Tin mining in Cornwall began in approximately 1800BC. The county was an important producer of tin, which was produced from the alluvial deposits mostly found in West Cornwall, but also Bodmin and St Austell. Before the invention of steam, the tin ore would be washed into the valleys and moors. From there, the ore would be extracted, to be sold and mixed with copper to make bronze.
After the invention of steam power in the 19th Century, Cornwall became the world leader in producing tin, with around 600 steam engines At one point, Cornwall had over 2,000 mines across the county! The invention of the Cornish Beam Engine, using steam power, enabled water to be drained from the deep mines. Prior to this invention, removing water from the mines was a big problem, which limited the depths of the mines across the county. With the use of the Cornish Beam Engine, many of the mines in the 19th Century were able to reach below sea level! Levant Mine was 640 metres deep and was 2.5km under the sea.
The tin mining industry declined in the latter part of the 19th Century and the drop in tin prices saw a huge decline in working mines across the county. Many Cornish tin miners moved overseas to mining areas, such as South Africa and Australia.
Today, there are ten mining districts in Cornwall that have World Heritage Site status, which was granted by UNESCO in 2006. These sites acknowledge the important role Cornwall played in the tin mining industry, and particularly the developments that were made in mining technology.
South Crofty Mine
South Crofty, located in the Camborne and Redruth Mining District, was the last working mine in Cornwall. The mine closed in 1998. This followed after the collapse in the price of tin in 1985, which saw the price of tin drop from £10,000 per ton to just £2,000 per ton.
Mining at South Crofty dates back to around 1592. The mine was once only 100 feet long; however, it became to be the largest Cornish mine in history, reaching almost 2 ¼ miles long and 3,000 feet deep! Over its time, South Crofty produced more than any other Cornish mine.
Today, there are active works being carried out to see whether there’s a possibility of reopening the mine at South Crofty. There is an ever-increasing demand for lithium, which is an important element in mobile phone batteries and electric cars. This rare metal has the potential to be extracted from South Crofty, which could be fantastic for both Cornwall and the UK in reducing the reliance on suppliers from overseas.
Want to stay in the Camborne and Redruth mining district? Take a look at Trevithick Retreat Cottage, located not far from South Crofty Mine!
Levant Mine and Beam Engine is located within the St Just Mining District. The mine first appeared on a map in 1748, however both copper and tin have said to be mined here for generations before that date.
In 1847, the man engine was installed, which carried men up and down the mines, to and from work each day. In 1919, an accident occurred, when the man engine suffered a mechanical failure, which killed 31 people. It steadily declined from then on and in 1930, Levant Mine closed.
Originally, the Cornish Beam Engine would have been steam powered by a coal-fired Cornish boiler. Today, you can see the restored 1840s Beam Engine, which now runs on steam from a modern high-pressure boiler. The restored Beam Engine is said to be the only remaining working Cornish Beam Engine in the world!
Stay in Penzance and explore the St Just mining district, from Levant to Botallack!
Botallack Mine, located within the St Just Mining District, is a former submarine mine. Its’ tunnels extend out under the sea, with some reaching out to sea by half a mile!
Nearly 15,000 tonnes of tin were produced at this iconic mine between 1815 and 1914. Mining has however been said to date back to the 1500s in Botallack. Visitors increased to the mine after the Princess of Wales visited in 1865. So many visitors wanted to follow in the royals’ footsteps, that the owners of the mine started to charge them a guinea per head for a tour around Botallack.
Today, the ruins around Botallack mine feature in the popular BBC series, Poldark. The ruins that remain today include the Crowns Mine engine houses and the remnants of Wheal Oates mine.