Morwellham Quay is an historic river port near Tavistock in Devon, England that developed to support the local mines. The port had its peak in the Victorian era and is today open to visitors and members to gain a fascinating insight into the lives of 19th century families, their home life, schooling and working conditions and the hazardous nature of the work if the copper miners.
Visitors can explore the restored 19th-century village, the docks and quays, a restored ship and the George and Charlotte copper mine which is toured by a small train, plus engage in many interactive and hands-on activities such as chocolate, bread and rope making, Victorian dress, Victorian school, panning for gold, mining for copper, blacksmithing, pottery, Morwell brewery and childrens play area.
In July 2006, UNESCO (the cultural arm of the United Nations) awarded World Heritage Site status to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape area. Morwellham is strategically sited at the centre of the Tamar Valley Mining District which, together with nearby Tavistock, forms the easternmost gateway area to the rest of the World Heritage Site.
Morwellham Quay was originally set up by the Benedictine monks of Tavistock Abbey, which was founded in 961, to carry goods to and from Plymouth on the River Tamar, since the River Tavy was unnavigable. By the 12th century, tin ore was being transported through the quay, followed by lead and silver ores in the13thcentury. Later, copper deposits were also discovered at the Quay itself and the George and Charlotte Mine opened in the 18th century. In addition, by 1800,manganese deposits were being extracted from the northern and western edges of Dartmoor and being brought to Morwellham.
By the end of the 18th century, the trail of pack horses across the rugged terrain was too much, and in 1817 the 4.5-mile-long Tavistock Canal was opened. The canal included a 1.5-mile tunnel which ended 237 feet above the quay at Morwellham. From here an inclined plane was constructed to bring the iron barges down to the quay, powered by a water wheel.
Morwellham Quay was at its peak during the time Devon Great Consols was in production. The mine was only four miles north of the port and shipped copper and later arsenic via the quay for a period of almost 60 years beginning in 1844. Morwellham became known as the "richest Copper port in Queen Victoria's Empire" and the queen herself visited in 1856. Another inclined plane was built to transport the ore down the hill and a new quay was added to handle the 30,000 tons of ore that were exported each year. Arsenic was also extracted and it became the world's largest supplier of the mineral in the latter part of the century. However, by 1903 the Consols' wealth was exhausted and the mines closed.
By this stage, the railways had taken over and Morwellham's usefulness was also ended. The canal tunnel was used as a water supply for a hydroelectric plant and the inclined planes were abandoned.
The site has been imaginatively preserved to give an impression of Victorian industrial and rural life. The assayers' offices have been carefully preserved and Victorian cottages and schoolrooms presented. The ore-crushing plants driven by a 32-foot overhead waterwheel can be seen. A battery electric-powered tramway, constructed as part of the tourist attraction in the 1970s, takes visitors for tours on a single level of the copper mine.
The BBC television series Edwardian Farm was filmed at Morwellham Quay during 2009/2010.