More Tin Mining in Regency Cornwall

Back down the mine, here is a miner having his tea break.

And this next is a video. You will not see anything, it was too dark, but you can hear the constant sound of water. And a little bit of our guide.  But it was the sound I wanted to capture. You can almost imagine the water rising up to fill those tunnels.

And how did they get rid of all that water. Well there were a couple of pumps available, a bucket lift for shallow depths and a rag and chain pump.

These diagrams show the rag and chain pump in action.  The next picture shows part of the bucket lift.


This next picture is of the stamping machine, you an see the water wheel behind it that drove the heavy weights used to crush the ore so it can be smelted.

They say that sailors used the noise of these machines located at the cliff top mines to navigate the rocky coastlines and I think this next video will explain why.

I have a few more tidbits to tell you about the mining of tin, but hope this is enough to keep you going for now, since I have a book to finish. :)

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

More Tin Mining in Regency Cornwall

Now we have the technical details, or at least all we need, let us do a little exploring.

The first thing we came across was a shammeling shaft.  If you look closely, you will see the figure of a man (waxwork) eight foot up inside this shaft.  This was as high as a man standing below him could throw a shovel full of ore, so he could throw it up another eight feet.  Backbreaking work, and think of all the rubble falling back down on the person at the bottom.  They would do this all day long, too. Having climbed down into the depths of the mine down a shaft like this one.

Here we saw how they would follow a narrowing load in hopes of finding a another wider section. You can imagine working in such a narrow space.

Also they left parts of the lode in tact, joining one side to the other to stabilize the walls,you can just make out one of those bridges in this picture.

In addition to being hand shoveled up from one level to another, there was also a system of iron buckets called kibbles being pulled up by horses hauling on rope around a wooden drum at the the surface.  This is called a horse whim.

To the left is an example of a kibble. It doesn't seem to hold all much, but remember how heavy that ore was and a man had to lift it into order to get it onto the horse whim. 

To the right is the evidence of years of mining. A granite wall worn smooth by all the kibble dragging up this shaft to the surface.

Taking photographs underground turned out not to be the most successful of operations, but there are a few more sights and sounds (yes, a bit of atmostphere) I want to share with you. Since blogger is slow on the picture posting, I am going to get back to writing now, and will leave a few more pictures and words for next time.

Until then, Happy Rambles


More Tin Mining in Regency Cornwall

Last time we talked about how tin mining started on the surface, in streams.  The people who undertook this kind of mining were called streamers.  And streamers were still around in the Regency. But most of the really profitable mining by this time was underground.

The mine we visited was originally known as  Wheal Roots.   Wheal is the Cornish word for mine. If you want to know what Cornish sounds like and learn some words you can find several links on the web. This is one.

The picture above shows what is called Blue Peach. Veins like this formed the Wheal Roots Lode, the source of tin and therefore the place to start digging. This lode was found on the surface and followed into the hillside.

The tin bearing ore had to be dug out, crushed then smelted into ingots.  While waiting to go down the mine, I was handed a lump of tin ore.  It was amazingly heavy for its size.

To get down into the mine in regency times and before, miners would climb down a ladder like the one shown in the shaft  on the left. Only their ladder would have been made of wood and rope.   You can just see daylight at the top and this was only a small part of the distance they would travel down into the ground. In the winter, they would go down before it got light and not go back up until after dark, day after day.

Both men and boys worked down the mine. The small wooden barrow on the right would have been used by a lad. The men were called to work from their homes by means of a bell and signaled that the shift was up by that same bell.  The bell also was rung to summon help when there was an accident. And given that they were using black powder to move rocks it was likely to be a dreaded sound.

Lots more to come. Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Tin Mining in Cornwall

Do you remember the series Poldark?  About tin mining families, set during the late Georgian period.  Well it just so happens that the book I am working on now is set in Cornwall.  And while my family is aristocratic, they own a tin mine. Mining in Cornwall had its hey day during the Regency. Copper became the most sought after and most profitable metal.

So last summer when I had the chance to go to Cornwall, I found a way to get myself down a tin mine.  And guess what, it is call Poldark.  It wasn't originally called that. I think they thought it would make for a good tourist attraction.  The day we went it wasn't exactly teaming with people. Which was nice for us because that meant I could linger.

Here is our party, all ready to go down. Don't look too excited folks! I know it wasn't how you wanted to spend your vacation but....

While it was the middle of summer, it was quite a damp rainy day. But that wasn't why we were all done up in our rain coats. You will see why later.  Helmets were required. And I for one was glad of mine.  Hah, no pun intended.

Miners wore felt hats in those days, like these pictured here that were discarded and later found in the old workings.  The hats were dipped in pine resin to make them hard and stiff like a helmet. And because they were uncomfortable, miners would wear a cotton skull cap beneath them. This practice continued into the modern day with some miners wearing the skull caps beneath the kind of hard hard hats we wore.

There was no electricity in those days, as you know, so a miner would light a candle made of tallow, or animal fat, drip the wax (tallow) onto the front of his hardened hat and stick the base of the candle into the hot wax. And there you have it, your own personal hands free light on your head.They also used lumps of hard clay to hold their candles.

They would carry the candles in bunches, lik the ones you see pictured on the left, handing them around their necks.  My guess is that they didn't last all that long, so you'd need a few for your day's work.  They also attached them to ladders and the handles of their tools so they could light an area or the spot where they were working.

It was around this time that Davey was inventing the safety lamp, but one can imagine that those would be a luxury, and take a long time to to catch on. Indeed, one of the bunches of candles on display at the mine dated from the 1850's, so they continued to be used until around the time the mines became unprofitable.

Before we enter the mine itself, it behooves us to learn a bit about the ore and the history of this form of mining in Cornwall and its importance to the local people and mine owners.

Tin mining in Cornwall goes back to prehistoric times.  The first mining, as has been discovered with regard to many other forms of precious minerals, was not mining but simply a scooping up from the surface, or from streams when ore bearing rocks had been exposed by the natural erosion of the land.  The richest deposits of alluvial tin deposits were locted on Bodmin Moor, the moors around St Austell and Pokellis Moor near Wendron.

The earliest known artifacts from these surface workings date to 3,800 years ago.  Tin works were worked by family groups or groups of tiners who roamed anyone's land looking for their bounty and only had to pay the land owner a fifteenth of their profit, or the "Lord's Dish" from the ore they found.

Tin mining was so important that in King John's time they were given their own Stannery Parliament, which set rules for taxation and excepted tin miners from military service. In 1337 when Edward III created the Duchy of Cornwall, it was confirmed that the tin miners were exempt from all civil jurisdiction other than that of the Stannary Courts, except in cases affecting land, life or limb. A rebellion in Henry the eighths time put this at risk,k but a payment of one thousand pounds to aid the war against Scotland put things to right again.  This whole topic is extraordinarily interesting, but we have to move on to mining I'm afraid.  So next time, early tin mining and then on to our visit below ground.