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Clearbrook Leat

This probably being
Crymes' Leat, 1599


Clearbrook Leat has a long history and while it originally reached just past the north end of the houses at Clearbrook, when it flows today - with runoff rainwater from the old WW2 RAF Harrowbeer airfield - the water is diverted down to the River Meavy.

In recent times

Today, the leat is a flood relief measure that started during WW2, taking a considerable amount of water in times of heavy rain from the old wartime airfield at Yelverton (RAF Harrowbeer).  Hemery (p.15), says the problem of draining such a large flat area was solved by laying a pipe under the now-main road into the disused Devonport Leat. This often over-flowed due to blockages and lack of maintenance, so another pipe was laid from Devonport Leat into Plymouth Leat. The run-off water drains from Yelverton to the breach in the Plymouth Leat that is illustrated in the first photograph below.

The water flows from the Plymouth Leat, downhill, under the road that leads to Goodameavy, and is then "leated" away around the contour of a hill to run out through breaches down to the River Meavy (Hemery, p.83-84).

Ownership of the leat is problematical but the flood relief aspect is maintained by SWW as a gesture of goodwill.     

Source: Walking the Dartmoor Waterways - A guide to retracing the leats and waterways of the Dartmoor Country, Eric Hemery (1986), David & Charles, Newton Abbot.

In the early 1600's

After the building of the Plymouth leat, overseen by Sir Francis Drake, there were long disputes about who could take water from it, especially before it reached Plymouth. The name of William Crymes, lord of the manor of Buckland Monachorum and a prominent tinner, features among the records, because he diverted Plymouth Leat for tinning uses. He had support from Sir Walter Raleigh who was Lord Warden of the Stannaries. While the Plymouth Leat was built to bring water into Plymouth, Drake was an astute opportunist and he somehow ended up with three corn mills along its route. These were located on Tavistock Road, between the present Drake's Place Reservoirs and the street corner on the roundabout by the main Plymouth University buildings. They were Drake's Place Mill, Higher Grist Mill and Lower Grist Mill (Hawkings, p.14). Drake needed a good supply of running water for his businesses. Another piece of business acumen that he showed was his preventing the building of anyone else's mills on the Stonehouse Leat due to his position in Parliament! The mills were (presumably) inherited by Francis' brother, Thomas Drake, when Sir Francis died (off the coast of Portobello, Panama, in January 1596).

Hawkings (p.13) records that

"The presence of an open channel of fast-flowing water inevitably proved a great temptation ....................along much of the leat's length, especially on the open land outside the town". William Crymes diverted the leat in 1599 to work a number of new tin mines, with matters coming to a head in 1602 when the tinners siezed two of the Plymouth Corporation men after they had diverted the flow back towards Plymouth. They were arrested under Stannary Law and were to be taken to the tinners' gaol at Lydford. This is the tale recounted in the paragraph above.

This rootsweb source, Benjamin - Drake L archives contain the following .....

..... This hangs opposite a tablet to a member of the family who owned what had by then become one of the smaller Manorial Estates in the Parish, that centred on Crapstone. Amos Crymes, d 1783, was a fifth generation descendant of the William Crymes who, in a bitter dispute with the Plymouth Corporation over water rights on Roborough Down, was said in a contemporary report to have used most fowle dispiteful and malycous speeches not be seemying of the said Mr Crymes, nor fytt to be heerin sett downe! A contemporary of Sir Thomas Drake, in another incident connected to this acrimonious dispute, Crymes ordered two of Drake's representatives to be arrested, tied them both to a horse, and sent them off to Lydford Gaol! Fortunately, Drake himself intervened en route, and saved his men from being incarcerated in the dungeon of the ancient keep. .....

This source: The Drake Exploration Society - The Widey Court Book contains the following .....

1603-04 James Mayne

Itm paide to John Woulcombe towardes the amendinge of new bridge which the leate brake down 3 pounds, six shillings and eight pence. This Mr Drake must paye 
[This marginal note indicates that there was some agreement that the maintenance of this bridge would be a Drake responsibility. Perhaps the bridge was on Drake property and may have been included on Sir Francis Drake's original or subsequent transactions.]

Itm paide for a dynner for Sr John Hele mr Crymes and mr Drake when they were here about the water Course 5 pounds 
[William Crymes owned the manor of Crapstone Barton. His land bordered Buckland. Crymes and Sir Francis seemed to have coexisted in harmony. However, Crymes and Thomas seemed to have been in subsequent continuous dispute over land tenure and the leat.]


The National Archives indicate .....

