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Devonport Leat, 1801


Parliamentary Archives, London - Reference code HL/PO/PU/1/1793/33G3n33
Public Act, 33 George III, c. 85
An Act for supplying the Towns of 
Plymouth Dock, Stoke Damarel, Stonehouse
and the Parts adjacent, in the County of Devon, with Water, 1793
Royal Assent 17th December 1792
This image shows the first of 37 pages.
Parliamentary Copyright - Terms and conditions for use of images

ANNO TRICESIMO TERTIO - Year thirty-three (Latin)
In the Reign of George III (b.1738 - d.1820, age 81)
Reigned 1760 - 1820, 59 years.

This image is reproduced by kind permission of the Parliamentary Archives,
I am grateful for their helpful assistance in obtaining it and others.


Two short extracts from the 37 pages of the Act


Devonport was known as Plymouth Dock until officially renamed as Devonport on 1st January 1824, following a petition to King George IV.


The head-waters of Devonport Leat.

It is not unusual for newcomers to the subject to be confused, poring over maps, trying to discern the origins of Devonport Leat.

  1. The furthest part of the leat from Devonport is the head weir on the West Dart River. This "West Dart leat" runs south, down the valley, around the spur of land on which Beardown Farm is located, enters the Cowsic valley, then it ran north to the head weir on the Cowsic River.

  2. On reaching the Cowsic head weir, the water flowed into it. The "Cowsic leat", with the "West Dart leat" water, flowed south, down the valley, towards Princetown.

  3. In 1898, under powers conferred in the Plymouth Dock Water Works Act (1889), an embankment and bridge of finished granite was built over the Cowsic River to carry an aqueduct (an 18-inch iron pipe) from the "West Dart leat", across the valley, directly into the "Cowsic leat", thereby by-passing its head weir and causing over a mile of the original "West Dart leat" to become redundant. Because of a fall of about 10 metres (32 feet), the pressure causes the West Dart water to well up like a fountain, thereby aerating the water. Once again, the combined waters from the two rivers flow onward as Devonport Leat.

  4. The leat runs under the Tavistock-Two Bridges road, contouring around the spur of land that bears Waldron Farm into the valley of the Blackabrook River. Up this valley, just short of the Tavistock-Two Bridges road, is another head weir on the Blacka Brook from which runs the "Black-a-Brook leat".

  5. The "Blacka Brook leat" is joined by the waters from the West Dart and Cowsic rivers about 250 metres downstream from the head weir to form the complete Devonport Leat.

  6. The head weir on the Blacka Brook is nearest to Devonport and water from here was flowing in 1797, before the whole leat was completed in 1801.

  7. There are varying figures for the length of the leat, from 28 miles to over 40 miles (see the notice board at the bottom of this page). Today, it runs for 17 miles to Burrator Reservoir (Hemery, p.10), where the water is piped to the nearby SWW Dousland water treatment works: the water goes to Milton Coombe, Tavistock, Princetown and higher parts of Plymouth among other destinations. The overflow from the leat is piped into the cascade that falls into Burrator Reservoir.

    • Careful measurement on the Ordnance Survey 1:25 Explorer map and in the Hawkings book (page 2) gives an overall combined distance from the three head weirs to Granby Reservoir of 37.75 km (27.5 miles). This includes the 1.2 miles made redundant by the Cowsic aqueduct, built in 1898. The distance of running leat to Burrator Reservoir, excluding the redundant section, is 24.3 km (15.08 miles).




Looking up the West Dart River from the leat head weir, the origin, West Dart Head, is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) north of here, near Flat Tor ..... Click the image to see a movie.

The movie starts by looking up-river, it then pans right, down-river, showing the weir and the leat water passing through a bull's-eye plate, with the rest of the river water going over the weir. It continues to pan right to show the leat sluice valves, before panning left and then right again.


SX 6084 7797: Head Weir on the West Dart River, where Devonport Leat originates at its farthest point from Plymouth etc. The leat is on the right of the photograph.

