1: A visit to Swelltor Quarry in Devon

High up on Dartmoor, very beautiful in summer and very bleak in winter, and no more than a mile from the grim Dartmoor Prison, lies a group of large granite stones that once upon a time were destined for London.

The London bridge corbels!

These blocks of granite, corbels, [ stone struts ] were cut in the early 1900s destined to be used for widening John Rennie’s ‘New London Bridge’, built in the 1830s, but they never made it to London. There is a suggestion there were cut to the wrong size. They lie beside a long abandoned railway that once connected to Plymouth where they would have been shipped to London from. New London Bridge ( as opposed to more famous and dramatic Old London Bridge 1209-1831 and the current London Bridge opened in 1973 ) was built with various granites from Devon and Cornwall including that of Swelltor’s neighbour Foggintor but while there are no references specifically to Swelltor granite’s use, it’s proximity to Foggintor, or just references to “Dartmoor granite”, could disguise that.

“The famous Swelltor corbels (twelve of them left here), 650 were cut in 1903 for the widening of London Bridge. The bridge, “New” London Bridge, was designed by John Rennie, opened by King Wiliam IV and Queen Adelaide, in 1831. It was bought by American, Robert McCullough, in 1968, and re-erected in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.” [1] [2]

Here below you can clearly see the corbels, stone supports essentially, on the bridge in it’s new location in Lake Havasu, Arizona!

New London Bridge in it’s current location in Arizona! You can clearly see the corbels!

Ruth Siddal in her Urban Geology Walk No.22 notes that Swelltor granite was also been said to have used in Joseph Bazalgette’s extraordinary multi-purpose Embankment with it’s new Thames-narrowing-wall and wide new road enclosing new tube lines and of course sewers. She refers to J. Watson in his 1911 British and Foreign Stones. [3]

John Watson in his British and Foreign Building Stones states “Swell-Tor quarry, another of the Princetown group, and situated about two miles west of the town, furnished a large portion of the granite used in the construction of the Thames Embankment, London (1864-7).” [4]

1925 view of the Victoria Embankment. Creative Commons from https://www.flickr.com/photos/31363949@N02/15464283810/
View to the south west.

The quarry has stunning views to the south-west even into Cornwall and apparently to the sea at Plymouth Sound where it’s stone was shipped to London all those years ago.

There are other historical artefacts to see including old tramways and the Princetown Railway .. the trackbed is now a footpath. [5] [6]

More views of and from Swelltor

Old rail sleepers connecting to the Princetown Railway, now a contour hugging footpath from Princetown down to Burratour Reservoir. Once this took the granite down to Plymouth from where it was shipped to London
Entrance to the quarry

Getting to Swelltor Quarry.
Car: there 2 carparks on the B3357 with fairly easy relatively flat walking along old tramways/railway lines, or a slightly longer walk from Princetown to Swell Tor.
Public Transport: There are buses from Tavistock along the B3357 to the carparks mentioned to Princetown and onwards to Exeter.
Cycling: Swelltor is high up in Dartmoor and to get to it means some big climbs whatever direction you come. Mountain bikers have a route following the old Princetown Railway that continues down to Burrator Reservoir . [7]

©Crown copyright 2022 Ordnance Survey. Media 056/22

[1] https://www.dartmoorcam.co.uk/CAM/previouswalks/2020-7-25_DPA_Swelltor/Swelltor.htm
[2] https://www.torsofdartmoor.co.uk/tor-page.php?tor=swell-tor
[3] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbrxs/Homepage/walks/Embankment.pdf
[4] https://archive.org/details/britishforeignbu00watsrich/page/18/mode/2up
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princetown_Railway
[6] https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MDV5004&resourceID=104
[7] https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0033/77577/Granite-and-Gears-Princetown-Railway-cycle-leaflet2015.pdf

One response to “1: A visit to Swelltor Quarry in Devon”

  1. […] Visit to Swelltor granite quarry in Devon – abandoned corbels for 1901 London bridge widening https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/07/31/a-visit-to-swell-tor-quarry-in-devon/%5B2%5D Visit to Foggintor granite quarry in Devon – used for Nelson’s Column and more […]


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