Tag Archives: Cornish

John West- A Cornish Engineer in the USA

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An Obituary of John West (Jnr)

The connection between the great Cornish Beam engines in Cornwall and the greatest of the Cornish engines in the USA is a family one.  It is a link that will be explored in this post through a transcript kindly provided by Mark Connar.

John and William West

John G. West was one of the many Cornish miners and engineers who emigrated to the USA. An emigration that included not only the men and their families, but also the skills, knowledge and systems developed in the centuries of hard rock mining in their home country.

John West was the son of another well respected engineer, who was also  called John. His father’s brother was the famous engineer, William West of Tredenham, the ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’. William became famous for building the most efficient Cornish Engine ever built, and John G. West was famous for building the largest Cornish Engine in the USA.

This engine is the subject of this series of posts; it is normally refereed to as the ‘President’ but interestingly in newspaper extract below it is called the ‘General Grant’.


From Reading Times (Reading. Pa), Wednesday, May 10, 1893

Death of John G. West

Sketch of the Well-Known Mechanical Engineer and Inventor – Other Deaths
John Gartrell West, mechanical engineer, passed to his rest Tuesday forenoon. He was born in the village of Crowan, in the Parish of Crowan, Cornwall, England, on the 28th day of May 1822, thus making his length of life 70 years, 11 months and 14 days. He came to the United States forty-four years ago and for a time was engineer on one of the Ohio River steamboats. Afterwards, through his intimate knowledge of the construction, and erection of the Cornish pumping engine, he was engaged to erect one purchased in England for the Perkiomen Cooper Ore Company, at Shannonville, Montgomery county. When his contract expired with the aboveJohnWestOBT named company, he entered into partnership with the Messrs. Richard Corson and Samuel Thomas, the firm name being that of Thomas, Corson & West, mechanical engineers of the Norris Works, Norristown, Pa.
He designed and superintended the construction of the pumping engine for the Lehigh Zinc Company, of Bethlehem, Pa, known as the General Grant engine, which is the largest stationary engine ever made in the United States, before or since. This is a high-pressure condensing engine; the diameter of the cylinder is 110 1/4 inches, length of stroke 10 feet and weight of the engine is 1096 tons. Mr. West was engineer and superintendent of the Providence R.I. water works for a year and a half.
He was afterwards engaged in the construction and erection of pumping and mining engines for the Yellow Jacket and other gold mines in Virginia City, Nevada and elsewhere. He came to Reading in January 1878, as the superintendent and manger of the Scott foundry, which position he held until about three years ago, since which time he was employed in the capacity of mechanical engineer of the Reading Iron Company.
 
He was the son of John G. West, also a famous mechanical engineer. He was married fifty years ago to Miss Jane Henwood, who survives, but has been an invalid for years. Deceased was in good health up to two weeks ago, when he was prostated with an abscess which developed into blood poisoning, causing great agony and unconsciousness for several days. Mr. West was a man of sterling integrity, unusual amount of caution, and absolutely honest, scorning deceit and littleness wherever found. He was a member of Christ Cathedral, a prominent mason, and leaves the follow – children and sisters: Mrs. Sophia Von Hummell, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Barnet H. West, late manager of the Reading Iron Works, but now with the Messrs. Cramp Ship Building Company; Mrs. Henrietta Stephens, of this city; Miss Viola West, also of this city; Wye H. West, with the Phoenix Iron Company, Phoenixville. The sisters are: Mrs. Dr. Rowana, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Lovinia Dalty, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Bethia Chant, of Ridley Park and Mrs. Frances G. Jones, of this city, wife of G.W. Jones, superintendent of the McIlvain & Sons’ rolling mills. Transcript by Mark Connar

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The Largest stationary Engine in the World-1872

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The President steam engine described in in the Australian Advertiser

Whilst pondering on how to start this dive into the history of the President steam I stumbled across this real gem of an article, and also an amazing website for historical research. Although written in 1872 the article was perfect to introduce this series of posts- a gift-thanks the National Library of Australia.

