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Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport & Clearbrook Leats

Some general information about their origins
and other details

If you know of interesting features of the leats that are not shown
in these pages, please email me and I'll see if they can be included.

Links to the main pages



Short history: Plymouth (Drake's) Leat, 17-miles long, was dug starting in Dec. 1590 and inaugurated 24th April 1591, under the aegis of Sir Francis Drake. It originated at a head weir on the River Meavy (now under Burrator Reservoir) and was designed to run into Sutton Pool in Plymouth. It was diverted to discharge into Millbay (contrary to the Act of Parliament), via six new mills that Drake leased from the Corporation. It fed various conduits etc. along its route, plus supplying three of Drake's older mills roughly on the site of Plymouth University's original buildings. The conduits in Plymouth were later replaced, over time, by pipes. Eventually, the leat fed Drake's Place Reservoir, built as two reservoirs in 1823 and 1828, just up the hill from Plymouth University on North Hill, although the reservoir supply is now by modern pipes. The reservoir is the only open reservoir remaining in Plymouth and is no longer used as a water supply; it is solely a local amenity. The leat ceased carrying water into the city when Burrator Reservoir was opened in 1898 (details on this web site).

Stonehouse Leat was about 3-miles long and had nothing to do with Dartmoor, it was entirely within the boundaries of modern Plymouth. Its enabling Act for the Bringing of Fresh Water to the town of Stonehouse in the County of Devon was passed in 1593 and work on its construction started in the following June. It was probably completed quite quickly, being not of any great length. It was inadequate almost from the start and had to be augmented with water from Plymouth Leat. It fell into disuse around 1893 and was finally lost from view in 1978 (details on this web site).

Devonport Leat runs from three take-off points on the Blackabrook, Cowsic and West Dart rivers north of Two Bridges. Devonport used to be known as Plymouth Dock (being a separate town from Plymouth) until 1st January 1824. The Plymouth Dock Water Works Act received Royal Assent on 17 Dec. 1792, establishing the Plymouth Dock Water Works Company, which had 25,000 capital. A shareholder, Mr. Thomas Gray, Exeter, was awarded the contract on 24 July 1793 to build the leat. It was to supply Devonport and Stonehouse. It seems water was flowing along the leat by 1797 but the works were not completed until 1801. Originally. the leat ran 28 miles and terminated in a small reservoir in Devonport Park, Moricetown, adjacent to Granby Street, about to mile from the Torpoint ferry crossing. Any overflow was led into the nearby River Tamar. Today, it runs about 15 miles to Burrator/Dousland. It was constructed because, as Plymouth Dock grew bigger than Plymouth, Plymouth would not share their water supply from Plymouth Leat. Devonport Leat still carried water to some users after the Burrator Reservoir was opened in 1898: in 1907 the Dousland-Belliver section was closed and by 1915 all sections below Belliver were closed. The leat flowed to Dousland until 1951 when it was terminated as the cascade into the reservoir. Some alterations were made after the drought in 1976 when the regulating pipe, intake etc. at the foot of Raddick Hill was modified so that water from the River Meavy could be fed to Dousland reservoir via Devonport Leat (details on this web site).

Clearbrook (Crymes') Leat never supplied drinking water and it does not run to Clearbrook. In recent times, when RAF Harrowbeer was built as a WW2 airfield at Yelverton, there was a problem with draining such a large flat area. A pipe was laid under the main road into Devonport Leat and another from Devonport Leat into Plymouth Leat. In times of heavy rain, the area could still flood, so a breach was made in Plymouth Leat, leading excess water downhill into a ditch that contours around a hill and is known as Clearbrook Leat when it is running.  This leads further around the hill from where the water can drain down into the River Meavy. This flood relief work is maintained out of goodwill by SWW, because ownership of the leat is problematical. Around 1599, William Crymes, a tin mill owner, diverted Plymouth Leat and entered into a dispute with Plymouth, incl. with Sir Thomas Drake (elder brother of the then-late Sir Francis), that was resolved in the Star Chamber court at Parliament in 1603, with him being granted rights to take water to power two tin mills.  



The history of the water supply to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport and adjacent areas can be found in several sources:  


There are many mentions in the following authoritative books:



This internet project is mostly about the leats that supplied Plymouth with drinking water and it will not compete with the already published data (Table 1). What it can do is provide some photographs, movies, information and internet links to items that are not so well known. The number of photographs grew until it became appropriate to put each leat on a separate web page .....



Book Words Photos Maps, plans
& sketches
Hawkings 17,232 59 7
Lethbridge 10,263
(excluding Burrator Reservoir)
31 --
Hemery 8,772 3 2
Robins 10,617 13 10
Bush 17,500 44 12
Totals 64,384 150 31

Table 1
. Statistics re. published books
Word totals are based on estimates of 'page-equivalents', meaning pages after subtracting the estimated areas occupied by illustrations.




Web pages Words Photos Movies
  8,500 129 21

Table 2
. The present project









All photographs on this web site are copyright ©2007-2016 Keith Ryan.
All rights reserved - please email for permissions

Sister web sites
Dartmoor Tick Watch
The Cornish Pasty - The Compleat Pastypaedia