Set on a plateau, three hundred feet above the moorland around, three miles distant from the small town that forms the heart of the local community, High Ham lacked an industrial history. There was a windmill, and there had once been an alabaster mine that had brought two miners from Cornwall, but workshops, factories, railways and canals had never been part of the parish landscape.
Oddly, it was on the hillsides of the rugged tors and in the deep wooded valleys of Dartmoor National Park that I found an industrial archaeology that was absent from the undulating lowland around my Somerset home.
I hadn’t been looking for industrial archaeology, in fact, I would not have been sure what the term meant; learning about it was unintentional.
Attending a school which only offered Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations, I needed five subjects at Grade 1 to gain a place studying A Levels at Sixth Form College. Taking examinations a year early, I gained four of the grades I needed, so went into fifth year only needing a further subject. Being lazy, I reduced to three the number of subjects I was taking: English Literature, World Affairs since 1930, and Environmental Studies.
Environmental Studies was unknown territory. The attraction of the subject was the tales from students from previous years of there being trips out from the school.
The course brought an awareness of the tin mining traditions of the moor that stretched back to Roman times, and of the stannary parliaments held by the miners to regulate their work and life.
The course also brought an explanation of the granite tracks we would see when hiking across the moor to Haytor. The tracks formed part of a tramway, which even had its own points. The tramway had been built for use by waggons carrying granite down to the Stover Canal from where it was taken by barge down to the sea.
A minibus ride from school one afternoon took us down into the town of Bovey Tracey, where the teacher pointed out the trades of the town and we learned the story of potteries that had been part of the life of the community until being closed a generation before our time.
Environmental Studies also included the flora and fauna of the moor, the geology and topography of the area around us, the agricultural life and commercial life of the community, and the transport and infrastructure – but none were as fascinating as the industrial archaeology. It imbued landscapes and buildings with a life I hadn’t imagined, in places that were now empty it was possible to imagine the sounds of machines, on walks where not a single person would be seen, imagination could bring workers engaged in their daily tasks.