Twenty-two DPA members and friends met at the end of Yellowmeade Farm track and nearby parking areas for a walk to Swell Tor on Monday 25th October. The walk really started from and ended at Foggintor but this initial part of the walk was well-covered in our Foggintor walk on 25th February 2019.
The first photograph was taken just outside Foggintor and shows the bed of the horse-drawn tramway that ran up the hill (an inclined plane?) to Swell Tor Quarry. The first of two side branches that run out to the left around the hill can be seen near the bottom. The first branch leads to Sailor’s Home Quarry, which is just below Crip Tor Quarry – they are more or less contiguous. The second branch, further up the hill, leads to Crip Tor Quarry. The tramway would have been built following the opening of the horse-drawn Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway in 1823. This opened to serve nearby King Tor Quarry and was extended later to run to Princetown. Crip Tor is seen on the left (above) and the spoil heaps of Swell Tor Quarry are on the skyline at the right of the photograph.
Some sections of the tramway still show granite setts to which the iron rails of the tramway were attached. The tramway was opened to nearby King’s Tor Quarry in 1823.
Somewhat strangely, there are the remains of wooden railway sleepers on the old tramway bed to be seen later in the walk- these might have been upgraded following the coming of steam in 1883. These are seen on the Swell Tor Quarry Siding which would have carried the heavy steam engines.
Crip Tor is quite noticeable when approaching from the the Foggintor direction – it is clearly marked on the 1840 Walkhampton Tithe Map although there is some dispute about the name today. However, it is mentioned in 1831 by the Revd. Bray, cited by his wife in: Mrs Bray (1836), The Borders of the Tamar and Tavy, Vol 1 of 3, page 279, and in two books by William Crossing “Amid Devonia’s Alps” 1888 (p.205) and “A Hundred Years on Dartmoor” 1902 (p.121). It certainly used to be known as “Crip Tor”.
A nearby farm is called Criptor, named presumably after Crip Tor, and the farm also has a small, disused quarry also known sometimes as Criptor Quarry.
The quarry has had quite a lot of stone removed …..
The quarry has a sturdy hut, presumably the explosives store.
Sailor’s Home Quarry is another quarry where the name can be argued about, I have found no information about the origin of the name. The first side-branch of the tramway came up to this quarry, just left of the big gap in the far wall. Although it is difficult to see, an inclined plane came up to the quarry from the right ending at the right edge of the gap in the far wall. It ran down to the main railway line although the tramway is hidden near the bottom of the incline in undergrowth.
The view to Ingra Tor Quarry shows it in an interesting perspective.
Swell Tor Quarry is quite a complex site. Starting at the buildings / railway site there is a narrow entrance into the smaller, lower quarry. At the far end of the lower quarry is an opening into the upper quarry. The photograph above shows the loading platform in the lower quarry – it is the stone-built feature running left-right just below the centre of the image.
The narrow entrance into the quarry is now quite wet and occupied by rushes.
Above the narrow entrance (left) is an area where there was a winch pulley system for hauling tramway wagons in/out of the quarry.
Nearby. to the left looking into the quarry, is an area where there was a steam engine/compressor house.
The old Blacksmith’s Shop is the most prominent building still standing at the quarry …..
With the Blacksmith’s Shop on the left, there is a view of the main loading quay (platform) beside the railway – part of the steam engine / compressor house supports can be seen (right edge). Near the centre is a stone that is believed to have been used for testing qquarry drills.
The old winch base (?) is about four paces off the main track into the quarry entrance.
The photograph above shows the quarry entrance again (lower left) that leads into the lower quarry. Part of the entrance to the upper quarry is also seen on the skyline.
A closer view of the drill-testing stone.
Occasionally, there is almost sunshine at the Blacksmith’s Shop!
There is a rare view sometimes of the Swell Tor dinosaur, Swelltorsaurus, high on the skyline to the right when leaving the Blacksmith’s Shop.
Proceeding away from the Blacksmith’s Shop, there are the remains of wooden railway sleepers in the track bed. Presumably, the original post-1823 tramway was rebuilt for the coming of the steam railway post-1883.
There were Apprentices employed at the quarry and they had to produce high quality practice “pieces” to progress in the job.
There are remains of the weighbridge along the track from the Blacksmith’s Shop, which can just be seen in the photograph above.
The famous Swelltor corbels (twelve of them left here), 650 were cut in 1903 for the widening of London Bridge. The bridge, “New” London Bridge, was designed by John Rennie, opened by King Wiliam IV and Queen Adelaide, in 1831. It was bought by American, Robert McCullough, in 1968, and re-erected in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
This walk would come along the original 1823 tramway (later converted for steam) at the far left of the photograph. The 1883 steam railway was built on a slightly different route that came in from the right. At this spot, there were points so that the two railways could interchange wagons.
The Swell Tor Quarry Siding continued past the points described above and ran as far as a terminal buffer. The buffer is very near a cattle-creep railway bridge and is seen (left) in the photograph above.
The original horse-drawn tramway that opened in 1823 was for serving the King Tor Quarry, seen above. It was extended later as far as Princetown.
Notes from Wikipedia – Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway ….
(1) Williams and Lee (in the Railway Magazine, March 1934), say that “From Sutton Pool, the Plymouth terminus, to King’s Tor, a couple of miles short of Princetown, the line was opened with a procession on September 26, 1823” (Wikipedia – Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway).
(2) At the northern end, Shepherd[page needed] refers to “the quarries” at Walkhampton; the King’s Tor quarry was on the high ground within the northward loop of the line when later completed. Given the shortage of money it seems likely that the temporary northern terminus was on the approach to Kings Tor; there are indications on the earliest available Ordnance Survey map (1884) that support this.
Little King’s Tor has an appreciable logan stone on the top. The tor is seen in the following photograph …..
The foundations of a plate-layers’ hut are seen (left), the original horse-drawn tramway comes in straight from right of centre and the steam railway comes through a cutting. This is because the modern steam engines needed a more gentle curve than the horses that could cope with the sharper bend around the hill. On the skyline in the centre of the photograph is Little King Tor or Little King’s Tor with its logan stone.
To re-cap, the horse-drawn tramway opened in 1823, the steam railway opened in 1883, Swell Tor Quarry finally closed down in 1938, and the modern railway closed down in 1956.