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Regional route Cornwall | United Kingdom

The Cornish Route of Industrial Heritage features one of the earliest industrial areas in Europe and one of the most influential in terms of developing industrial expertise and mining technology. The area is also a noteworthy example of the growth of industrial society. Cornwalis a peninsula jutting ... more

The Cornish Route of Industrial Heritage

The Cornish Route of Industrial Heritage features one of the earliest industrial areas in Europe and one of the most influential in terms of developing industrial expertise and mining technology. The area is also a noteworthy example of the growth of industrial society.

Cornwalis a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, located at the extreme south west of the UK and Europe. The area has a very individual geology in which the resources of tin, copper and china clay are to be found. These rich and abundant natural resources were the reason for rapid industrial development during the Industrial Revolution. The great international significance of Cornwall’s metalliferous mining heritage was recognised by UNESCO in 2006 when the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape was inscribed as a World Heritage Site . The World Heritage status relates principally to the mining of copper and tin, however the china clay industry, which dates from the middle 18th century, is also of great international importance and is still operational today.

Copper and Tin

Copper and tin mining have been carried out over an extensive area extending about 100 miles (160 kilometres) from the east in the neighbouring county of Devon, to the tip of Cornwall in the west. Mineral extraction has taken place for about four thousand years however industrialisation of the mining process really commenced in the early 1700s, following the development of practical steam engines which allowed water to be pumped from deep mines. A significant later impetus was the invention of the high-pressure steam engine, at the turn of the 19th century, by the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick. Thereafter, copper and tin production grew very rapidly through the 1800s to satisfy the growing demands for these industrial metals; copper particularly for the all important alloys bronze and brass, and as sheets to protect the hulls of ships; and tin for metal alloys and as a corrosion resistant plating for steel food cans. During the latter 19th century these industries went into decline, due principally to global competition, and the last productive mine, South Crofty, closed in 1998.

Today the Cornish industrial landscape is characterised by the remains of pumping, winding and stamping engine houses, mineral waste tips (now partially vegetated), former mineral railways and small ports, in addition to the settlements full of character, with the homes of the workers, churches, chapels, schools and other social buildings of industrial society. The buildings are invariably built of Cornish granite with Cornish slate roofs.

The harsh demands of work created a very individual society with strong community spirit and interdependence between workers. Mining was difficult and dangerous, following near vertical mineral veins, or lodes, underground sometimes to a depth exceeding 350 metres. At Poldark Mine, near Wendron, a guided underground tour of the 18th century workings shows the difficulties of tin mining and provides a truly exceptional experience for visitors. Geevor Tin Mine, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to see all the aspects of a 20th century working tin mine on the surface and associated community living.

The most iconic features within the Cornish landscape are the remains of many Cornish beam engine houses. These relatively small buildings occur all over Cornwall and west Devon, but perhaps nowhere more spectacularly than at Botallack and Levant on the cliff tops near St Just, to the south west of Geevor Tin Mine. Probably the best preserved is at Pool, where there is a working engine in the ownership of the National Trust.

Cornish beam engine houses can be seen in many countries around the World including Ireland, Mexico, Australia and South Africa. Many Cornish families migrated and took their expertise, technology and way of life with them during the 19th century, resulting in the creation of settlements around the World where strong evidence of Cornish mining culture can be found.

China clay

The china clay industry is located in the centre of Cornwall primarily between Bodmin and St Austell. China clay is not only important for manufacturing ceramic artefacts but has many other special uses, including paper and paint manufacture, medicines, and as electricity isolators. The Wheal Martyn Anchor Point is located at the heart of the china clay workings and provides visitors with an understanding of the industry during the Victorian period and of a modern working pit. The extraction process has resulted in an extensive and dramatic landscape of waste tips and quarries with some of the former still in their original white colour, although many are now covered in vegetation. Where tips remain white and adjoin flooded quarries, the contrast between these and the aquamarine colour of the water is spectacular.The settlements associated with the china clay industry have similar characteristics to those of the copper and tin industries. There are some notable structural features associated with the industry, in particular the splendid Treffry Viaduct within the Luxulyan Valley, and the historic port of Charlestown on the south coast.

Cornish Route of Industrial Heritage

There is much to see in Cornwall’s industrial landscape. The ERIH Cornish Route of Industrial Heritage has been carefully designed as a structured framework to help visitors access and appreciate the area’s rich industrial heritage. The three "Anchor Points" - Geevor Tin Mine, Heartlands and Wheal Martyn - were selected because of their authenticity and the high quality of services and interpretation available for visitors. Spread evenly throughout the industrial landscape they provide excellent gateways from which to explore the many features of this great cultural landscape. The other sites on the Cornish route each offer something different and the opportunity to gain more information and wider understanding of the development of industry, and the stories of the people who created this early industrial society. 

