Treacle Mines in Devon
Dunchideock near Exeter in Devon is the most famous
of all the treacle mines in England.
Its history was carefully recorded by members of the
Nation Union of Treacle Miners (known as N.U.T.S.) When its history was
researched and recorded, its members were not aware that it shared a
long standing history with other treacle mines throughout England, but
not in Yorkshire.
Whilst most treacle mines date back to the 17th
century, an entry in an old leather account book - "To ye purchasing of
five Wadkinnes for Donsedoc Treacle" whilst no date for entry was given,
another page mentions a Wadkin being sent to London for the use of
Regina Elizabetha; making it a sixteenth century manuscript.
The Dunchideock Treacle Mines was certainly active in Cromwellian times when the consumption of treacle had certain viagran
attributes, showing a marked increase in the fertility. Sir James, owner
of the Dunchideock mine had 16 children! The Rushford Treacle Mine, near
Liverpool and the Bodiam mine on the Sussex/Kent border - had a laxative
property, which upset some of the Cromwellian armies that were being fed
The treacle from the Devon mines was exported to
America. In Cambridge in Massachussetts there is a thriving treacle
tasting society; they enjoy their treacle cookies.
The tax of 1781 was a tax on the quantity of treacle
stored in Vats (8.5 Wadkins to 3 Vats). The tax was at the very high
rate of 42 shillings pet Vat. (There is no tax on treacle now, but on so
many other items, it is still known as the "Vat" tax or V.A.T. !!) These
records, from Dunchideock, came following the study of documents from
Dunchideock House, once the home of the Pitman family.
The Mertons, an old landed Devonshire family, according
to papers found in the family archives, held the secrets of the treacle
miners of TAMERTON. Two outcrops of theriaciferous rock can be found at
Tamerton near Plymouth and Dunchideock near Exeter. Each mine had its own
method of extracting the treacle from the ground. The Tamerton miners used
the gravitational drip process - and name it "Royal Twelve" (it was allowed
to mature for twelve years). At Dunchideock treacle-bearing matter is
detected nowadays by its fluorescence under ultraviolet illumination. It is,
crushed, ground and extracted with various organic solvents, then
concentrated by vacuum distillation. The resulting heavy liquor is layered
into wooden vats, sealed and left to mature for up to 10 years. It is at
this stage that the distinctive flavour of Dunchideock treacle emerges.
After maturation, batches are usually blended to give added smoothness of
taste. Tamerton Treacle and Dunchideock Treacle have to be tasted to
appreciate the difference.
Tamerton Treacle was popular in America, where it was
used in the making of Brooklyn Fudge. Locally - "thunder and lightning" was
very popular; the secret was the mixing of Tamerton treacle with equal
portions of whisky or cider. The German visitors on tasting it exclaimed "Donnerundblitzen!!"
Children sampled their own treat of "Thunder and Lightning" by spreading a
"real layer of Devonshire cream on bread and allowing the treacle to drip
slowly on it". It was spread over the slice of bread with a warm non
All the details of the discovery of the original find by
Zacchariah Rose of the theriaciferous rock at Tamerton and the escapades and
romantic life of the famous Lady Tamerton, the beauty of the Court and
paramour of Charles II, can be read in the book by Mervyn Madge - "The
Tamerton Treacle Mines and other tales of Cornwall and the West Country
published by Marshalle Publications, Chelfam House, Saltburn Road, St
Budeaux, Plymouth, Devon PL5 IPB.
For more details of these and other UK Treacle Mines visit