Google Earth view of the head weir area on the West Dart River   


Looking down the leat .....


Looking up-river at the origin of the leat, coming through a bull's-eye stone. Click the image to see a movie.

The movie starts looking up-river, zooms in onn the bull's-eye plate and then left to the sluice valves.


Zoomed view of the bull's-eye steel plate ..... Click the image to see a movie.

The movie was filmed from out on the weir, starting by looking up-river, panning left past the bull's-eye plate to the sluices and then right, turning around to look down river.


The head weir from the east bank. Click the image to see a movie filmed from this viewpoint.


Wide-angle panorama taken from the east bank of the West dart River - the river comes from the left, is held up by the weir where some water goes into the leat (far side) and the rest spills over the weir to flow on downstream. Click the image to see a larger version.


Looking back along the leat at its beginning to the head weir.


Beardown Farm - the leat, and public access, come from behind the camera. The public footpath turns left through the gate down through the farm and to the road near Two Bridges. The leat continues ahead and curves away across PRIVATE fields to disappear down a pipe under the fields and across an aqueduct over the Cowsic River. The site of the pipe entrance is hidden between the right-most gate post in the photograph above and the nearest fir tree (the wheel ruts point towards it). It then wells up in an aerating fountain in the leat that comes from the Cowsic River, thus combining the waters from the two sources. Then, flowing under the road Tavistock-Two Bridges road it crosses more PRIVATE fields, to flow into the leat from the Blackabrook River - the water from all three leats flow on as the Devonport Leat.


I am grateful to Beardown Farm for permission to explore on their non-access land .....

SX 60343 75641 - The leat continues across PRIVATE land from the previous photograph and across the field, in the far left corner, beside the two fir trees, the leat enters a small fenced area where the water descends through a grating into an 18-inch pipe. This then goes down the hill-side and crosses the Cowsic River by means of an aqueduct (next photographs).   Click the photograph to see a movie

The movie starts by looking back towards Beardown farm and the area of the footpath signpost seen in the photograph above. It then pans along the leat, looking through the railings of the fenced area and zooms in on the grating through which the water falls. Beyond the grating, the now-disused section of Devonport Leat can be seen.

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.

Google Earth view of where Devonport Leat goes into the pipe to join the leat from the Cowsic River    


SX 60067 75401 - The bridge bearing the aqueduct over the Cowsic River; in the middle of the arch, third tier of stones down from the top, is the DWC stone .....


Zoomed view to the DWC stone, there is another such stone on the other side of the bridge. DWC signifies Devonport Water Company, the name changed from Dock Water Company in 1889 under powers given in the Plymouth Dock Water Works Act (1889), 65 years after the town of Dock became Devonport in 1824, after Plymouth Dock inhabitants petitioned King George IV.


Looking south along the path across the bridge, above the buried aqueduct pipe.


This stone, just below the bridge, no longer lives up to its description in Lethbridge (pp.106-107) in that it no longer looks directly at the bridge. It has been moved by floods. The opposite side bears an inscription about it being moved previously by a flood (date not known). On this side can be deciphered .....


Click the photograph to see a movie: this starts by looking at the bridge and then pans right to show the stone.


SX 60082 75331 - The welling up of water from the West Dart river into the leat from the Cowsic River, looking south. Click the photograph to see a movie. 

The movie starts by looking north, up the leat from the Cowsic head weir, then panning left over the protective railings that keep livestock out, zooming in on the aerating fountain of water from the leat that comes from the West Dart River, finishing by looking south, down the leat..

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.


The fountain of water from the West Dart River.

Google Earth view of where Devonport Leat (from West Dart) upwells in the leat from the Cowsic River    


Inscribed stones

There are many stones in the area inscribed with names of writers and poets e.g. Shakespeare and Milton and also lines from Vergil, Atticus and Cicero (see Lethbridge, p.108, for details).


SX 5955 7675: Cowsic Leat head weir .............. the Cowsic River comes from behind the camera and is divided in this scene: the river flows to the left and the leat flows over the weir to the right ..... the head of the Cowsic is about 3 km (1.8 miles) north of here .....


