Tag Archives: Cornish mining

A melody of Cornish Engine Houses

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This series of posts on the President Steam Engine in Philadelphia USA now takes a brief DSCF2663diversion that takes it back to Cornwall.  When I started to build this post my idea was a simple one of hunting around the corners of my laptop to discover some photographs of Cornish Engine houses that could be used as a comparison with the images of the President.  However, as I started to copy the images onto this page it dawned on me that here was an opportunity to reflect on the role of the engine houses in our landscape, a reflection that may form an introduction to the final part of the President series.

Cornish Engine Houses a reflection

Cornwall’s landscape is adorned with the iconic shape of disused mine engine houses, DSCF2658and their images are scattered throughout its culture. Book covers, websites, gifts,  postcards, calendars, business logos, and road signs all pull on the strong identity it portrays. Some of its importance in the Cornish physical and cultural landscapes arises from the sheer physical bulk of the structures; apart from castles there are no other historic remains that demand such attention as the empty shells that once housed the large Cornish Steam engines. However, there is more to their importance than just physical size, and this post will reflect on some of those other factors.

Aesthetic value

A combination of dramatic landscapes and dramatic buildings often combined to DSCF4135produce some amazing scenery. Sometimes it is the setting of the engine house, sometimes it is the architecture of the building, sometimes it is nature’s encroachment and occasionally it is a combination of all of these that provides such rich landscape value.

There is a great irony is this, for many of these views started as scenes of industrial chaos. Every square foot of ground around the engine houses would have been taken up with a haphazard mess of tips, buildings, shafts, tramways and debris. The air would have been thick with smoke and fumes, the streams running with toxic waste and the defining sounds of stamps would have drowned out nature.DSCF9727

But time and nature have now softened these grand industrial landscapes, a process that has left just the engine houses standing as isolated remains of the once huge industrial complexes.

Not all engine houses have such value, some are unfortunate to be in locations that hold no visual pleasure, and others are of designs or proportions that simply do not please the eye. But there are a few engine houses whose presence creates some of the most memorable scenery in the world, Wheal Coates and Bottallack fall firmly into that category.

Political value

whimsillThis may a appear an unusual value to place on industrial heritage, however the visual reminder of the engine houses keep within the public consciousness that this once a land alive with industry, a land of mass employment.

The UK has transformed itself into a service industry based society, and Cornwall is perceived from the outside as a holiday destination or bolt hole for second home owners or those seeking lifestyle changes. And yet Cornwall was once one of the biggest industrialised regions in the world. Mining and its associated industries employed tens of thousands or workers, whilst Cornish Technology and engineering lead the world.

PumpviewupWhilst the engine houses still stand, they act as a reminder that this was once a working landscape, that there is more to the economy that property prices, holiday lets and Poldark souvenirs. Such a reminder has a value for the future, especially for future generations wishing to find work west of the Tamar.

Historic Value

Many engine houses remain standing whilst the scenes of industry that once surrounded dscf9312them have long disappeared. In doing so they act as pegs onto which to hang tales of history. Without them there would be little left to mark the existence of the thousands of Huels, Wheals, and Consols that once crammed every corner of Cornwall.

Each mine had a stories worth discovering; sometimes wealth, sometimes losses and sometimes fraud. There are tales of death, tales of innovation and countless tales of hope.  In some cases it is the engine house itself thatW7 provides a stepping stone into history, marking technological advances or famous engineers.

Such an example is Austen’s engine house at Fowey Consols, at which so many threads of history can be followed back and forward in time. Those threads lead to many other engine houses, many of which have fascinating stories to tell.

Amenity Value

We are in an era dominated by the virtual world, a world where the physical holds less and less

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importance. In such a world some of the  Cornish Engine houses have found a small, but important role of providing purpose  to a location.  Such a purpose can attract us into the location to photograph, paint, record, explore, or just look at the building. They can become the reason for a journey, or a ‘croust’ stop along the way. Often such stops may stir up some curiosity to discover more, to ask questions that may lead to more journeys.

