MSO7906 - Simonsbath to Porlock Railway (Monument)


An iron ore railway from Simonsbath to Porlock Weir, begun in 1860 but abandoned before completion. The earthwork remains of some sections can still be detected, although the track was never laid.

Please read the Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record .

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

The Exmoor and Porlock Railway was proposed to transport iron ore from Simonsbath (SS 77 39) to Porlock Weir (SS 86 47) for shipment to South Wales. An agreement to construct the line was signed in 1855, but mining activity on Exmoor ceased shortly after. Construction contracts were let out in 1860 and substantial diggings were made before the project was abandoned. Sections of the line can still be detected. There is some evidence to suggest that a plan existed to build a standard gauge railway along the same lines about 1826 to open up access to Exmoor. The 'Pinkery Canal' (MSO6847) was possibly linked to this scheme to work inclines down to Simonsbath and Cornham (SS 74 39). [1-3, 21] The track bed of the Simonsbath to Porlock Weir railways survives as an intermittent earthwork in the RCHME East Exmoor Project area. A length of track bed follows the contour (at approximately 425 metres) from the Forest boundary at SS 8331 4360, around the headwaters of Weir Water, to the Porlock-Exford road at SS 8445 4404. On the eastern side of the road, the earthwork is well-preserved. It runs from SS 8460 4420 to SS 8455 4514. The earthwork comprises a levelled portion 6 metres wide, with a bank 1 metre wide and 0.7 metres high on its eastern edge. A further length of track bed runs from SS 8440 4583 to just above the A39 at SS 8495 4629. This part of the line was surveyed using differential GPS as part of the RCHME East Exmoor project. [4] A plan of part of the proposed route shows three inclines to take the railway down to Porlock Weir. [5] Part of the western most of these three inclines was excavated between Westcott and the Toll Road. This was noted by M. Jones as visible between SS 8506 4655 and SS 8508 4667. [6] A well preserved section of the track bed, from SS 8272 4212 to SS 8221 4161, was recorded at 1:2500 scale using differential GPS as part of an archaeological survey of the Larkbarrow area. [7] The route of the Simonsbath-Porlock railway is clearly visible as an earthwork on aerial photographs, running from approximately SS 8496 4629 (SS 84 NW) to SS 7676 4160 (SS 74 SE). Some sections are better preserved than others, and the track appears to fade from view east of Blackpitts Farm, Exmoor. [9-16] The description of the route differs from that shown on the aerial photographs and the Ordnanace Survey Archaeology Division 6 inch maps. [18-21] Gradiometer Survey picked up a linear anomaly at approximately SS 843 457 which is post-medieval in date. [24] The earthworks forming the trackbed of the railway were created, but the track was never laid due to the iron resources in the area having been found to be too poor. Much of the railway commissioned by Frederic Knight can be traced still (in 2013). [25] A small part of this feature was covered by one of the geophysical survey areas of the Dig Porlock project in 2013, using earth resistance and gradiometer survey equipment. Following assessment of the results of the surveys, it was recommended by Carey Consulting that further work to compare the geophysical results to the earthworks would be of value. [15] Part of this feature was present in the survey area for a measured field survey in 2013, undertaken as part of the Dig Porlock project, run by the Exmoor Moorland Landscape Partnership Scheme. [27] Similarly, as part of Dig Porlock volunteers and students of the University of Leicester undertook resistivity and magnetometry survey over part of the railway. [28] The railway was intended to transport lime to the reclaimed moorland, to neutralise the acidic soils, and to move iron ore from Exmoor to the coast. [29] The railway was included as part of Cornwall Council's survey of Porlock Allotment as the bailing area for the proposed Mires restoration on Alderman's Barrow Allotment. [30] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [31] An archaeological assessment of the earthwork remains of the Exmoor and Porlock Railway, between Larkbarrow Corner and Warren Farm, Exmoor, was carried out in advance of proposed works on a bridleway which runs along its course. A historic source referenced in the text states that this section had been constructed by October 1861 "so far as the removal of the sod or turf and the levelling of the loose earth and stones beneath are concerned." [32] In December 1857, Henry Scale wrote a letter (apparently to Frederic Winn Knight) stating that “having once stopped do not lay out another shilling until you are afsured of a Railway“. [33] A letter from Rebecca Smith to her husband Robert Smith (Frederic Winn Knight's agent) dated 28 October 1858 states that "Mr. Hill... has concluded his bargain with Mr. Llewellen [sic] for 5000 acres altogether, all Toms Hill way & they will begin a rail road in c [circa] 2 months, for trams drawn by horses fr Porlock. Mr. Hill finding the 15,000 which it will cost the Lease is preparing so will soon be ready for Mr. K to sign. So you may fancy Mr Scale in high glee." [34] The railway is mentioned in a publication on the industrial archaeology of Somerset. The book states that a well preserved length of the route is on the east side of the Exford to Porlock road at SS 8455 4514. [35]