This photograph is taken from the right-hand bridge in the photograph above, looking up-river, the Cowsic leat comes over the weir and flows towards the bottom-left .....


This photograph is taken from the left-hand bridge n the 2nd photograph above, looking up-river and showing the lead-in of the now-disused West Dart Leat on the right-hand side: there are two sluices at the far end of the construction, now lost in the long grass ..... Click on the photograph above to see a movie:

The movie starts with this scene, looking up the Cowsic River, with the disused section of the West Dart Leat on the right, then it pans left, looking at teh head weir and further left to show the sluice  into the Cowsic Leat and finishes looking down-river with the leat on the right and the river on the left.


The two sluices: when the left-hand one was closed (and the right-hand sluice was open), West Dart water would flow into the weir area and could go down the Cowsic Leat into Devonport. When the right-hand sluice was closed (and the left-hand one open), West Dart water would be diverted down the Cowsic River .....


Looking along the line of the now-disused section of the West Dart Leat towards the Cowsic Leat head weir.

Google Earth view of the head weir on the Cowsic River   


SX 58810 74816: Blacka Brook Leat head weir ........... Click on the photograph above to see a movie:

The movie starts by looking up-river, then it pans right to show the head weir, with the river running away towards the left and the leat running to the right ..... to the right of the leat may be seen a fleeting glimpse of a water channel top the right of the leat.

There is a complicated system of irrigation and drainage channels in this area besides the leat passing through.


The sluice that governs flow into the Blackabrook Leat.

Google Earth view of the head weir on the Blackabrook River   


The lining of the Blackabrook Leat, different to other linings on the Devonport Leat.


SX 58772 74593, aqueduct carrying West Dart & Cowsic water over the Blackabrook River ..........


As previous photograph, the aqueduct over the Cowsic river .....


Confluence of the leats - the Blackabrook Leat comes in the the left and the combined waters of the West Dart and Cowsic Leats come in from the right, together these three leats now form the final Devonport Leat.

Google Earth view of the Devonport Leat aqueduct & its confluence with the Blackabrook leat    


Devonport Leat passing behind Dartmoor Prison.


The leat emerging from the tunnel at Nun's Cross .....


The tunnel exit, with a warning notice about radon gas  in the tunnel.  The tunnel is 625 metres (700 yards) long, as a straight line, on the map. 

Google Earth view of Devonport Leat tunnel under Nun's Cross Farm - the leat can be seen flowing in from the upper right side in a south-westerly direction and emerging again just slightly west of south from the only tree in the area, with the leat flowing just beneath the minus sign on the zoom scale.     


Raddick Hill, where Devonport Leat descends in a cascade, showing the iron launder that passes over the River Meavy as the Iron Bridge or Aqueduct. Steps are seen in the floor of the leat and at the bottom-left is seen the feed-pipe from the River Meavy, with its take-off point about 150 metres to the left. This photograph was taken in a time of drought.

Not drought ......

Click the image to see a movie. 

The movie starts with a zoomed view to the top of the 150-feet cascade, pans down the hill, shows the iron launder crossing the River Meavy, pans down to the pipe feeding in from the River Meavy and then pans right to look along the leat on its way to Burrator Reservoir.

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.

The leat was dug as an earth ditch with the spoil cast up to form banks. At some point, lengths of the leat were lined with granite slabs to prevent the banks from collapsing and to reduce loss by leakage. So far, I have not been able to find out when this was done, but it was done on the Plymouth Leat in 1871 (Bush, p.20), just 27 years before Burrator dam and reservoir rendered the length of Devonport Leat between Burrator and Plymouth effectively obsolete.


The iron launder on the Iron Bridge, this replaced an oaken chute in 1824 (Hawkings, p. 54).  Click the image to see a movie

The movie pans down the cascade from a more-or-less head-on position, showing the iron launder end-on. The footpath is on the left side, across the River Meavy.


