top of page

Cornwall: The Land of Tin

Tin mining has been a major industry in Cornwall for centuries. The county's rich tin deposits made it a major center for mining, and the industry played a major role in the development of Cornwall's economy.

engine house remains near Cape Cornwall, Martha Edwards

The History of Tin Mining in Cornwall

The history of tin mining in Cornwall is a fascinating one. It is a story of innovation, ingenuity, and hard work. It is also a story of invasions, mass emigration and the industrial revolution.


The Celts and Tin Mining in Cornwall


casting bronze
Image by Sonja from Pixabay

The first tin mines in Cornwall were opened in the Bronze Age, around 2150 BC, when The Celts began to extract tin from the granite rocks that are found throughout the county. The first tin mines were small and shallow, and the tin was extracted by hand. Tin was a highly prized metal, and it was used to make bronze, which was the alloy used to make tools and weapons.

The county's location on the south-west coast of England made it an ideal place to mine tin, as the tin-rich granite rocks that lie beneath the surface are easily accessible from the coast.

The tin mines of Cornwall were the main source of tin for the bronze industry in Europe.

There is evidence that the Celts traded tin and bronze with The Greeks and some people believe that Emperor Claudius' invasion of Britain in AD 43 was motivated by his desire to seize control of the prosperous mines there.


The Romans and Tin mining in Cornwall


The Romans played a major role in developing tin mining in Cornwall. They built roads and aqueducts to support the industry, and they introduced new methods of extracting tin.

Although the best weapons started to be made of steel when it was invented during the Roman era, tin and bronze were still used to make lesser quality weapons, and also to tin plate copper vessels, make utensils and for tin jewellery.

The tin mining industry in Cornwall continued to grow throughout the centuries. The Romans expanded the tin mines, and the industry became even more important during the Middle Ages. The tin mines of Cornwall were a major source of tin for the English Crown, and they played a major role in the development of the English economy.


Tin mining in the 18th and 19th Centuries



Tin Mining ruins near Cape Cornwall, by Martha Edwards
Tin Mining ruins near Cape Cornwall, by Martha Edwards

Tin mining continued to be a major industry in Cornwall for centuries. In the 18th century, Cornwall was the world's leading producer of tin. The tin was used to make bronze, which was essential for many industries, including shipbuilding and manufacturing.

The industry reached its peak in the 18th century, when Cornwall was producing around 20,000 tonnes of tin per year.

The tin mining industry in Cornwall reached its peak in the 19th century. The county's rich tin deposits made it the world's leading producer of tin, and the industry employed over 20,000 people. The tin mining industry was a major economic force in Cornwall, and it helped to shape the county's culture and identity.


Tin Mining in the 20th Century

However, the tin mining industry declined in the 20th century. The price of tin fell, and new sources of tin were discovered in other parts of the world. As a result, many tin mines in Cornwall closed, and the industry came to an end.


The Decline of Tin Mining in Cornwall

Engine House ruin at Levant Mine, Cornwall, by Martha Edwards
Engine House ruin at Levant Mine, Cornwall, by Martha Edwards

The tin mining industry in Cornwall began to decline in the 20th century. The rise of other sources of tin, such as those in South America, made it more difficult for the Cornish mines to compete.

During the late 19th Century many Cornish tin miners emigrated to Australia, the US and South Africa, where their skills could be used to start a new life. Between 1861 and 1901, 250,000 Cornish people are thought to have emigrated abroad.

The last tin mine in Cornwall, the South Crofty Mine, finally closed in 1998, having been in decline since 1985.







The Legacy of Tin Mining in Cornwall

The legacy of tin mining in Cornwall is a rich one. The industry played a major role in the development of the county's economy, and it also left a lasting mark on the landscape. The remains of many tin mines can still be seen today, and the county is home to a number of museums that tell the story of tin mining. The tin mining industry is still an important part of Cornwall's history, and it is a reminder of the county's rich and proud past.


Have We Seen the Last of Tin Mining in Cornwall?


-possibly not; South Crofty is now owned by Cornish Metals Inc, which is working to re-open the mine, as of November 2022 having receive a permit for dewatering the mine. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Crofty)


Cornish Tin Jewellery

Sterling Silver Wedding ring with inlaid tin band, Sennen Jewellery
Sterling Silver Wedding ring with inlaid tin band, Sennen Jewellery

Even though tin is no longer mined in Cornwall, Cornish tin jewellery is still available.

St Justin use tin that came from a ship wrecked in 1863. It was originally smelted in Cornwall and carries an ancient pedigree not to be found elsewhere. You can find this jewellery range at Sennen Jewellery.

Bespoke Cornish tin jewellery commissions can also be made by Sennen Jewellery using a rare supply of old Cornish tin from the South Crofty mine. Rings are a popular choice; the soft pure tin can be inlaid into Silver or Gold, These rings make perfect and meaningful Wedding rings, perfect for a Wedding in Cornwall or to celebrate Cornish heritage.


White Gold Wedding Rings with inlaid Tin Band, Sennen Jewellery
White Gold Wedding Rings with inlaid Tin Band, Sennen Jewellery

Conclusion


Tin mining in Cornwall is a fascinating chapter in the county's history. The industry played a major role in the development of Cornwall's economy, and it also left a lasting mark on the landscape.

The remains of many tin mines can still be seen today, and the county is home to a number of heritage attractions that tell the story of tin mining, one of the best being Geevor tin mine , where you can go underground into the old mine.


There are many ways to experience Cornwall's tin mines. From guided tours of some of the most well-preserved sites to interactive exhibits, visitors can get an up-close look at this fascinating part of Britain’s history. Whether you're looking for an educational experience or simply want to explore one of Cornwall’s hidden gems, there are plenty of ways to discover these historic tin mines today.



12 views0 comments
bottom of page