Monday, 14 November 2011

In the Realm of the Treacle Mine

My favourite fairy tale as a young'un was Hansel & Gretel because I just couldn't get that yummy image of that house covered in all those sweeties out of my mind.   In a similar vein I  also love the fantastical lyrics of  'Big Rock Candy Mountain'  This old song was featured on the soundtrack of that excellent Coen brothers film 'O Brother Where art Thou?' Who could resist a lake of stew and whiskey (hopefully a peaty single malt!).... or a lemonade spring for the non drinkers out there.

In the same vein this is a real treacle mine, albeit disused, snapped on my walk in Canonteign woods yesterday.  But those of you thinking of heading down with buckets to forage for the vital ingredient for your puddings and toffee would be sorely disappointed.  Unfortunately the 'treacle' that was excavated here was a thick sticky sparkly black residue, micaceous hematite that looks a bit  like the sweet stuff but alas isn't edible.  Instead it was a component of a paint  that prevented massive structures like warships and bridges at Sydney harbour and the Tamar from rusting away!   It also provided the twinkle in early recipes for Hammerite paint.  Mining ceased in the middle of last century as technology developed new substances to do the same job.

My photo shows a horizontal entrance, an adit, of the Great Rock complex, the largest treacle mine around here.  It's not open to the public to peruse but another,  Kelly Mine, at Lustleigh welcomes visitors by donation to its ground level site, though not underground.  Judging by the comprehensive website produced by the enthusiastic preservation society who look after the mine,  I reckon that a future trip would be an informative and enjoyable afternoon out!


  1. Just found your blog via Things to Make and Do. Great stuff!

    I was particularly interested in this post, as I had no idea that there was such a thing as a treacle mine! I am a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, and I always assumed the reference was just nonsense. I feel so ignorant!

  2. Just for a moment I thought you had either turned into Ken Dodd or completely lost the plot. I am so glad that neither applies.

  3. When he was a small boy in the Teign valley (early 1920s) my father was told of these mine and shown where they were, (he showed me too). But by then they were something of a joke so it is good to learn the truth. Actually this is a complex subject a 1549 version of the Bible had 'Is there no tryacle [treacle] in Gilead?' and then of course there is the Dormouse's story about the treacle well in Alice in Wonderland.

    1. Ah a potted history of treacle through the ages. Of course everyone knows that you can believe Alice in Wonderland and Looking Glass tales word for word. Of course there are treacle wells. They're just not found in the woods around Hennock!