I find a walk in Cornwall is rarely historically sterile, every bump, dip, building relic or lump of fallen masonry seems to have the potential for significance. This richness

wpid-wp-1422994037468.jpegof landscape only became truly apparent tome on walks in many other parts of Britain where a footpath was just a footpath; nothing to find, nothing to explore.

A reflection taken forward

After that brief detour into Cornish engine house I will return in the next post to the USA  with some more words about the President Engine.  In doing so I should;  now be able to grasp the significance of its engine house more clearly after reflecting some of our own heritage here in Kernow.

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Webb and Geach explored- The miscellaneous mines

A wander through the ‘History and Progress of Mining in the Liskeard and Caradon District’

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That is the final post covering the mines within the miscellaneous section of Webb and Geach’s book  completed. So before this blog leaves the topic for some William West related topics here is an index of the posts.

These posts explores some of the smaller mines described within Webb and Geach’s  book of the Liskeard mining district in east Cornwall. This 1863 publication is currently available in paperback from the Trevthick Society, ISBN 978 0904040 88 3.wpid-wp-1441052784407.png

Each of the posts explores the mine sites through maps available on the internet, so by following the links a virtual exploration of the locations can be undertaken. The mines covered are all listed in the section titled ‘Miscellaneous’ within the book ( pages 98-102). In describing these mines Webb and Geach state-

“Several lodes in various parts of this district have been formerly worked, mostly for tin, but are now abandoned, many of them for long periods.”

Predictably, many of this mines have little or no evidence on maps, even by the 1880’s little remained on the Ordnance Survey maps. Tantalising traces do remain however, of some of these unsuccessful attempts to mine in the area around Caradon Hill.

Brwestcraddockmoorsymonsenton Symons’ map of 1863 contains evidence of many of these mines, and a copy of that amazing Victorian Cartography forms part of ‘The Liskeard Mining District in 1863‘ publication.

Its been great fun exploring these little known Cornish mines through the screen of my Kindle Fire. But William West of Tredenham, The Last Great Cornish Engineer is again requiring some fresh research. So this blog will be leaving Webb and Geach for a while, but will return in the future to look at some of the more successful mines of the Liskeard District.

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Dunsley Wheal Phoenix- Webb and Geach explored

Here is the last post in this series of exploring mines described by Webb and Geach within the ‘miscellaneous mines’ section.  Dunsley Wheal Phoenix’s description is on page 101 of the Trevithick Society’s reprint of The History and Progress of mining in the Liskeard and Caradon District.

Dunsley Wheal Phoenix is located beside the Upton Cross to Minions road on Bodmin Moor. This was one of the few mines described within the miscellaneous chapter that has left clear evidence on the maps available free on the internet.

OS 1883

Cornwall XXVIII.NW (includes: Linkinhorne; St Cleer.)
Surveyed: 1881 to 1882, Published: 1883

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Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland website> Click here for map

OS Map 2016

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Click here to view the current OS map>

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Click here for OS aerial view> 

Google 2016

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Click here for current Google map>

Google street view

Cornwall Council

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PRN : 0
MINE NAME : Dunsley Wheal Phoenix
HOUSE NAME : –
SITE TYPE : ENGINE HOUSE
FORM : EXTANT
DATE : –
START DATE :
END DATE :
PERIOD :
SM NO. :
SM PRN :
SURVIVAL : <50% SURVIVAL
CONDITION : N/A
SOURCE : 1880 1ST EDITION OS
WHS AREA : Caradon Mining District
WHS AREA ID : A9
Click here for Cornwall Council interactive map>

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Webb and Geach Explored-West Craddock Moor Mine

West Craddock Moor Mine on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

This is a post in the series exploring the Webb and Geach’s book ‘History and progress of mining in the Liskeard and Caradon district‘ through maps available on the internet. West Craddock Moor is one of the small mines listed in the miscellaneous section of the book (page 100). These mines by their nature have left little or no trace, and despite much peering I can find no evidence of this one on any of the maps apart from Brenton Symons‘.

