Treacle Mines in Devon

Dunchideock

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 on treacle.

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.

 

Tamerton

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 metallic knife.

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 www.treacleminer.com

 

Treacle Mine References

There is a Treacle Mine roundabout at Grays in Essex which features on the local bus timetable.

There is a pub called the Treacle Mine Hotel in Silchester Road Tadley, Hampshire.

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, (1865) Alice is shushed at the Mad Hatter's tea party for disbelieving a story told to her by the Dormouse about a treacle well, inspired by the holy well at Binsey, Oxfordshire.

In Uncle and the Treacle Trouble, a children's book by J.P. Martin, the main character (an elephant named Uncle) discovers the true meaning of a cryptic sign which reads Treac Levat ("Treacle Vat").

A treacle mine features in the novels Reaper Man (1987) and Night Watch (2002) by Terry Pratchett. In the fictional Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork there is street named Treacle Mine Road