Some Cornish Mining Terms

My talk at Luckett next month will be rich in Cornish Mining terms, and so it seems like a good idea to create a quick reference for those attending to look through after the evening. So here is a collection of words that I will be explaining on the evening, in the rough order that they will appear.

A collection of some Cornish Mining words and terms

The Name

Wheal, Whele, Whild, Huel
A prefix to most Cornish mine name’s.
The word was a corruption of word huel which means hole, a mine pit.  Sometimes Wheal was used inside of a mines name, rather than as a prefix, such as in “South Caradon Wheal Hooper”.

Bal
An old term for a mine.
The name was derived from Cornish ‘Pal’, the word for a shovel, and hence ‘a digging’, a mine.In its earliest usage it referred to a group of small shallow, or surface tin works.

Consols
A shortened form of the word ‘Consolidated’.
This suffix was originally used where a number of mines were brought together and worked under a common management, but it was a word that became misused to inspire confidence in unwary investors. Consolidated Mine at Gwennap and Devon Great Consols are the two most successful mines to include this word in their names.

The Ground

Sett, Set
The legal boundary within which a mine could extract minerals.

Extract of Brenton Symons' 1863 map showing South Caradon Mine
South Caradon Sett as shown by Brenton Symons in 1863

The normal period of granting a sett was 21 years.

Mineral Lord
The owner of the mineral rights, this was not necessarily the landowner.

Royalty, Dish, Dues
The mineral lord’s portion of the produce.
The dish was a portion of the value of ore produced at a mine which was paid to the mineral owner. In deep-expensive to operate mines, the dues did not often exceed 15th, whilst in newer mines it may be a 10th or even a 8th. The payment was based on gross produce, that is before expenses, and therefore could act as a discouragement for the development of mines. The lords had little to loose, but much to gain the wealth underground.

The Country

Killas
A sedimentary clay-slate rock.
Killas is a Cornish miner’s term for sedimentary rock, often metamorphosed by the granite intrusion,

Elvan
An intrusive quartz porphyry rock, or an intrusion of that rock.
Elvan is a very hard rock that can add greatly to the cost of driving levels and sinking shafts. Its hardness made it a sought after building material.

Lode
A crack in the rock filled with minerals, from which the miners extracted the ore.

Lode
A lode in the ‘End’ of a Cornish mine

Lodes were normally vertical, or near-vertical; often extending for considerable distances. In other parts of Britain, they are known as a veins or seams.

Strike of a lode
The bearing of a lode.
The strike is the horizontal direction of a lode, given as a compass bearing.

Dip, Underlie
The angle of slope of a ;ode.
The underlie is the angle measured from the vertical, whilst the dip is the angle measured from the surface. A shaft following the lode was said to be underlie shaft.

The shareholders

Adventurers
The shareholders of a mine.

Out-adventurer
A mine’s shareholder who did not hold shares just to enable them to supply it with goods or services.

Bal-Selling, Share-jobbing
The selling of mine shares for speculative purposes.
Mines were often formed and promoted to make profits from the shares, rather then the minerals.

Financing the mine

Cost book system
A method of conducting the finances of a Cornish mine.
It was a simple system that had served the industry well for hundreds of years, but had limitations when used for the large capital hungry concerns of the 19th Century. Under the cost book system, adventurers put money into a new venture by buying shares, and then at periodic meetings it would be decided whether they would have to pay a call to provide more money to continue running the mine, or receive a dividend.

Cost book Companies could only raise money from its adventurers or from the sale of ore, the reserves of ore underground therefore had to act as its ‘bank’ and skillful management of reserves would be required for long term success. Development work had to be conducted alongside the extraction of ore to ensure new ore would be available in the future when needed.

One drawback of the system was that investors would become impatient if they had a long wait for dividends, and would refuse to make more calls. The mine would then run short of capital, and close before making a profit. Sometimes a new company would be formed to keep development going, or the mine went into liquidation, selling off its equipment. This explains the frequent starts and stops in Cornish mining history, and how unscrupulous companies could operate.

