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Hertfordshire

Driving - South West Mining



Today the West Country is renowned for its holiday resorts, picturesque fishing villages and cream teas but in the 18th and 19th centuries it was a thriving industrial area. The main reason for the industrial activity was the large deposits of tin, copper, and china clay, the mining of which led to a time of unparalleled prosperity for the area.

The problem encountered by the mine owners trying to excavate these minerals was floodwater. They needed to mine deeper into the ground but were blocked by the water, and many mines flooded because the existing methods of pumping were not able to cope.

In fact, one of the earliest methods of hauling buckets of water up the shaft hadn't changed much until the early 18th century. But it was the Cornish mine owners quest to overcome this problem that gave rise the most significant innovation for water drainage - the steam engine.

After developments in the application of steam by a number of inventors it was a West Countryman, Thomas Newcomen, who designed the "Atmospheric" engine in 1712. It was used to drain mines throughout the country, and six hundred of these engines were built over the next 60 years until James Watt made considerable improvements to the design in 1776. But it was a Cornishman Richard Trevithick, who in 1812 made the most important contribution to Cornish mining with his work on the Cornish engine and boiler. The efficiency of his boiler and the use of high pressure steam in the engine, meant it was possible to go even deeper into the ground. Soon Cornish engine houses not only covered the West Country but were in use all around the world, and one of the best examples is Levant near Lands end.

1. Levant Beam Engine

At the height of the mining industry in 1860 there were 650 beam engines working in Cornwall. The Levant Beam Engine, at Pendeen in Cornwall, is an excellent example of a working beam engine. Mining started at Levant in 1820 and at its peak of production the Levant Mine extended for a mile underneath the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the most successful mines in the area, mining both tin and copper.

Although some of the Cornish mines were over 1,000 feet deep the men still had to climb up and down the shafts on ladders at the beginning and end of every shift. The more humane mine owners added platforms to the pumping rods, so that miners could hitch a ride as the rod moved up and down. This was the case at Levant but it was also the cause of a terrible disaster in 1919. So the story goes, the driver of the engine had complained about strange noises coming from the engine but the mine owners did nothing about it. The engine driver was so concerned that he gave in his notice and left. Three weeks later the beam broke and 31 miners plummeted to their death, the second worst accident in Cornish mining history. Part of the beam that broke was recovered and is on display inside the engine house.

Mining at Levant ceased in 1930 but a group of volunteers from the Trevithick Society began to renovate the original engine in 1985 and it is now in working order and is run regularly.

Levant is managed by the Trevithick Trust on behalf of the National Trust.

Levant Beam Engine Trewellard, Pendeen, St Just, Cornwall Tel: 01736 786156 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ Open: June to August, Sunday to Friday 11-5. Rest of year, Friday 11 -5. For steam days see the National Trust Handbook.

Directions- By Car - Follow signs from B3306, St Just to Zennor Road, 1 mile west of Pendeen. By Train - Penzance BR By Bus- Bus services run from Penzance to Pendeen.

2. Geevor Tin Mine

A short walk along the cliff path brings you to Geevor Tin Mine. Geevor was an amalgamation of many small mines restarted on a small scale in 1911. By 1920 "Victory Shaft", which was named in celebration of the First World War, was started. This shaft was to be the main shaft throughout the rest of the mine's life and was used for hoisting up both men and ore.

Following the closure of neighbouring Levant in 1930, Geevor was the only mine left in the area, and over the following years it acquired and expanded into the old mines around her. By 1980 the mine was working parts of the Levant mine, and was prospecting in Botallack mine. At its peak the mine employed over 400 men, most of whom came from the surrounding area, but in October 1985 the world tin market collapsed. The price of the tonne of tin fell from £10,500 to £3,000. Geevor struggled on but was forced to close in February 1990.

The site is now managed by the Trevithick Trust and has been turned into a Mining Heritage Centre. Underground tours are given by ex-miners of the old adit mine and on the surface there are many features including a museum and the winder house.

Geevor Tin Mine Pendeen, St Just, Cornwall TR19 7EW. Tel: 01736 788662 Open: March to October, Sunday-Friday 10:30 - 5:30 full site. November to February, Monday-Friday 10-4 museum and shop.

