I’d said that while we were in Penzance I wanted to check out the tin mines. Wyn said “What!” I said it was where the TV series Poldark is filmed. She said “How soon can we go!” True or false? OK, it’s not true; I made it up hoping for a more interesting introduction 🙂 There’s a dramatic coastline on the west side of the tip of Cornwall, just up from Land’s End, called the Tin Coast. This is where tin and copper have been mined for the last couple of thousand years. We went to check it out on our first day in Cornwall.
It was actually raining. We’d had a lovely spell of weather for the first few days of our travels, warm and dry and sunny. But it seemed to be coning to an end, with persistent rain through the middle part of the day. It didn’t stop us from exploring. We started at Cape Cornwall, mostly because it was on the way.
From there we drove on to first Botallack Mine and then the Levant Mine. The biggest of the tin and copper mines are in a belt not much more than 5 kms long and 2 kms wide, squashed up against the sea with most of the access well above the sea. The seam that they were following dipped out to sea, and the miners followed it, in some cases to more than 300m below sea level and 15o0m offshore. There were stories of miners reporting hearing rocks rolling on the seafloor above them.
The lower of the two Crown mine engine houses was to pump water from the mine. The higher one was for the winding power for the diagonal mine shaft which ran out under the sea. The mines were huge, with many levels and drives as the miners chased the valuable ore. In the early years the men descended and ascended the huge distances on a series of ladders. Imagine going down 300m on ladders and then climbing back up at the end of the day. If someone above you on the ladders slipped and fell, that was probably the end of you as well!
From the shaft, drives went out either side, chasing the ore along the seam for long distances. Interestingly, the shaft didn’t go straight down. This was because the seam didn’t go straight down and they didn’t want to waste resources on removing non-ore material. Where the ore angled, the shaft angled. They had to invent ways for the mechanics to deal with the corners.
We also visited the Levant Mine. We took advantage of an included guided tour. This provided an excellent background and history which brought the place to life. We were also able to see the huge beam engine in action. This is a steam powered engine that provided the raising and lowering power for the mine shafts, as well as the pumping needed to keep the water at bay. This engine survived the decommissioning and scrapping of all of the things worth anything mostly by chance, a lucky chance.
The coastal area and the mines provide many of the locations for the Poldark TV series. Which we hadn’t watched, but were vaguely aware of. Not long after we were there the BBC started showing the 4th series. We don’t watch much TV, but Sunday nights we are making sure we’re tuned in for the latest episode. It’s a fun way of revisiting a rugged section of the Cornwall Coast, with a dramatic past.
The weather started to show signs of improving as we headed back to Penzance to rest up in readiness for our long-awaited evening entertainment.
Fascinating and even watching Poldark the scenery always looked bleak.
Yes Gay, in must have been a hard existence. I can see parallels with the Denniston coal mine on the West Coast of NZ.
You state that the beam engine at levant “provided the raising and lowering power for the mine shafts, as well as the pumping needed to keep the water at bay”. were you told this by the guide?, the reason I ask is because the engine was only used for raising and lowering of ore/equipment. The engine house next to it was the pump engine. As far as I’m aware the existing engine was never used for pumping. Also, I know a miner who worked at Geevor when they de-watered Levant and he swears blind that during a storm he could hear the rocks on the sea bed move.
Hi Andrew. Thanks for the question/comment/correction. I don’t think that would have come from the guide. Because of the way it is written I am guessing that I took it from some of the written information that was available – like a leaflet? Which I doubt I still have. In any case I don’t mind you questioning the validity – I don’t want to be the source of any misinformation.
One thing the guide did tell us about was how they could hear the rocks on the seabed above where they were in the mine. It must have been scary being in there.
As a matter of interest, when/why were they de-watering Levant?
Hi Ross, the reason I asked is because there is a bit of a problem with some guides giving out erroneous information – and that would be a biggy. I volunteered as a guide for a couple of seasons and still get niggled when this happens. Besides that point I found your blog interesting and a good read, it’s always nice to come across people who find the coast around here worth writing about and get their impression of it. Scary in there?, oh yes. For instance all the time the miners were down there they were aware that at the 40 fathom level there was a place called the forty backs where the sea bed was only a few feet above the workings. It was here that you could hear the boulders rolling about and sea water seeped into the mine, There’s plenty of tales about the dangers – and it was a very dangerous mine to work in.
as for the de-watering this was done in the late 60’s early 70’s, yet again a few tales about that. either way it was done so that Geevor could drive an inclined shaft into the workings from their workings and get at the minerals still down there. Unfortunately just as they were about to start production the price of tin fell through the floor and Geevor shut.
If you like Poldark you should watch the first and second series – if you havn’t already, they are probably the best. As for the weather, yes it can be very bleak when the storms roll in, there is also the Mizzle, mist combined with drizzle, which can last for days. then the sun comes out and the place is transformed – I love it.