The first reference to workings at Kelly dates from 1797, when the landowner, George Wills, leased to John Pinsent for 21 years a ‘certain mine of black lead or some other substance’. The black lead was, in reality, micaceous haematite, an oxide of iron; although unsuitable for the production of iron itself, the ore had a number of other uses.
- production of ‘pounce’ or writing sand, a precursor of blotting paper;
- a lubricant (effectively a graphite substitute);
- a glaze for pottery;
- anti-corrosion paint.
The first official record of the mine is in 1877 when it was leased by the Kelly Iron Company with Captain W. H. Hosking in charge. For the next thirteen years only two or three men were employed, production averaging some 25 tons per year. In 1892 the mine was advertised for let by J. Dadd of Kelly and was stated “to contain several valuable lodes and to be equipped with a waterwheel and stamps for ore-dressing”.
Up to 1900 the mine appears to have remained idle, until the Scottish Silvoid Company of Glasgow took over the lease with Mr. A.W. Govan as manager and Mr. Samuel Hill as mine captain. In 1901 thirteen men were working at Kelly, probably mainly engaged in development work as production in that year was only 20 tons. From then on output steadily increased, reaching a peak of 202 tons in 1907. The Ferrubron Manufacturing Company, then working the much larger Great Rock Mine at Hennock and several other mines in the area, took over around 1917.
In 1915 the first turbine was installed to replace the stamps waterwheel; to be replaced in turn by the current Turgo Impulse Wheel in 1920. Also during the 1920s, compressed-air rock drills were tried, but due to the soft nature of the ore, water dust-suppression could not be used for fear of washing the valuable material away. As a result, the miners suffered from silicosis. A Blackstone oil engine was installed in 1934, to supplement the water power during the dry summer months.
The mine was recorded as being closed in October 1944, probably as a result of wartime labour shortages and exhaustion of the ore reserves. Around 1947 the ore-processing plant was brought back into use by the company then operating the Pepperdon Mine some way up the valley near Moretonhampstead. In 1951 a major underground collapse brought mining to an end and both Kelly and Pepperdon Mines were abandoned.
When a mine finally closed it was usual to sell off the equipment, either for its scrap value or for use on another mine. However, due to a legal dispute, the site at Kelly was left untouched for many years. This resulted in what is now a unique collection of mining machinery still remaining on its original site. The Kelly Mine Preservation Society (KMPS) was formed in 1984, to save and restore this important monument to Dartmoor’s mining heritage. We are grateful to the Society for their work on preserving this time capsule and for hosting regular open days for visitors.