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This photographic gallery of Cornwall is special to us. We can spend so much time on the coast, the beach, visiting Cornwall's stone circles, holy wells feeling a deep connection with the landscape of Cornwall. However the real sacred landscape of Cornwall can be found in the heritage and culture of the old industrial landscape.
Cornish Mining is sometimes seen through rose tinted glasses but in these pictures and these proud buildings you can still feel a sense of the courage and determination of the Cornish people. We are also honoured that our dear friend Clies Stevens 'an ex Cornish Miner himself' has written the introduction below with a further story below the last line of pictures.
Other tin mining pages - Geevor Tin Mine
A MINERS DAY, 1850
Our Miners day in and around 1850 in the mining areas of west Cornwall would begin at 04.30 AM! And yes there is such a time of the morning. For his wife the day began here as well, she would be up to awaken the old fashioned but efficient Cornish range with shavings of dry wood and twigs before adding some carefully selected coal nuggets.
Light would have been provided by some candles left over from her mans previous shifts, he would have been charged for these by the way. Can you imagine going to work today and at the end of the month given a bill for the electricity you would have used at your work? I don’t think so somehow.
She would make him a large mug of precious tea, or it was close to the end of
the month and no money left nettle tea. (I have drunk this brew and found it
very refreshing) a large lump of whole meal bread for his breakfast, dry nothing
to spread on it or if he was very lucky a thin spread of blackcurrant or
gooseberry preserve from the summer, or perhaps a touch of honey to help it
A miner’s wife was a very special person back then, as she is today. She sent her man off to work deep in the bowels of the earth, not knowing if she would ever see him again, or perhaps he would be brought home in pieces. Not ever seen again was preferable because if the miner did not belong to the ‘CLUB’ she would have to pay for the funeral!
She would pay attention to his every cough, listening for the dreaded rattle and wheeze of ‘miners lung’ or silicosis. Look in the cemeteries of the mining areas and see the average age of the men who died there. 35 to 40 years of age was considered a good age for a miner!
At last he would leave his humble two up three down miners cottage with the others from the row of dwellings and make his way to whatever pit he was currently working in. Our Cornish miner was a skilled man, in high demand by all the Victorian mine adventurers. Untold millions were being made in Cornwall at this time, the great flat lode of the Camborne /Redruth area alone financed the Basset EMPIRE, let alone anything else.
Cornish banks flourished and the mining
exchange in Redruth was in constant contact with the London stock exchange by
the new fangled electric telegraph.
All of this however was far from our miner as he made his way to work down rutted muddy lanes, his boots ringing of the cobbled streets if he was in the town. Murdoch had perfected his gas lighting at this time and Redruth boasted the worlds FIRST gas street lighting! But in the country of a winters day it was dark, oft times freezing and /or raining.
On reaching his work place if he was lucky he would get a ride down the shaft either on a man engine or a precarious ride in a ‘kibble’ the bucket used to raise the ore. More often or not he would have to climb down untold lengths of ladders, down the steaming shaft because the shaft was often so deep that at the bottom the water seeping from the tunnels was hot.
This could take him 2 hours
or more just to reach his workstation where he would work for the next 8 hours
before CLIMBING back up to ‘grass’ and home. So, soaking wet and filthy, stained
a reddish brown colour from the minerals and chemicals he was working with he
would trudge home to the cottage, probably one of row of similar dwellings all
owned by the mine and rented to the miner.
He might have stopped at the local ‘kettle and wink’ to get his pint of gin on the ‘wink’ or credit until payday. The surrounding countryside would have been full of the sulphurous smell of coal smoke, the only illumination in many areas the brightly lit engine houses working night and day none stop to keep the mines clear of water and winding the ore to the surface.
Perhaps he would have got lift from a drayman who had just delivered his coal to
the engine house, a lift in exchange for a ‘pull’ at the precious gin bottle.
Some of these men could swallow a huge quantity of ‘gin’ but it was not quite
the gin we know today. That could be the subject for another day perhaps. So he
sits up there with the driver, wrapped in the filthy Hessian/canvass sacking
used for the coal against the freezing night air over his soaking wet and cold
The pitch dark of the country side was lit by those yellow flowers of the occasional oil lamp in the engine houses and the pitiful glow from the candles he had managed to save from the days work shining in his window where his fretful wife waited for her man to come safely home. Such was a normal day in the life of the men who pushed the knowledge of their trade nay a calling to the very limits of science and technology. If a need arose and no implement existed it was invented, right here in Cornwall. If technology to work a place did not exist underground it was carefully thought out and implemented at the risk of the lives of the men who tried them.
My country in 1850 was the most heavily industrialised county in England, and England led the world in technology if not humanity.
So why did our miner do this work? Because likely his father had, and his father before him. Because when he and his wife dressed in the market day best stood at the stalls haggling over prices he would be one of the very few customers to have silver coins in his pocket and death growing in his lungs; because very few men in the whole land knew his job like him and he was proud to be Cornish, proud to be a Cornish miner.
genius loci recommends
The Cornish Miners Association (CMA) was born out of a determination by ex-miners to remain as a close- knit community. Mining creates an environment that is unlike any other. The close friendship, camaraderie, dependence upon each other in dangerous situations underground The CMA aims to help preserve this unique community which has existed for thousands of years in Cornwall and survives in Cornish communities in Australia, South Africa, West Africa, Mexico, the USA, Canada and a score of other countries and continents. All former miners and mine workers are invited to join and participate. click here for more info