The Industrial Revolution and Tin Mining in Cornwall and Devon
The Industrial Revolution and Tin Mining in Cornwall and Devon.
Tin mining in the UK has a long history, but in recent years, it has significantly declined. The most well-known area for tin mining in the UK is Cornwall and Devon, in the southwest region of England. Within this region, some of the most notable tin mining areas are:
Table of content
- St. Just mining district:
- Camborne-Redruth mining district:
- St. Austell mining district:
- Tavistock mining district:
St. Just mining district
The St. Just mining district in western Cornwall has a rich history of tin production dating back to prehistoric times. Located on the Penwith Peninsula, the area is characterized by its rugged coastline and cliffs, where many tin mines are found.
Tin mining in St. Just reached its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries, as the demand for tin grew with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Tin was primarily extracted from lodes, which are mineral-rich veins running through the Earth's crust. Miners used various methods to access the tin-bearing rocks, including the creation of tunnels called adits and the digging of deep shafts.
Some of the most notable mines in the St. Just mining district include:
- Botallack Mine: Situated near the coast, Botallack Mine is famous for its dramatic cliff-side engine houses. The mine was in operation from the early 18th century until 1895, producing both tin and copper. The Crowns engine houses, perched on the edge of the cliffs, are among the most iconic images of Cornish mining heritage.
- Levant Mine: Located near Pendeen, Levant Mine produced tin and copper from the late 18th century until its closure in 1930. The mine is notable for its well-preserved beam engine, which is still in working condition and open to the public as a National Trust site.
- Geevor Tin Mine: Operating from the early 18th century until its closure in 1990, Geevor Tin Mine was one of the last working tin mines in Cornwall. Today, it has been converted into a museum, offering visitors an insight into the lives of the miners and the tin mining process.
Although tin production in St. Just has ceased, the mining landscape is still an essential part of the area's cultural heritage. The remnants of the mines, including engine houses and other industrial buildings, stand as a testament to the region's rich mining history. In 2006, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, which includes the St. Just mining district, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Camborne-Redruth mining district in Cornwall is one of the most significant tin and copper mining regions in the UK. Located in central Cornwall, this area was at the heart of the Cornish mining industry during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. It played a crucial role in the development of mining technologies and contributed greatly to the global supply of tin and copper.
Tin production in the Camborne-Redruth district reached its peak in the 19th century, fueled by the demand for tin during the Industrial Revolution. The district boasted numerous mines that produced tin, copper, and other minerals. Some of the most important mines in this area include:
- Dolcoath Mine: Known as the "Queen of Cornish Mines," Dolcoath was one of the largest and deepest mines in the region. It operated from the early 18th century until its closure in 1921. The mine extracted both tin and copper, and its shafts reached depths of over 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).
- South Crofty Mine: South Crofty, located near the town of Pool, was one of the last working tin mines in Cornwall, operating from the 16th century until its closure in 1998. The mine produced tin, copper, and other minerals over its long history. Plans to revive the mine for extracting tin and other metals are currently under consideration.
- Wheal Grenville: Wheal Grenville was a significant tin mine in the Camborne-Redruth area, operating from the early 19th century until the early 20th century. It was known for its deep workings and the extraction of tin and copper.
The Camborne-Redruth mining district was also a hub for innovation, with many inventions and technological advancements developed in the area. For example, the Cornish beam engine, a type of steam engine used for pumping water out of mines, was perfected by the local engineer Richard Trevithick. His work laid the foundation for steam-powered transportation, including the first steam-powered railway locomotive.
Although tin production in the Camborne-Redruth district has ceased, the mining heritage of the area remains an essential part of its cultural identity. The remnants of the mines, engine houses, and other industrial buildings serve as reminders of the region's rich mining history. The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, which includes the Camborne-Redruth district, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.
St. Austell mining district
The St. Austell mining district, located in central Cornwall, is primarily known for its vast deposits of china clay (kaolin) and china stone (a feldspathic rock), which have been extensively mined in the area. However, tin production also played a role in the region's mining history, although not as prominently as in other Cornish districts like Camborne-Redruth or St. Just.
In the St. Austell district, tin was extracted from both alluvial deposits (stream tin) and lode deposits (vein tin) in the granite bedrock. Tin mining in the area dates back to the medieval period, with some evidence suggesting Roman-era activity as well. Tin production in St. Austell peaked during the 18th and 19th centuries, but it was overshadowed by the more extensive and profitable china clay and china stone industries.
Some notable tin mines in the St. Austell district include:
- Polgooth Mine: Polgooth Mine, located near the village of Polgooth, was one of the most important tin and copper mines in the St. Austell district. It operated from the early 16th century until its closure in the late 19th century. At its peak, Polgooth was one of the richest mines in Cornwall.
