The South Caradon History posts
A Victorian enterprise
South Caradon Mine was born in the early Victorian period, during the decades of social
unrest and change caused by the Industrial revolution. The mine started production in 1838 at the beginning of the Victorian era and raised its last ton of ore towards the end of the Queen’s reign in 1890.
Its peak production coincided with the “high” Victorian years, represented by the Great Exhibition of 1851, a time when Britain became the workshop of the world. Its final struggles for survival occurred in the late Victorian years, a period when the whole country was feeling the impact of industrialization abroad. This was a true Victorian enterprise.
Tin extraction in the area has a long history, but much of the evidence of earlier streaming in the Seaton Valley has been lost beneath the upheaval caused by South Caradon Mine. A small section of tin streaming remains exist in the upper part of the sett, and nearby. the huge open scar of Gonamena openworks dominates the landscape.
Milestones in Cornish history
South Caradon’s History is also set against a backdrop of great changes within Cornwall. Its founding was towards the end of the great copper boom initiated by the advances made in steam engine technology in the Duchy. Its growth in the 1840’s occurred when the Western mines were closing due to the exhaustion of their reserves.
The 1860s were to mark the collapse of the industry and lead to poverty and a emigration on a massive scale. Cornwall’s population has never recovered to its 1860’s levels, and today descendants of the Cornish miners can be found all over the world.
Another great change occurred in 1859 when Brunel’s railway bridge was opened at nearby Saltash. The river Tamar was finally no longer the physical border it had represented since the Dark ages, splitting British from invaders, Celt from Anglo Saxon, Cornish from English. The Railway age removed Cornwall’s traditional isolation from the rest of Britain.
Geography influences History
A major factor in South Caradon’s history was its location in the eastern part of
Cornwall. The large granite mass of Caradon Hill overlooks an area that is many miles from the rich mineral deposits of West Cornwall. A separation that influenced the late development of copper mining in the district. This late start placed the mine in a position of having large copper reserves available when mines in the West started to fail. Unfortunately, this also left the mine struggling in its later years against the rapidly falling price of copper.
These factors led to the migration of miners across Cornwall into the Caradon region, and caused huge social changes in the area. When South Caradon finally closed, it left miners with no prospects of work anywhere else in Cornwall. Many went to England to find work in factories of coal mines, but large numbers emigrated to work hard rock mines all around the world.
The Hypocrisy of the finance market
Many speculators believed that little copper lay east of Truro and it was left to practical miners to disprove this theory. The Clymo brothers and Thomas Kittow worked on a previous abandoned trial adit and struck copper. Even after the discovery of the lodes, the money markets of London refused to risk money on the mine.
The miners therefore funded the mine’s development themselves, and became extremely wealthy in the process. Once copper mining had become established however, speculators jumped on the bandwagon forming a multitude of mines with the word “Caradon” in their title hoping to attract unwary investors. Most of these ventures proved unsuccessful and helped give Cornish mining a poor reputation for investment.
A Mine Operated by Miners
Being left in the hands of skilled miners gave South Caradon mine several advantages financially over those owned by “up country” investors. For most of its life the mine operated under the Cost book system as regulated by Cornish Stannary law. This system was extremely simple and success often depended on balancing investment in new exploration with the profitable extraction of ore. The practical skills of the Clymo brothers allowed them to get the most out this large mine for many years without resorting to forming a public company.
A wealth still underground?
A downside of the late timing of the venture was that it was hit by the fall in the price of copper. It was the low price of copper that closed the mine, not the lack of available ore. For example in 1864 the mine made over £57,000 from the sale of about 5,700 tons of ore. In 1880 however, over 6,800 was sold to give only £30,000. This halving of the ore price was to cause costs to outstrip revenue and lead to the mines closure when workable reserves where still available underground.
Next is this series will be a timeline of the mine’s history.
The Liskeard Mining District in 1863
Brenton Symon’s map of the Liskeard mining district is available in Kindle format.