Devonport Leat - end of the project, Feb. 2013

Dartmoor Preservation Association has worked on conserving the leats on Roborough Common for several years. Not long ago we finished a section of Plymouth Leat after five years work. Now, on 28th February 2013, we completed a section of Devonport Leat – it was commenced on 2nd Sep. 2011..

The photograph above shows the final work party sitting on the parapet of a small bridge over the leat where it emerges from under the A386 Roborough-Yelverton road. The fence behind is the fence between the Roborugh Common and the main road.

To clarify: Plymouth Leat, built 1590-1591, ran for 17½ miles from a head weir on the River Meavy (now under Burrator Reservoir) to the sea at Millbay, Plymouth, originally supplying mills along the way. Later, various conduits were added to supply water to the inhabitants of Plymouth. In 1823 and 1828, two reservoirs were built to take its water in Drake Place on Tavistock Road, just up the hill from Plymouth University. Construction of the leat was supervised by Sir Francis Drake: it fell into disuse when Burrator Reservoir was opened in 1898.

Devonport Leat, built from 1793 with water flowing by 1797, finally completed in 1801, was built because Plymouth Dock (which was renamed Devonport on 1st January 1824) became bigger than Plymouth and Plymouth would not share their water from Plymouth Leat. It ran for about 27½ miles, taking water from the Blackabrook, Cowsic and West Dart rivers, to a reservoir in Devonport Park, adjacent to Granby Street, near today’s Tamar ferry. Today, it runs about 15 miles to Burrator/Dousland. Devonport Leat still carried water to some users after the Burrator Reservoir was opened in 1898: in 1907 the Dousland-Belliver section was closed and by 1915 all sections below Belliver were closed. The leat flowed to Dousland until 1951 when it was terminated as the cascade into the Burrator Reservoir. Some alterations were made after the drought in 1976 when the regulating pipe, intake etc. at the foot of Raddick Hill was modified so that water could still be fed to Dousland reservoir.

To show how things have progressed in leat-clearing in the DPA, the gorse on the section of Plymouth Leat that runs from the car park near Clearbrook to the edge of the Common near Roborough, is close to 3.01 km in length. As already stated, this took five years, using hand saws and loppers and equates to about 0.6 km/year. The section that we have just finished on Devonport leat is about 2.01 km, with a lot of scrub and trees much larger than the previous gorse and it was done between September 2011 and February 2013, just eighteen months. The work was done over 26 work days and equates to 1.3 km/year – twice the progress! Both projects had spring-summer breaks during the nesting season. The difference may be that there were sometimes more volunteers on the recent project and we also had two trained chainsaw operators.

The DPA has recently received an on-going commission from Roborough Commoners Association to maintain the leats through a continuing clearance programme. The next project is soon to be decided. We can either (1) extend the work on Devonport Leat from where we started back towards Plymouth, (2) tackle the gorse on Plymouth Leat between Clearbrook car park back towards Yelverton or (3) cut some gorse re-growth on the Plymouth Leat where we originally worked. It appears likely that the other section of heavy scrub clearance, approaching Maristow Estate, will go to Tavistock Taskforce.

Perhaps under this commission, we should also look at the recently “discovered” Clearbrook (Crymes’) Leat. This is a third leat that was found to be flowing well during the exceptionally wet weather in December 2012. It is actually a relief leat that takes water from the old WW2 aerodrome (RAF Harrowbeer) at Yelverton. It appears to be the same leat built by Wiliam Crymes in 1599 to divert Plymouth Leat for tinning purposes: in this, he was supported by Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Warden of the Stannators. Drainage from the aerodrome is led into Devonport Leat where, after flowing for about 200 metres, it is diverted into Plymouth Leat. This then flows past the main car park beside the leat near Clearbrook to a breach where the water is diverted down the hill to a modern-looking leat that leads the water down to the River Meavy. This relief leat was maintained recently by South West Water as a goodwill gesture, as they appear not to be the owners but it was flooding the road to Goodameavy.

There are two points of irony here. Water is taken from Devonport Leat into Plymouth Leat – the original reason for building Devonport Leat was that Plymouth would not share its water from Plymouth Leat! The second is that the original (Plymouth Leat) took its water from the River Meavy – now water is fed back into the river! Under normal circumstances, all three leats are ‘dry’.

Anyway, on this section of Devonport Leat, we have reached the End of the Line …..