Sources/Archives (35)

  • <1> Monograph: Orwin, C.S.. 1929. The Reclamation of Exmoor Forest. Oxford University Press. 1st Edition. 144-151.
  • <2> Monograph: Madge, M. 1975. Railways around Exmoor. 73-77 ( map 64-65).
  • <2> Survey: Western Archaeological Trust. 1980s. Exmoor Aerial Photograph Survey. 8040, 8041, 8242, 8342, 8343, 8443, 8445 and 8446.
  • <3> Monograph: Buchanan, C.A.and Buchanan, R.A.. 1980. The Batsford Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Central Southern England. Batsford. 147.
  • <4> Unpublished document: Riley, H.. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 1998.
  • <5> Technical drawing: Plan of Inclines at Porlock. D/DG Plan 79.
  • <6> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. M Jones, 1998 Correspondence to RCHME.
  • <7> Report: Jamieson, E.. 2001. Larkbarrow Farm, Exmoor, Somerset. English Heritage.
  • <8> Archive: Jamieson, E. and Riley, H.. 2000-2001. Larkbarrow Farm, Somerset. AF1350534.
  • <9> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF 106G/UK/1501 3069-70 (13 May 1946).
  • <10> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF 106G/UK/1501 4194-5 (13 May 1946).
  • <11> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF 106G/UK/1501 4067-68 (13 May 1946).
  • <12> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF CPE/UK/1980 3164-65 (11 April 1947).
  • <13> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/72314 260-61 (17 April 1972).
  • <14> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/73109 942-43 (29 April 1973).
  • <15> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 84 SW. MD002184.
  • <16>XY Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 84 NW. MD002166. [Mapped feature: #38270 ]
  • <17> Article in serial: Youell, R.F.. 1974. New evidence to explain the mystery of Pinkworthy Pond. Exmoor Review. 15. 102-103. 102-03.
  • <18> Aerial photograph: September 19. HSL.UK.71-178 Run 83, 9301 and Run 85, 9336.
  • <19> Aerial photograph: 1947. LHL CPE/UK/1980. 3031, 3062-3064, 3165, 4059, 4159-4160 and 8162.
  • <20> Aerial photograph: HSL.UK.72-49 Run 81. 0018 and 0020.
  • <22> Report: McDonnell, R. 1985. Recommendations for the Management…. 32 57 and 76 (site 199).
  • <23> Article in serial: Wilson-North, R.. 2005/2006. Larkbarrow - Fact, Folly and Failure. Exmoor Visitor.
  • <24> Report: Dean, R.. 2011. Hawkcombe Head, Exmoor: Archaeological gradiometer and earth resistance survey.
  • <25> Monograph: Siraut, M.. Royal Forest, Exmoor: A guide to the Royal Forest of Exmoor. Exmoor National Park Authority. 33.
  • <26> Report: Carey, C.. 2013. Luccott Gate, Exmoor: Geophysical survey.
  • <27> Report: Riley, H.. 2013. Dig Porlock: Earthwork surveys on Porlock Allotment. 3, 6, 11-12.
  • <28> Report: Gillings, M & Taylor, J. 2013. Porlock Allotment, Exmoor: Geophysical Survey. 10-12.
  • <29> Leaflet: 2013. Larkbarrow, Exmoor: Exmoor moorland archaeology walks series. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <30> Report: Kirkham, G. and Taylor, S.. 2008. Exmoor Mire Restoration Project: Archaeological Survey on Moorland Areas at Alderman's Barrow Allotment, Blackpitts-Exe Head, North Twitchen, Roosthitchen and Verney's Allotment. Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service (Projects). p. 10; no. 13.
  • <31> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 36303, Extant 16 June 2021.
  • <32> Report: Riley, H.. 2018. Assessment of the remains of the Exmoor and Porlock Railway and the southern branch of the Warren Canal, Exmoor: Larkbarrow Corner to Warren Farm. Hazel Riley. Esp. p8.
  • <33> Archive: Various. 1815-1999. Knight Archive. N/A. KN.CORR.023_1857.12.12.pdf, p4.
  • <34> Archive: Various. 1815-1999. Knight Archive. N/A. KN.CORR.014_1858.10.28.pdf.
  • <35> Monograph: Daniel, P. (Ed.). 2019. A guide to the industrial archaeology of Somerset. Association for Industrial Archaeology. 2nd Edition. p 70, W19.3.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO182
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO10907
  • Local Heritage List Status (Proposed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 84 SW44
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 36303
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33046



Grid reference Centred SS 8086 4348 (8207m by 5651m) Also SMO7567
Map sheet SS84SW

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (5)

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Record last edited

Oct 11 2022 1:41PM


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