On entering the National Trust car park for the Dewerstone at Shaugh Bridge, you are confronted by a large stone building nestled in the hill side. For those you who aren’t aware of its past, this archaeological feature can turn your thoughts into an episode of “Time Team”, giving rise to questions like what, when and why? Further clues of its function, including a ceramic pipeline, a number of stone structures and spoil heaps, can be found along the south eastern side of the river Plym, between Cadover and Shaugh Bridge.
This network of infrastructure represents what was once a thriving China Clay Industry in south west Dartmoor, operating from around the 1870’s to the 1950’s. Starting further up the river Plym close to Cadover Bridge, china clay was extracted from pits at Shaugh Lake and Wigford down. The resulting clay suspension was then fed by pipeline down to a mica drag close to the village of Shaugh Prior. Here any sand particles were removed before the remaining clay slurry was piped down to settling tanks at Shaugh Bridge. The water was drained off and the china clay dried in the pan kiln, before being cut into blocks and transported up to Shaugh Bridge platform on the Tavistock to Plymouth railway line.
From the car park you can clearly see the loading bays at the front of the building, where blocks of clay were loaded onto carts. The pan kiln was situated on the level above these, with the large settling tanks located above the kiln. The steps on the right hand side of the building will lead you onto a footpath to Cadover Bridge, and offer you a chance to explore the upper levels of the china clay works.
Efforts to preserve such archaeological features are a regular occurrence in the Plym Valley Ranger’s annual calendar of work. Recently for example, a group of 26 student volunteers from the University of Plymouth, including members of the Student Union’s Musical Theatre Group and the Environmental Society, assisted with scrub clearance and vegetation removal from the mica drag near Shaugh Prior. A large pile of garden waste close by was also cleared thanks to their efforts.
Student volunteers clearing scrub in a highly efficient manner.
Student volunteers from the University of Plymouth inside the cleared mica drag.
Throughout the year we hold a number of archaeological guided walks in the Plym Valley, including some taking in the Shaugh Bridge China Clay Works. If you would like to know more please ring the Ranger team on 01752 341377.
To reach the site…
By Bike: Use National Cycle Network Route 27 from Plymouth. Leave the route at Shaugh Bridge platform on the right (SX 527 636). Follow the short stretch of road down to the small t-junction and turn left. Follow this road round to Shaugh Bridge. The NT car park is on the left immediately after the bridge over the River Plym. Visit www.sustrans.org.uk or www.devon.gov.uk/cycling
By Bus: Target Travel Bus Route 59 stops right outside the NT car park at Shaugh Bridge. Buses run seven times a day, Monday to Saturday, between Plymouth, Plympton, Sparkwell, Bickleigh and Plymouth’s George P&R. Bus times available at www.transportdirect.info or http://targettravel.co.uk/59-plympton.html.
By Car: From the A38, exit at Manadon Junction and take the A386 towards Tavistock. At Bickleigh Cross (immediately after the Belliver Roundabout), turn right onto New Road (signposted Bickleigh, Shaugh Prior). Continue on this road through the village of Bickleigh and after passing the barracks, take the next left signposted Shaugh Prior, Wotter and Lee Moor. Follow this road for a couple of miles round to Shaugh Bridge. The NT car park is on the left immediately after the bridge over the River Plym.