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 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.
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.