Carn Brea castle, Camborne and Redruth Mining District. © HES.


The Camborne-Redruth Mining District

[location map] [historic landscapes] [WHS GIS mapping]

The steep granite ridge of Carn Brea (250m OD) dominates the area. Its associated mineral resources brought fabulous wealth to the district, the mineral lodes being exploited by some of the richest, and deepest, eighteenth-century copper mines and nineteenth-century tin mines in the world
Without argument the area focused around Carn Brea was the most important and complex of the mining districts in Cornwall and West Devon, containing the majority of its most significant mines and key industrial enterprise. It was the home and workplace of many of the key figures in the development of mining and allied technologies and witnessed the most widespread urbanisation of what had historically been a rural landscape.

To a large extent, this was a reflection of the underlying geology of the area, Dines identifying the area within the Carnmenellis granite to the north of Carn Brea as 'the principal emanative centre of the whole region', noting that practically all fissures in this intensely faulted area bore copper in their upper zones and many carried tin ore in depth. Moreover, the tin zone here could be very deep, Dolcoath's lodes producing tin to over 750 metres below the copper zone.

View across Carn Brea to Carnkie and mines on the Great Flat Lode. © HES.

This compact area was, therefore, rich in economic minerals, and particularly for copper - a critical factor in the development of this mining district. Some of the mines that that worked the rich copper lodes in this area produced enormous quantities of ore - Dolcoath produced 350,000 tons of copper, Carn Brea and Tincroft 360,000 tons, East Pool and Agar 91,000 tons. To the north, North Roskear produced 170,000 tons, West Wheal Seton 126,000 tons and Wheal Seton 113,000 tons. Mines at the core of the Carn Brea group were also rich in tin at depth: Dolcoath producing 80,000 tons, Carn Brea and Tincroft 53,000 tons, East Pool and Agar 46,000 tons, Cook's Kitchen 41,000 tons. To the south of Carn Brea, the Basset Mines produced over 290,000 tons of copper, Wheal Buller 242,000 tons, the Tresavean mines 228,000 tons, whilst the Basset Mines also produced 43,000 tons of tin and the Grenville United mines 14,000 tons.

These are large figures, and there were, of course, many other mines which worked the lodes of the district. Mining on this scale demanded a large workforce, substantial investment in machinery and buildings and a transport infrastructure capable of transporting large volumes of ore, fuel and materials to and from the coast. During the mid 18th century, little of this existed, yet within less than a hundred years, the area had attained critical mass and two substantial and populous towns had developed at either end of the district whose character had, perhaps, changed more dramatically than any other in Cornwall during this period. Distant from the coast, it had been one of the earliest to adopt the new steam pumping technology, for despite its inherent costs, effective drainage had proved to be the critical factor in determining success. The ability to work deposits of copper at depth, and the discovery of a tin zone beneath the copper in the core areas of the district ensured that success was sustained, and investment in the area continued. Specialist industries were established within the district to service it - foundries and boiler works, fuse works, drill manufacturers, rope walks, clothing factories and the like. Camborne and Redruth rapidly developed into specialist industrial towns, the acknowledged heart of the Cornish mining industry. A mining exchange and schools of mining and engineering were established here too, whilst rail links to Hayle and Portreath allowed the industrial products of the area to be supplied to other areas of Cornwall, or exported abroad. The expertise of the miners and engineers of this rich mining district soon became known the world over as new mining fields were developed.

Inevitably, the decline in copper prices through the middle years of the 19th century hit this area hard, though the development of deep tin reserves in some of the mines to the north of Carn Brea and the discovery of the Great Flat lode to its south, together with the industrial diversification through the development of mining-related industries, cushioned its impact in the Camborne-Redruth district - unlike the Gwennap mines to the east or the Gwinear mines to the west. Retraction was inevitable, and the later decades of the 19th century were marked by the closure of many smaller mines and large-scale migration from the district, but also by the emergence of a small group of large, efficient, deep tin mines - Grenville United, the Basset Mines, Tresavean, Carn Brea and Tincroft, East Pool and Agar, South Crofty and Dolcoath.

