metal such as tin and copper only make up a small
percentage of the earths crust. For these to be
viably collected they have to be concentrated by
natural processes such as alluvial deposits or by
geological processes such as the local granite
this part of Cornwall, the rich metal deposits
are associated with the local granite formation.
While the granite was hot magma, the minerals
became concentrated in high temperature liquids
and gases, which as the temperature fell formed
to the igneous geology of this area, mineral lodes
of tin, copper, iron, zinc, lead and to a lesser
degree, silver were formed. All of these metals
were in sufficient amounts to be
has been produced and traded in Cornwall for over
two thousand years. Trading occurred in pre
history times but from this period little is
known. There are legends of the Phoenicians
trading with the Cornish for tin.
reproduced by kind permission of
Penlee House Gallery and
Tin Ingot Found at
A tin ingot was found at Trereife. On
it can be seen raised lettering, E I C
and a symbol resembling an elaborate
The Chi Rho cross is an early
representational form of the cross. It
is comprised of the letters X and P,
in Greek are the first two letters of
More recent than Roman, as the marks
are very similar to those of a West
Country Merchantís Marks. Found ar
Trereife in 1845.
Early Mining and
The early tin industry
would have been based on alluvial deposits. This
is where streams had eroded down through the
surface and cut across tin seams. The tin was
then washed out forming alluvial deposits.
of the ore could be carried out via the streaming
of these deposits. Using water enabled the heavier
tin bearing minerals to be separated from the other
minerals. Originally the tin was manually
panned, later technology intervened and settling
pits were used.
Tin has been mined since
the Medieval Period. The first lodes were those
easily accessed i.e. those exposed at the surface.
When the surface lodes and alluvial deposits
became exhausted mining was forced to go
was going though troubled
times during the reign of King John. He required
the support of the Cornish tin miners. This provided
opportunity for them to flex their political muscle.
They negotiated with the king to grant them
special privileges, which were encapsulated in a
Tinners Charter. Tin miners could now mine on any
land that had not been enclosed; and legally excused
from normal tax and military service. The miners
were now under a Stannery
When one thinks of mining
in Cornwall it is typically associated with
When mining was at its
peak it was for copper. In the eighteenth century
copper mining became of greater importance than
Cornwall by the early
nineteeth century was the greatest producer of copper
in the world.
The affect of copper
mining on Cornwall was drastic, demand for the
metal was high with the industrial revolution.
Prices were good and copper reserves were large
with little competition from elsewhere in the
When mining was at its
peak it employed up to 30% of the county's male
It was a huge industry
even to the degree that copper was smelted here.
It later became more economical to smelt the copper
in coal mining
areas. It being cheaper to transport the ore rather than bring in the coal.
Copper had an effect on
the county's economic infrastructure. Large
quantities of ore were moved, ports upgraded
and eventually railways were built. A local
example is the Hayle railway which later became
the West Cornwall Line.
With the discovery of
huge deposits elsewhere in the world in the mid nineteenth century, the price of copper fell and by this
time the best Cornish deposits had been mined out.
Mining in Cornwall was in a dire state but
fortunately tin had been found in some of the
deeper Cornish mines. Due to the mineral zoning,
many copper mines also had tin deposits, but miners had
to go to deeper levels. Tin now fuelled a mining
With the copper lodes
almost vertical, the mines were going progressively
deeper and fortunately many ran into tin deposits.
When copper was no longer viable it was possible
to continue to mine by changing to
Deeper mines led to
greater problems with drainage and higher costs,
but mining was still viable. The tin industry
could not replace the importance of copper mining
to the local communities. It was on a smaller
scale requiring a considerably smaller
As for copper, cheaper
deposits of tin were found overseas, and by the
end of the nineteenth century tin mining had
severely declined. A few struggled on until the
1920s, aided by the new value of tin mining
by-products such as
Geevor was a working mine until
1990, and provided much needed employment in the region.
Benefits to Cornish
The problems of drainage,
and the benefits of large profits, drove the
development of large powerful steam engines. Many
were built locally in such places as Hayle and the
industry expanded to produce engines for export.
Cornish technology could be found at mines all
over the world.
reputations were made in the development of new
innovations in steam engineering, such as that of
Richard Trevithick's high pressure