On the Trove website of the National  Library of Australia is a newspaper article from the South Australian Advertiser, published May 13th, 1872 that describes the President Engine, and also refers to John West and several other Cornish Engineers. The Trove site is a fascinatingTroveIcon resource, and whilst there, I was quickly sidetracked into doing my bit by correcting the transcript of the article. I highly recommend a visit to Trove, and having a session at correcting some text for them.

 Here is the text of the article-

THE LARGEST STATIONARY ENGINE IN THE WORLD


A recent number of the Mining Journal gives an interesting account of the starting of the Lehigh Zinc Company’s mammoth engine, in America. After describing the progress of fine ore mining generally, the following brief description of the great pumping engine is added:—
The engine was three years building, and was designed by Mr. John West, engineer of thePresidentNewspaper Lehigh Zinc Company, who personally superintended its erection in all its parts, down to the minutest particular. The engine was built by Merries: & Sons, Philadelphia, and the
pumps and boilers by I. P. Morris & Co., Philadelphia. The object for which the engine was built was to concentrate the greatest amount of power on one particular spot in the mines in the most economical manner. These new pumps drain the whole property of the Company, and are erected on the particular spot on which they stand on account of the presence of a firm rock to plant upon. Following is a description of the mammoth engine, as we gathered it from a conversation with Mr.West, which will be found to contain technical facts which Mr. Webster did not give in his remarks.
The engine has a pumping capacity of 15,000 gallons per minute, and may be run to 17,000 in case of emergency, raising water from a depth of 300 feet The engine alone weighs 650 tons, and including the pumps and boilers the total weight of the machinery is 1,000 tons. Size of cylinder, 110 inches in diameter; length of stroke, 10 feet. The heaviest pieces of iron in the engine are the sections of beams, and weigh 24 tons. There are two pieces of wrought-iron -weighing 16 tons each. The fly-wheels weigh 75 tons each; crank pins 1 ton each. The piston rod is 14 inches in diameter. The cross head weighs 8 tons. The connecting rods have 9-inch necks, and are 15 inches in the middle, 41 feet 2 1/2  inches long, and weigh 11 tons each.
There are two air pumps, 50 inches in diameter each.
PresidentNewspaper2This is, so far as known, the most powerful stationary engine in the world. Next to it in point of size and capacity is the engine at the Cincinnati Waterworks, cylinder 109 inches in diameter. Next is the engine at the Brooklyn Works, cylinder 90 inches; and next the engines used to drain the Meer at Haarlem, in Holland, There are three of these cylinders, 84 inches steam, with 12 feet Sims’compound, 600 -horse-power each. Next are the large Cornish engines used in the Cornish mines in England, and in the London Waterworks.
The work of the “President” will be to drive four plunger pumps, each 30 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke ; four lifting pumps, each 31 1/2 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke—the plunger pumps being uppermost and stationary. The lifting pumps will be used in the bottom of the shaft, and are movable, so as to go down as the shaft is sunk;and the lifting pumps, on account of veins of ore running through the
 shaft, are and will continue to be suspended, or the weight of the pumps would force them down into the ore to an indefinite depth. To handle these lifting pumps, hoisting or PresidentNewspaper3lowering them at pleasure, a steam capstan, capable of lifting 50 tons vertically, is used. By a series of strong gearing, a drum and a steel wire rope, with this capstan, if anything goes wrong with the pumps they can be taken hold of by the top and pulled out of water, repaired, and put back in a very short time. Everything that past experience could dictate is here applied, or at least, as Mr. West said, so it is thought, so far as known.
Mr. John West, who has brought this massive engine to its present state of perfect working, has been employed by the Lehigh Zinc Company for about five years, and designed and superintended the construction of all the machinery in and about these mines. This engine is certainly a triumph of skill, pluck, and per severance, of which the Company, who backed
up the President, Mr. Webster, who backed up
and sustained Mr. West, the engineer, who conceived
and carried out the only feasible plan for relief from the difficulties under which the
Company labored—too much water—may all feel very proud.
The erector of this mammoth engine, under Mr. West’s supervision, is Simeon Noell, a Cornishman, who has had 21 years’ experience in this kind of work in Cornwall, England.. The engineers who will run the “President” hereafter are William Harry, a Cornishman, age 35 years, with 17 years’ experience; and John Beddington, also a Comishman, age 37 years, 21 years’ experience as engineer. Bothsaw the engine go up from its foundation, and know every piece of it, and will keep a watchful and intelligent eye on the mammoth engine.
The John West refereed to in the article was the son of another Cornish engineer, who was also called John West, and that John West was the brother of William West, the subject of my two publications and many of the post in this blog.

