July 9th, 1870
It was setting day, and the miners gathered in noisy expectation in front of Phoenix United’s grand count-house. Every two months this important event occurred; an action of the work to be conducted at the mine. But this setting day was going to be different, for the mine’s majority shareholder was going to be there, and grand speeches were expected.
Each of the miners stood beneath the bay Windows of the count-house had main a donation towards the event that they were about to enjoy. William West was about to be presented with ‘very hand-some timepiece’ , and on that time piece was inscribed a silver plaque that read:
“Presented by upwards of 500 miners and others employed at Phoenix mine, to William West, Esq., C. E. In testimony of his great zeal in being mainly instrumental in keeping this mine at work through great difficulties, until brought to a successful issue. A.D. 1870.”
The fact that this setting day was occurring was down to West, for without his bold intervention the mine would now be silent, and those miners scattered around the World hunting for work wherever minerals lay. That intervention resulted in transformation of Phoenix United from a copper to a tin mine.
It was a Mr. J. Williams that stood in front of the crowd to make the formal speech to West:
“Sir –in accordance with a strongly expressed wish of the miners and others employed in expressed wish of the miners and others employed in the above mines, it is determined to present to you with a testimonial, as a mark of the respect in which you are held by the employed of these mines; to show our appreciation of the manly courage you have shown in undertaking a management of such a vast extent and importance not only to us, but to all classes in the neighbourhood and to the development of mining in this district, and in this mine in particular, in the success of which you, as well ourselves, are so deeply interested…….”
As grand words continued many of the miners may have recalled those bleak years in the early 1860s. The Copper was beginning to fail, and William West was Phoenix’s engineer. West been the engineer at mine throughout its successful years as a copper producer, but was unwilling to accept that its productive life was over.
He believed that a untapped wealth of tin lay alongside the mined out lodes of copper. The mine’s owners refused to share this belief, or to invest in equipment needed to process the tin. West persevered in his attempt change the Mine’s direction by installing tin stamps at his own expense . Still the owners refused to follow his advise, and still the mine was heading towards closure. Finally West stopped fighting, and events at the mine started to disappear from the mining press.
Behind the scenes West, his family, and associates started buying up shares whenever they could. By stealth West gained control of the mine. Once achieved his grand scheme for transforming the mine swung into action.
The miners had much to be thankful for, West’s faith in the mine had given then many extra years of wealth.
Mr. Williams last words finished..
“……May Divine Providence watch over you many days . – From the miners and other employed in Phoenix Mine, Linkinhorne, Cornwall’
Mr. West then approach the bay window to make his speech. As he looked over the heads of the miners he saw the smoke rising from the many engines he had installed. Some of these powered the big banks of noisy stamps that crushed the tin stuff fine enough to feed the large expanse of tin floors that cascaded down the hill slopes. West’s investment in the mine had created those engines and dressing floors. It was a creation he was proud of. And so he made his speech.
“I could hardly express my feeling in receiving such a testimonial from such a fine-looking, steady body of men and women. I was sorry, in one sense, to take anything from them, for they worked hard enough for their money, and had plenty of uses for it, and I would rather give than take; but still I accept their handsome present with a very deep and real pleasure.”
Applause from the miners carried on the breeze across the Bodmin Moor. Once it died down the famous engineer continued:
“I hope that they had in Phoenix a mine that would provide for them and theirs all their lives. I had many difficulties in bringing it out, but you had stuck by me like men. Most of you, I know, were originally western men, and I hope that you and your families would find themselves thoroughly comfortable in the east.”
That you are careful, steady men, was proved in the very few accidents that occurred. Still I exhort you never to neglect taking proper precautions. He knew that mining was practical by experience.”
Again the miners applauded, this time it was in recognition that the man before them had once laboured as a miner, if only for a short time when young, and even if he had never been successful. West continued with his speech and once he had given his final thanks there was three hearty cheers and setting the work for the next two months work started.
When West left that bay window, he left a mine had a few good years remaining. He remained in control of the mine until his death in 1879, but then, Phoenix’s fortunes declined and it finally lost its struggle to survive in 1897.
That count-house where the miners gathered in 1870 still stands. No longer does steam engines, headframes and dressing floors fill the view from the bay window. Instead it is a scene of rubble, denuded waste tips, and encroaching cotaniaster and bracken. If you do visit the mine, then pause as you pass the courthouse for a few moments to imagine West stood in that window, on that day in 1870.
For book ideas on William West visit the new Amazon Navsbooks store.
Or, if you are passing through Liskeard pop into the Bookshop on the Parade- they have a great local history section.