  [no title]  1/491/1  1603

These documents are held at Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

Agreement between Thomas Drake and the Mayor and Commonalty of Plymouth, and William Crymes, with regard to water supply to the Town via the leat.

The leat is the subject of a short account in the Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group Newsletter 33, pages 5-6, where reference is made to the Vera Gray paper .....


A Leat on Roborough Down and an Early Seventeenth-Century Tinner’s Dispute, Vera Gray, Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 122, 71-82 December 1990

The paper describes a survey of the leat, seen partially in the photographs below, and postulates that this is Crymes' Leat. It is, in fact, two leats: both originating at the point where the breach from Plymouth Leat reaches the road to Goodameavy.

  1. Crymes' Leat runs under the road and contours north around the hill, as described below, eventually crossing the road to Clearbrook, just south-west of the houses, with a terminal survey point at SX 5194 6538. It is interrupted along this route by later tin workings.

  2. The other section contours away south-east and then turns north-west with a terminal survey point at SX 518 6463. This might be described as taking Roborough Lane, from the road to Clearbrook, i.e. the first road on the right, proceeding 310 metres to the end of the open Common, follow the hedge on the left, around the corner to the right, to the survey point 100 metres on a bearing of 104°.

It is not known if the two leats were built at the same time, nor is the reason for building the second leat. 

The dispute between Crymes and the Mayor and Commonalty of Plymouth was so acrimonious that it ended up in the Star Chamber court at Westminter in 1603. The outcome being that William Crymes was granted rights to take water from Plymouth Leat to power "two tynne milles knocking milles or classe milles" on Roborough Down. The term "clash mylls" is used in a letter to the Queen's Principal Secretary from Sir Walter Raleigh. More modern terms, "knocking mill" and "tin mill" are also mentioned in the the paper.  These are mills to crush tin ore before it is smelted, also known as "stamping mills". The leat is close to four 17th century mines in the area: Pluckpenny (SX 522650), Corowesbeame (SX 520647), Blewstone (SX 518646 approximately), Heathparke (SX 527644). 



Some of the photographs below are of inferior quality because they are enlarged frames taken from the movies.

The "Plymouth Leat breach" marked on the map below, where run-off water leaves the Plymouth Leat and starts running downhill to cascade down towards the River Meavy.  . The movie starts with the view above, then it pans left to show the dam in the leat, then a little further left to show the clapper bridge and the dry leat beyond, it then pans back right again and around to show the beginning of the cascade down the hill towards the River Meavy. Click the image to see a movie.

Tip: To see the movies at Full Screen mode, press F11 on your keyboard. Remember to press it again afterwards to return to Normal View.


Another view of the breach area, just the other side of the clapper bridge.


Water cascading down the hill towards the Goodameavy road.  The movie starts with the view above and pans left, at one stage the road below is glimpsed in the background, before zooming in on the water. .Click the image to see a movie.


The cascade just before it crosses under the Goodameavy road. . The movie starts by looking up the hill, then pans right to look up the road and then right again to zoom in on the water being leated away around the hill in the Clearbrook Leat. Click the image to see a movie


The obviously recently maintained, Clearbrook (or Crymes) Leat, with a glimpse of it in the distance. The downhill bank is obviously recently built up. Click the image to see a movie.


Clearbrook Leat at SX 52454 64849 running still and deep, with a breach in front of the camera. It is not known if the breach is accidental or intentional. It is marked as breach 1 on the map below. Click the image to see a movie.


Clearbrook Leat running in from the right, with another breach at SX 52509 64912 seen at the left in the photograph, running away from the camera, and the leat continuing towards the left out of the photograph. It is difficult to show this clearly here because the bracken, gorse and bramble need trimming. The movie ends looking at where the leat continues on towards Clearbrook, but unseen because of scrub growth. This marked as "breach 2 on the map below. Click the image to see a movie.


Photograph taken a few yards from the end of the leat. The construction is such that the bank on the downhill side is quite considerable.


The end of any water in the leat, at SX 52548 65029. This location is an animal track crossing the (here) dry leat even though the leat construction continues further, eventually crossing the road to Clearbrook, just south-west of the houses, with a terminal survey point at SX 5194 6538. It is interrupted along this route by later tin workings.


A view down and left into the valley towards the River Meavy, where the water in Clearbrook Leat is destined to flow .....


Zoomed view to the River Meavy, glimpsed in the valley below.

The photographs on this web page were all taken along the blue route marked on the map below. The "Leat end" label on the map refers to the end as seen with water running on this day, now it is appreciated that, as Crymes' Leat, it ran all the way to Clearbrook and just beyond. As already stated, it is interrupted by later tin workings.


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Also, Copyright © 2005, Memory-Map Europe, with permission.











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