And now I will read through the article again and pick up some threads to explore.


Books about William West

wpid-westcover.jpgOne paperback, one Kindle  51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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A new Cornish Children’s book – The Legend of Tamara

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A quick detour away from the word  of serious history, to the magic of Cornwall.

Here’s a book with a Cornish-Devon ( or should it be Cornish English theme) from Cheryl Manley. It tells the magical story of how the Rivers Tamar, Taw and Tavy came to be. A traditional tale told in a wonderful way that young children will love.

A Kindle version is on its way.

Click here for more information about the book  on Cheryl’s blog>

 

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Webb and Geach Explored-Butterdon Mine

This is last of the mines described on page 99 of Trevithick Society’s reprint of Webb and Geach’s book ‘The history and progress of mining in the Liskeard and Caradon District’ ,  and the first in this series of posts in the Menheniot mining district.

“…….It is considered that these lodes received but a slender trial at the last working, and that if a lease could be procured on equitable terms, a profitable mine might be found.” Webb and Geach

Ordnance Survey

Cornwall XXXVI.NE (includes: Menheniot; Quethiock; St Ive.) Surveyed: 1882 Published: 1888

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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>

Ordnance Survey 2016

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To see the current map on the OS site click here>

 

Google Maps

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Click here to explore the map>

Cornwall Council

Click for interactive map>

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Reference : MCO11907

Name : BUTTERDON – Post Medieval mine
Monument type : MINE
Period : Post Medieval
Form : EXTANT STRUCTURE
Summary : Butterdon lead mine.

 

 

 

Click for Heritage gateway>


 


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

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William West of Tredenham-Index of posts

 

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.pngNow that the series of posts on William West is over, it seems a good opportunity to index all the posts on this blog covering William West, the last great Cornish engineer. So if you wish to learn more about his life and works, have a wander around the posts.

William West- The boy who held a candle for Trevithick

West’s Double beat valve and the scourge of cholera

West and Darlington’s Hydraulic machinery

West’s Hydraulic accumulator

George Stevenson did not invent the railway

Phoenix United map

William West’s Caradon mines

William West The Last Great Cornish Engineer

William West-A Rapid Fire BiographyW50

West’s Lattice Beams-Aesthetic engineering

Liskeard’s Lloyds Bank and William West

Richard Nicholls Worth and ‘A Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham’

Luxullianite -West and Wellington

Luxullianite-A close up

w1310 Facts about William West, The Last Great Cornish Engineer

Phoenix United-William West’s Speech

1870-Phoenix United Mine, William West, and a grand day

The Man Engine- who invented it?

Steam Capstans- William West’s hidden invention

William West at Great Towan Mine-“a new era in duty of the steam engine”

William West and St. Blazey-Some mapsaustinpan

The Austen’s Engine trial

Austen’s engine trial, a letter from James Sims

Some threads in the history of the Last Great Cornish Engineer


The William West book  reading list.

