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There was originally only one Stannary authority for both Devon and Cornwall, but by by the fourteenth century seperate parliaments had been established for each of Devon and for Cornwall.
Devon's parliament met in an open air forum at Crockern Tor on Dartmoor, and stannators were appointed to it from the various stannary towns (which have included Plympton, Chagford, Tavistock and Ashburton) and a stannary prison existed at Lydford.
Devon's Stannary Parliament had a 'bloody' reputation, and its judgements were sometimes quite brutal. It also was fiercely independent, and in Henry VIII's reign they gaoled a national MP for introducing a bill limiting discharges into local rivers
The last sitting of the Devon Stannary Parliament was in 1748, and it is rumoured that they adjourned to a pub in Tavistock.
The most recent mine to extract tin in Devon was Hemerdon mine (near Plympton), which produced both Tungsten and Tin, most recently in the 1980's. At this time the mine owners organised the appointment of a stannator, as is the local right, and so the custom continues.
In 1198 William de Wrotham was commanded to look into the tin industry, his report to the King was written ' all the diggers and buyers of black tin, and the first smelters of tin, and traders in tin of the first smelting, shall have the just and ancient customs and liberties established in Devonshire and Cornwall.' It was therefore an old and well established industry by then. King John in 1201 granted a charter, confirming the rights of the tinners based on ancient customs.
In 1305 King Edward I, separated the tinners of Cornwall and Devon and established in Devon the stannaries, Tavistock, Ashburton and Chagford, with the latter inclusion of Plympton. These stannary courts were set up to keep law and order over the tinners. Those who flouted the stannary law were sent to Lydford and imprisoned. Edward I ruled that a tinner may dig for tin on any land that he chooses and to divert streams and waterways to help in the dig for tin.
Richard Strode, a tinner and respected M.P. for Plympton introduced an act into Parliament to remove some rights of the tinners. As Richard was a tinner himself he was fined in every stannary court and eventually imprisoned at Lydford. He was released after three weeks by a letter from the Exchequer. Richard Strode later went on to promote the bill for freedom of speech to which all M.P.'s enjoy today. The stannary courts were abolished in 1836.
Ancient records show that rich alluvial deposits were found on the south-western edge of the moor. The earliest sites seem to have been at Sheepstor and Brisworthy.
For the last half of the 12th century, Dartmoor provided most of the tin for Europe, the output even exceeding that of Cornwall. Deposits were soon worked out and by the early 13th century, Cornwall was the centre of the tin production.
In the first tin rush mentioned above, the tinners used to pan for tin in the same way people panned for gold. Waste heaps from the panning can still be seen in many valley bottoms.
The second tin boom came around the 16th century when new deposits were found by new mining techniques called open cast mining. The remains today look like great scars cut into the valleys and hillsides.
The third boom came about two hundred years later with improvements in mining. Shafts were sunk mainly in old gullies from the previous boom, to give access to lodes which could not be extracted all those years earlier. The shafts today are long gone, most have been filled in and there are only shallow recesses left to tell the tale. A few however, through age and ground movement have reappeared leaving large holes in the moor. These are fenced and some even capped for safety reasons. The tin trade on Dartmoor stopped around 1939.
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