In the days before the steam locomotive made railways the obvious means of moving heavy loads at speed, guided transport was often based not on rails but on angle plates which controlled the direction of carts with plain wheels that could also run on roads.
The Haytor Granite Tramway is a highly unusual – indeed, almost unique – alternative that arose from the remoteness of Devon from the rest of England before the age of steam railways.
Dartmoor granite, hard-wearing but workable, was in great demand in the early nineteenth century: Sir Robert Smirke favoured it for his extension to the British Museum (1823-31) and the General Post Office at St Martin’s-le-Grand (1825-9) and John Rennie used it for his London Bridge (1825-31).
George Templer (1781-1843) linked the Haytor quarries to the Stover Canal at Ventiford by means of a tramway quite unlike the plateways that prevailed in the north of England and the Midlands. Whereas such plateways or gangroads guided smooth-wheeled wagons by means of cast iron flanged rails secured by stone blocks at regular intervals, the Haytor Granite Tramway dispensed with iron from outside the region and instead used the indigenous granite.
The track of the Tramway consists simply of granite blocks, shaped so that an upstand, 4ft 3in across, guided the iron-wheeled wagons along the route. Where turnouts were needed, “point tongues” were provided, made of either iron or wood. Apart from one short section at the exit of Holwell Quarry, the entire seven-mile length of the route from the quarries down to Ventiford was a downgrade, so that the teams of horses hauled the empty trains uphill, and followed the loaded wagons downhill presumably to provide braking. A train of a dozen wagons was handled by a team of eighteen horses.
The total fall in altitude along the seven-mile main line was 1,300 feet. There was an additional two or three miles of granite track serving half a dozen quarries around Haytor.
The tramway was out of use by 1858. It was practically superseded by the broad-gauge Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway when it opened in 1866, but substantial lengths of the granite track remain in situ and can be followed across the moor and down into the Teign valley
The Haytor Granite Tramway is a destination on the Railways of Devon (June 12th-16th 2017) tour. For further details, please click here.