Cost book
The book containing the names and addresses of all adventures of a mine, along with all share transfers and expenses.

Progressive mine
A mine in operation, but not paying dividends.
Such a mine may be making calls on its adventures.

Call
A demand on the adventures to pay their share of costs.

The Workers

Tribute
A system of payment in which groups of miners bid for contracts to work sections of the mine for a percentage of the value of the ore raised.
It was given at so much in a pound, that is a sum per 20 shillings of ore raised. Normally from 3 to 15 shillings in a pound. The tributers account was charged with tools, materials, subsist and the wages of the ore dressers. The payment is based on the amount paid for the ore by the smelters at the sale.

Tributer
A miner whose pay was a proportion of the ore, or of the value of the ore raised.

Tribute pitches
The portions of a lode set to pares of tributors.

Takers
Those who took up a pitch on tribute

Take an end
To agree to drive an adit or level for so much per fathom.

Tutwork
Work in which a miner earned an amount in proportion to the work completed.
Tutwork was work done by measure, such as sinking shafts, driving levels or stopeing ground. These would be paid by fathoms sunk, fathoms driven, or cubic fathom. Each lot was called a bargain.

The Employment System

Captains
Experienced miners who supervised operations at a mine.
There were underground captains, surface captains, and dressing captains. The head captain was the manager.

Setting
A public auction of the work at a mine.
Setting generally took place every two months. It was held in the open air before the counthouse of the mine which normally had an elevated stage for the captains to stand on. The auction was normally started about the middle of the day, and conducted on a high to low basis. Bidding was closed by a pebble being thrown into air, when it hit the ground the bidding was closed. A reserve price may be set by the captain to prevent collusion amongst the miners to keep the prices high.

Survey
The action at a setting.

General article
A set of rules governing every contract made during a setting.
This was read out before the setting started.

Count house, Account house, Counthouse

South Caradon Mine Counthouse in the 1880s
South Caradon Mine Counthouse


The mine office.
This was a commonly used shortened version of the proper name, ‘Account house’.

Often a counthouses was used as a dwelling, and provided a venue for adventurers dinners. Smaller mines sometimes used shanty-type count houses suitable for moving from site to site.

Stope
An excavated area produced during the extraction of ore-bearing rock.

A disused Stope in a Cornish Mine
A Stope

Stopes are the most impressive of underground features, the larger ones form massive man-made caverns. Where open to the surface, they form gunnis or coffens.

Stoper
A miner who extracted the ore in a stope.

Overhand
A method of stoping by removing ore from the roof.

Underhand stoping
A method of stoping by working below a level.

Levels
A horizontal tunnel in a mine not extending to the open air.
Levels were driven on lodes, usually at a depth spacing of 10 fathoms.

End
The end of a level, or cross-cut.

Prilling the sample
A clandestine addition of a rich mineral to the sample submitted to the assayer.
Prilling would give a tributer a higher payment for his ore then he would have been entitled.

Selling the Ore

Ticketing
The weekly sale of ore by tender.
The mine agents met around a table at 12 o’clock. Each buyer gave in his ticket offering price per ton. The tickets were read by the chairman, who was the agent having the largest quantity of ore for sale, and the persons present note the prices. The lots were sold to the highest bidder. After the sales the attendees dine together at the expense of their mine. Ticketing was originally used for copper sales, but some ticketings also occurred for tin sales.

Doles of copper ore at South Caradon Mine
Doles of Copper ore at South Caradon Mine

Doles
Piles of crushed ore, laid out ready for sampling.
Doles were usualy about two three feet high, with flat tops. Six doles make up a parcel of ore for sale. Buyer’s agents took a sample from a dole for assaying before the ticketing.


wp-1453408124105.jpegThe map shown in this post is part of Brenton Symons’s map of the Liskeard Mining District.  The full map is reproduced in Kindle format in “The Liskeard Mining District in 1863”.

Click here to view on Amazon>

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