 

Cornwall XXVIII.NW (includes: Linkinhorne; St Cleer.) Surveyed: 1881 to 1882
Published: 1883

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Produced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Click Here for OS 1883 Map on the Library’s excellent website>

Brenton Symons

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Extract from Brenton Symons’ 1863 map

OS 2016

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Click here for map>

Google Earth 2016

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Current Google Earth Map

Cornwall Council interactive map

westcraddockmoorcau2016Reference : MCO38680
Name : WEST CRADDOCK MOOR – Post Medieval mine
Monument type : MINE
Period : Post Medieval
Form : EXTANT STRUCTURE

Click here for map>

 

 

Click here for Heritage Gateway information>


For Webb and Geach and other John Manley’s books-click here>

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East Penhargate Mine

The next of the small ‘miscellaneous; mines described by Webb and Geach had no evidence of its existence, apart from a sett name, on Brenton Symons’ map. The trace of a possible shaft and tip/adit can be seen on the OS 1883 map in the location shown on the Cornwall interactive map.  

 “…there is as yet nothing of moment doing, the company not being quite formed” Webb and Geach page 100

OS 1883

Cornwall XXVIII.NE (includes: Linkinhorne; South Hill; St Ive.)Surveyed: 1881 to 1882
Published: 1883

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Produced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Click  here for the map on the Library’s excellent website>

OS 2016

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To view the current map on the OS website click here>

 

Google Maps

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Click here to explore the map>

There may be a small patch of undergrowth in the possible location of the tip/adit.  Also, a  circular, slightly discolored  patch of grass in the field may indicate the shaft position.

Cornwall Council

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Click here for interactive map>

Note this map also lists  a Penhargate Wood mine at this location.

“PRN (CORNWALL) : 0
SITE NAME : EAST PENHARGET MINE
SITE TYPE : MINE
FORM :
EPOCH :
PERIOD :
MRO INDEX : 1
SOURCE : CC-A11

Reference : MCO12397
Name : PENHARGET WOOD – Post Medieval mine
Monument type : MINE
Period : Post Medieval
Form : EXTANT STRUCTURE
Summary : Four shafts, the remains of a building, a spoil tip and a circular earth bank (possibly a whim) are visible on air photographs”

Click here for Heritage Gateway Entry>

 

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The Man Engine- who invented it?

The Levant Man engine disaster will be forever linked with the word ‘Man Engine’.

Iron straps holding the man engine rod to the beam separated the miners  from a successful journey and death. On that day the 20 October 1919, the tired overworked metal straps gave way and 31  miners fell to their deaths. It shattered a community, and it shattered the reputation of the man engine.

But it is not that day that this post will recall, nor a day many earlier in 1842 when Michael’s Loam‘s invention first started transporting miners at Trasavean mine. It will instead recall a day in 1851, an event at Fowey Consols, and an engineer called William West.

On that day, the 28th July 1851, an assorted crowd of mine owners, politicians, mineral lords, local gentry and even the Prussian foreign minister gathered at Fowey Consols. They were there to witness the starting of a new man engine, and of course the expectation of a grand count house dinner afterwards.

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Once Lord Vivian had made the formal announcements to start the man engine, the 30 foot diameter water wheel started to turn. About every 10 seconds it completed a revolution, each of these revolutions turned through gears a flywheel that spun at three times of the speed of the waterwheel. It would be in obvious to the guests how this power was transferred to the shaft. A crank changed the wheel’s turning into horizontal motion to transfer the power to the shaft, where a large balance bob, resembling a beam of a beam engine, rotated the motion 90 degrees to an 8″ wooden rod that descended into the depths of the shaft.

To many in the crowd this was nothing new, it looked just like the system used at shaft mouths all over Cornwall to power pumps. It was down the shaft where West and his co-designer John Puckey had worked their magic. Looking down the shaft they would have seen the long rod rising and falling twelve feet. At every 12 feet on the rod was fixed a one foot square platform, and corresponding to these were platforms on the shaft wall. At this stage,  many of the guests would not have been able to comprehend how men could descend to the great depths of the mine on such an arrangement. But once the miners started to stand on the platforms, once the mesmerizing dance of the man engine started, the simplistic beauty of the man engine became clear.