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The last Great engineer bookwpid-wp-1415226867597.jpeg

 

 

Sketch of the life of William West C.E. of Tredenh51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_am-The last of the great Cornish Engineers

 

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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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Cornish Engines, Consolidated, Taylor and Woolf

In the history of technological advances there are many players. Some who invent, some who develop and those who exploit. John Taylor’s importance is beyond all of these, and this post will explore his role.

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Alongside the huge financial success of Consolidated mine was some amazing engineering achievements. Here would be erected some of the most impressive machines of the  industrial revolution.

When John Taylor re-opened Consolidated in 1818 he appointed Arthur Woolf has his engineer.  This alliance of Woolf’s and Taylor resulted in Consolidated becoming  central to high pressure steam engine development.

Woolf introduced many important developments to steam engine design at Consolidated, whilst Taylor used the engines to gather data on Cornish engine performance. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of a design of steam valve to work with high pressure steam. This ‘double beat’ valve was an adaption of a valve invented by another Cornish engineer, Joe Hornblower. Woolf’s new valve played a major role in rapid rise in Cornish engine performance. It also provided the concept for West’s and Harvey’s self acting double beat valve, a valve that would transform the water supply industry.

DoubleBeat

Woolf’s valve enabled him to build some some impressive engines at Consols, engineering marvels of their day. Two of them at  90″ diameter were the largest, and most powerful steam engines in the world at that time.

Despite of his success with single cylinder Cornish engines Woolf still believed that his twin cylinder compound  design was superior.

In 1824 Taylor settled the dispute about which design was more efficient by ordering two engines from Woolf, one of each design. These he installed at Wheal Alfred , and then conducted extended trials on the two engines. The single cylinder 90″ (Taylor’s) proved superior, a result that would secure the dominance of the Cornish Engine concept.

In 1827 Taylor’s engine was moved to Consolidated where it was renamed Woolf’s, in honour of the engineer.

When Woolf retired on 1833 his work was taken up by two engineers that he had trained at TaylorsEngineConsols, John Hocking and Michael Loam. This partnership would go on to build for Taylor and Sons, one of Cornwall’s most famous engines, Taylor’s 85″ at United Mines.

There are many giants of steam engineering:  Newcombe, Watt, Trevithick, Hornblower, Woolf, Grose, West, Sims, Hocking  and Loam. Taylor is not amongst those names, but he was closely associated with many of the most important advances. His role was what Roger Burt called a ‘polinator’, or in more modern terminology an ‘enabler.’

Taylor’s influence went beyond his own engineers however, and later posts will explore those influences.

Some additional notes on the engines
One of the 90″ engines at Consolidated was at Bawden’s Shaft on the Wheal Fortune section. Unfortunately, little remains to be seen.Woolf’s shaft is beside the Redruth to Chacewater railway track-bed.  Only scanty remains exist of the 1826 engine house.
Davey’s 80″ engine was one of the best engines on Consolidated, and a high performer. It was designed by Hocking. Remains of two walls still stand.
The ruins of Consolidated Taylor’ s 85″ engine house are still impressive, but this is not the site of the famous Hocking and Loam Taylor’s engine. That lies to the south on the Ale and Cake section of United mines.
United Mines Taylor’s 85″- This engine was renowned for high performance. In its first few years of operation it was the highest performer of Duty in Cornwall, and its entries are the highest in Leans reporter.



 

If the terms Duty and Leans mean nothing, follow this blog as we head towards the Taylor v West Duty battle. Before that however, its a detour down the railway tracks.

Click here for a new Kindle book about Cornish mining based on a John Taylor’s publication.

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John Taylor and the Consolidated mine in Cornwall

If you are attempting patch together this blog into a biography of John Taylor then this post re-joins the time line in 1818, five years after his move into Welsh lead Mining at Halkyn. On the subject of time, its rapidly approaching my talk at Liskeard on Taylor, so I can not guarantee that all my random pre-talk preparation notes will reach this blog in time. So keep following to see how far I get along the journey before Monday. 

