The Vineyard and Valley

The vineyard is the latest enterprise to take place in the slopes of the valley but productivity stretches all the way back to the 13th century. During our chapter of stewardship, the whole family worked hard to clear the land in readiness for the vines, each step of the way a lesson of learning on the job! After 4 years of growing, pruning and training the first harvest was picked in September 2019. The site has changed from a corner of semi-neglected agricultural activity into a well organised and productive plot.

It is intriguing to know that we are in a long line of custodians that have looked after and utilised this site and although we treasure the peace of the valley the past was a very different picture:

South Hooe silver mine

The Tamar Valley is famous for its market gardening heritage but before people earned their livelihoods growing flowers and soft fruit, fortunes were made from mining metals such as copper, lead and silver. This industry was so important that the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Valley played an important role in early medieval times as the  as silver discovered just further along the river at locations around Bere Ferrers filled the coffers of the current monarch, Edward 1. Around 1290 the 'mines' wouldn't have been much more than shallow workings but they are probably some the oldest mine workings in the country.

These early mine workings required skilled workers and in 1295 the king forcibly enlisted 340 miners from the peak district. Refusal to travel south would lead to imprisonment.

As the industry developed the rewards on offer from the profitable mines on the Bere Peninsula attracted the most experienced miners from all over Europe. This led to many advancements in mining technologies.

Up until the end of the 15th century mining flourished on the peninsula and was considered to be one of the most advanced mining communities in southern England. More people lived and worked on the peninsula then than they do today. The river Tamar was bustling with traffic, much of it associated with the local mining industry.

Following this boom, mining output faded until the beginning of the 19th century when again they were considered some of the leading silver and lead mines in the kingdom with South Hooe Mine the most productive.

Over 1000 people were employed on the mines locally with over 200 at South Hooe alone. The advent of steam power allowed the workings to reach untapped riches and ultimately the South Hooe Mine reached a depth of 250 fathoms (approximately 450 metres) and stretched out over a quarter of a mile under the river. Ultimately it became the deepest lead mine in England.

At this time the mine was managed by Percival Norton Johnson, a man who was considered by many to be an enlightened humanitarian. He developed many techniques to make the lives of his miners safer such as improved ventilation in the mines and by driving shallow shafts to aid the removal of ore. Under his stewardship the mine's prosperity grew.

In 1886 the mine ceased working having ultimately produced over 600,000 oz. of silver, which today would be worth over £8 million.

As mining disappeared from the Tamar Valley, horticultural filled the void but the prosperity seen during the boom years never returned. However, the peace and tranquillity of the Tamar Valley is now considered one of its greatest commodities and attractions.