Okehampton Artillery Range: Linear and Curved Target Railways on F Range


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Okehampton, Devon. Located at SX5812 9117.


Ordnance survey map of Okehampton Artillery Range: Linear and Curved Target Railways on F Range
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Okehampton, Devon. Located at SX5812 9117.
West Devon (District Authority)
Okehampton Hamlets
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


A late-C19 linear target railway, designed and used for artillery training, with a later curved target railway nearby.

Reasons for Designation

The linear and curved target railways at F Range, Black Down are scheduled for the following principal reasons:   * Period: the Royal Artillery Training Range at Okehampton played an important role in the advancement of new military techniques and tactics from the late C19 to the present day, and has a strong cultural and historical significance, within both a regional and national context; * Survival: the target railways survive well as earthworks, providing clear evidence of their original construction and the development of artillery tactics and weaponry. The curved railway has some remaining cable bearings in situ; * Rarity: as the official summer school of the School of Gunnery, the range at Okehampton became the most important artillery range established in the late C19, with a set of imaginative, and in some cases unique, practice range features. Late-C19 target carrier railways are particularly rare, and those from the first half of the C20 are also not common; * Documentation: the features have been documented in historical maps of the range, aerial photography, and a number of landscape and condition surveys throughout the C21; * Group value: the site has strong group value with the other related military training features. The associated camp to the north is of historic significance in itself, particularly the listed late-C19 buildings, and the two sites should not be seen in isolation of each other. The Okehampton target railways are a key part of a larger multi-phased military landscape that can be seen across Dartmoor.


Dartmoor has been used as a defensive location since at least the Bronze Age. There is evidence of Iron Age, Roman, Medieval and Civil War military use in the Okehampton area, indicating the strategic significance of the area as the elevated gateway to the south west of England. Okehampton Artillery Training Range is on the northern edge of Dartmoor, to the south of the associated Camp that lies within the C13 Okehampton Deer Park. Medieval settlements were scattered through the park; the remains of one extends to the north of the range and others lie close by.

The modern military use of the moor dates back to the late C18 when it was used to train the Okehampton Militia. By the early C19, soldiers guarding Dartmoor Prison used the moor for training, and troops garrisoned in the Palmerston Forts in South Devon used Dartmoor by the mid-C19. The Militia also continued training, often on Hay Tor, and in large numbers. Later in the C19, due to improvements in the range and power of artillery weapons, the Royal Artillery School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness (est. 1859) became unsuitable for training, and Dartmoor was identified as a suitably barren and uninhabited area to become its summer headquarters. Training became formalised into regular summer manoeuvres for the Royal Artillery from 1873, with the permission of the landowner the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1875 a committee was set up under Major-General F Eardley-Wilmot FRS, whose purpose was to look at the problems of providing field artillery training under realistic service conditions, visited the northern part of Dartmoor and once again found it a suitable landscape for battlefield training. The recent provision of a train station at Okehampton was also in its favour. In 1876, the first annual training event took place using the north moor, with a tented camp located at Okehampton.

By the early 1890s the War Office and Royal Artillery resolved to build a permanent camp at Okehampton to provide better protection against the harsh weather conditions. On 31st December 1892, the War Office secured a 999 year lease for the site of the camp: 94 acres of land on the Okehampton Park Estate. Other artillery training camps were set up at Lydd (1882), Golden Hill, Isle of Wight (1888) and Salisbury Plain (1899).

In 1895 an additional 10,000 acres of High Moorland were leased from the Duchy. From May to September each year, batteries from across England travelled by rail to Okehampton for two or three weeks training. In 1901 a battery consisted of 5 officers, 166 men, 6 guns and at least 89 horses. The camp could accommodate two brigades each containing four batteries.

In the late-C19, probably in response to the tactics employed by the Boers during the wars in South Africa, trenches were dug, principally to determine methods of attacking these defensive positions. Further earthworks were created to facilitate training including earthen parapets and redoubts. An imaginative firing programme was also established with the addition of an extensive system of static, moving and disappearing targets. These were intended to represent advancing infantry, cavalry and guns. The targets were moved in a variety of ways including horses pulling targets on tracks, ropes, pulleys and sledges. Earth and granite covered concrete, splinter-proof shelters were also built to facilitate the observation of the artillery training and to instruct on the movement of targets. Some have subsequently been demolished, and those that survive remain in use as training features with the exception of Observation Post 22, at the corner of East Okement Farm, which is still used to observe manoeuvres.

Early communication was carried out by semaphore, with flag stations erected on high points across the moor. Later an extensive network of telephone cables was installed with concrete telephone points placed at strategic positions.

It is unclear whether any formal training was provided at Okehampton for First World War recruits as those who joined up typically received a short period of training before being sent to the front. Formal training did occur at sites such as Larkhill Camp, Salisbury Plain, which was established during the First World War. Artillery training continued at Okehampton during the 1920s and 30s. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, virtually the whole of Dartmoor was requisitioned for army training. The D-Day preparations of 1943/4 led to the replacement of British troops with the American 4th and 29th Divisions, who took part in the Normandy invasion. Subsequently, training took place at Okehampton for the campaigns in Korea (1950-53) and Suez (1956). Since the late C20 the Camp and Range have been used extensively by the Territorial Army, Commando Brigades and the Royal Marines.

