MSO6812 - Post-medieval iron workings 'The Roman Adit' at Cornham Ford (Monument)


The 'Roman adit' at Cornham Ford is most probably 16th to 17th Century iron workings. 19th Century exploitation of the site is visible in the form of several adits, prospecting pits and associated spoil heaps.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

SS 749 387. Mid 19th Century iron workings at Cornham Ford were given the name ‘Roman Adit’ as they were on the site of supposed 'ancient' workings attributed to the Romans; however, these were probably 16th or 17th Century in date. There are remains of several adits and a spoil heap from the 19th Century workings. [1,2] SS 749 384. Remains of iron working, possibly dating to the 16th Century, and certainly the 19th and 20th Centuries. These are located along the River Barle at Cornham Ford and in the Burcombe Valley. The name 'Roman' applied to some of these should be taken as an indication of their antiquity rather than in the literal sense. The site is to be subject to large scale survey. For the interim report and an annotated sketch map, based on brief reconnaissance, see the paper archive. [3] Earthworks and adits remain of mining activity. The works are owned by Dowlais Iron Company after exploration by Frederic Knight in 1854. It is considered probable that activity on site existed from 1550. Work started in 1855 and ended c. 1860. A total of 4 adits were dug, as well as several shafts. The mines were never profitable, due to the high transportation costs and the small amounts of ore which were obtained. A 20 foot water wheel was erected at Cornham Bridge to remove water from the mines, the pit for which can still be seen (in 2013). Some activity is recorded on the site from 1908-11, with plans for a tramway running from the mine to Driver. A shaft is located at SS 7540 3811. The early mining on site was done by patching. [4, 10] The iron mines and extractive pits of Cornham Ford Iron workings can be seen on aerial photographs as earthworks around the River Barle and Cornham Ford. They extend across an area of approximately 11 hectares, and range in form from small prospecting pits and associated spoil heaps to large openworks and quarries measuring up to 100 metres across. According to Orwin and Burton, a number of horizontal and vertical shafts and adits were also constructed here, but these are difficult to identify on aerial photographs. Orwin and Burton both suggest that the mines here were first opened in the reign of Elizabeth I, when German miners were invited to England. Orwin refers to several places on Exmoor which have names of possible Germanic origin, including Ison Common and Ison Cleave. However, these lie some distance from Cornham at Wheddon Cross (SS 93 NW) and aside from the local tradition that the mines lay on the site of ancient workings there is nothing to support this theory. [5-8] Located in the northeast of this site are two oval pits, likely prospecting pits, with associated spoil heaps, which are recorded separately as MSO7060, though they remain part of these workings. [9] 5.1.1, SS 7503 3871. An adit started on 24 December 1855. It is the principal endeavour of the Dowlais Company to prove the worth of their mineral take on Exmoor. Work was abandoned in May 1858 due to finding insignificant quantities of ore. The main drift was cleared out in 1910 by Roberts and it was extended by 16.4 metres before being abandoned in January 1911. The adit is 1.725 to 1.828 metres wide and 259 metres long to the fall of debris from above, which prevented further access at the time of survey. It was originally believed to be 432 metres long. Its height is up to 2 metres in general. The entrance was open but partially blocked, with some water that dimished in depth as the level rose. There were occasional small workings in the roof. The rock at the contemporary far end was "twisted", perhaps where a fault was crossed. The level was suggested to be "perhaps the most significant relic of mid-nineteenth century mining on Exmoor." 5.1.3, SS 7484 3857. Footbridge level. A trial adit driven between 1856 and 1858. It was 10.4 metres in length, 1.37 metres wide and 1.8 metres high. It was open to the end but with water about 1 metre deep throughout. The roof was thought to be sound and the rock that dipped at 50 degrees was thought to be solid. 5.1.4, SS 7494 3859. An unnamed level opened in November 1955. By June 1856 100 tons of ore had been brought out and by August, 15 tons a day were leaving the mine. After 175 tons had been brought out, the vein became too narrow to work and the level was abandoned. It was 18.3 metres long, 1.2 metres wide and 2.0 metres high in 1995. A fall at the far end was noted to prevent further access and a filled shaft was noted just inside the entrance on the left. The roof and walls were sound. 5.1.5, SS 7488 3862. An unnamed level that may have been the first work carried out by the Dowlais Company in November 1855. It may have been an attempt to use the South Wales method of 'patching' (opencast mining) to work the ore but was abandoned and adit 5.1.4 commenced instead. It was 6 metres long, c.2.1 metres wide and 2 metres tall in 1995 and was said to resemble a small chamber in the face of a small quarry. 5.1.6, SS 7488 3863. An unnamed level for which no history is known. It may have been driven by the Dowlais Company to intercept the Little Woolcombe vein on the west bank of the Barle. It was 6.4 metres long, 2.02 metres wide and 1.92 metres high in 1995 and was noted to be open and dry. [11] The site was visited in 2010. Individual features were plotted using GPS as below: Site 1 (5.1.1), SS 75022 38722. Main Drift. Site 3 (5.1.3), SS 74874 38586. Footbridge Level. Site 4 (5.1.4), SS 74900 38559. Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (1). Site 5 (5.1.5), SS 74880 38683. Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (2). Site 6 (5.1.6), SS 74917 38570. Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (3). [12] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [13] The mine is mentioned in a publication on the industrial archaeology of Somerset. [14] The heritage as the importance of it's age is high with complex prehistoric origins to 19th century activity. It was also considered highly rare being quite rare to find evidence for mining activity over such an extensive period on one site (not continuous). It was assessed as having a high historical association being associated with Knight Estate exploitation of resources. It's evidential value is high being a rare example of early mining on Exmoor with high level of archaeological evidence surviving plus association with peat deposit in wider vicinity. It was decided to add the asset to the Local Heritage List. [15]

