Morwellham Quay: transport infrastructure, part of the water control system and a manganese mill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Morwellham Quay: transport infrastructure, part of the water control system and a manganese mill
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1021461 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 22-Oct-2019 at 14:55:10.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 44574 69640

Reasons for Designation

Quays are structures designed to enhance the natural landforms of coastal or riverside locations by providing sheltered landing places with sufficient depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal cycle. The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on their date, but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres of trade and administrative authority. Usually in locations already sheltered to some extent by natural features, basic elements of quays may include platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a small dock on a riverside or coast. Such features occur among the earliest surviving quays in England known from larger Roman urban centres, notably London, where they form the basis for an almost continuous development of quays to the present day. Quays display a considerable diversity of form, setting and construction. They comprise valuable sources of information on patterns of earlier trade, authority and settlement, and their medieval and later development shows clearly the relationship between economic forces and technological innovation in adapting the natural landscape. All medieval quays that are disused and survive substantially intact as upstanding monuments are nationally important. Disused post-medieval examples surviving substantially intact and forming distinctive indicators of pre-19th century trades and activities are also considered likely to be of national importance. Morwellham Quay ranks as one of the country's most complete C19 inland ports and it retains clear evidence for the C18 and C19 expansion of a medieval river port. It is an industrial complex that retains great integrity, and the unintensive use of the site since it ceased to operate as a mining port in the early C20 has resulted in few modern modifications. Morwellham's principal significance lies in its role in the development of the orefields in the C18 and C19; it was probably the most important copper ore exporting centre in Europe during the mid-C19. It survives in an unusually complete state and many of its archaeological features reflect this significant period in the site's history. The extensive range of docks and quays in particular provides evidence that the port was a key interface between the mines of West Devon and global trade. Much of the integrated transport infrastructure survives well as either surface or buried remains including the sub-surface remains of in situ early-C19 plateways and turntables which are particularly rare and significant survivals nationally. The Tavistock Canal is considered to be a good example of a mineral canal and its associated incline is the only known extant example of a water-powered inclined plane in the country. The site of the manganese mill is of particular importance as possibly the only known surviving example in the South West, and it will retain buried evidence for the technology and processes used in this industry. In addition there is a considerable archive of documentary material relating to the history of Morwellham; it is accessible to the public and thus serves as an important educational resource and amenity.


The monument is situated at Morwellham on the east bank of the River Tamar, strategically sited at the river's highest navigable point for large sea-going ships. It includes the earthworks, standing and buried remains of the former port, including quays and docks; its associated transport infrastructure and water management systems; and the ruins of an early-C19 manganese mill. Morwellham Quay lies within the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape; designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006. Four listed buildings fall within the scheduled area, all listed at Grade II: the probably mid-C18 century lime kilns, Quay Cottage and Assayer's Laboratory, The Old Dock quay and the circa 1850 Canal Cottage. With the exception of Old Dock quay, all these listed buildings are excluded from the scheduling, though the ground beneath them is included. The quay forms an intrinsic part of the monument. Morwellham was established as the port for Tavistock Abbey by the C13 and a quay is first recorded here as early as circa 1235-40. It soon became an important port serving the local area as well as the Abbey; goods such as food, wines and building materials were imported through the port and tin was exported. Following the Dissolution in 1539, Morwellham was granted to Lord John Russell, later the Duke of Bedford. The completion of the Tavistock Canal in 1817 and construction of an inclined plane down to Morwellham improved the port's transport connections, ensuring