Tavistock had poor access by road to the coast, so a proposal was made to
use the River Tavy out of Tavistock to the Lumburn Valley, then along an embankment
over the valley and a tunnel through Morwell Down. From there an inclined plane
would then take the canal down to Morwellham where it would join the River Tamar
and thence to the sea. A side canal would later be added to the slate quarries
at Mill Hill. The canal would not use conventional narrow boats but smaller
“tub boats” which could be pulled in groups of 3.
The canal would total 4½ miles long. The Morwelldown Tunnel would be
1½ miles of this and the inclined plane ½ mile.
The inclined plane would drop the canal 230 feet from the
River Tamar, be the largest cannal inclined plane ever built in Britain. Iron
rails carried containers containers between canal and river and the winching
up and down was driven by a water wheel on the inclined plane turned by water
from the canal (the canal being fed by the River Tavy in Tavistock)
1805 The easy stretch of the canal from Tavistock to the eastern mouth of Morwelldown
Tunnel was opened.But the tunnel was not ready
1816 Morwelldown Tunnel was, after 13 years of construction,
ready. It had the smallest bore on any canal in England. Working conditions
had been difficult and John Taylor had to install two water wheel pumps, one
to clear the air and one to drain water from the workings.
1817 A 2 mile side canal, named Millhill Cut, was built from the main canal
to nearby slate quarries.
1817 June, the full 4½ miles of the Tavistock Canal main line opened
after 14 years of construction. It opened to a 21 gun salute from ships on the
River Tamar. The canal returned a profit to the owners for over 40 years. Copper
ore, limestone and slate were transported to the River Tamar and products for
Tavistock made the return journey.
1846 Millhill Cut was converted into a tramway.
1850 When the railway arrived, the canal company had to try to speed the journey
time in order to compete with the railway. Asystem of water wheels and ropes
totalling 4 miles in length was devised to pull boats through the narrow tunnel
more quickly. But profits came under pressure as volume fell.
1873 The canal company sold out to the Duke of Bedford for £3,200 (£59,000
less than the cost of building the route some 60 years earlier).
1933 West Devon Electricity Board bought the, by then, run down canal. They
used the water emerging from the southern end of Morwelldown Tunnel to feed
a reservoir for their power station.
1960’s The west end of the canal was rented by the Central Electricity Generating
Board. The portion into Tavistock and were taken over by Tavistock Council who
maintain it as a footpath.
1998 The flowing water which was once used to drive engines at Wheal Crowndale
and Wheal Crebor is now used as a power source for a hydro-electric power plant
near Morwellham quay.