South Caradon Mine- history

Navsbooks>South Caradon Mine>History  

The South Caradon History posts

A Victorian enterprise

South Caradon Mine was born in the early Victorian period, during the decades of social

A view of Holman's and Rule's shaft
Holman’s Shaft

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.

Early history

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.wpid-wp-1427407113584.jpeg

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

Liskeard mining map 1863
Brenton Symon’s Map of the Liskeard and Ludcott Mining District

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.

View of Graylands
Graylands House in Liskeard This large house was built on the wealth from the mine. Constructed for Peter Clymo in 1855 it was originally named Dean House.

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.


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The Liskeard Mining District in 1863

Brenton Symon’s map of the Liskeard mining district is available in Kindle format.

Click here to view on Amazon>

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The View of South Caradon Mine resurrected

Navsbooks>South Caradon Mine>Resurrection of the old website

It is over a decade now since I last updated my views of South Caradon Mine website. That expansive and rambling website was the result of many years of exploring the amazing landscape of Caradon Hill, near Liskeard. In 2016 all that work disappeared whilst I was away at sea, when Geocities closed up shop and took their websites with them.

But then, a rather clever company called Oocities stripped down the webpages and published them under their own banner. Seemed like good news, but unfortunately, despite all my attempts I have been unable to gain access to those files to correct, edit or develop what was once my own website. 

So it is now time though to rebuild the South Caradon Mine pages through the words of this blog. So if you are interested in the mines of Liskeard, please follow along. JM

The Views of South Caradon Website

The purpose of the original website was to record and  add to the knowledge of this very important industrial heritage site, and to illustrate Cornish mining terms and technology.

To avoid legal problems arising from right of way issues it was based on the view from the Crow’s Nest to Minions footpath. Since 2016 however, the rights of way act has been passed, and the area is now part of open access land. This change has removed the self imposed original restrictions on the website, but for the time being I will focus on bringing back on line the original material, tweak it a bit, and then look at additional topics

South Caradon Mine

An annotated view of South Caradon Mine

South Caradon Mine was one of the largest copper mines in Cornwall, and one with a fascinating history. It is an enterprise with a rags to riches story and one that had a huge impact on the social, financial and transport history of South East Cornwall. The emigration that resulted from its final closure spread this impact around the world to wherever metal was mined.

It has left an amazing landscape, a landscape rich in tales of Victorian industry. A richness is acknowledged thtough its inclusion within the of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site.

Changes in time

Over the last 20 years there has been some important
developments that have changed the information contained on the original website.

As mentioned  above, the area is now part of a World Heritage site and the moorland is now officially classed as open access land. The Caradon Hill project is no longer with us, but  their good work has left many of the buildings in a far more stable condition then recorded in 2016.

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On closure of the website, I transferred my research into three related publications- The Liskeard Mining Area in 1863, a reprint of Webb and Geach’s account of the Liskeard Mining district, and a biography of the mine’s engineer, William West. Unashamedly, I will plug these publications throughout the posts. If you are tempted to buy one of the paperbacks, pop into Liskeard’s excellent book shop and support their local history section…it is a real gem of a bookshop.

And Next-

I am not sure where to start this challenge, or in which direction to explore the old web pages, but that will be part of the fun; let the exploration commence!

 

An important Note from the original website

On many mine sites in Cornwall dangers may still exist, many hidden.  This web site is published as a resource to those using public rights of way.

South Caradon Mine by Wilkie Collins

Navsbooks>South Caradon Mine>History>1851

Another piece of writing from a Victorian author, this time from Wilkie Collins.

Ramble Beyond Railways

1851

“soon the scene presented another abrupt and extraordinary change. We had been walking hitherto amid almost invariable silence and solitude; but now with each succeeding minute, strange mingled, unintermitting noises began to grow louder and louder around us. We followed a sharp curve in the tramway, and immediately found  ourselves saluted by an entirely new prospect, and surrounded by an utterly bewildering noise. All around us monstrous wheels turned slowly; machinery was clanking and groaning in the hoarsest discords; invisible waters were pouring onwards with a rushing sound; high above our heads , on skeleton platforms, iron chains clattered fast and fiercely over iron pulleys, and huge steam pumps puffed and gasped, and slowly raised their heavy black beams of wood. Far beneath the embankment on which we stood, men women and children were breaking and washing ore in a perfect marsh of copper coloured mud and copper coloured water. We had penetrated to the very centre of the noise, the bustle and the population on the surface of a great mine”

Wilkie Collins

A portrait of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins was a best selling  Victorian novelist, and therefore understandably, this account is more descriptive than factual. It forms an evocative image of the mine in its heyday, an image far more atmospheric then any photograph could.

Ramble beyond Railways contains some other fascinating snapshots of Victorian Cornwall, including a non-too flattering account of a pub in Liskeard. It is a rich travelogue that is well worth a read.

‘The Moonstone ‘ by the author is regarded as the first detective novel, and created the format followed by Conan Doyel in his Sherlock Holmes books. Despite of this accolade, I consider that Rambles is a fare better book, but  being non-fiction it did not gain the recognition it deserved.

Click here for a Wilkie Collins biography website>
Wilkie Collins on Amazon

South Caradon Mine in 1851

In 1851 the mine produced 2,818 tons of ore along with 296 tons of metallic copper. This was a production which earned the mine an income of £20,208.

South Caradon was still growing; the amount of ore raised and income would triple in the years that followed.

Pearce's engine house at South Caradon Mine

The View of South Caradon is to return

Writing this post has stirred me into finally getting around to resurrecting some of the material lost when Geocities closed many years ago. This blog will now spend some time bringing that website back to life, and up to date.

Dame Schools- William West and Charles Dickens

Before this blog moves on to the next industrial heritage theme there will be brief excursion into Victorian literature 

Great Expectations and Mr. Wopsle’s Great Aunt

I have just finished my first reading of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’; a novel that is often considered to be the best of the Victorian writer’s work. It is the tragic character of Miss Havisham that many remember best from the book, but for me is is unnamed character hidden away in chapter 7 that grabbed my attention.

William West’s success as an engineer was founded on a sparse, almost non-existent childhood education. His only eduction was for a brief period at  ‘Dame school’ ; a period shortened by an incident involving gin, a drunk school mistress and a fire place. His  school mistress he called ‘Old Betty Hip’, and  he is reported to have said that:

” she thought much more of sending him to the drams of gin in which she delighted than of imparting the small amount of knowledge she possessed” Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

Charles Dickens in Great Expectations also describes a ‘Dame school’. His descriptionDSC00398 describes so much about these Victorian institutions in very few words.

“Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt kept an evening school in the village; that is to say, she was a ridiculous old woman of limited means and unlimited infirmity, who used to go to sleep from six to seven every evening, in the society of youth who paid two pence per week each, for the improving opportunity of seeing her do it”  Charles Dickens Great Expectations.

Such a brilliant sentence, and one must use in my future talks.