Water at Work

Water has been an important source of power on Exmoor for centuries. Used first for grinding corn, the water wheel was gradually adapted to a variety of tasks and only in this century has it been ousted by modern power supplies. In the medieval villages there were mills for fulling woollen cloth. With the introduction of machinery, farmers installed wheels to work threshing machines, feed crushers and root pulpers. On estates there were saw-mills. Water wheels drove the pumps, whims and crushers in the Exmoor mines and pulled loads and worked pumps in the limestone quarries.

In 1890 a hydro generating plant was installed at Lynmouth to supply electricity to the town. Dulverton and Porlock followed with similar schemes. The Lynmouth plant continued in use until 1952 when the station was destroyed in the great flood, but a new plant elsewhere in Lynmouth supplies electricity to the National Grid. Some private houses had their own hydro-driven generators but perhaps the most unusual use was a wheel at Woolhanger which provided the power to drive the bellows of a pipe-organ!

Recently, a new scheme was proposed for the East Lyn but did not proceed because of unfavourable economics and concerns about the ecological effects, particularly on the migrating salmon.

More successfully, a hydropower scheme was built in 1983 in the West Lyn Gorge at Lynmouth. This has a power output of 300 kilowatts, generating 1.5 million kilowatt-hours per year for the grid. The visitor centre there includes much of interest to children and adults alike, including working models.

Fact Sheet on the Glen Lyn Gorge Scheme