Drake's Leat - Thomas Drake vs Sir Walter Raleigh and the Tin Miners
Drake’s Leat, also known as Plymouth Leat was started late owing to lack of funds – all the spare cash at the time went on the war with Spain (and on the Armada itself). Sir Walter Raleigh turned over the first sod ceremonially in 1590 and then left the site so that 35 local men could finish the actual work.
Not that Sir Walter forgot about the leat. Changing the flow of water upset the Tinners, and the situation became acrimonious early in the 1600’s.
Raleigh was the Lord Warden of the Stanneries and he took the Tinner’s side of the argument, but what of the leat itself?
The leat ran by design through a meandering course to slow the water’s progress and minimise erosion. But the flow of water was never as useful to Plymouth as was suggested. The water course avoided built up areas, and thus was no use for firefighting. Neither did the leat flow through the Naval yard.
The leat was never used for irrigation, and taking water from the leat for crops was made expressly illegal.
What the leat did do was flow, and power, all six of Raleigh’s mills in the area. As a landowner, Raleigh also benefitted from cash paid as compensation during construction. Sir Walter had managed to get free water and power for his own grain, and even got money handed to himself for doing so.
During WWII the leat received repairs as the Burrator Reservoir was damaged and local officials sought to secure a Plan B water supply for the city.