SX 5741 7149: Confluence of the River Meavy (left) and Hart Tor Brook, upper-left under the dark coloured tree. Some River Meavy water travels down a by-pass (nearest camera) and some goes into the concrete head weir structure along with the whole Hart Tor Brook. To the right, out of the photograph, some of the conjoined waters enter the iron pipe that goes to Devonport Leat and some water bypasses the pipe to flow on down the valley as the River Meavy.


River Meavy (bottom left) with a bypass (near camera) to the head weir structure beyond; note the two old sluice gates. Beyond the sluices, Hart Tor Brook comes in from upper left (under the dark tree). The iron cage at the far end houses the intake of the iron pipe to Devonport Leat.  Click the image to see a larger version

Click HERE to see a movie of the above scene.


Similar to the preceding movie but from a slightly different viewpoint, ending withy a view of the iron pipe intake area. Not all the routed water goes into the pipe.  Click the image to see a larger version

Click HERE to see a movie of the above scene.

Google Earth view of the head weir on the River Meavy and Hart Tor Brook that feed into Devonport Leat: not to be confused with the original head weir that fed into Plymouth Leat because this was lost under Burrator Reservoir which opened in 1898.

Google Earth image of the aqueduct over the River Meavy (centre of image) and the feed-in to Devonport Leat (this being the white 'blob' just before the 90 bend in the leat).



The Doll's Head story .........

A long time ago a porcelain "doll's head" was set into mortar in the wall of the leat about 100 yards along from the iron pipe towards Plymouth, in the north-west facing side. Hawkings (p. 54) calls it the 'Red Indian' or 'Turk's Head' and that it was probably placed here during repairs in the 1930s (should that be 1830s?) and that it was defaced in 1984. Robins (p. 72) says that it has an obvious indian head-dress and that it was put there by a French prisoner of war and is typical of the style of dolls at that time. I always thought it was a Red Indian feather head-dress (and not an Indian turban). Dartmoor Prison took its first French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) in 1809. In 1812, they were joined by American prisoners from the American War of 1812-1815 (the American War of Independence was 1775-1783). It could be from this era that a Red Indian head might have been fashioned by an American prisoner, but in porcelain? Lethbridge (p. 114) reports it being vandalised in the early 1990s. Mike Brown's Guide to Dartmoor (CD-ROM © 2001) says it was a Turk's Head and was replaced in 1996.

The story of the doll's head being replaced is that it was damaged after somebody had shot at it in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Luckily, a former Dartmoor Guide, Tom Gant, had made a cast of it and this was used to make three plaster replicas. Dartmoor was celebrating its archaeological centenary in 1994 (it being 100 years since the first official excavation by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee) and the National Park ran a competition in the free Dartmoor Visitor newspaper. It asked children what they would like to have buried with them in a cist. The winner was a schoolgirl, who spent a day with a DNPA archaeologist, the highlight of which was to place a replacement doll's head in the wall of the leat!

One source states the replacement was a resin duplicate made from a plaster cast of the original held by Peter Hirst, made by Tom Gant (source, see paragraph 8). The details of the story were in the local papers at the time. If the original head dated from 1812'ish, then it was in remarkably fine condition in about 1974 when I first saw it, after e.g. 150 or so years of exposure to the harsh elements of the Dartmoor winters. Another consideration is that when the leat was finished in 1801, it was an earthen ditch with cast-up banks for much of its course, it is difficult to discover when all the granite lining was put in place to preserve the banks and to reduce leakage, quite possibly long after the early 1800-dates mentioned above.  Plymouth Leat was lined mostly in 1871 (Bush, p.20).

The photo above was taken in June 2011, the one below was taken some thirty years earlier .....


The impression of a Red Indian's feathered head-dress is more predominant than that of an Indian (Sikh) turban or of a Turk's head? What was a "Turk's head", did it refer to the Turkish turban? Acknowledgement: My thanks to Tom Soby for providing this photograph from his collection.


Now, something special ..... photographed 22nd March 2013 ......

