Located in the south-eastern corner of Bodmin
Moor, the setting for this Area is characterised entirely by open,
exposed, granite moorland, mostly above 300m OD. Nowhere else
within the nominated Site are such extensive mining remains found
that date from such a limited period of operation (1840-90). They
reflect a good example of a ‘boom to bust’ Cornish copper mining
This area lies in the south-eastern corner of Bodmin Moor.
Although, like the other Cornish granite uplands and Dartmoor to
the east, this area had been extremely productive during the
medieval and post-medieval periods when its alluvial and eluvial
tin ore was worked by extensive streamworks, the evidence for the
working of the tin lodes which underlaid these moors suggests only
shallow, relatively small scale operations. Much of the land was
regarded as little more than poor, exposed, upland sheep country.
This was to change in 1836, however, when a small group of
prospectors located a major east-west copper lode traversing the
Seaton Valley on the southern slopes of Caradon Hill. Within four
years mines were being established everywhere within the district
in an attempt either to find extensions of the South Caradon lode
to the east or west, or to find others parallel to it. To the
north, the old Clanacombe and Stowes mines were reopened as
Phoenix United – here, too, substantial resources of copper ore
were found, though with the added bonus of rich tin alongside.
Elsewhere, the attempts were less successful. The mines working
the immediate extensions of the South Caradon lodes – East
Caradon and West Caradon – were the most successful – some of
the others were little more than trials or speculations and were
soon no more than memories, whilst a small number worked patchily
for decades, barely paying their way.
The development of these important copper reserves was
initially fraught with difficulties, however. Lying far from the
coast and lacking surfaced roads it proved difficult to bring to
the area the equipment, fuel and supplies vital for the
development of the mines, and equally problematic to export the
copper ore which they were producing. It took ten years to build
the railway which was to link the mines to
Liskeard – the
nearest stannary town, and from there to the port of
Looe and it
was not until the 1850s that it linked up the majority of the
mines and quarries which had sprung up in the area.
A further problem also linked to the remoteness and general
inhospitability of the Caradon district was that there was no
tradition of settlement in the area. As the mines became
established, thousands of miners drawn from all over Cornwall
initially established shanty towns on the exposed downs. Although
these had something of a reputation for lawlessness they were
short-lived, and new settlements of terraced cottages, complete
with chapels and schools were soon being built near the mines.
Minions (originally called Cheesewring Railway),
Upton Cross, Common Moor and
Nest were all established during this period,
St Cleer and
Henwood expanded substantially to house the incomers, whilst
Liskeard rapidly developed into the administrative centre for the
Mining records show that over 650,000 tons of copper ore was
mined within the district in little less than three decades.
Inevitably, given the internationalisation of copper mining during
this period, however, the boom was short-lived. As copper prices
slumped, the smaller and less successful mines quickly went to the
wall, and even the greatest amongst them – South Caradon –
survived until the 1880s only by dint of its prodigious output.
Phoenix United continued to work its rich tin lodes for a little
longer, but its closure spelt the end for the railway and for the
quarries which that had sustained. By the end of the 19th
century peace and quiet had returned to the moor. An ambitious
attempt to rework the Phoenix lodes during the first decade of the
20th century came to nothing, as did a re-prospection
of the Silver Valley lodes on Craddock Moor for wolfram during the
Second World War.
With so little pressure for redevelopment or re-use, sites
within the Caradon Hill mining district have by and large, escaped
clearance and demolition, though neglect has taken its toll of
many buildings, some of which are now in a precarious state. The
establishment by Caradon District Council of a Countryside Officer
for south-east Bodmin Moor and the conversion of an engine house
into a visitor centre are, however, the first steps in an
ambitious project to conserve the impressive remains of the
industrial heritage of the area. A local website (http://www.minions-cornwall.co.uk/)
contains further information about the area and its mines.