Sources/Archives (15)

  • <1> Monograph: Sellick, R.. 1970. The West Somerset Mineral Railway and the Story of the Brendon Hills Iron Mines. David and Charles Limited. Second. 11-12.
  • <2> Monograph: Buchanan, C.A.and Buchanan, R.A.. 1980. The Batsford Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Central Southern England. Batsford. 147.
  • <3> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 21 September 1995.
  • <4> Monograph: Orwin, C.S.. 1929. The Reclamation of Exmoor Forest. Oxford University Press. 1st Edition. 186-192, 219, 177.
  • <5> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. NMR RAF 5463/2821 (F63) 174-175 (27 April 1944).
  • <6> Monograph: Orwin, C.S.. 1929. The Reclamation of Exmoor Forest. Oxford University Press. 1st Edition. 116-117, 126-27.
  • <7> Monograph: Burton, R.A.. 1989. The Heritage of Exmoor. Roger A. Burton. 145-148, 202-204, 217-218.
  • <8>XY Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 73 NW. MD002189. [Mapped features: #35326 Known extent of mine workings, ; #46342 Main Drift, ]
  • <9> Verbal communication: Various. 1993-. Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Team staff comments. S Thorogood, 18 September 2013.
  • <10> Monograph: Siraut, M.. 2013. A Field Guide to The Royal Forest of Exmoor. Exmoor National Park Authority. 11, 32.
  • <11> Report: Exmoor Mines Research Group. 1995. Report on the safety condition of disused mine workings on lands owned by Exmoor National Park Department and other lands nearby. Exmoor Mines Research Group. 5.1.1. p6, 5.1.3 p7, 5.1.4 p7, 5.1.5 p7-8, 5.1.6 p8.
  • <12>XY Unpublished document: Harley, M.. 2010. Disused Mine Workings within the Authority's Estate. Sites 1, 3, 4, 5, 6. [Mapped features: #46338 Footbridge Level, Site 3; #46339 Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (1), Site 4; #46340 Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (2), Site 5; #46341 Unnamed level near Cornham Ford (3), Site 6]
  • <13> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 35067, Extant 17 November 2021.
  • <14> Monograph: Daniel, P. (Ed.). 2019. A guide to the industrial archaeology of Somerset. Association for Industrial Archaeology. 2nd Edition. p 70, W19.4.
  • <15> Unpublished document: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2024. Exmoor Local Heritage List assessed by the Panel on 21 February 2024.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Environmentally Sensitive Area
  • Local Heritage List Status (Listed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 73 NW24
  • National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 35067
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33065



Grid reference Centred SS 275e 1388 (593m by 710m) (6 map features)
Map sheet SS21SE

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Record last edited

Apr 24 2024 3:43PM


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