South Caradon Mine, Caradon Mining District. © HES.
 

 

 

The Caradon Mining District
 

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

 

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 landscape.

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), Darite, Pensilva (originally Bodminland), Upton Cross, Common Moor and Crow’s 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 district.

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.

 
 

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