whole are around the Coronation Hall and much further afield was a hive of activity, with many deep shafts and seventeen huge water wheels working the heavy machinery to process the ore and to pump the water from underground. Many hundreds of men and women were employed. The women were called Bal Maidens and their job was to break up the mundic with hammers for which they were paid one shillling a day. (Mundic is also known as pyrite or iron pyrites and was sometimes found in tin and copper mines. A waste product used as aggregate in concrete, when the desired mineral was tin, copper, silver or lead but once mined out of the more valuable ores, mundic, also known as arsenical pyrites, was and the source of another valuable mineral – ed.) Bal is the old word for mine and we still have a Bal Lane in Mary Tavy.
The Largest Mine in the World. Wheal Friendship was at one time the largest copper mine in the world. Later on arsenic was processed and you can still see the flues and calciners on the hillside to the East outside the Coronation Hall.
There was a huge market for the arsenic in the Southern States of America to kill the Bol Weavil in the cotton fields. They say that there is enough arsenic clinging to the inside of the flues to kill millions of people. (A recent report tells that the crops being grown on these fields in the USA now contain traces of that arsenic, a progressive poison that once ingested does not get removed as waste matter. The build up over years of eating contaminated food has been sited a possible cause for many illnesses – Ed)
In earlier times the copper and tin ore was taken by pack horse through Peter Tavy and out on the old road to Tavistock that comes out by Mount Tavy on the Princetown Road. Then on through tracks to Morwellham where it was shipped to all parts of the world. John Taylor, when he was manager of Wheal Friendship, built the Tavistock canal to make transport easier. that was completed in 1817.
The Ancient Right of Common
Those of us who own land in our village have an ancient right of common which means we can graze ponies and cattle and cut peat and turf on Dartmoor.
The whole of the village of Mary Tavy was at one time owned by the Buller family until it was sold of in 1891. The name of the Bullers Arms was recently changed to the Mary Tavy Inn. The old mine shafts called after the families of the mine owners or their captains. There was a Wheal Hope, Wheal Caroline, Stephen’s Shaft, Curtices Shaft, Brunton’s, William’s and Maddock’s. There is also a Wheal Jewel, Kent’s Shaft, Taylor’s and Bennett’s. Most of them had huge water wheels and one, ‘Buller’s Wheel’, was the largest in the world.
In the close-knit community of the village where lots of people had the same name, nicknames were common and were carried on for generations, succeeding generations adding to the old one. They still continue with some of the older families. There was a Billy Go Deeper, Sammy Knacky, Kingy, Tibbet, Neil Weep, Joe Buck, Weeze Buck and Arch Buck Feedo, Jan Scuse, Gentle Annie, Beat Chank and today there is still a Romeo Chank.
World Travellers Made Wealthy
For many years folk had travelled the world as miners or mine captains. My husband’s father started the first mine ‘Tarquo and Obosso’ on the Gold Coast of West Africa. His grandfather mined in America. Other families had their men go off to Mexico, India, Brazil and Malaya. The women folk left at home in the villages reared their families with their husbands away for a year, then home for three months and then of again for another year. They became quite wealthy by village standards and bought houses for themselves, naming them after the foreign places they had worked. There is a Wyoming and an Ohio, and Mrs. Sargents house ‘Broomassie’ is named after the gold mine in West Africa where her father-in-law and other Mary Tavy men worked. They travelled out in the big liners that used to stand off the breakwater at Plymouth Sound. They went aboard by tender and then had a perilous journey journey ashore in rowing boats when they reached Ashanti. The natives had never seen working tools and when they had been taught to use them they were paid a silver three penny bit a day. Most of the men who travelled to those far corners of the world had never previously been further afield than Tavistock!
Our village of Mary Tavy is very scattered and spread over a wide area. there is the original settlement around the church and there is the much larger development both sides of the main road. Of course, until 1817 there was no main road, that was made to relieve stress when there was a period of great unemployment.
Tokens for Money
There were two distinct communities in the Village – Mary Tavy & Blackdown and both names were on the railway station The chapel was of course, Blackdown Chapel. Then there is Zoar Chapel and St, Joseph’s Church at Horndon. Harford Bridge is part of our parish and then there is the West Blackdown area near Brentor. The cricket field has now become Felling field and I can remember when there was no Warren Lane or council houses in Bal Lane or bungalows in the Brentor Road. A community of gipsies used to camp every winter on the Burrows and there was no Body’s Garage. The present shop was there but the Post Office was in a house near the War Memorial called Birches. there was also a shop where the present restaurant is (This has since closed and become a private house). That had been there for many years and used to ake mine tokens instead of money in the old days. The Smithy for shoeing horses was at the top of Lane Head Hill, now part of the Mary Tavy Inn.
