Watersmeet yesterday: a hive of industry

The temperature needs to reach 900ºC to make lime © Bill Scolding

The temperature needs to reach 900ºC to make lime

The East Lyn river in North Devon today is a place of lush tranquillity, the low thrum of the river and the calls of the river birds are its only noisy backdrop. No wonder, we find it hard to imagine what this valley was like in the 19th and 20th centuries when the valleys were a site of industry. 

Just across the East Lyn river from Watersmeet House is a mine adit (horizontal shaft), the remains of an unsuccessful attempt to mine iron ore. The attempt was funded by wealthy Exmoor landowners who invested large sums of money into mineral exploration in the area during the second half of the 19th century.

If you walk from Watersmeet House towards Brendon, you will find two lime kilns. They were used to burn limestone brought over from South Wales by boat. The resulting lime was spread on local fields to counteract the acidity of Exmoor's moorland soil.

Many of the Watersmeet paths began as tracks for the woodland industry. Every 25 years or so, the oak was coppiced. Stems were cut down as part of a cycle and allowed to regrow. The cut stems were put to various uses - charcoal and limestones burning, pit props for mines in South Wales and for fencing and hurdles. Charcoal was also carried by mule to Lynmouth and shipped to South Wales for smelting metals.