F Range on Black Down and West Mill Tor was used from the late C19 for artillery training, and a linear target carrier system was established here around this time. It is shown on a map (WO78/3334) as Railway for Moving Target, which is a copy of an 1892 map published in 1906. The late-C19/early-C20 map evidence of Okehampton Range is at times conflicting, with some military features that were otherwise known to have been in place not always shown. No military features are shown on Black Down on the 1898 Ordnance Survey Map. By 1906, the linear target railway was in place with two engine sheds, and a redoubt and electric light shed to the east. The shed may have provided illumination for night firing, and is no longer extant.

In the C20, F Range was used for anti-tank weaponry training, and there are a number of additional military features in the landscape around the target railway relating to this activity, including firing positions, a targetry and a short target railway to the east. An aerial photograph of 1946 (RAF/3G/TUD/UK/138) shows that a further target carrier was built by this time, to the south west of the linear railway. It has a curved rather than linear path, and appears to have been operated using pulleys and ropes, rather than engine power or momentum.

F Range was used for firing the rifle-launched 94mm Energa Grenade and the Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW) until training ceased in the late C20. Two missile firing positions were established to the east of the north end of the linear target railway. Upon the closure of this range a target was relocated to H Range, and the other military features on the site have become redundant.

The features were identified and surveyed as part of a study of the military range by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1993 and again by English Heritage in 2004 (Probert). They have been recorded as part of the National Mapping Programme for Dartmoor and also as part of a historical and photographic survey of the range carried out in 2002 (Francis).


PRINCIPAL FEATURES: the earthwork remains of a former artillery target railway of late C19 date, which runs north to south from the lower, south-facing flank of Black Down to the Red-a-ven Brook immediately west of West Mill Tor. Also, the earthwork remains of an early-mid-C20 curved target carrier to the south west.

DESCRIPTION: the earthwork remains of a former artillery target railway run north to south from SX5823592141 to SX5812791168. The embankments and cuttings remain, indicating an original length of 960m, and the rails have been removed. The first 60m of the line at the northern end of the railway lie in what is now a deep, 3-4m, cutting with irregular sides and traces of masonry and concrete. This is described in 1906 as 'Engine Shed' and presumably formed covered accommodation for the targetry. The trackbed leaves the site of the former shed at 416m OD and gently descends to 411m near the centre (where another engine shed is marked on the 1906 map) before rising slightly to 412m at the southern end. At SX5820691879 it crosses a road, which is not included in the scheduled area. The trackbed averages 3.0m wide and there are some indentations of sleepers. Motive power for this feature is uncertain though unlikely to have been a locomotive, the engine sheds probably housing stationary engines. Given the slight incline of the line it seems likely that the targetry was partly gravity-powered on its north to south run. Pulleys and wire tensioning blocks, which were at one time visible along the edges of the trackbed, may have assisted this and also formed a retrieval system to return the targetry to the north end. To the west of the railway, at approx. SX5815791764, is an earth mound, possibly related to the southernmost late-C19 engine shed. Finds of 0.5 solid rounds on the target railway suggest that it was used for training with the Boyes anti-tank rifle.

The earthwork remains of a curved target carrier run north-east to south-west from approx. SX5818591788 to SX5799691363. The cutting averages approx. 1.0m wide and 0.5m deep. Any tracks that may have been in place have been removed. The bends in the cutting have a steel or iron pin and tube used as cable bearings for the carrier. One possible use in the 1920s is via a sleigh made of two pieces of rolled corrugated iron sheeting on which canvas figures were attached, pulled by a limber. Kite balloon wire would be used to prevent the sleigh skidding, in conjunction with the bearing pins and tubes. The southern end of the carrier splits into two and terminates at a point that formerly had pulleys staked to the ground. The northern end terminates close to the mound at the former engine shed at SX5815791764.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the monument comprises 3 separate areas of protection and the boundary runs between SX5823592141 in the north and SX5799691363 in the south, to include the target carrier track beds and cuttings. A buffer of 2m is included around the whole monument for the support and preservation of the earthworks. The road that crosses the linear target railway at SX5820691879 is not included in the scheduling.


Armed Forces on Dartmoor: A Brief History, accessed 11/2/2015 from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/33309/armed_forces_ondartmoor_brief_history.pdf
English Heritage Pastscape - Monument No. 1396549, accessed 9/2/2015 from http://www.pastscape.org.uk
English Heritage Pastscape - Monument No. 1396569, accessed 9/2/2015 from http://www.pastscape.org.uk
English Heritage Pastscape - Monument No. 1396582, accessed 9/2/2015 from http://www.pastscape.org.uk
English Heritage Pastscape - Monument No. 1396589, accessed 9/2/2015 from http://www.pastscape.org.uk
English Heritage Pastscape - Monument No. 1396606, accessed 9/2/2015 from http://www.pastscape.org.uk
Francis, P (2002) Okehampton Artillery Range, Devon: Report and Photographic Survey (unpublished)
Probert, S, (2004) Okehampton Range: Monument Baseline Condition Survey English Heritage (unpublished)
WO78/4547 Okehampton Ordnance Survey Map of Camp and Artillery Ranges 1892 Reproduced in 1906, from the National Archives


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

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