A doctor held a surgery twice a week in the sitting room of one of the station road houses. The butchers shop was up past the Royal Standard and we had several carpenters and masons The Duke family ran their newsagents business from No.1 Standard Court. Com. Hare lived in what is now Moorland Hall and started D.M.T – Devon’s early buses. My uncle, Herbie Minhinick, ran a coal and forge business from Laburnam House (now renamed after him) with large sheds in the fields at the back on what is now Laburnam Villas.
At the top of Mary Tavy was the silver and lead mine, Wheal Betsy. The old engine house is still there. The mine was once called Prince Arthur and the mine Captain lived in Prince Arthur House. The Royal Standard provided refreshements for Queen’s son, Prince Arthur, in 1862.
All of the mines had gone ‘scat’ as we say, by the nineteen twenties and the last one to work was the Devon United on the Peter Tavy side of the Tavy in 1925.
The Cholwell Brook winds its way down through the village from Wheal Betsy until it enters the Tavy at the power station. That is worked from an old mine leat that starts at Tavy Cleave.
On the western boundary is the Burn River, along the valley which used to run, and then we had a station. This area is the Manor of Warne and the old manor house was once an orphanage.
How the Elephant Gots Its Nest
I know a lot of pubs, having been brought up in the Peter Tavy Inn and keeping the Royal Standard for 25 years but I know the story of how the Elephant’s Nest at Horndon got its name. My husband was visiting the then landlord, Charles Ossington, and he said to Charles (he was a great big man sitting behind his tiny counter) “You look like an Elephant sitting on a nest”. So there and then Charles decided to change its name from “The New Inn” which it was then called to “The Elephant’s Nest” and it has been famous for its unusual name ever since.
You will probably have heard of William Crossing and his famous book “Guide to Dartmoor”. Well, he wrote that and several other books while living in a house at the top of the main road now called “Crossing”. He also lived in a house in Brentor called “Sunnycroft”, and when my husband was a small boy bringing the cows home to be milked, he often used to stop and talk to him. Crossing was a tutor to Mr. Collin’s sons at “Sunnycote” and the family have many momentoes of the famous writer who is buried in our churchyard.
We had our own postman and policeman and people still took their apples to Wringworthy Farm to be made into cyder. Down’s Garage started up and at Peter Tavy, the first local bus – the Eddystone Bell’ was run by Cole’s Garage.
Our twin villages have some interesting houses. At Peter Tavy there is the lovely old inn, two very old mill houses and their first Chapel, now part of ‘Shula’. There is also ‘Harewood’, where Virginia Holgate’s family lived.
A Gold Pencil from the Prince
In Mary Tavy we have Bryn Tavy, where members of John Taylor’s family used to live. There’s our one thatched cottage, Dowerlands Cottage, and Eastlands Farm, which used to be a house of correction for fallen women. Then there is Kent House where Captain Kent, the manager of wheal Friendship, lived. In 1862, Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Clarence, visited Mary Tavy and he was conducted around the mines by Captain Kent, to whom he presented a gold pencil case.
In the middle of the Burrows is the old Court House which used to have a balcony from which (the rights to mine) the underground faces used to be auctioned.
To end on an eerie note, years ago there used to be a gate by the cattle grid on the Brentor Road, known as the “Iron Cage Gate” where they used to keep the prisoners (until) they hanged them at the top of Gibbet hill.
The Reading Rooms were built as a centre of relaxation, education and recreation for people of Mary Tavy Parish. The land on which it was built was given by deed of gift by Mr. Henry James, a resident of Mary Tavy on 6th Sept 1909.
It was built by Mr. C. Doidge, founder of Doidges of Tavistock. The opening was a grand affair with a brass band from Brentor playing on the grass outside.
There was a comprehensive library and newspapers were delivered daily. In the 1950’s it almost became derelict, but thanks to local residents it was revived as a recreation centre again, and the funds were raised to repair the billiards table.
A generous legacy for the up keep of the rooms was left by a local resident and this is administered by nominated trustees.
The rooms are still in regular use. Snooker and Billiard matches are a regular happening, also available are a dart board and table tennis. It is also used by the Parish Council for its monthly meetings, all of which help to finance its upkeep.
Considerable voluntary assistance, helps to maintain the grounds and the general cleaning within the building.
The first line to reach Mary Tavy was Brunel’s broad gauge railway in 1865 It was the furthest west that the railway had got at the time and was South Devon’s northern extension from Tavistock to Lydford. It then headed west down the Lyd valley to Launceston and beyond. (These early trains ran on track that was just over 7 feet wide. Although designed by Brunel, the railway was run by the South Devon Railway until financial difficulties in 1876 lead to a takeover by the Great Western Railway. Brunel’s broad gauge network was converted in 1892 to run on the narrower ‘standard’ 4ft 8.5 ins gauge introduced by Robert Stevenson.)
A rival railway company, the London and South Western Railway, extended its Okehampton line south to Lydford in 1874, and on to Tavistock and Plymouth in 1876 over the existing Launceston line. Mary Tavy then had two train services. This was only until 1890 when the Okehampton line used a separate new railway from Lydford to Plymouth, which did not have a station between Brentor and Tavistock. Those who wanted to go to Okehampton by train would then have had to change at Lydford where both railway companies had stations.