A plaster cast from the mould made in the 1970s, please don't ask! The head had clearly sustained some damage to the lower face before the the cast was taken. As to what it is, I don't believe any Native American (Red Indian) had a head of curls beneath a feather war bonnet! As for a Turk's Head wearing a turban, turbans normally cover the hair. My impression now is that it is a curly-haired girl wearing a bonnet that is attached with ribbons.  This is just a tiny snippet of Dartmoor's history and we will probably never know the whole story.  


At SX 55242 68945, a point on the road from Burrator dam, after the fork left up to Lowery Cross, and further on, after an open field on the right, a chute or lined channel from Devonport Leat runs under the road down to the reservoir (this is at the centre of the Google Earth view in the link). The discharge point is probably seen at the right on the bottom edge of the image. This channel seems to be permanently dry in recent years but I remember it sometimes coming down in a torrent.


The modern termination of Devonport Leat; some of the water goes to Dousland water works and the rest falls down a waterfall in Burrator Reservoir.  Click the image to see a movie of the water "going down the plug-hole".  


Water from Devonport Leat cascading down the slope to Burrator Reservoir.


Zoomed view of the water coming straight out of Devonport Leat.  Click the image to see a movie.


Devonport Leat, containing water (drainage?) opposite the Burrator Inn .....


The Burrator Inn, showing the side road bridge over the leat in the foreground: the previous photograph was taken looking over the far parapet.


The leat is lost in the places in the Yelverton area: here one can see an old leat bridge but the leat is filled-in completely along this section.


This road bridge is down the turning between the bollards more or less opposite the Crapstone turn-ff, between Roborough and Yelverton. The marker on the right indicates Devonport Leat. The marker on the left indicates Plymouth Leat. Between the leats is Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt's horse-drawn tramway (opened 1823), this became the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway which became a steam railway. The original tramway ran from Sutton Pool to Princetown, with various branch lines added later. that became the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway.


SX 5178 6572 - Another tunnel (the first being under Nun's Cross): this section is disused although there can be water in it from seepage after heavy rain - it is six-feet high for most of its 200-yard length.


A section of leat on Yelverton golf course, before scub clearing (note the tree with two cut branches) .....


After scub clearance by Dartmoor Preservation Association, the two cut branches are clearly visible.


Another section before scrub clearance .......


After scrub clearance - the leat is clearly an earth ditch with banks in this area.


An unexpected bull's eye stone, found after scrub clearance by Tavistock Taskforce, at SX 50827 64601, this governed water going into a side leat that ran about 960 metres north-west on the map, stopping just short of the lane to "Dashel".


Bull's eye stone from the opposite direction, into the early morning sun, showing the whole leat.


Photograph showing the form of lining to the leat in this area, where slate(?) is laid end on in the wall (for resistance to collapse?), rather than the big granite slabs that were used in other areas. Possibly, this was cheaper.

After the golf course, the leat crosses the A386 and enters Maristow Estate. From there it is generally lost under farming and city development. There are some remnants to be seen, described by Hemery (pages 10-11).


Notice boards in the B&Q car park at Crownhill, Plymouth, on the site of the old Crownhill Reservoir & Water Works, where the leats flowed through .....


The end of the text says "The leat still exists and can be seen running in front of you today".  Click the image to see a large version.


Disused Devonport Leat - the two leats (Plymouth and Devonport Leats) flowed close together here, in the B&Q car park. Previously somewhere here, the leat showed sections of granite setts and slate flags on the bottom (Hawkings, Plate 9, page 15).


A point of interest: over it's original 28 mile length, Devonport Leat fell from a height of about 424 metres (1390 feet) to a level of about 40 metres (130 feet) i.e. it descended 384 metres (1260 feet), giving it an average drop of 1 foot in 117 feet, less than 1%, quite an engineering feat over that distance. 





Acknowledgement: The image of the first page of the Act of Parliament at the top of this web page was kindly provided by the Parliamentary Archives, without whose help I might never have found it, nor other helpful pieces of related information nor obtained their kind permission to display it here.





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