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The dance went like this:
As the rod reaches the top of its stroke step onto the platform on the rod, and hold on tight to the handle in front of you.  The rod descends 12 feet, and then step off sideways to a fixed platform on the shaft wall. Wait as the rod rises to bring the next platform up to meet you, step on and repeat. Repeat, and repeat, 12 feet at a time until you descend into the dark levels and stopes of the mine where your work lay. To ascend the shaft, just reverse the dance.

Once those important guests had witnessed the miners one after another descend out of their view it would have made sense how important West and Puckey’s new machine was.

Some would have seen the potential to save many lives. Falling off wet slippery ladders on those long climbs could be a thing of the past. More significantly huge numbers lives could be saved from removing the physical onslaught caused by climbing the equivalent of a mountain every working day of their lives.  This onslaught on the body that had to be undertaken after a long, hard shift of hard labour, and one that took the miner from the stifling heat of the depths to often the bitter cold of the surface. The result was predictable, heart and lungs took the brunt of the strain, and early death would follow.  So, some who watched on that day saw the machine through the eyes of the social good it would bring, but others saw it differently.

They saw the increase in  speed of miners disappearing beneath their feet as a increase in their private wealth. Every minute saved from climbing ladders was a minute usedman%20engine for productive work. The more imaginative saw beyond that to more profits.  Less tired miners reaching their workplace would be more productive, more profits. Less tired miners live longer, keeping their valuable experience, more profits. Older miners could now continue to work the deeper levels, more experience where it was needed, more profits.

This man engine of West’s was good for miners, and good for profits.

To those that had seen one of the  Loam’s man engines at work this one before them a Fowey Consols was visibly superior. Loam had staked the claim as the man engine inventor, and as a reward had received a hard fought for prize from the Cornwall Pyrotechnic Society.

On a Loam engine there was two rods, two oscillating rods with platforms, and the dance was different. Miners had to step from moving rod to moving rod. There was no room for error, and their was no fixed platform on which to pause.  More importantly for the shareholders in the crowd, those who were watching their profits rise, the twin rods could only carry half as many miners for the same number of strokes. A counter-intuitive result, but one that arises from West’s engine being able to move miners up and down at the same time.

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William West built man engines

Once that meal in the counthouse was consumed, the port drunk, and the speeches made, the guests dispersed with memories of that miner’s dance. West and Puckey had proudly demonstrated their new engine, an from then on only their design would be installed. Every man engine built after that date would have a single rod, including the one that so tragically failed in 1919.

West installed the last man engine at Jopes Shaft, South Caradon in 1872. The engine was later moved to Kitto’s shaft.

 

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Kitto’s Shaft at South Caradon Mine

Popular history is often deceptive. Its simplification creates wonderful story, but the deeper truth is always more interesting. This is such a case, for neither did Michael Loam invent this man engine, or the man engine was a machine that killed miners, it saved thousands and the one that was used all over Cornwall was invented by West and Puckey.


Click here for ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’- William West

Click here for the Navsbooks store William West book shelf.

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On the Economy of the Mines of Cornwall and Devon 1814

Here it is, the latest of my historic publication transcriptions on Cornish Mining.

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In 1814, the mining genius, John Taylor, published a definite description of the ‘Cornish Mining System’, and this new publication by re-produces that important paper in a modern format, and includes additional information from a John Manley. 

Cornish mining methods dominated metal mining in the 19th Century. Cornwall’s miner’s and engineers exported their skills worldwide, wherever there was copper and tin underground, there was a Cornishman. Alongside the technical skills often came the financial and management systems of Cornish mining, it is those systems that this book describes. 

John Taylor’s name dominates the history of British metal mining. A key part to his success was the use of the ‘Cornish system’, a system that he describes clearly within this book. His words have been supplemented by additional material from the Editor. 

This short publication is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the workings of the Victorian mining industry. 

Click here for the book on Amazon>

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