The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape: bid for World Heritage Site status

The successful bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which took place between 2001 and 2006, now places Cornwall and west Devon's historic mining landscapes on a par with such international treasures as Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China (click here to link to the current list of World Heritage Sites). World Heritage Site status was formally granted on 13th July 2006 at the 30th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Vilnius, Lithuania. 

World Heritage Site status has been conferred in recognition of the remarkable advances in hard rock mining and engineering technologies made during the 18th and 19th centuries, which transformed the landscape, economy and society of the region, placing it at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. These technologies quickly spread to every corner of the globe as the international migration of Cornwall and west Devon's highly skilled workforce forged extensive cultural links between mining communities worldwide. Distinctive physical reminders of this important past persist within the landscape - imposing engine houses and extensive relict mine sites, industrial harbours and tramways, foundry and fusework buildings, mining towns and villages, hundreds of non-conformist chapels, the glorious houses and gardens of the mineral lords, the modest smallholdings of the ordinary mineworkers, the technical schools, miners' institutes and geological collections established for the aspiring student.

As well as recognising the unique role of Cornish Mining in shaping modern industrial society, World Heritage Site status will bring tangible socio-economic benefits to the region. It will draw down conservation funding, be a major asset to international tourism marketing and assist the regeneration of former mining communities.

World Heritage Site Bid: project description

The Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Bid Project was undertaken to identify sites which collectively demonstrate the international importance and impact of the Cornish mining industry from the 18th to early 20th centuries and to build up a case for the inscription of key areas within Cornwall and west Devon as a World Heritage Site.

The bid was unusual in that it was based on a landscape and cultural approach. It was therefore necessary to examine not only mine sites, but sites and structures which relate to important changes which took place in the transport networks, infrastructure, economy and settlement of Cornwall and west Devon during this period, and which can be shown to be intimately linked to developments within the mining industry.

A small team within the Historic Environment Service of the Planning, Transportation and Estates Department of Cornwall County Council undertook the research necessary to assemble the final, complex, multi-area bid. The following represent the main strands of the Bid Project research:

  • The creation of GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping of all documented mining and related activity within the Project area
  • The production of site histories for all Cornish mines, foundries and associated sites within the proposed Bid Areas
  •  With the assistance of specialist technical panels, the creation of statements of significance concerning:
    • The development of mining technologies in Cornwall during the period 1770-1900
    • The national and international role of Cornish inventors and inventions
    • The development and role of Non-Conformism within the mining communities of Cornwall and west Devon
    • The development and growth of new forms of settlement, new social structures and population profiles
    • The history of Cornish migration during the 19th century, the spread of Cornish mining technology and the dissemination of the Cornish model for hard rock mining throughout the world
    • Cornwall's international significance in the history of hard rock mining

It was initially suggested that seven historically-important mining areas would be proposed for inscription as a single site, reflecting those former mining districts where the physical evidence is known to be best-preserved, i.e. St. Just in Penwith, the Godolphin-Tregonning area, Camborne-Redruth, St. Day-Gwennap, St. Agnes, Caradon Hill and the Tamar Valley. It was recognised, however, that concentration solely on these areas ran the risk of excluding other potentially important sites or structures. As a result, a Search Area was defined which included the whole of Cornwall and a substantial area of west Devon. Within this area, a phase of general mapping and data collection of key site types and features was undertaken to ensure that this was not the case and to define those areas within which detailed mapping of the final Bid areas would be undertaken.

The following represent the site and feature types digitally plotted from historic maps and plans, aerial photographs or existing archaeological and geotechnical surveys during the phase of general mapping:

  • Land historically directly affected by mining activity, including the sites of shafts and adits, areas depicted as mine spoil dumps, engine houses and associated structures, mine dressing floors, tin tailings works, mine service buildings, mine water supply features, including ponds and leats, and mine transport systems including roadways, trackways and tramways
  • Mining-related structures and sites, including mining exchanges, schools of mines, foundries, factories, fuse works, explosives works, boiler works, ports and harbours, railways and tramways with their associated infrastructure
  • The extent of industrial settlements and their infrastructure, including chapels, new churches, preaching pits, schools and Sunday schools, and the houses and estates of mine owners, industrialists and investors
  • Given the dramatic effects which population changes had on the Cornish rural landscape, the extent of new farmland (and in particular of smallholdings) was also mapped
  • Other historically or technologically significant structures - for instance the birthplaces or places of residence of inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs

A further stage of detailed mapping was undertaken once the Bid Areas were established, covering the following within their boundaries:

  • The detailed mapping of mine site components
  • Historic and present landscape classification
  • Analysis of settlement morphology and principal components
  • Site ownership 
  • Existing and proposed site protection
  • Existing and suggested interpretation and presentation sites

The final stage of the Bid Project was to write and assemble the Bid Nomination Document and Management Plan which were required to form the basis of the formal bid to UNESCO.

The first of these documents defines the Bid Areas, indicates the ways in which the proposed Site meets a number of the UNESCO criteria for World Heritage Sites and sets out the history and importance of the Area. This document included a summary of the history of hard rock mining in Cornwall and west Devon from antiquity, through the period of the Industrial Revolution to the present day; it also identified the roles of key inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs in the development of mining and allied technologies, and in making Cornwall the world leader in this field during the first half of the 19th century. The document also described the social, cultural and landscape changes which took place within Cornwall and west Devon during this period, and identified the extent and importance of the surviving legacy.

The second document sets out the framework needed to ensure the appropriate management of the World Heritage Site, both in the form of overarching protocols covering conservation issues, access, interpretation and presentation, but also site by site prioritised management recommendations.

To view the World Heritage Site Nomination Document and Management Plan, please click here to visit our Downloads page.