Directions: By Car - By B3306 from St Just to Zennor, or follow signs on A3071 from Penzance. By Train - Penzance BR By Bus - Bus services run from Penzance to the gates of Geevor.

3. Poldark Mine Heritage Complex

Tin mining in Cornwall dates back well before Geevor and Levant. There is evidence that Lode mining has been practiced in the Wendron Valley since the 16th century. A "lode" is a Cornish term meaning a vein of mineral in a rock face. In the period before the steam engine allowed deeper mining, the lode would be extracted at or near the surface. Poldark Mine is situated in the Wendron Valley and is believed to be the oldest complete mine workings open to the public.

The earliest workings date back to the late 17th century. At first they were worked entirely by hand, with animal power being introduced later on to haul the tubs of tin to the surface. Work in the mines ceased in 1810 and amazingly it was only discovered again in the 1970's, when a particularly dry period exposed a hole in the ground which turned out to be a mine shaft. Over the years this shaft, along with four others and their connecting levels have been cleared, and year by year more of the workings have been opened up to public view as part of the Poldark Mine Heritage Complex.

As well as a tour of the underground workings there are many other attractions at the complex including a large collection of mining artifacts, engine models, and mineral samples.

The Weldron Valley was the site of many mines and the Porkellis United mine, one mile east of Poldark, was the scene of another terrible accident. A number of the miners had begun supplementing their income by extracting ore from an abandoned section of the mine. They carried on mining for a number of weeks, moving ever closer to the bottom of a lake. Eventually the ground gave way and the mine was flooded. Forty three men managed to escape, but seven were drowned and there bodies never recovered. Local rumour has it that one of the drowned miners kept all his savings in gold sovereigns in a belt around his waist because he did not trust his wife with his earnings. The treasure, it is said, remains at the bottom of the mine!

The Weldron Valley has been worked for tin for over two thousand years. The earliest method was known as tin streaming, whereby the tin grains washed from exposed veins were recovered from streams in a similar method to panning for gold. The Heritage Complex houses a copy of a tin streaming lease issued in 1493 to a John Trenere. It gave him the right to work machinery to grind the ore and to divert the stream in a leat and the waters still run in that leat today.

The tin gravel was washed down into the valley by streams and remained there in layers. The top layers were near the surface which made it easy for the miners to extract the tin gravel. This was then pounded by a mortar stone and washed to remove the waste, the result was near pure tin. Even in the early 19th century this method was still practiced with 26 separate stream works in the Wendron Valley alone. But to see the last tin stream works in Cornwall you must a few miles travel up to Redruth.

Poldark Mine Heritage Complex Wendron, Helston, Cornwall, TR13 0ER. Tel: 01326 573173 Open: Easter to October, daily, 10-5.30.

Directions: By Car- On the B3297 between Redruth and Helston. By Train - Redruth BR By Bus - Truronian (01872 273453)

4. Tolgus Tin

Only a century ago Tolgus was one of the many hundreds of stream works, each one processing waste discarded by the mines or the other mills. Mills like Tolgus, were independent of the mines and grew up by rivers and streams so that water was readily available. The water had two main uses, one was for "Gravity Separation" and the other as a means of power. "Gravity separation" is a process by which the heavy tin will settle out in flowing water while the lighter, waste particles are washed away.

Water wheels provided the power to drive the machines at Tolgus, including a 150 year old fourteen foot wheel that drives the Cornish stamps. A stamp was a machine that reduced the ore to grain size for further processing. The grand would be treated on the "shaking tables", the "barrel pulverisor" and the "rake classifier" to extract the tin from the waste.

Tolgus Tin Cornish Goldsmiths, Portreath Road, Redruth, Cornwall. TR16 4HN.

Directions - By Car- Turn off the A30 at Redruth. Follow the signs to the Cornish Goldcentre, on the B3300, Redruth to Portreath road. Tolgus Tin is situated by the side of the Goldcentre. By Train - Redruth BR By Bus - Western National (01209 719988)

5. Cornish Mines and Engines at Pool

South Crofty, at Pool, was the last working tin mine in Cornwall. When it closed in 1998 it was the end of an almost unbroken history of 300 years. In the 19th century Pool was a thriving village surrounded by mines which between them produced some 670,000 tonnes of copper and almost 100, 000 tonnes of tin.

