Discover the extraordinary...Cornwall's mining heritage.
Mining has taken place in Cornwall for over four thousand years, with evidence of operations taking place as early as 2,150 BC. Until the early 20th century, Cornwall was easily one of the most important areas for mining in all of Europe. Its rich veins of tin, copper, lead, zinc, silver and arsenic have provided materials for civilisations both ancient and current throughout the continent, and the advances made within the industry in Cornwall have spread across the world, improving life and industry as far away as China, Australia and South America.
Our luxury cottages in Cornwall are the perfect way to explore the mining heritage of the region. You can head to one of the areas highlighted on the map below during your stay in the county to bring a little learning to your holiday and come to understand Cornwall that much more before you leave. Our 5 star cottages in Cornwall give you access to all the attractions that Cornwall boasts, and exploring the county’s history of mining is yet another way to make your holiday more interesting and involving.
The earliest mining in the county was for tin, and this is one of the materials Cornwall is still famous for. Bronze production had been discovered in Turkey around 3500 BC, and there was a huge demand for tin throughout the Mediterranean. Cornwall could meet part of this demand, and entered the Mediterranean economy early on thanks to it. The tin from Cornwall ended up in Ancient Greece and across the Phoenician civilisation’s provinces. Phoenician artefacts have also been discovered in Cornwall, backing up the theory that it was the Phoenicians who controlled the trade around Cornwall and kept their source of tin a closely guarded secret.
The driving force behind the demand for bronze was war, as the easily shaped material allowed for far more weapons, armour and shields to be created than had been possible before its discovery, vastly increasing the number of well-armed soldiers that could be fielded. The increased availability of agricultural tools was also a key benefit from getting your hands on a ready supply of bronze. The desire for tin from Mediterranean peoples continued into and through the Roman Empire, and the discovery of pewter, also made with tin and used by the Ancient Egyptians and Romans, reinforced this. The wealth of tin available in Cornwall is thought to be one of the reasons behind the Roman invasion of Britain.
The Middle Ages saw Cornwall continue to supply tin across Europe, particularly when deposits in neighbouring Devon became exhausted. This is the period when we begin to see technological advances pioneered in Cornwall, allowing for production to reach as much as 800 tons annually around 1400. The use of peat and water operated “stamps” sped up production, allowing for more efficient furnaces and the crushing of ore to speed up the separation of metal from rock.
Once Cornwall entered the Early Modern period, a second tin boom hit Europe, and the mining industry in Cornwall grew in importance once again, even drawing in German miners who brought new, advanced techniques with them. As the 18th century approached, a man in nearby Somerset came up with a way of using gunpowder to blast through the granite rock that is so common in Cornwall, allowing miners to accomplish with a single blast what would previously have taken a week.
Cornish mining hit its peak during the first half of the 1800s. Cornwall’s mines were some of the richest in the world, and around six hundred steam engines were operating in the county every day to empty water from mines that stretched under the sea or went below the aquifer. The county held the biggest mine in the UK and exported tin, silver, copper and wolfram all around Europe. These were the heydays of Cornish mining and lasted until the middle of the century. From this point onwards, Cornish mines were in decline. They were unable to compete with new mines opening up around the world, nor could they supply iron, which had become the metal of choice for industries around the world. Tens of thousands of Cornish miners began heading overseas every year, taking their expertise all over the world and helping to set up the mining industries that still exist today in Australia, North America, Canada and elsewhere.
Without Cornwall’s mining heritage and development, we wouldn’t have the ability to make the buildings or technology that we do today, and many parts of the world would be left without this vital industry. Learn more about this fascinating topic during your stay in one of our luxury cottages in Cornwall.