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‘Consols’ is a name that litters the lists of Devon and Cornish mine names. It was a suffix that promised size, wealth, and  company stability. It was suffix that rarely delivered, its inclusion often being used to enhance the sales of mine  shares.

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OS Map 1888 

OS 1884 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Website

One mine created this fashion in mine names, a mine whose size and output dwarfed all others in Cornwall, and whose success can be credited to John Taylor.

In 1818 Taylor launched a company to work several large mines near Gwennap in Cornwall under the name of Consolidated Mine. It was an ambitious project, and one that had already defeated the well established mining family of Williams of Scorrier.

The mine had sat in a near idle state since 1811, but Taylor rapidly changed its fortunes around. The scale of his success was massive, and can be best grasped through some of the headline facts:

  • Formed of 100 shares and £65,000 capital.
  • it was the largest copper producer in Cornwall for 20 years.
  • It had a peak workforce of about 3000.
  • It contained 63 miles of levels and shafts.
  • In 1836 it had 8 large pumping engines.
  • Between 1819 and 1858 it produced 442,493 tons of ore, the largest quantity from any single mine in Cornwall.

With success like this, it was no wonder that Taylor became known as the country’s leading mining expert. It was a success based on a combination of heavy investment in technology and astute financial management. A fundamental part of this management was making material contracts subject to open competition, a big advance that ensured investors had direct interest in dividends, not their own self interests in providing supplies.

The success of Consolidated was brought to an end by a toxic  combination of greed  and spite by the Williams family.  In 1836 they forced Taylor off of the sett by ensuring a massive increase in mineral owners dues were imposed during renewal of the lease. Taylor pulled out of Consolidated, but only after also pulling out all his massive amount of stock of ore held underground.

Taylor moved out, the Williams family moved in, and so shortly after did failure. Consolidated never again achieved a fraction of success it did under John Taylor’s management. To add salt into the wounds Taylor went on to obtain huge profits from Consolidated’s neighbor, United Mines, but that is another story.

Consolidated was a very wet mine, a mine demanding much from its engineers to keep dry, and that will be the topic of the next post.


 

Some assorted notes:
The sett had been extensively mined for a long time prior to Taylor’s arrival.
Consolidated was formed in 1780 by the amalgamation of seven mines.
In 1805 the competition of cheap copper caused the mine to close.
In 1839 Taylor obtained United mines
By 1843 United’s production was larger then consolidated’s.
In 1857 United and Consolidated were amalgamated as Clifford Amalgamated.
It closed in 1869.

UnitedShaftPan

Click here for John Manley’s Amazon Author page

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The Cornish system beyond the Tamar

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In the 21st century the word ‘Cornish’ is a strong brand in the food industry. Pasties, cheeses, cream, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, fish, tea, coffee, cauliflower, wine, beer, gin and cider are the many products benefiting from the prefix.

In the 19th century however, it was the hard rock mining industry that had fallen in love with the prefix; Cornish stamps, Cornish engine, Cornish stamps, Cornish Rolls, the list is long.  Alongside this technology though was a term with a more vague meaning, the  ‘Cornish System’.

This ‘Cornish System’ formed a major part of John Taylor’s success. It was the implementation of this system to mines outside of Devon and Cornwall that gave him a critical financial advantage over his competitors.John_Taylor_(civil_engineer)

Taylor did not transplant all of the system to his mines, he only used the parts that suited him best. The two key elements he used were the cost book company structure, and the workforce payment system.

 

Cost book companies
When Taylor reached the financial position to be enable him to enter the realm of mine ownership, cost book companies became his preferred method of company structure.

Cost book companies were a historic and simple form of financial institution that had developed from the needs of the early medieval tin streamers. In theory, they could only legally be used within the Cornish and Devon Stannaries’ jurisdictions, but this legal detail did not prevent Taylor from setting them up in many other parts of Britain.