The East Pool Mine was one such mine and its steam winding engine of 1887 remains as part of Cornish Mines and Engines at Pool. It was designed by a local engineer, EW Michell, and was the last rotative beam engine to be made in Cornwall.

The engine was "double acting" which meant the steam acted alternately on the top and bottom of the piston. It was then exhausted to a condenser instead of being discharged into the air. The boiler room was demolished some time after the closure of the mine in 1921 but was re-built by the National Trust in 1975.

The engine is now driven by an electric motor, but it was operated by steam between 1887 and 1921 when a large rock fall destroyed the shaft and the mine was abandoned. The company then sank the new Taylor's Shaft, which can be viewed on the other side of the main road.

The Taylor's Shaft engine was constructed in 1892 and was originally built for pumping water at the Carn Brea Mines, but was re-erected at Taylor's Shaft in 1924, and therefore was the last Cornish engine to be erected in the world. The engine is one of the largest of its kind with the cylinder measuring 90 inches and the total weight of metal amounting to 125 tonnes.

Although East Pool Mine closed in 1945, the engine continued working for another nine years. This was because when the engine originally stopped pumping in 1945, it resulted in an increase of water at nearby South Crofty. Therefore the mine owners at South Crofty had to keep the engine going to avoid their mine being flooded.

Cornish Engines is managed by the Trevithick Trust on behalf of the National Trust, and guided tours of both sites are given by local experts.

Cornish Mines and Engines at Pool Agar Road, Redruth, Cornwall. Tr15 3EB. Tel: 01209 216657 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ Open: Last week in March to first week in November, daily 11-5.

Directions By Car - From the A30, take the Pool exit, turn left at the lights and follow the A3047. By Train - Pool BR By Bus - Western National (01209 719988)

6. Lappa Steam Valley Railway and East Wheal Rose Engine House

Once the minerals had been mined and processed they needed to be transported to a port so that they could be shipped to other parts of the country. The Lappa Steam Valley Railway runs on one of the oldest trackbeds in the county. It was opened in 1849 as a mineral line to transport the ore mined at East Wheal Rose to the port of Newquay. It later became part of the GWR Newquay to Chacewater branch line.

The two mile return journey takes you from Benny Halt to East Wheal Rose, where the famous mine engine house is situated.

The main reason for mining in this particular area was that the lead ore had a valuable silver content and in 1814 mining commenced at the Wheal Rose workings. In 1834 new workings, called East Wheal Rose, began nearby and by 1846 the mine employed over 1,200 people. The mine was powered by a beam engine with a 100 inch cylinder, which was one of the largest in Cornwall, and although the engine no longer exsists the engine house is an impressive site.

Lappa Valley Steam Railway St Newlyn East, Newquay, Cornwall. TR8 5HZ. Tel: 01872 510317 Open: April - September, daily 10-5 (July - August 10-6) October, Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday 10.30-4.30.

Directions By Car- Sign posted from A3075 Newquay to Redruth road. By Train- Newquay BR By Bus - Western National (01209 719988)

7. Wheal Martyn China Clay Heritage Centre

Although the invention of the steam engine was vital to the development of mining, water continued to be used as a means of power right through until the 20th century. At Wheal Martyn China Clay works, near St Austell, water wheels were used to pump the clay slurry around the site up until 1969.

The China Clay Industry is Cornwall's largest industry, with four companies operating pits in the South West producing almost three million tonnes of clay a year. Most of the china clay is now used to make paper but the pits were originally developed to provide china clay for porcelain manufacture.

Originally, it was two West Countrymen, William Cookworthy and Richard Champion, who held the patent for the hard paste porcelain. However, the monopoly was broken by Staffordshire potters, led by Josiah Wedgewood, who wanted to use the china clay for their products.

At first the Staffordshire companies leased their own pits in Cornwall, but later they gave up the control of production and bought the china clay from the local companies working the pits.

The Wheal Martyn China Clay Heritage Centre is located in the old Wheal Martyn and Gomm china clay works. China clay production on the site began in 1820, and by 1869 Wheal Martyn was one of the major pits in Cornwall, producing 2,000 tonnes of clay a year. The pit itself closed in 1931, but the works continued to operate until 1969 using china clay from other pits. The Wheal Martyn pit was reopened in 1971 and continues to be worked by ECC International. There are viewing points of these modern excavations from the heritage centre.

