The Templers and Their Industry

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James Templer was born in Exeter in 1722 and brought up as an orphan. He ran away to sea giving up his apprenticeship as a carpenter. Showing great insight and judgement at an early age he managed to secure a prominent position with the East India Shipping Company and by the time he returned home to Devon  he was a wealthy man. He bought a rundown estate of heathland near Teigngrace in 1765 and the using the money he'd made overseas coupled with his obvious business acumen managed to aquire contracts and thus enhance his fortune, the aquisition of the heathland included the right for him to quarry the granite on Hay Tor.

The old lodge on the estate required renovation but instead he set about building a new residence using the local Hay Tor granite, this is now seen as Stover House, a private girls school. He also spent much time and money landscaping the grounds of his estate and excavating a lake, now seen as Stover Lake now the centre piece of Stover Country Park. This lake was fed from streams whose flow from the high ground near Islington was diverted. At the northern end of the lake an overflow weir drained the water back into the Teign.

James Templer I died in 1782 aged 60, the inheritance of the estate was left to his eldest son also named James. This son had served for nearly 30 years as a Master of the Crown Office, and appeared to share his fathers love of the Bovey Basin, building Teigngrace church in 1787. This church was built of granite hewn from the Hay Tor area. James Templer II's brother, John served as the rector of  Teigngrace for around 45 years. James II's shrewd business sense led him to realise that with the increased demand being put upon the Bovey Basin clay industries of the time, a cheap and effective mode of transport was required and so he set about the construction of a canal from Ventiford near where the clay was mined to the Whitelake channel on the river Teign which had already been excavated to drain Jetty Marsh. This two mile stretch of water was completed in 1792, and was and is known as the Stover Canal. An Act of Parliament had allowed James II to build the canal as far as Heathfield and then on to Bovey Tracey with a branch to Chudliegh, but for some reason he stopped at Ventiford. The canal ended lying about 30 ft above sea-level.

Clay was being exported from the Bovey Basin (my thanks to Richard Harris, guestbook 8/2/2001) as early as 1728, but transport was very primitive. By the 1740's this trade had expanded and the claywas carried to the ships by packhorse or horse and cart. To make this easier, clay cellars had been built along the way, this was were the clay was stored until it could be transported further or loaded onto a barge for transportation down the river.

The barges that were used to transport the clay down the canal and river were very basic in design, wooden, 50 ft long, 14 ft wide with a single square sail, assisting the keelless boats to drift up and down the river depending upon the ebb and flow of the tides. Long poles were used to stop the craft snagging on the river bank. Often too the balls of clay had to be transhipped in mid-stream, having to be spiked aboard cargo ships. Each ball weighed around 35 lbs and each barge was capable of carrying around 30 tons, this was later increased when they were towed in series by a tug.

Locally quarried limestone, coal and culm (a form of coal dust) and timber were the other commodities carried between Teignmouth and the canal. All this river transportation meant that James Templer II became very involved in the port of Teignmouth. He owned at least eight of the ten or more barges that operated from there. James Templer died aged 65 on 21st June 1813 and his son George inherited the estate together with the right to extract the granite from the moor.

George Templer was the man responsible for the construction of the Hay Tor Granite Tramway from the Stover Canal Basin at Ventiford to the quarries at Hay Tor, it is surprising to think that James II had never thought of the idea having already used the stone in the construction of parts of the canal and Teigngrace Church. Stover House had already been built using Hay Tor granite by James Templer I. However if the demand for the stone was not great enough to invest in a fairly expensive transportation route why build one?

George Templer secured a contract to supply granite for the rebuilding of London Bridge (re-built in 1825) or at least he had been given the nod that he would supply granite. It appears that this was the catalyst needed for the construction of the tramway which was opened on 16th September 1820. Press reports from the time mention great rejoicing with large numbers of people meeting in Bovey Tracey. George Templer addressed the crowds and highlighted the benefits which the scheme would bring to the local economy.