Note that the station sign reads “Mary Tavy and Blackdown”
Our thanks to Mr Bryan Gibson for supplying additional information and corrections to the article originally posted here
Mary Tavy Station in 1963. Photo – George Cutland
The Wesleyan Chapel
Note on this card and on O.S. maps published in 1946 Mary Tavy
(and incidentally Peter Tavy) were spelt as one word
This photo was taken by visitors who were staying at the Post Office when it did Bed & Breakfast in the 1960’s. They were passing by in the summer of 2007 and kindly left the photo at the Post Office. Unfortunately their name and the exact date has been mislaid. If you were those visitors, could you e-mail and we can complete this description.
Conditions at Mary Tavy were good compared to other areas. Wheal Friendship was considered to offer superior conditions to its miners. Although 240 fathoms deep, it was well-ventilated and there were changing houses, where their clothes would be dried for them, and their housing was not so overcrowded as in other places.
The Miners Dry in 1963 – George Cutland
In his report to the Royal Commission on Mines in the early 1860’s, RICHARD SLEMAN, a surgeon at Tavistock, wrote:
“At Mary Tavy, in consequence of the habitations of the miners being adequate to the population, we do not get much fever. If you go to Bere Alston, where the number of houses is just the same, but where the population is 2,000 as against 500, you get more fever and more disease generally, and so at Gunnislake. I believe that the disease depends more on the habitation of the miner than anything else.” Later on in the report, discussing the miners disease – respiratory complaints, bronchitis, asthma and consumption – Richard Sleman wrote, “I draw the inference that the dwellings have a good deal to do with the matter from the fact that at the deepest mine in our neighbourhood, Wheal Friendship, the miners disease is not prevalent, and the cottages are not so filled.”
Thanks to Joan from Colorado for the information above. The information below about working with arsenic comes from The Chains Theme Website (no longer available)
“Two grains of arsenic are usually fatal, but…
….the men employed in arsenic works were not known for ill health or premature death. As a precaution, the men inserted a small wad of cotton wool up each nostril and covered their mouths with a cloth tied around the head. Exposed parts of the face, neck and hands were covered with fuller’s earth to prevent the arsenic entering the pores of the skin. It seems probable that arsenic workers built up an immunity to poisoning.
One of the major hazards to miners is flooding but while other mine owners were instaling steam powered pumps such as would eventually be installed in Wheal Betsy, the rest of mines in Mary Tavy were turning a potential hazard to its own advantage. With as many as seventeen water wheels with two measuring over 50ft (16metres) in diameter and up to 10ft (3metres) wide. It was such an efficient use of water that even when the Owners of Wheal Betsy installed a Steam engine in 1868 it was unable to improve on the water power it was to help as the mine got deeper. It closed only 9 years later. 100 years later the engine house (seen on the home page) was given to The National Trust and restored.
For more information about water power and Bullers Wheel at Mary Tavy take this link to Gerry Sargent’s information packed website.
The Buller family once owned all the land on which Mary Tavy now stands and the Mary Tavy Inn was originally ‘The Buller’s Arms’.
Water power is still important to Mary Tavy in the 21st century.
View over the Count House yard with the Reading Rooms in the center of the photo & Brentor on the horizon. The white track on the left is Cars Lane. The track off to the left leads to the Count House mine offices (see below), now Glebe Cottage.
The Count House in 1963 – George Cutland
While most visitors to the West Country associate tin mining with Cornwall because so much industrial archeology remains, it began in Devon with panning for tin in the streams on Dartmoor. Here in Mary Tavy, Wheal Betsy, seen on the home page, is all the industrial heritage that can be seen by the casual visitor. The old photo below shows Devon United South mine workings sometime in the 19th century. Strictly speaking this is in the next parish (Peter Tavy) because its the opposite side of Cholwell Brook. Because the photo was found in a Mary Tavy pub, we wrongly thought it to be in Mary Tavy but because it is such an atmospheric photograph that shows what it was like when these mines were working, we’ve left it on the site.
For more information on Wheal Betsy, why not take this link to the excellent Legendary Dartmoor website. If feeling very scholarly, there is also an excellent document in Tavistock Library called “The Rise & Demise of a Dartmoor Mine” catalogue reference is 622.34. Its based on the accounts from Wheal Betsy for much of its life. From this document you will learn that the building of Wheal Betsy engine house took place, almost as a last resort to help a mine that was already beginning to fail. The additonal pumping power of the ‘new’ steam engines, still could not cope with the amount of water that would have had to be removed and kept out of the mine to enable the owners to dig deeper!
Devon Friendship (shown below) was once the largest copper mine in the world but as with many of the mines in the region when the profitable minerals were worked out, the owners turned to making as much as possible from what other minerals remained
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