Two water wheels were used to provide power for the site. The large thirty five foot wheel was used to pump the clay slurry from the pit, while the 18 foot wheel was used to pump the slurry around the site as it underwent various treatments. Both water wheels can still be seen in action along with the methods used for refining, thickening and drying the clay.

Wheal Martyn China Clay Heritage Centre Carthew, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 8XG http://www.chycor.co.uk/lappa-valley-railway/index.htm Tel: 01726 850362 Open: Easter to end of October, daily 10-6.

Directions By Car- Sign posted from A3075 Newquay to Redruth road. By Train- Newquay BR. By Bus - Western National (01209 719988)

8. Morwellham Quay

Water power was not only used in the manufacture of china clay but also in the mining of copper. Travel along the A390 to find Morwellham Quay, which is situated in the Tamar valley south of Tavistock.

Morwellham Quay was originally a small river port for Tavistock Abbey and the surrounding villages, but it grew as local mines opened to exploit the large mineral deposits in the nearby hills. It was the early 19th century that really saw the expansion of the port, when the Tavistock Canal was completed in 1816 to connect the inland copper mines to the port.

Water was an important source of power in the area and it can still be seen working at Morwellham Quay, which is now a large open air museum that recreates the atmosphere of the thriving quay in the mid 19th century. The underground tramway tour of a nearby copper mine shows an 18 ft water wheel operating 100 feet underground, it was fed from the surface and powered pumps to drain the mine.

Back at the quay, a thirty five ft wheel dominates the site which drove the millstones to grind manganese ore. Manganese was very rare in the 19th century and was only mined at a few sites around the world. The ore mined locally was brought to Morwellham Quay to be ground by the millstones and then to be shipped away on a boat similar to the Garlandstone, which is docked in the port.

At its peak there were over 4,000 tonnes of copper ore stored on the quay, but towards the end of the 19th century the port went into decline. It was reliant on the local mining trade and when richer sources of copper were found elsewhere the quays became deserted. The local mines closed in 1901 and Morwellham Quay's life as a trading port came to an end.

Morwellham Quay Morwellham, near Tavistock, Devon PL19 8JL Tel: 01882 832766 Open: Easter to October, daily 10 - 5.30. November to Easter, daily 10 - 4.30. In winter only the grounds and copper mine are open.

Directions By Car - From the main Tavistock to Liskard road (A390) turn left 2 miles west of Tavistock. By Bus - Devon Bus 01392 382800

9. Newcomen Memorial Engine

It was Thomas Newcomen's design of the atmospheric engine that was the catalyst for the industrial activity in the South West during the 18th and 19th centuries, therefore it is only appropriate to end the trail at the Newcomen Memorial Engine, in Dartmouth.

Thomas Newcomen had built on the ideas of his predecessors to design his engine. Denis Papin was a French doctor who had worked on a piston and cylinder concept, but the scheme proved unworkable as he proposed to use one vessel as both boiler and condenser. Another contemporary Thomas Savery, had already patented "The Miner's Friend" in 1698, an engine designed to drain water from mines using boiling and condensing water. In essence, Newcomen combined Papin's piston and cylinder concept with Savery's boiling and condensing water method to design his engine. In fact, Newcomen's design was so similar to Savery's it is said that he was only prevented from taking legal action by being taken into partnership by Newcomen.

The first engine was constructed at Dudley Castle in Tipton, in 1712 and within a few years they were being used in mines all over the country. In 1720 Newcomen erected the first steam engine in Cornwall in Ludgvan Lez near Penzance. There were no essential changes to the design until James Watt's developments in 1776, by then over 600 of the engines had been made.

The Newcomen Memorial Engine house was built in 1963 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Newcomen's birth. The engine itself is a later design of Newcomen's first attempt in 1712, although its early history is unknown. It was purchased second hand by the Coventry Canal Company to pump water from a well to a canal, and then in 1963 it was donated to the Newcomen Society who re-erected in it Dartmouth.

Newcomen Memorial Engine The Engine House, Mayors Avenue, Dartmouth, Devon. TQ6 9YY Tel: 01803 834224 Open: Good Friday to end of September, Monday to Saturday 9.30 - 5.30, Sunday 10-4. October to March, Monday to Saturday 10-4.

Directions By Car - Sign posted in the town centre. By Bus - Devon Bus 01392 382800

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