Cornwall’s tin mines were world famous, but large quantities of tin ore were also obtained by ‘streaming’, by washing and sifting alluvium from rivers and streams or crushed waste that had been discarded at mines.
Tolgus is the last tin-streaming works in Cornwall, the only survivor of 15 that once worked in the valley of the stream that flows into the sea at the spectacular harbour of Portreath. Its centrepiece is a 12-headed battery of Cornish stamps, the only one in Europe that still works. Stamps were used to crush ore, and a battery of them comprised a rotating shaft on which tappets raised lifters on the hefty wooden stamp columns, which had head of cast-iron under which the ore was crushed. The stamps at Tolgus are worked by a 4.3 m diameter water-wheel, which is more than 150 years old. Adjacent to the tin-streaming works is a calciner of the type invented by William Brunton in 1828, a kiln that was used to extract sulphur and arsenic from tin ores.
Tolgus has had a complex management history in recent decades. It was once owned by the leisure company Tussauds, but was managed by the Trevithick Trust until that body ceased to function in 2004. It is now operated by volunteers with some support from the adjacent Cornish Gold Centre.