Yesterday was prehistoric, but Sunday in the Council for British Archaeology’s Cornwall weekend started with a series of presentations on the archaeology of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site at the National Trust’s Cornish Mines and Engines in Pool.
After an Introduction by Lady Mary Holborow, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, the first presentation was by Phil Hoskens of the Trevithick Society on The origins of the Industrial Revolution with particular reference to Cornwall & the history of the Pool site.
This was a paean to Cornish industry and ingenuity, for example, Tangye Brothers’ steam cars starting the automobile export trade. We had a swift tour through the development of the steam engine, starting with Newton’s proposed steam carriage (1680); through Denis Papin’s model engine (he developed the first pressure cooker, a ‘digester’, which he demonstrated at the Royal Society); Thomas Savery; Newcomen’s 1712 atmospheric engine; Watt, who improved the Newcomen engine, and then produced the reciprocating winding engine in 1784; to Richard Trevithick, who produced the first true steam engine, with a cylindrical engine, and, more importantly, with wheels: the world’s first successful self-propelled locomotive. In 1803 there was a steam carriage in London, and in 1804 the first steam engine railway at Pen-y-Darron.
The tight schedule caused a sudden winding-up of this talk, and we moved on to The National Trust’s role in preserving Industrial Heritage was discussed at great speed by John Brooks of the National Trust. Starting with a quick overview of the archaeological heritage of the area, West Penwith has 1500 monuments, 120 of them scheduled. Sperris, Zennor Mulfra & Chûn Quoits, and Chûn Castle, the remains in the area range form the prehistoric through medieval to industrial settlements and works. His talk was mainly about the industrial landscapes of the St Just coastline, in 1992 the then Cornwall Archaeology Unit started the St Just Survey, an archaeological survey of the mining district. There were engine houses barely standing and open shafts; in 1995 conservation started when the St Just Project was launched.
The Levant Engine House was conserved (and its original engine restored to working order); 7-8km of coast was acquired, as well as the Count House at Botallack; an ore calciner had tonnes of arsenic removed and was rebuilt; and 40-50 shaft heads were marked by building Cornish hedges round them. The project was run by the County and District Councils, the National Trust, with EU funding, and much help from local people who were heavily involved all the way through. The emphasis has also been on interpretation and , education.
Next on the agenda was The Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site by Deborah Boden & Ainsley Cocks of the WHS.
A WHS has to have ‘outstanding value to humanity’, and it was explained to us why this area is of world class landscape and cultural importance.
Metalliferous mining started in Cornwall in the early eighteenth century and then was exported round the world. Cornwall & Devon’s importance came about for several reasons: there was an extraordinary suite of minerals (over 100 type specimens come from the area, mainly metalliferous); it was a principal producer of copper and tin; there was a revolution in steam and mining technology; and there was a worldwide transfer of technology, culture, and its subsequent impact.
As well as copper and tin there was also wolfram, uranium, silver and iron. The ores were exported to smelters in south Wales, and the coal was imported in return. The lodes were mostly vertical, which promoted the development of deep mining technology.
By the early C19 the area was exporting all round the world allowing industrialisation elsewhere, and sowing the seeds of Cornwall and Devon’s decline – by the 1860s copper production was declining.
The Cornish engine was essential for the deep metal mining throughout Cornwall and west Devon in the nineteenth century. There were 3000 engine installations in Cornwall, with 320 surviving in Cornwall and west Devon; 203 within the World Heritage Site, 117 outside; 137 are listed, 47 scheduled. Of surviving types: 183 pumping, 71 whims, 29 stamping, 5 copper crushers, 13 combination use, 19 unknown. 104 have been totally or partially consolidated to date.
In the mid C19 25% of the population of the area was employed in the mines, with a further 25% employed in associated occupations, e.g. foundries, or gunpowder production.
When the industry declined in the area there was mass migration, and there are 175 sites with a Cornish connection (and engine houses) elsewhere, for example Snailbeach Mine in Shropshire, and in Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Spain, and Australia’s pioneer mines and industrial settlements. In 1902 the Cornish imported football to Mexico, and more Cornish pasties are consumed in Mexico than in Cornwall).
Moves are afoot to set up a transnational World Heritage Site, possibly by 2020, with mining areas in the UK, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, South Australia, and South Africa.
The last presentation by Gavyn Rollinson of Camborne School of Mines was more technical, but still extremely interesting: The use of automated mineralogy (QEMSCAN) for archaeological investigations.
QUEMSCAN is an scanning electron microscope with an automated image analysis system with a 1μm feature detection limit. It can be uses for solid (as it requires a high vacuum) inorganic samples only, for example, rocks, soils, stone tools, slags, metals, ceramics, pottery. One scan produces 5-10GB of data. Items such as ancient pottery have to be cut into thin sections, but for things such as kohls (ancient Egyptian eye cosmetics) results can be produced by dissolving <1g in methanol and smearing it onto a resin block.
An example of work they have done is checking the veracity of claims that a jacket was worn at the Battle of Waterloo by checking whether very small samples of soil on the jacket matched control samples from the site. Because the scans produce such a large amount of data it’s possible to produce graphs that check matches of the data and they were able to say that the jacket almost certainly came from the site.
After this onslaught of information, during the lunch break site tours of the East Pool site were given, including the working Trevithick winding engine on the site across the road.
After lunch everyone decamped to King Edward Mine. Tony Brooks greeted us and, after we divided into two, gave the half I was in an introductory talk outlining the geology, geography, and history of mining on the Great Flat Lode site. After the decline on Cornish mining in the latter part of the C19, in 1897 King Edward Mine was acquired by Camborne School of Mines as a training mine, and is now a museum. Much of the surface plant was either restored or replaced, and is now in working order.
Tony Brooks & John Watton have written a book on the subject: King Edward Mine: an Illustrated Account of Underground & Surface Operations 1897-2001, which is currently for sale at the mine shop.
After this the other half went to Carn Brea to look at the prehistory, while we went to the Great Flat Lode mining site (it was as nice a day as the previous one, so the view from the former would have been wonderful, but I was going to the latter site; I would have loved to have been able to do both).
Here, at South Wheal Frances, and then Wheal Bassett, we looked over the massive amounts of surface buildings, many of them in very good condition (due in part to theor massive construction – some of the buildings are almost cathedral-like), and with expert guides with us it was possible to see exactly how things worked.
This was the end of the weekend, so it was farewells, and then for me quite a long drive to my hotel at Whiddon Down just north of Dartmoor. It’s odd to think that once Bodmin Moor was a frightening place to cross, with an ill-defined road and guides being essential for a safe passage, as most of the A30 is now dual carriageway and it’s possible to cross the moor without noticing it’s there.
I wanted to notice it, so I left the main road at Bolventor (location of Jamaica Inn, once an inn, now a museum) and drive down a small road to join the River Fowey, at this point only about 3½ miles from its source, and follow its valley to Golitha Falls, then through Minions, along narrow winding lanes, and then across country to Whiddon Down.
Tomorrow I go home, but by a rather indirect route.