that it flourished as a mineral export centre for the Tamar Valley, initially for manganese and then copper ore. In 1857-58 a standard-gauge railway was constructed between Devon Great Consols Mine, described as the largest copper and arsenic producer in the world at that time, and Morwellham; the former described as the largest copper and arsenic producer in the world at that time. The lower (southern) section of the route took the form of an incline that lowered ore and raised materials from the end of the railway down to a newly-built quay. This purpose-built railway and incline thus greatly reduced the mine's transport costs since ore had previously been carried by horse. This period in Morwellham's history was one of great prosperity, with the port focussing on the storage and export of massive quantities of copper ore. However, the slump in copper prices from the 1860s and the subsequent decline of the Tamar Valley mines, along with the arrival of the railway at Tavistock in 1859, combined to seriously affect river trade, resulting in the swift decline of Morwellham as a commercial port by the early C20. Although there is a mid-C13 reference to a quay at Morwellham, one of the earliest documented on the Tamar, the first record of a dock was in 1765. The Old Dock (the Canal Company's River Dock), which is also listed at Grade II, was in existence by 1768 and is the earliest known extant dock at the site. It appears to have been enlarged and re-lined in the early C19 after the construction of the Tavistock Canal. It is surrounded by buttressed walls that define the Canal Company's boundary. Partial excavation at Morwellham in 2002 uncovered evidence for a late-C18 dock on limekiln quay to the north-east which appears to have been infilled in the mid-C19. A third dock was added in circa 1820 to serve the manganese mill that was also constructed at this time. It is faced with vertically-set rubble walling and its south side has granite coping. Limekiln quay is believed to have been used from the medieval period through to the late C18 and excavation has located stone sleepers and some rails on the quay. The early-C19 lower copper quay is situated at the north-eastern extent of the site. Along its north side is a slightly battered retaining wall of random stone rubble that stands approximately 6m high. Set within the wall are a number of ore chutes: arch-headed openings that are arranged in five vertically-set pairs, some retaining evidence for timber chutes. A track, running along the top of the wall and terraced into the hillslope, was used initially by packhorses and later, once the canal incline had been built, by wagons on a railway to transfer ore onto the quay below. In 1933 a hydro-electric power station was built on the eastern end of the quay and the retaining wall broken through for a supply pipeline for the power station. Higher copper quay to the south-east of the manganese dock was constructed in the mid C19. There are the remains of wooden hurdles along part of the waterfront. The Devon Great Consols Great Dock and its adjoining quay were constructed in 1856-58 on former water meadows at the south-western end of the site. The sides of the dock were supported by large timbers, held in place by iron collars, and the dock was restored in the late C20. Granite bollards and the remains of a fixed crane survive on the quay. Morwellham was served by a network of railways that ran from the base of the two inclines to the various quays. Excavation has demonstrated that well-preserved sections survive close to and on the quays themselves, including cast-iron plateways of 1816-17; cast-iron edge rails; granite sleeper blocks; and the remains of two turntables. The Tavistock Canal was built between 1803 and 1817 by the engineer John Taylor, originally to carry metalliferous ores from western Devon and the mining district around Tavistock, and for importing products such as coal, limestone and timber in the opposite direction. The canal ran for a distance of 4.5 miles, two of which are through a tunnel under Morwell Down, and its western end terminates at the summit of the canal incline. This western section of the canal (some 560m) follows the contour of the valley side and is included in the scheduling. The west end of the canal is built of stone rubble and granite blocks; on its north side is a possible slipway. The incline which linked the canal with the quays dates from circa 1816 and has a gradient of approximately one in seven. It is built of earth and stone and originally had a cast-iron plateway, though this was re-laid with wrought-iron rails set in killas and granite sleeper-blocks in the mid-C19. A number of the sleeper-blocks survive in situ. The incline was dismantled by 1889 after the canal fell into disuse. Approximately 190m south of the incline head, the incline splits into two. One branch heads south-east towards lower copper quay and the other continues into the centre of Morwellham. Wagons were raised and lowered along the double-tracked plateway by means of a water-powered winding drum at the incline head. The stone rubble