President David Shepherd CBE FRSA FGRA
A VERY DIFFERENT RAILWAY
It was the first railway, or more accurately flangeway, in Devon; it had a strange gauge, 4ft 3ins / 1.295m, and non-metallic track. It was the Haytor Granite Tramway.
The tramway is believed to have been built originally to ease the transport of Haytor granite for a contract for London Bridge. The opening date was 16 Sept 1820. It finally ceased operation about 1858, by which time the high costs of extraction and trans-shipment made this source of granite uneconomical to work.
The tramway's great claim to fame is the track (yes - 'is', a lot of the track is still in situ). It was built from the material it was designed to carry - granite. The track consists of granite blocks approximately 1' 3ins / 381mm wide by 1ft / 305mm deep in various lengths from 3ft / 914mm to 8ft / 2.44m. The blocks have flanges 3ins / 76mm deep and 7.5ins / 190mm wide on the inside. The gauge over the flanges is 4ft 3ins / 1.295m, and overall 5ft 6ins / 1.676m. There have never been the equivalents of sleepers or fishplates, the extreme weight is adequate to keep the blocks in place. Points make use of larger blocks with grooves 6ins / 152mm wide by 3ins / 76mm wide cut to form frogs and turnouts. Moveable metal guides were pivoted on pegs socketed in the blocks to govern the direction taken. Why granite track? It was vastly cheaper than bringing iron rails to the then remote site, and the track could be laid downhill from the source of the material - what could be better?
The route (opposite) is from Haytor Quarry (O.S. sheet 191, SX755 773) & Holwell Quarries (SX755 777) to Ventiford Bridge, Teigngrace (SX 848 748 or thereabouts), where the granite was trans-shipped to barges, each carrying 25 tons, on the Stover Canal to sail to Newton Abbot and Teignmouth. (The Stover Canal was originally built in the 1790s for Bovey Tracey 'ball' or 'pipe' clay, lignite (brown coal) and iron ore, all found in the Teign valley)
The trains consisted of up to 12 flat-topped wagons with road-cart style unflanged wheels of 2' / 610mm diameter. The wagons were 13' / 3.96m long with a 10' / 3.05m wheelbase, and had removable horse shafts to ease conversion to and from horse power. Trains were gravity operated downhill, and horse drawn uphill when empty. The horses appear to have been taken downhill on foot, not by train. Braking was effected by '12 ft poles applied to the wheels', which when carrying heavy blocks on a line falling 1300ft in 7 miles (average gradient 1 in 28.5) sounds distinctly dodgy! The only trains horse drawn when loaded were those leaving Holwell Quarry on a short initial upgrade to the start of the main line.
It is unfortunate that no company records exist for the tramway; and in view of its date there are no photographs, just a few undetailed etchings. The last remains, apart from track, disappeared round about the time of the First World War.
The tramway and quarries were killed off by economic factors, but there was a rather crazy sequel. A proposal to electrify the tramway appeared in 1905, using local lignite to fuel the necessary power station! This idea was soon forgotten as the prospects for business were minimal, but the power station was built, and the electricity was used in local potteries making drain pipes, etc.
Where can the tramway be seen? Trackwork still exists in the quarries, north and west of Haytor itself, and running eastwards towards Haytor Vale. Perhaps the easiest section to reach is where the line crosses the Haytor Vale to Manaton road at SX 769 776. The track blocks start a few feet from either side of the road crossing; on the east side there is an easily found point for a siding not far from the road. More is supposed to exist going south east, but I am not certain how much is still visible. The bottom end was replaced by part of the Mortenhampstead & South Devon Railway, soon to be part of the South Devon Railway, soon to be GWR!
Historical reference: The Haytor Granite Tramway and Stover Canal, by M C Ewans, 1966, David & Charles. ISBN X000 634026. A copy is held by Hampshire County Library, Winchester.
by Tony Hocking