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Morwellham Quay's mining heritage
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

The whell
Morwellham Quay exported minerals for over 1,000 years

Here's a quiz question for you. Which, would you say, was the busiest inland port in all of England for the decade between 1848 and 1858?

Liverpool perhaps? This was, after all, the Industrial Revolution and England was exporter to the world.

In fact, the busiest inland port was Morwellham Quay on the Devon side of the River Tamar.

But the site was put on the market after it closed in October 2009 and went into administration.

In September 2009 Devon County Council announced it was to stop funding Morwellham Quay, a World Heritage Site, leaving it with a £1m shortfall.

Then, in April 2010, it was saved from permanent closure after being bought by the family behind Bicton Park Gardens, who hope to re-open the site by September 2010.

In its 19th century heyday, the Tamar Valley had more than 100 mines rich in silver, tin, copper, arsenic and other minerals.

The boom times were fuelled by the discovery of Devon Great Consols - the richest copper mine in Europe, situated just four miles north of Morwellham.

Photo gallery of Morwellham Quay

Morwellham Quay grew to serve the mines in the area and carry ore down the River Tamar to the sea at Plymouth.

Some minerals were shipped out raw - such as copper ore - while others were smelted locally.

The entire quayside would be covered with around 5,000 tonnes of ore, and agents of smelters in South Wales would be there to sample it before deciding whether or not to go ahead with the purchase.

It was a market-place, and a hive of activity.

A tight-knit community

In its heyday, some 300 people were working at Morwellham. The bustling village had a school, two chapels and a farm to help feed the growing population which trebled in the early part of the 19th century.

Archive image
In its heyday, some 300 people were employed at the quay

Thatch for buildings was made using the local reed beds. Nothing went to waste.

Heavy horses were employed for work across the quay, so there were also stables.

But after 1,000 years of exporting minerals, the quay went into decline. By 1900, the port was deserted and overgrown.

Times had moved on: local mines were collapsing and the railways were now the main means of transport.

The history of the area has been preserved in the Morwellham Quay visitor attraction.

In 2006, Unesco awarded World Heritage Site status to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, which includes Morwellham Quay.

Unesco - the cultural arm of the UN - granted the status in recognition of the importance of mining landscape and its impact on the area's social and economic life.

Since 2006, millions of pounds have been invested in projects to preserve and celebrate the heritage area.

Mining museum decision is delayed
20 Sep 09 |  Devon
Morwellham Quay gallery
18 Sep 09 |  People & Places
Museum financial collapse looms
16 Sep 09 |  Devon



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