Finally, the DPA Short Walks group gets a real walk done, after the pandemic restrictions. This was a longer than normal walk of about 5.2 miles. There were 27 in the group starting from the car park and visitor Centre in Postbridge in overcast conditions. There had been some email discussion the day before concerning weather forecasts but as it turned out, the rain started “spotting” as we left Powdermills and it started raining more heavily once we reached the car park!
This new path was made in 1999. The old one was down the road to the left, at Higher Cherrybrook Bridge – the path had become very boggy. In the distance is Longaford Tor (left), Higher White Tor (centre) and Arch Tor (right).
The plaque on the gatepost.
The Lich Way was the track by which the residents of the local farms (Dartmoor’s ancient tenements) attended church services (especially funerals) at the parish church at Lydford – the parish of Lydford was large. It was the “Way of the Dead”, named after the corpses who were carried 12 miles to their final resting places at Lydford. In 1260, the residents petitioned the Bishop of Exeter, Walter Bronescombe, and were eventually allowed to attend church at Widecombe, which was closer. The Lich Way remained in use however because of the need to attend the Stannary courts until they ceased in the 1800s.
Notice fixed to the entry gate at the top of the site.
Watch House / Cartridge Press House / Store – possibly the saltpetre crystallising house. Long rectangular single-storey building located at the southern end of the site and aligned north to south. Two, possibly three, phases have been identified. Water was culverted through the building under the floor. Dwarf walls in one interior consist of one long spine wall and two side walls. Another dwarf wall runs east to west across the structure from the northernmost door to the east wall. These appear to form a raised floor with water, air or heat circulating beneath. A small, square, stone-lined feature to the west of the south-west corner may be a well, or possibly a pit in which staves were soaked. The building is described in one book as the Watch House, where materials in and out of the site were monitored. It might also have been used as a store.
This is a double building, with a mirror-image layout, with two waterwheel pits. As with much of the site, this is surmised to be an incorporating or composition mill (south), a possible cartridge press house (south ½ of N building) and a possible corning, dusting house or glazing mill (north ½). The tailrace of the southern wheelpit discharges back to the Cherrybrook.
Wheelpit, at the south end of the building.
Cllapper bridge over the Cherry brook
Breaking House – a small building, aligned north to south just south of the glazing mill. There is a large rectangular stone table, 20-25 centimetres thick, on a masonry base. The table top is smooth. On this, the slabs of pressed gunpowder were broken down.
Final Preparation Rooms – it is probable that these buildings were used for dusting, glazing, sieving and packing the gunpowder prior to carting it it off-site. Horses may have been stabled here as well as barrels and other materials being stored here. There are two mills powered by a waterwheel. The North Chimney is behind.
The photograph was taken just after coffee time.
From above the Final Preparation Rooms there is a view to the three Incorporation Mills where the gunpowder was ground between mill stones.
The view of the chimney is taken from the Boiler and Drying Rooms below the Final Preparation Rooms (seen up the slope). There is covered flue leading to the chimney, indicating that heat was used for final drying of the powder.
There are two gable-ended mills and one with square end walls, why?
The mills were built with thick walls and a flimsy roof in case there was an explosion, this was to contain the force of the explosion but allow the roof to blow off. The roof could be easily replaced and less production time would be lost. The grille is to prevent people today from falling into the wheel pit. The “bump” at the right side of the photograph is the end of the leat that brought the water to drive the waterwheel – which turned mill stones in each side of the building. Therefore, one wheel drove two sets of mill stones.
The central water wheel was housed between the two milling “rooms”.
The whole of the gunpowder making process was powered by water from a leat that came from the West Dart river. This ran into a reservoir at the top of the site. The water was then taken by leat to the first incorporation mill to the next and so forth down through the site to the buildings that required power.
Foreground: Powder Magazine – A small rectangular stone structure for storing “mill cake” shaped into “corns” for short periods. Approximately 4 metres by 2.5 metres.
Background: Incorporating Mill at the top of the site. The wheel-pit is aligned north-east to south-west and runs the whole width of the units. Wheel axle appears to have projected into their ground floors. Powered by a launder to the north-east which flowed out through a culvert to the south-west. This is roofed for 3.5 – 4 metres, then becomes an open channel which runs downhill to feed the reservoir belonging to ‘Building 2’. The raised bank at the left brought the leat that fed a launder to the waterwheel.
Last view before leaving the site. The white sign is the DNPA summary of the gunpowder manufacturing process, shown near the top of this web page.