walls of the wheelpit survive to the west of Canal Cottage (listed at Grade II) and, although there is no surface evidence for the former winding house, excavation has shown that it survives as a buried feature adjacent to the wheelpit. Also visible in the vicinity is a network of leats and overflow channels in the form of stone-lined, earthwork and rock-cut channels that were originally fed from the canal. In 1857-58 a mineral railway was built to connect the Devon Great Consols Mine with the port. The last half mile of the line was by a steam-hauled incline with a gradient of one in three. From the base of the incline the trucks passed through a tunnel which runs beneath the eastern half of Bedford Cottages and onto raised wooden viaducts (reconstructed) on the purpose-built quay. The mine closed in 1903 and the track was taken up and the tunnel was infilled. The south tunnel portal and the adjacent railway cutting to the north of the quay were excavated and partly restored in 2007. This incline, which is included in the scheduling, survives as a steep embankment running north-westwards from Morwellham for approximately 570m. Wagons were drawn and lowered along the incline by means of a wire rope powered by a stationary 22' steam engine situated at the head of the incline. The winder engine house and other ancillary structures survive as earthworks and buried remains and were partly excavated in 2009. Manganese was mined in West Devon from the late C18 and much of the ore, largely destined for use in the glass, cotton and steel industries, was sent to Morwellham to be milled, packed and then transported by river. A water-powered manganese mill was constructed at the port in circa 1820. Water was supplied from a reservoir some 230m to the north, via a leat that can be traced for most of its length to a launder-fed waterwheel. The reservoir, which was dredged in 2010, has a semi-circular dam wall of stone and earth on its west side. A sluice towards the south-western end of the dam controlled the water supply to the leat which is visible running parallel with the canal incline for a short section, then as a slight earthwork within the garden of Harewood View, before turning south-east alongside the track. The leat was carried across the track in the centre of the village by means of a wooden launder to the top of the waterwheel. The existing launder which dates to the 1970s, and the waterwheel, which was installed in 1973, are both excluded from the scheduling. However, the stone launder support, which partly re-uses the west wall of an earlier granary of 1790 and the wheelpit itself are included. The manganese mill went out of use by 1868 but the walls of the building survive. It has a three-room plan and retains some areas of stone paving, a granite millstone, and the remains of a domestic hearth. Towards the southern end of the canal incline is a roofless building of slate stone with granite dressings. It contains an overshot waterwheel that was installed in the mid-C19 and which has been restored. It raised water from a well beside the incline, providing a piped domestic water supply to Bedford Cottages to the west. These cottages were built in 1856 as part of the expansion of Morwellham necessitated by the increased trade at the quay. All telegraph and electricity poles, inspection chambers, fence posts and modern surfaces are excluded from the scheduling. Of the standing buildings and structures at the site, Bedford Cottages; the hydro-electric station and its pipeline; the warehouses in the timber yard to the north-east of the Old Dock; the reconstructed timber railway staging on Devon Great Consols Quay; the Garlandstone (a restored boat of 1909); the former cooperage (now a blacksmith's shop) adjacent to the manganese mill; the restored waterwheel erected on the site in 1974; the restored manganese shed (now the audio-visual building); the boathouse; and Sampler's Cottage and culm yard to the west of lower copper quay are all excluded from the scheduling. In addition, the Grade II listed Canal Cottage (and its outbuildings); the Grade II listed Quay Cottage and Assayer's Laboratory (including the pigsties and privies); the Grade II listed lime kilns; and the south portal to the Tavistock Canal are also excluded. The ground beneath all of these is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Booker, F, Morwellham in the Tamar Valley, (1976)
Buck, C, Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Buck, C, Wheal Russell Mine, Devon: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Cornwall County Council, , Wheal Russell Mine: Archaeological Assessment, (2005)
Cox, J, Thorp, J, Canal Cottage, Morwellham. Keystone Historic Buildings Report, (1992)
Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit, , An Archaeological survey of Devon Great consols Mine, (1989)
Gaskell Brown, C, Morwellham, An Archaeological Assessment, (1977)
Patrick, A, Growth and Decline of Morwellham, (1974)
'Cornwall Archaeological Unit' in Devon Great Consols Mine: Archaeological Assessment, (2002)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].