- Crinnis Mine: Situated on the eastern outskirts of St. Austell, Crinnis Mine produced tin, copper, and other minerals during the 19th century. The mine closed in the early 20th century.
- Wheal Martyn: Although primarily known as a china clay pit, Wheal Martyn also produced tin and other minerals. Today, the site is home to the Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum, which showcases the region's rich clay mining heritage.
Despite the historical significance of tin mining in the St. Austell district, the focus shifted to china clay and china stone extraction over time. These industries became more economically viable and continue to be active today, although on a smaller scale than in the past. The mining heritage of the St. Austell district, including its tin mining history, is an important part of Cornwall's cultural landscape.
Tavistock mining district
The Tavistock mining district, located in the western part of Devon, has a long history of metal mining, including tin, copper, lead, silver, and iron. While the district is not as famous for its tin production as some of the Cornish mining areas, it played a significant role in the mining industry of southwest England.
Tin production in the Tavistock district dates back to the medieval period, with evidence of tin streaming (alluvial tin mining) and lode mining (extracting tin from veins in the bedrock). The industry experienced a surge in the 18th and 19th centuries, driven by the increased demand for tin during the Industrial Revolution.
Some notable tin mines in the Tavistock district include:
- Wheal Crebor: This mine, located near the village of Mary Tavy, was one of the most productive tin mines in the Tavistock district. Operating from the early 19th century until its closure in the early 20th century, Wheal Crebor produced significant amounts of tin and copper.
- Wheal Friendship: Situated near Mary Tavy, Wheal Friendship was another important tin mine in the Tavistock district. It operated from the late 18th century until the early 20th century, producing tin, copper, and other minerals.
- Wheal Betsy: Located near Mary Tavy, Wheal Betsy was a notable mine that produced tin, lead, and silver. The mine operated from the early 18th century until the late 19th century. The preserved engine house at Wheal Betsy is a striking landmark and a reminder of the area's mining heritage.
Tin production in the Tavistock district eventually declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to a combination of factors, including competition from more cost-effective tin sources overseas, exhaustion of local deposits, and falling tin prices. Although active tin mining has ceased in the area, the mining landscape and the remnants of the mines serve as important historical and cultural touchstones for the region. The Tavistock mining district is also part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.
Dartmoor Mining District
Dartmoor, a large moorland area in southern Devon, has a long history of tin production dating back to at least the 12th century. The region's tin deposits are found in both alluvial (stream tin) and lode (vein tin) forms. Tin mining in Dartmoor has played an essential role in the area's economy and development throughout history.
The early tin mining on Dartmoor primarily involved tin streaming, where alluvial tin deposits were extracted from riverbeds and streams. The process involved using water to wash away lighter materials, leaving the heavier tin ore behind. Tin streaming was a relatively low-impact method of mining, but over time, the easily accessible alluvial deposits became depleted.
As tin streaming became less productive, lode mining became more prevalent on Dartmoor. This involved the extraction of tin from veins in the granite bedrock. Tin miners, known as "tinners," dug shafts and adits to access the tin-bearing lodes. Lode mining on Dartmoor was at its peak during the late medieval period and continued into the 19th century.
Some of the notable tin mining areas within Dartmoor include:
- Chagford: The Chagford area, in the northeastern part of Dartmoor, was home to several tin mines and processing sites during the medieval period.
- Buckfastleigh: Located on the southeastern edge of Dartmoor, Buckfastleigh was another important center of tin mining activity.
- Hexworthy: Situated in the southwestern part of Dartmoor, Hexworthy was known for its tin mines and tin processing sites during the 19th century.
Tin production in Dartmoor declined significantly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to several factors, such as depletion of local deposits, falling tin prices, and competition from more cost-effective sources of tin overseas. Today, the remnants of Dartmoor's tin mining history can still be seen in the form of abandoned mines, spoil heaps, and tinners' huts scattered across the landscape. These sites provide an important insight into the region's rich mining heritage.
In conclusion, the history of tin mining in the southwest of England is a remarkable testament to the region's rich industrial heritage and its role in shaping the economy, culture, and landscape. From the early days of tin streaming in Dartmoor to the advanced lode mining practices in the renowned mining districts of Cornwall, the southwest played a crucial part in the global tin industry during its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The tin mining industry left an indelible mark on the landscape, as evidenced by the iconic engine houses, mine shafts, and mining settlements that still dot the region. The innovations born from the Cornish and Devon mining communities, such as the steam-powered beam engine, had a far-reaching impact on the broader industrial landscape.
Although the tin mining industry in southwest England declined in the 20th century due to competition from abroad, depletion of local resources, and fluctuating tin prices, its legacy lives on through the people and the stories connected to this period. The UNESCO World Heritage designation of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape serves as a fitting tribute to the region's mining heritage, ensuring that the remarkable history of tin mining in southwest England is preserved and appreciated for generations to come.
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