8 Facts About Cornish Mining

September 10th, 2018

Mining in Cornwall has a rich history that can still be seen across the landscapes, with historic engine houses still standing along the cliffs and moorlands. Mining was such an integral part of Cornwall that part of the county is now known as the ‘Tin Coast’, and includes some of the most impressive mines, such as Levant Mine and Botallack Mine. Here are eight facts you may not know about mining!

Tin mining in Cornwall has a long history

With evidence of Cornish tin being traded across Britain for approximately 4,000 years, it is clear that mining has long been a part of Cornish heritage. By the mid-1700s, Cornwall was producing around 12,000 tons of copper ore a year! During the 19th Century, mining in Cornwall reached its peak, with around 2,000 mines in action across the county.

Tin miners had specific rights

Mining was considered important enough that miners had the right to look for tin in any open land, as laid out in the Charter of Liberties to the Tinners of Devon and Cornwall that was formed in 1201. The same Charter also allowed miners to be exempt from military service, granted them lower taxes, and even meant that they could ignore certain laws!

Cornish tin mine

There were high levels of arsenic

During the late 19th century, a few of Cornwall’s mines were producing more than half of the arsenic in the world. Created as a by-product during the processing of copper and tin, the arsenic was used as an insecticide, and in paint. As arsenic is an incredibly poisonous substance, mining was a dangerous profession, and workers needed to keep their mouth, nose and skin covered at all times! Clay was used as a protective layer to cover the skin while at work.

Women were miners

While mining is often thought of as a male-dominated job, women and girls played their part in the mining process too in Cornwall. While they didn’t go underground, they were an essential part of the mining industry. Known as ‘Bal Maidens’, these women would help to separate the tin from any other mined substances.

Children were miners too

Mining also wasn’t a profession for only the adults! By 1839, around 7000 children were working in the Cornish mines and would be put to work as soon as they were old enough. While the girls remained above ground with the Bal Maidens, boys were sent underground to help out with the mining. One particularly bad job was also left for the children, which involved sweeping the arsenic out of the flues!

Tin mine in Cornwall

The Cornish word for tin is ‘sten’

Originating from the Latin term ‘stannum’, which was adopted as the word for tin when Romans arrived in Cornwall to trade for tin.

Some mines were underwater

With so much coastline in Cornwall, it is no surprise that some of the mines stretched out beyond the land and under the waves. Levant Mine, for example, extends for over 2.5km under the sea. While the mine was 640m deep under the sea, workers could still hear the waves crashing above them. Steam engines were bought into these underwater mines to help pump out the seawater, making them more accessible for mining!

Cornish mines have World Heritage Status

Mines in Cornwall were awarded this impressive status back in 2006, marking the area as being a place of significance with outstanding value, and is recognised by UNESCO. While we know how impressive the mines in Cornwall are, to put this in context, this status puts Cornish mines on a par with Stonehenge, the pyramids in Egypt and Machu Picchu!

If you would like to see these beautiful areas, filled with the rich history of the Cornish mining community for yourself, then come and stay with us at The Valley, a 5 star luxury holiday park in Cornwall.

Image Credit: John McKindland