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Tin Mine Cornwall: Exploring the Land of Tin

Hello from Sennen Jewellery! Cornwall is not only known for its stunning coast but also for its rich history in tin mining. The history of Cornish mines extends beyond geology and economics and is deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of the region.

At Sennen Jewellery, we proudly continue this legacy with unique tin jewellery, using authentic Cornish tin. Join us as we explore the incredible story of tin mining in Cornwall, from its ancient roots to its lasting impact today.

engine house remains near Cape Cornwall, Martha Edwards

Key Points Summary

  • History: Explore the ancient origins of tin mining in Cornwall, dating back to the Bronze Age.

  • Industrial Boom: Learn about the peak of the Cornish mining industry in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  • Modern Revival: Discover how old mines like the iconic Geever Mine are becoming hotspots for culture and tourism.

  • Green Technology: See how modern initiatives are reinventing mining with a focus on sustainability.

  • Heritage Preservation: Experience the beauty of Cornwall's rugged Tin Coast, preserved as a World Heritage Site.

  • Cornish Tin Jewellery: Understand the significance of our jewellery that connects past craftsmanship with present style.

The History of the Tin Mine, Cornwall

casting bronze
Image by Sonja from Pixabay

Mining in Cornwall is as deep and rich as the veins of tin that run beneath its rugged landscape.

This activity dates back to the Bronze Age, around 2150 BC, marking it as one of the oldest mining regions in Europe.

During this period 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 coast of South West 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.

tin mine cornwall

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 historians believe that Emperor Claudius' invasion of Britain in AD 43 was motivated by his desire to control these prosperous mines.

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.

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

Cornish Tin Mining Through the Ages

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Cornish mining industry reaching its zenith, known as the mining boom. Iconic mines like Geevor Tin Mine, Levant Mine, and Botallack Mine became some of the most productive in the region, with Geevor Tin continuing operations until 1990, making it one of Europe's last tin mines.

The Cornish Tin Mine: From Decline to Revival

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, South Crofty, closed in 1998, marking the end of an era.

However, the legacy of tin mining continues to influence Cornwall, with former mines like Geevor Mine becoming cultural and tourist attractions that celebrate Cornish mining history.

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

A New Generation of Cornish Miners?

cornish tin mine
Source: BBC News

There may well be a new generation of Cornish miners in the future, driven by a revived industry that promises safer conditions, better pay, and more advanced technology. This progressive shift aims to revive Cornwall's historic mining industry while adhering to modern standards and sustainable practices.

The Modern Metal Mining Industry and Environmental Initiatives

In recent years, interest has resurged in Cornwall's mineral wealth, particularly with advancements in extracting lithium for green technologies. Companies like Western United Mines Limited are exploring the possibility of reopening mines like South Crofty using more environmentally friendly methods.

Cornish tin mine
Source: BBC News

Cornwall's Mining Landscape: A World Heritage Site

In 2006, several areas of Cornwall and west Devon were collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing the profound impact of the region's mining activities on the global mining industry. This prestigious status highlights the significance of the mining landscape in West Cornwall, often referred to as the Tin Coast, which is not only a testament to the historical importance of the mining industry but also to its outstanding universal value.

What does the World Heritage Site status mean?

  • The World Heritage Site, known as the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, encompasses approximately 20,000 hectares spread over ten areas along the Tin Coast.

  • It represents the pioneering heartland from which mining technology spread across the globe.

Key Features of West Cornwall's Mining Landscape:

  • Iconic Engine Houses: The section of the World Heritage Site in West Cornwall is dotted with iconic engine houses, the remnants of deep mines, and transformed landscapes that narrate the story of Cornish mining prowess.

  • Dramatic Settings: Many engine houses are perched dramatically on cliffs or amidst rugged moorlands along the Tin Coast, making them visually striking features of the heritage site.

  • Historical Functions: These engine houses housed the steam engines that powered the pumps, winding gear, and compressors essential for deep mining operations.

Cornish tin mine
Image by Danilo D'Agostino, Unsplash

Engine Houses: Icons of Cornish Mining on the Tin Coast

  • Abundance of Structures: The landscape of West Cornwall is home to over 200 engine houses, developed primarily during the 18th century.

  • Vital Role in Mining: These structures were crucial for removing water from deep underground during the height of mining in Cornish mines.

  • Cultural Monuments: Today, they stand as monuments to the region's mining history and are key features of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.

Notable Sites:

  • Crown Engine Houses at Botallack: One of the most photographed and iconic symbols of Cornwall’s mining heritage along the Tin Coast. Perched on the cliffs of St Just, these structures stand as bold reminders of the human endeavor that characterized the region’s industrial past.

  • Geevor tin mine : Ceased operations in 1990 and now serves as a museum and visitor center, offering insights into the life of a working mine and the history of tin mining in the area.

Conservation and Tourism on the Tin Coast

  • Preservation of Historical Sites: The designation as a World Heritage Site has preserved these important historical sites and significantly boosted local tourism along the Tin Coast.