Penzance | United Kingdom
It is as if the walls were echoing once more with the rough tones of miners. As if weary feet were stamping against the bare cement floor, accompanied by the screeching tones of the rising cage. Nowadays, not far from Penzance, the Atlantic flows through the disused galleries of the Geevor tin mine ...
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Geevor Tin Mine World Heritage Site
Pendeen
TR19 7EW Pendeen, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
“Heartlands” has transformed the mining heritage in the county of Cornwall into a huge "cultural playground". At its epicentre stand the winding gear and engine house above the Robinson’s Shaft. Monuments to early industrialisation, (including a Cornish pumping engine and a gigantic boiler), tell ...
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Heartlands
Robinson's Shaft
Dudnance Lane Pool
TR15 3QY Redruth, United Kingdom

St Austell | United Kingdom
The view from the visitors platform down into the 100 metre deep opencast mine in St Austell in the south west of England reveals modern machinery doing work which was once performed almost exclusively by people. From the middle of the 18th century onwards, and usually under harsh conditions, ...
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Wheal Martyn
Carthew
PL26 8XG St Austell, United Kingdom

Callington | United Kingdom
Kit Hill is a landmark hilltop located in the east of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape WHS. The hill has a rich mining heritage and its ornate feature chimney, a reminder of its mining past, dominates the landscape for miles around. The area is now a country park extending to 152 ...
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Kit Hill Country Park
PL17 8HW Callington, United Kingdom

Camborne | United Kingdom
The surface buildings at the King Edward Mine are the most complete of any tin-mining site in Cornwall, and include a calciner, a buddle house, a steam winding engine house with an adjacent boiler house, a set of Californian stamps and a twin horizontal winding engine supplied by Holmans of Camborn ...
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King Edward Mine
Troon
TR16 3SE Camborne, United Kingdom

Helston | United Kingdom
The underground tour at Poldark has been described by a distinguished authority as ‘one of the two most atmospheric mine tours in Europe’. Poldark, 3 km from Helston, is a multi-facetted visitor attraction that takes its name from a television series, parts of which were filmed there, but it is also ...
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Poldark Mine
Wendron
TR13 0ES Helston, United Kingdom

Liskeard | United Kingdom
Sett in the beautiful Loveny Valley on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor, Carnglaze is Cornwall’s only slate mine and as such, played an important part in the mining heritage of Cornwall. It was of course slate that roofed the industrial revolution and the finely laminated, dark blue slate from ...
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Carnglaze Caverns
St Neot
PL14 6HQ Liskeard, United Kingdom

Pendeen | United Kingdom
The Levant Mine engine house, perched, apparently precariously, on a cliff above the Atlantic Ocean, houses the oldest working beam engine in Cornwall, a 24 inch (0.61 m) winding engine designed by Francis Mitchell, made by Harveys of Hayle, and installed in 1840. The mine extended to a considerable ...
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Levant Mine & Beam Engine
Trewellard
TR19 7SX Pendeen, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
The Cornwall Centre is dedicated to providing information about Cornwall and is staffed by professional librarians. Its collection of over 40,000 books and printed resources covers Cornish history, geography, industries, customs and highlights Cornwall’s mining heritage. It offers anyone interested ...
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Cornish Studies Library
Alma Place
TR15 2AT Redruth, United Kingdom

Redruth | United Kingdom
Cornwall was Europe’s principal source of tin from classical times and an important source of copper during the Industrial Revolution period, and the ores of many other metals have been extracted from its mines.The two steam engines at East Pool, alongside the main road between Camborne and Redruth, ...
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East Pool Mine
Pool
TR15 3ED Redruth, United Kingdom

Tavistock | United Kingdom
Time has stood still at Morwellham Quay. The streets are full of servants and merchants in Victorian costume and miners are hurrying towards their shift. In the busy assay office copper ore from the surrounding mines is checked and sorted according to quality. The whole place is buzzing with ...
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Morwellham Quay
Morwellham Quay
PL19 8JL Tavistock, United Kingdom

Tavistock | United Kingdom
Tavistock is a busy market town in West Devon. A former abbey and Medieval stannary town it was in the 19th century largely owned by the Dukes of Bedford who in the mid -19th century reinvested some of their vast royalties from the copper mining back into the town. This paid for fine public ...
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Tavistock Museum
Guildhall Square
PL19 0AE Tavistock, United Kingdom