Although the tramway was a success, granite being supplied for London Bridge, parts of the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Old General Post Office, and the Waltham Monument (Ludgate Circus) it evenually proved to be an expensive form of transportation. The granite blocks had to be loaded and unloaded at least 3 times on route, firstly loaded at the quarry face, then transferred to the barges at Ventiford and then transferred from barge to ship at Teignmouth. The line consisted of a single almost standard gauge track and was seven to eight and a half miles in length falling over 1300 ft in its descent from the moor.

George Templer had opened quarries on Hay Tor down from about 1819 and the opening of the tramway would undeniably enhance the prospect of supplying granite for future construction developments. Prior to the building of the tramway, the granite was carted down twisting tracks and  roads. 

George Templer not only improved the Teign Estuary but he also built the New Quay at Teignmouth from the granite extracted from the moor, this was opened in 1821.

In 1825 George Templer formed a company of the proprietors of the Devon Hay Tor Quarries and this later became a joint stock company with offices in Broad Street, London. The company later paid the Duke of Somerset a rent of £200 p.a. for the right to work 600 acres,  but they only worked 90 acres. The canal's value was added to greatly, carrying at least 20,000 tons a year and was bringing in large profits.

It appears that George Templer was a bit of a spendthrift and in 1829, even though his businesses were still profitable, he was forced to sell his estate, the tramway and Stover Canal to the 11th Duke of Somerset (Edward Adolphus Seymour), though later after a short retirement he was retained as the Granite Company's chief agent in Devon. In March 1834, the possibility of carrying iron ore on the tramway was considered, the ore coming from the Hay Tor iron mine situated in Haytor Vale. New wagons would have been needed with high sides rather than the flat vehicles used for carring the stone. Although it appeared that Templer had connections with the mine there is no evidence that transportation of the ore took place. George Templer was blamed when the Hay Tor Granite Company eventually failed due to increased competition and the failure to gain contracts.

There was no granite production from the Hay Tor quarries during the 1940's. This stoppage was because the Duke of Somerset had let the quarries to the Johnson Brothers in the late 1930's who were rivals to the Hay Tor company. Their granite was taken from Swell Tor, King Tor and Foggintor on Walkhampton Common on the western side of Dartmoor and was of inferior quality. They re-named their company The Hay Tor Granite Company as a deceptive marketing ploy to enhance their reputation. However after 7 years the lease ran out and was not renewed by the Duke of Somerset. 
George Templer was killed in a hunting accident in December,1843 thereby ending his family's influence on the local community and economy.

By 1850 the granite quarries were again flourishing but after 1858, the quarries were only worked for exceptionally large granite blocks and the tramway fell into disuse, rival companies located in cornwall having gained the upper hand in extraction and transportation of their granite. Working of the quarrires ceased after 1865 but they were again re-opened at the very end of the century, leased by the Duke of Somerset to the Exeter firm, J. Easton & Son. The tramway though, remained unused and the stone was transported to Bovey Tracey by tractor. A tender submitted at this time for the supplying of granite for the widening of London Bridge was lost to Pethick & Company of Plymouth who were working the Swell Tor quarries. A large block was taken in 1919 for use on the Exeter War Memorial.

What of the canal? With the demise of the granite trade, the canal still remained prosperous transporting ball clay from the Bovey Basin. Nevertheless, the railways were beginnimng to take over from canals as a more efficient and quicker means of transport and in 1862, the Stover Canal was bought by the Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway.

The line was opened in 1866 spelling the end for the canal, from 1870 only the 1.25 mile stretch of the canal up to Graving Dock Lock was used, traffic continued well into the 20th century with the ball clay trade becoming very important. Road transport though had now become more popular and the use of the Stover Canal ceased in 1939.
Stuart Callon     Copyright ©1999

The route of the tramway, canal and river onto the New Quay in Teignmouth Docks are covered by a walk known as the Templer Way.

Further information regarding the Templer dynasty can be found by looking in a book by Helen Harris called the Hay Tor Granite Tramway and Stover Canal. This is still available at bookshops. A more detailed work of the same name was published by M.C. Ewans, but this only appears to be available through local libraries. Both books have been used as references for this page as well as The Templer Way by Derek Beavis and those sources mentioned on the bibliography page.

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