  • Educational and Recreational Opportunities: Visitors to West Cornwall can explore these sites through a network of trails and guided tours, offering a deeper understanding of the mining processes and the daily lives of the miners.

  • Attraction for Diverse Audiences: The educational value coupled with the dramatic landscapes makes the mining heritage sites a compelling attraction for historians, tourists, and academics alike.

Cornish Tin Jewellery

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

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

Local company St Justin uses 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 meaningful Wedding rings, perfect for a Wedding in Cornwall or to celebrate Cornish heritage.

At Sennen Jewellery, we honour the rich mining heritage of Cornwall by incorporating Cornish tin into our jewellery. Each Cornish tin piece connects wearers with the enduring legacy of Cornish miners who once extracted these metals from the earth.

Preserving the Heritage of Cornish Tin Mining

The story of tin mining in Cornwall is a testament to the resilience and innovation of the Cornish people. From the ancient Bronze Age to modern sustainable practices, the mining history of Cornwall continues to fascinate and inspire.

By choosing Cornish tin jewellery, you are not only acquiring a beautiful piece of art but also helping to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage of Cornish mining.

tin mine Cornwall
Mining Ruins Carn Gloose, Cape Cornwall, Martha Edwards

FAQs: Tin Mine Cornwall

What makes Cornish mining sites historically significant?

Cornish mining sites are historically significant due to their deep roots dating back to the Bronze Age, marking them as some of the earliest and most productive sites for tin and copper extraction in Europe.

What metals were found in Cornish mines?

The most commonly extracted metals in Cornish mines were tin and also copper, which were foundational to the region's economic and industrial growth through several centuries.

These Cornish mines were among the earliest and most productive in Europe, significantly impacting global metal markets.

Less common metals, such as silver, were also extracted, though in smaller quantities. Silver was often a byproduct of copper mining. Other lesser-extracted metals included lead and zinc, which were mined at various periods but did not have as significant an impact as tin and copper.

Can I visit any historical Cornish tin mines today?

Yes, several historical Cornish tin mines are open to the public. For instance, Geevor Tin Mine offers a unique opportunity to go underground and explore the workings of a former operational mine. It also houses waterwheels which provided the power for tin stamps, which were used to hammer tin ore from waste rock brought from nearby dumps.

However, while Poldark Mine, another significant site for tin production , is currently closed, it is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2024, aiming to once again allow visitors to experience its rich mining heritage firsthand.

Where can I visit the locations where Poldark was filmed?

Many of the dramatic scenes from the popular TV series Poldark were filmed across various picturesque locations in Cornwall, showcasing the region's stunning landscapes and historic sites. Some of the most notable filming locations include:

  • Botallack to Levant: Stretching along the Tin Coast, these areas feature heavily, representing the fictional Poldark mine seen in the series. The iconic engine houses perched on the cliffs here double as the Wheal Leisure and Grambler mines in the show.

  • Charlestown: Serving as the stand-in for the Georgian-era Truro and Falmouth, Charlestown's historic port and tall ships provide a perfect backdrop for the series' maritime scenes.

  • Porthgwarra: A charming cove near St. Levan, used for some of the romantic beach scenes between Ross and Demelza.

  • Bodmin Moor: The rugged landscapes of Bodmin Moor appear throughout the series, including scenes featuring Nampara, Ross Poldark’s home.

What role did engine houses play in Cornish mining operations?

Engine houses in Cornish mining operations housed the steam engines essential for pumping water out of deep mines, facilitating deeper and more extensive mining activities.

How is China clay extracted in Cornwall, and what is its use?

China clay, extracted near St Austell, is primarily used in the manufacture of ceramic products, such as porcelain and as a filler in paper and textiles. The extraction process involves removing the clay from the ground and refining it through water washing.

Where can one learn about the history of copper mines in Cornwall?

The history of copper mining in Cornwall can be explored at several heritage sites and museums across the region, which detail the extraction processes, the lives of miners, and the impact of copper mining on the global economy.

What innovations were developed by Cornish hard rock miners?

Cornish hard rock miners developed several innovations in tin and copper mining, including advanced pumping systems and methods for shoring up mine shafts, which allowed them to mine at greater depths and in more challenging conditions.

Why are the Cornish tin mine engine houses so iconic?

The Cornish tin mine engine houses are iconic due to their distinctive architectural styles and their role in symbolizing the technological advancements of the Cornish mining industry during its peak years.

What distinguishes a Cornish mine from other historical mining sites?

A typical Cornish mine is distinguished by its unique geological and cultural heritage.

  • Firstly, the geological composition of a Cornish mine often includes complex tin and copper lodes, making the extraction process both challenging and innovative.

  • Secondly, the historical context of a Cornish mine is deeply rooted in the Bronze Age, which highlights its long-standing significance in metal production.

  • Lastly, the social impact of a Cornish mine extends beyond just its economic contributions; it has shaped the cultural landscape of Cornwall, influencing traditions, folklore, and community identity over centuries.

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