The Haytor Granite Tramway

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To the north of Haytor Rocks, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor in the English county of Devon, are the disused remains of an old granite quarry and a granite tramway built to move stones from the quarry down to the Stover Canal, from where it was shipped to different parts of England. The tracks of the tramway were built out of the same material it was designed to carry —granite.

The trackway was built in 1820 and remained operational until 1858. During those times, granite from the quarries near Haytor Rock was in much demand for construction work in cities across England. But the transport of this heavy and bulky commodity was a significant problem. In the absence of railways and reliable roads, the granite had to be carried by horse drawn carts which was both costly and time consuming. George Templer, the owner of the Haytor quarries, became impatient and needed a more efficient method to move the rocks because he had just won the contract to supply stones for the building of the new London Bridge.

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Photo credit: Ethan Doyle White/Wikimedia

The solution was a tramway or a trackway, but there was another problem —iron for building the rails was not easily obtainable in the locality. So he decided to build the rails out of the material that he had at hand, which was granite.

The rails were hewn from irregular blocks of solid granite and laid directly on the ground. Loaded wagons ran downhill, assisted by gravity, along the tracks from the Haytor quarries to Ventiford Quay on the Stover Canal, a distance of about 10 miles. The wagons had no brakes but braking was provided by a team of horses tied to the rear of the wagon-train. The horses held the wagons back and prevented them from running away while descending. The same set of horses pulled the empty wagons back up the incline. Braking could also be applied manually by pressing a long pole against the rim of the wheel. Of particular interest are the "points" made of metal or wooden tongues pivoted on the granite-block rails that diverted the wagon wheels from one tracks to another, much like how modern railroad switches work.

On reaching the canal, the granite blocks were loaded onto barges and transported to Teignmouth. From there it was transferred to cargo ships for the journey to London and elsewhere where it was used in a large number of construction works. Part of the British Museum, the old General Post Office in London and the Waltham Monument in Ludgate Circus were built of Haytor granite.

Haytor quarry, however, remained operational for only a short period. In 1829, due to financial difficulties, George Templer sold the quarry and the Haytor Granite Tramway to the Duke of Somerset. Over the next few years the granite company began to lose large contracts, and there were many grievance among the workers because they weren’t getting paid. Between 1841 and 1851, the quarry produced no granite. There was a brief revival of the quarries in 1850s, but increasing competition from Cornish granite quarries eventually put Haytor out of business in 1858. Parts of the tramway are still visible in Haytor.

Also read: Quincy Granite Railway: America’s First Commercial Railroad

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Photo credit: Brett Sutherland/Panoramio

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Photo credit: Nilfanion/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: Nilfanion/Wikimedia

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Some old rails from the Haytor Tramway preserved at Buckfastleigh station on the South Devon Railway. Photo credit: Geof Sheppard/Wikimedia

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A junction along Haytor Granite Tramway. Photo credit: Patrick GUEULLE/Wikimedia

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A switch stone on Haytor Granite Tramway. Photo credit: Patrick GUEULLE/Wikimedia

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A junction along Haytor Granite Tramway. Photo credit: Mike White/Wikimedia

Sources: Wikipedia / www.transportheritage.com / Legendary Dartmoor

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