Dunstanville Memorial (1836, Listed Grade II). Carn Brea is crowned by a 30m tall granite obelisk (1836); a highly-visible public memorial to Sir Francis Basset, Lord de Dunstanville, the principal mineral owner of the district. Much of the surrounding landscape was developed under the controlling influence of the Basset family and other mineral ‘lords’ in the Area. © HES.

The early 20th century brought continued retraction within the local mining industry, however. Grenville United ceased work in 1910, the neighbouring Basset Mines in 1919. Despite sinking new vertical shafts to the north and south, Dolcoath finally closed in 1920, though worked continued for a while at New Roskear Shaft; Carn Brea and Tincroft closed in the following year, Tresavean was reopened in 1910, but closed for the last time in 1928, East Pool and Agar survived until 1949. South Crofty survived, modernised and took up many of the abandoned setts of the district. The mine weathered the disastrous tin crash of 1985 with government assistance, but closed in 1999, the last Cornish mine to survive into the late 20th century. It was a massive body blow to Cornish people everywhere.

Increasingly deprived of their local markets, the allied industries of the area also went into a decline. Fuse making stopped at Bickford's Tuckingmill factory, local foundries and factories closed one by one. Only Holman's, which had developed an international reputation in the field of rock drills and compressed air equipment, survived and thrived, whilst the Camborne School of Mines built itself a reputation for training mine engineers, though almost all would work outside Cornwall once qualified. The effects of the decline were evident in Camborne and Redruth - for despite home pay sent back from foreign mining fields (notably the Rand) their economy was in poor shape. Nevertheless, despite widespread migration, the district, alone in Cornwall, possessed a substantial industrial workforce, and former mine sites between the two towns to the north of Carn Brea were increasingly redeveloped for light industry.

Although the historical importance of this mining district above all others in Cornwall has never been disputed, the mine sites of the district, once abandoned were, for many decades, treated as of little value - cleared for new industry or housing using grant-assistance where possible, elsewhere neglected and allowed to fall into ruin. Within recent years, however, the enormous heritage value of what survives has been recognised. Ambitious regeneration projects have focused not only on the urban centres of the twin towns and the mining villages of the area, but also on the conservation of the extraordinary mining landscape in which they are set, and on developing long-distance trails and paths to link up its many sites (the Mineral Tramways Project). The summit of Carn Brea provides an extraordinary panorama across this mining district and even today, more than a century on from its peak years, the sheer scale of what was happening in the landscape surrounding the Carn is still very much evident.

 Places to Visit

Cornish Mines & Engines - Impressive beam engines and industrial heritage discovery centre. Cornwall’s engine houses are dramatic reminders of the time when the county was a powerhouse of tin, copper and china clay mining. These two great beam engines were used for pumping water (from a depth of over 550m) and for winding men and ore up and down. The engines were originally powered by high-pressure steam, introduced by the local engineer Richard Trevithick. Today one is rotated by electricity. The site also includes the Industrial Discovery Centre at East Pool, which provides an overview of Cornwall’s industrial heritage and incorporates a fascinating audio-visual presentation.
King Edward Mine Museum - formerly the world famous Camborne School of Mines Training Mine, is the oldest complete mine site in Cornwall. Visit the museum, take a guided tour through the impressive tin processing plant and browse the well stocked gift shop. King Edward is also an ideal base from which to explore the 'Great Flat Lode' Trail.
South Crofty Mine - website maintained by Western United Mines Ltd, a company of mining professionals who are dedicated to reviving tin mining at the site of South Crofty.
Tolgus Tin, Redruth - The last tin stream works in Cornwall, originally rescued by the Trevithick Trust in partnership with Cornish Goldsmiths. Now part of the Treasure Park visitor experience.