Stories and memories come in many shapes and this one is from a letter sent to the Voices Project by Roger Burton following a meet up with our Bette Baldwin. As Roger described in his letter below, “the conversation triggered off something in the back of my mind concerning a mine and mining within the close proximity of Hoar Oak (in the mid-1850’s) which I had written up for the Exmoor Mine Research Group newsletter in July 2004.”
There is a long history of mining on Exmoor – well told elsewhere in books such The Heritage of Exmoor by Roger Burton; The Reclamation of the Exmoor Forest by Orwin and Sellick; The West Somerset Mineral Railway by Sellick to name but three. However, this story starts with Roger reviewing letters from the Knight family estate which had been left to the Somerset Records Office in Taunton.
For the Knights, there was a strong desire to find other sources of income from Exmoor and mining was clearly considered a good option to pursue. This little collection of notes made by Roger Burton from estate managers’ letters from the Knight family collection relate to their attempts to resurrect an old mine at Hoar Oak which had already been used and abandoned by the 1850s. A letter dated January 9th, 1856 states that:
“The mines at Hoar Oak have difficult ground to encounter but we are in hope of cutting the lode very shortly, the old lode has been cleared and the lode looks remarkably well. Vellacott has cut through the lode which is showing it at the angle where Comer made his rapid turn to the east and it is 7’ to 8’ thick in clay, but has not seen any small stones of iron.”
The next report dated January 12th, 1856 mentions that “Captain Morcambe and Trelease (Combe Martin Mine Captains) were at Hoar Oak yesterday. They were pleased with the appearance of the neighborhood. The first cut old level is an unfortunate affair; it is run in again and some of the timber has given way. I have decided upon adopting the new level so far as it has been driven and then carry on a new level on the lode which is running north of Comers first or old level. The upper level is still going through hard ground; it will take many fathoms to reach the upper clays.”
By January 17th, 1856 it is being recorded that “They can’t take the timbers out of the first level; we are driving on north side without any timber” and on January 23rd that “The new level going well and 6 ft deeper than the old one” and on February 4th that “The Hoar Oak Miners driving new level at the Old Works the first one had nearly run together so no one could reach the end.” On February 12th it is reported that “The men are almost at the end” and by February 23rd that “Hoar Oak has reached old lode and there they well made a cross-cut to old mind workings.”
A sketch of the mine workings at Hoar Oak – included in a letter dated February 23rd 1856 – is reproduced below. Although perhaps not very clear to us, to the Mine Captains, it was no doubt very clear what was being portrayed.
As mentioned on the sketch, the approximate location of the Hoar Oak Mine is at SS744 431 which puts it on the west side of the Hoar Oak Water and about 500 metres south of Hoar Oak Cottage. Although we do not think there were any Vellacotts living in Hoar Oak Cottage around 1856 we have learnt that there were many of this family name in and around this part of Exmoor – especially at the Furzehill Farms – and so it is not surprising to see a Vellacott mentioned in the very first letter above.
On February 23rd 1856, it is recorded that “Hannay visited Hoar Oak and was pleased with clays and ores in the sample room. Lode of clay and ironstone is 5 ft wide.” Roger Burton tells us that this Hannay is almost certainly from Schneider and Hannay and a quick Google search shows them to be an active mining concern, Schneider, Hannay & Co, in the mid-1800s. Burton also notes that the Hoar Oak Mine formed part of the sett leased to Schneider and Hannay on the 3rd of April 1856. There is no evidence they ever worked there and previous work there was carried out by employees on the Exmoor Estate. Perhaps that is where Mr. Vellacott comes in?
On March 29th it is recorded that there were “4 men driving at Hoar Oak Upper level” and on April 14th 1856 a final note says “Hoar Oak works stopped” Roger Burton completes his letter by saying: “It is obvious from the reports on the mine at Hoar Oak that mining had been carried out there in earlier times but, of that earlier mining, there is no record.”
You might find this link to the Combe Martin Miners website of interest and perhaps find out more about Captains Morcambe and Trelease mentioned above. http://www.combemartinminers.co.uk
A general Google search using ‘Mining on Exmoor’ as the search terms will also lead you to several interesting links.