The key features of cost book companies were:

  • The names of the investors (adventurers) and the mines financial transactions are entered in a cost book.
  • At the end of each accounting period all profits are divided between the adventurers according to their shareholding.
  • All money required to develop the mine and continue operating is to be obtained from the sales of ore.
  • If sales do not meet these costs a ‘call is to be made on the adventurers, who will then be required to make a payment to the mine according to their shareholding.
  • The mine cannot hold a cash reserve, or borrow from external sources.

Investors in cost book companies could not just sit back and allow the money to role in. Mines often spent many years demanding money from their adventurers before the reward of profits occurred, and the majority of the adventures would never reach profitability.wpid-wp-1438633784339.jpeg

Despite of its apparent short-comings when applied to large industrial scale operations, the cost book system suited Taylor very well. By restricting the number of shares it enabled him to maintain a tight control of the companies and allowed for quick changes in strategy. The lack of capital reserve and external borrowing was not a restriction to Taylor, who was extremely skilled at managing the balance between ore being sold, broken ore underground awaiting hauling to the surface and the development of new potential ore reserves. He treated the broken ore laying in the stopes as his bank, solid capital to be called on when required.

The payment and management of the workforce
This was a system based on a method of self-employment, with two classes of miners, those paid on work completed (tut workers), and those paid as a share of the value of the ore raised (tribute).

The process rwpid-th-5.jpegevolved around the act of setting, when the work was auctioned to the miners. On the large rich mines this must have been an impressive spectacle, with the miners gathered around the grand frontage of a count house waiting to determine their future chances of fortune or poverty.

Taylor considered that the system was an effective in maximising profits and enabling efficient management. Once the work had been set, large parts of the mines operations became self-managing. Miners and the mine owners shared the common aims of producing saleable ore at low cost, and this alignment of aims resulted in a system that was stated by Charles Babbage as :

“no other mode of payment affords to the workmen a measure of success so directly proportioned to the industry, the integrity, and the talent, which they exert”.

It was not a system without its weaknesses. One important one was its influence of the infrastructure on the mine.  The efficiency of ground working it stimulated often left a complex of shafts, winzes and tunnels not suited to modern methods being demanded in the latter half of the 19th century. Critics also accused the system of encouraging unsafe practices, with the miners willing to take more risks when driven by the desire for higher payments.

To sum up in a few easy words...
A genius from Norwich used traditional Cornish methods he first learnt in Devon to modernise mines in the rest of Britain. History is never simple.

I can still find no trace of recognition of his achievements in his town of birth. Various libraries, tourist information offices, record libraries and museums have helped in the hunt, but it appears he his the genius the town chooses to ignore.

The nextwpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.png post will send the blog back west to Cornwall, and will reverse the grammatical emphasis.

If you wish to explore the life of another character in the Cornish mining industry then read The Last Great Cornish Engineer.

Or download a copy of  Sketch of the life of William West C.E. of Tredenham-The last of the great Cornish Engineers

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John Taylor- The Mining genius, a talk at Liskeard, 11th April

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John Taylor a Mining Genius

A Trevithick Society presentation on the life and works of John Taylor
Monday 21th April, 2016, 7:30pm at Liskeard public hall

By John Manley (Author of ‘The last Great Cornish Engineer‘)

Non-members welcome

John Taylor dominated the British metal mining industry in its heyday. Taylor was an engineer, mine owner, inventor, scientist and financial genius. He owned some of the biggest mines in Cornwall and Devon, he built a Canal, he built a railway, he influenced scientific development, and much more. His story is interlaced into much of the industrial and economic  history of the country, and it is a story worth keeping alive.

Although he was born far from Cornwall, he played a major role in the Cornish and West Devon mining industry. This is reflected in this months talk; a talk that explores his life through his work in the Tavistock area, and throughout Cornwall.

So come along and enjoy an evening with the Trevithick Society at Liskeard. If you cannot come along to the talk then follow this blog to learn more about John Taylor.

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