Mining in Cornwall

Tin Mining was once the main industry in Cornwall, illustration by Simon Riordan
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Tin Mining was once the main industry in Cornwall

There are over 200 iconic Cornish engine houses dotted around the landscape, and the remains of the transport networks that were developed to serve the mines in the early 19th Century – the railways, mineral tramways, canals, ports and quays can now be explored by foot, bicycle or boat. There are also several of Cornwall’s great houses and gardens – paid for by the profits from the mining industry which are now open for all to enjoy.
The Cornwall Uncovered Map shows these mineral trails, however if you would like to find out more about Cornwall’s World Heritage Site Status you can visit www.cornish-mining.org.uk

A Cornish Engine House in West Penwith
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A Cornish Engine House in West Penwith

In 2006, select mining areas of Devon and Cornwall including Camborne and Redruth were given the global recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in other words – places of significance and value to the whole of humanity. This was the centre of the Cornish mining industry, with the highest concentration of historic mining sites anywhere in the world.
The area is also recognised for the pioneering technological advances that were made here – the birth of the steam engine is just one advance, initially used for pumping water out of the mines, which changed the course of history by providing the means for the mass movement of goods and people.
The Cornish Studies Library in Redruth, East Pool Mine and King Edward Mine Museum all provide fascinating information about this area’s industrial history. Have a look at either Cornwall Uncovered Map or the Discover Camborne map to locate these places.

St Austell and its surrounding area was once an important area for tin mining.The Cornish historian, Tonkin, writing in the early 1700s, considered nearby Polgooth to be “the richest work in the kingdom”, producing £20,000 worth of tin per year. By 1837, Polgooth was the third largest producer of tin in Cornwall. St. Austell, with its blowing-houses (smelting-houses), had become an important place and for a short while between 1833 and 1838 it operated as a coinage town confirming that the tin had been properly assayed and ensuring that the duty chargeable by the Duchy of Cornwall was paid.

An old conical claypit in Treverbyn, St Austell
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An old conical claypit in Treverbyn, St Austell

Tin mining started to decline after the middle of the 19th century, but, fortunately for St. Austell, the discovery of deposits of china clay in its hinterland towards the end of the 1700s meant further prosperity for the town and the surrounding area. This extractive industry gradually replaced tin-mining and led to St. Austell’s further importance, the town becoming a centre known throughout the world for producing this valuable commodity used in so many manufacturing processes.

Today, the extraction of china clay from the decomposed granite in huge excavations is still the main industry of the St. Austell area. Current practice is to restore the landscape when economical, whilst some worked-out pits serve as reservoirs for the vast quantities of water used in washing the clay from the faces of the pits. These worked-out pits have a scenic quality all of their own and provide much valued habitat for flora and fauna. Clay trails have been created all over this fascinating area enabling multi use access.