1839 Mining


Life in the Parish

2 Viewpoints - This one from November  15, 1839 -  from the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser
J. Mosman, OPC

Mining in Redruth and Gwennap

As the mining operations below have been so extensive, the surface of the district is covered with rubbish, and its general aspect is most barren and uninviting.  The following tolerably accurate and very graphic description of it, and of the habits and employment of its population, is from the pen of Sir Francis Bond Head, Bart., and with it we shall conclude: -

"To one unaccustomed to a mining country, the view from Cairn Marth, which is a rocky eminence of 757 feet, is full of novelty.  Over a surface which is neither mountainous nor flat, but diversified from sea to sea by a constant series of low and undulating hills and vales, the farmer and the miner seem to be occupying the country in something like the confusion of warfare.  The situations of the Consolidated Mines, the United Mines, the Poldice Mine, &c,&c, are marked out by spots a mile in length, by half a mile in breadth, covered with what are termed "the deads" of the mine, saly, poisonous rubbish thrown up in rugged heaps, which, at this distance, give the place the appearance of an encampment of soldiers' tents.  This lifeless mass follows a course of the main lode (which generally runs east to west); and from it, in different directions, minor branches of the same barren rubbish diverge through the fertile country, like the streams of lava from a volcano.  The miner, being obliged to have a shaft for air at every hundred yards, and the Stannary laws allowing him freely to pursue his game, his hidden path is commonly to be traced by a series of heaps of "deads", which rise up among the green fields, and among the grazing cattle, like the workings of a mole.  Steam engines and shims (large capstans worked by two or four horses) are scattered about; and in the neighbourhood of the old, as well as of the new workings, are sprinkled, one by one, a number of small white-washed miners' cottages which, based neither on a road, nor near a road, wear, to the eye of the stranger, the appearance of having been dropped down apropos to nothing."


"Early in the morning the scene becomes animated.  From the scattered cottages, as far as the eye can reach, men, women and children of all ages begin to creep out; and it is curious to observe them all converging like bees to the small hole at which they are to enter their mines.  On their arrival, the women and children, whose duty it is to dress or clean the ore, repair to the rough sheds under which they work, while the men, having stripped and put on their underground clothes (which are of course flannel dresses) one after another descended the several shafts of the mine by perpendicular ladders to their respective levels or galleries.  As soon as they have all disappeared, a most remarkable stillness prevails; scarcely a human being is to be seen.  The tall chimneys of the steam-engines emit no smoke; and nothing is seen in motion but the great "bobs" or levers of those gigantic machines."


"As soon as the men emerge to grass, they repair to the engine-house, where they generally leave their underground clothes to dry, wash themselves in the warm water of the engine-pool ,and put on their clothes, which are always exceedingly decent. By this time the maidens and little boys have also washed their faces, and the whole party migrate across the fields in groups, and in different directions, to their respective homes.   Generally speaking, they now look so clean and fresh, and seem so happy, that one would scarcely fancy they had worked all day in darkness and confinement.  The old men, however, tired with their work, and sick of the follies and vagarities of the outside and inside of this mining world, plod their way in sober silence, probably thinking of their supper.  The younger men proceed talking and laughing, and where the grass is good, they will sometimes stop and wrestle.

The big boys generally advance by playing at leap-frog; while urchins run as before to gain time to stand on their heads; while the "maidens", sometimes pleased and sometimes offended with what happens, smile or scream as circumstances may require.   As the different members of the group approach their respective cottages, their number of course diminish, and when the individual who lives farthest from the mine, like the solitary survivor of a large family, performs the last few yards of his journey by himself." 


the mines of Carn Brea and Redruth, circa 1900 - 60 years after the above was written - but with the same feeling.


MINES and MINING FIFTY YEARS AGO - as printed in the January 10, 1840 West Briton
[the paper was torn and wrinkled; this is the best version I could piece together]

The following curious extract from the second volume of "Italy" by "the author of "Vathek," second letter, eighth page, Falmouth, March 7th, 1787", will no doubt be interesting to many of our readers.

"Scott came this morning, and took me to see the Consolidated mines, in the parish of Gwennap. They are situated in a bleak desert, rendered still more doleful by the unhealthy appearance of its inhabitants. At every step, one stumbles upon ladders that lead into utter darkness, or funnels that exhale warm copperous vapours. All around these openings, the ore is piled up in heaps waiting for purchasers. I saw it drawn reeking out of the mine by the [ ..] called a whim, set in motion by.... their turn are stimulated by ..over the poor brutes, and flogging them.. This dismal scene of whims. of cinders, extends.... for engines, creaking and groaning, and.... tall chimneys smoking and flaming. [he then turned attention to the mining offices/adventurers]. These mystagogues occupy a tolerable house, with fair sash windows, where the inspectors of the mine hold their meetings and regale upon beef, pudding, and brandy. While I was standing at the door of this habitation, several woeful figures in tattered garments, with pickaxes on their shoulders, crawled out of a dark fissure and repaired to a hovel, which I learnt was a gin shop. There they pass the few hours allotted them above ground, and drink, it is to be hoped, an oblivion to their subterraneous existence.

Piety, as well as gin, helps to fill up their leisure moments, and I was told that Wesley, who came apostolising into Cornwall a few years ago, preached on this spot to above seven thousand followers. Since this period, Methodism has made a very rapid progress, and has been of no trifling service in diverting the attention of these sons of darkness from their present condition to the glories of the life to come.

However, some people inform me their actual state is not so much to be lamented, and, that, notwithstanding their pale looks and tattered raiment, they are far from being poor or unhealthy. Fortune often throws a considerable sum into their laps when they least expect it, and many a common miner has been known to gain a hundred pounds in a month or two. Like sailors in the first effusion of prize money, they have no notion of turning their good luck to advantage, but squander the fruits of their toil in the silliest species of extravagance. Their wives are dressed out in tawdry silks, and flaunt away in the ale houses between rows of obedient tiddlers. The money spent down, they sink again into damps and darkness."

"Having passed an hour in collecting minerals, stopping engines with my finger, and performing all the functions of a diligent young man desirous of information, I turned my back on smoke, flames, and coal-holes with great pleasure."


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