Clearbrook is described by the Ordnance Survey (Government map agency) as a 'scattered hamlet', an apt description for it at any stage of its history. It lies on the South Western fringe of Dartmoor and as the air photograph shows, is in the midst of a number of industrial ventures.

The road junction to the left of the centre of the photograph includes a bridge over the Plymouth leat, (the dark line running right to left and as a bushy arc at the top of the fields on the right) built in 1591 to take water from the Moor to Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake is reputed to have ridden a horse along the leat ahead of the released water! The later Devonport leat (c.1796) is visible to the right of the bridge as a dark line in the pale green patches of the moor.

The horse-drawn Tramway which ran from Plymouth to Princetown and was completed fn 1837, crosses the road just beyond the bridge. This was one of the many, largely unsuccessful, attempts to 'develop' the Moor. Finally, the South Devon and Tavistock Railway, completed by 1859, ran right to left immediately below the houses in the foreground.

As I.K.Brunel was involved in some of its engineering it is not surprising that the track was originally broad gauge, and for a while between about 1873 and 1890, carried LSWR trains as well as GWR. Despite the wealth of transport and industrial activity mainly passing through this area, Clearbrook seems to have been almost completely unaffected by it all.

In view of this, the first two questions invariably asked about Clearbrook are

  • How did it get its name
  • What caused the settlement to appear?

The answer to the first question is superficially easy, The earliest houses were built on part of a field which is referred to in the deeds as 'Clearbrook Field formerly Parsons Field'. Clearbrook is possibly a reference to the intermittent stream that forms the Northern boundary of the field; 'clear' perhaps because it is not contaminated with China clay as are other Dartmoor streams not too far away. For that matter 'Parsons field' is also inexplicable; it is not glebe land, nor does there appear to be any person of that name in the vicinity. Another variation 'Millbrooks field' which appears in some documents is even worse, since anything less like a mill brook than this normally feeble rivulet would be hard to imagine.

With regard to the second question, we are again on uncertain ground, though it is worthwhile investigating some possibilities, It is noticeable that one of the syndicate originally buying the land was a man called George Frean, (who is an interesting man). Originally he is noted as a baker (and sometimes miller) supplying the Royal Navy with biscuits. He is also one of the men, like Thomas Tyrwhitt, who were interested in developing Dartmoor to its full potential and making some money in the process. Accordingly, he is responsible for Powdermills, (the gunpowder factory) between Two Bridges and Postbridge, deep in the Moor. The gunpowder incidentally, was not intended for the Royal Navy, but to help farmers with land clearance. Possibly he saw the Clearbrook area as fitting into some 'Improver's' plan, though what he had in mind is unknown. He appears to sell the land on and is not involved in any building but he may have had some thoughts about mining, for two of this colleagues in the syndicate were miners.

The 1851 census, some five years after the probable date of the first houses, shows these two - John Fezzey and John Jeffrey - living in Clearbrook together with nine other Tin miners and one mine labourer out of a total male population of 17, (at least half of whom appear to be relatives of the original two). Ten years later, none of these are living in Clearbrook, but there are six Copper miners and one Tin miner in a total male population of 34. There is a similar pattern for agricultural labourers. Their numbers peak at nine in 1861 and 1891 and then decline to 2, so it is impossible to identify Clearbrook as an hamlet devoted to any particular trade.

The idea is sometimes expressed that the Skylark Inn was originally opened to meet the needs of thirsty miners and farm labourers, but this seems unlikely. The Inn as such does not appear on the census returns until 1861, though it is possible that the actual building was one of the empty houses noted in the previous census. By this time George Frean had joined forces with Peake and had established the famous biscuit factory in Bermondsey and eleven years after that was dead.

Clearbrook continued to grow slowly, in the sense that one or two houses were built in each decade, but at the same time probably contracted because many of the original houses contained two small houses (one up, one down) which were later merged, so that although the number of buildings remained about the same, the number of households declined, There continued to be no distinct reason for people to live here, there was no railway station at Clearbrook until 1929 for example, by which time it had become a recognised residential and recreational area for Plymouth. It is possible that about this time one of the houses was occupied by friends of Lawrence of Arabia, who visited them during his time as Aircraftsman Shaw at RAF Mount Batten, using his famous motor bike. Most of the houses were let and at least two were boarding houses.

Today the majority of houses are owned by their occupiers, and the total population is probably only a fifth larger that the previous maximum achieved in 1861. Clearbrook is still a quiet residential hamlet, beautifully placed for walking, cycling or riding in the valley of the River Meavy, or on Dartmoor. Its Pub, the Skylark, is said to be the only one of that name in Britain and with its wide view of the open moor it is appropriately named. It has always supplied drinks but has recently added to that a growing reputation for food! It does not offer accommodation but two houses still do.

Recently, the old, decrepit Village Hall was demolished and completely rebuilt, thanks to generous grants from the Lottery Fund and County, District and Parish Councils - plus of course strenuous efforts from the inhabitants.

So.., come and see for yourself, the charm - old and new - that has attracted people to Clearbrook for one and an half Centuries.