The Crowns, Botallack. © HES.


The St. Just Mining District

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

The town of St. Just, in the south of the Area, gives the district its name. It is the only large settlement. It is a small, substantially-planned, industrial town built to serve the local mines such as St Just United, Balleswidden, Boscean, Wheal Owles, Botallack and Levant.  For centuries St Just was no more than a small group of farms and cottages surrounding the parish church and its medieval Plęn-an-Gwarry (the amphitheatre within which mystery plays were performed). Within the surrounding landscape, families worked fields whose boundaries had been laid out during late prehistory and which had little changed during the Medieval period. Although farming would have been the principal occupation, boats were launched from Priest's Cove and local miners were working the alluvial tin deposits in the valleys to the north and south of the town; the exploitation of many of the local coastal lode outcrops was well under way by the mid-16th century.

Although some growth in the town had already taken place by the 17th century - no doubt in response to the activities of these early miners, it was the rapid growth of the mining industry during the early decades of the 19th century which was to transform this quiet backwater. Census returns show that the parish population increased from 2,779 in 1801 to 9,290 in 1861, the greatest growth occurring between 1831 and 1841, when the town of St Just trebled in area and mine employees made up a full third of the local population. Within the district, existing hamlets like Bojewyan Stennack, Botallack, Boscaswell, Carnyorth, Trewellard, Nancherrow and Kenidjack grew rapidly into substantial settlements whose occupants worked almost exclusively at the local mines. The boom was short-lived, however, lasting perhaps a little over half a century.

Decline set in during the 1860s when most of the area's copper mines went to the wall and by the turn of the century the population had halved as a result of many of the mining workforce emigrating. The district is unique in that the majority of its lodes strike at right angles to the coastline. This lode trend is  also at right angles to the direction of most tin and copper lodes in the rest of the nominated Site and is a phenomenon related to the area’s geological history. Cliffs recede in deep, steep-sided, narrow incised clefts, locally called ‘zawns’. These indicate perpendicular weaknesses in the lode (and fault) structures which are perhaps more highly concentrated in their coastal exposure here than anywhere else in the world. It is likely that this was one of the first areas within the Cornubian Orefield where underground mining for tin was tried. Extensive evidence survives of open-works (included within the term ‘gunnises’).

Wheal Hermon. Ancient linear open-works on tin lodes cut the cliffs. © The National Trust.

These are amongst the earliest and rarest surviving group of surface hard-rock mining features in the region. There are no rivers, and few streams, but water was captured, transported along leats and used to power pumps and dressing equipment on numerous mines, both large and small. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Area however, one intimately tied to its structural geology and the orientation of its lodes, was the development of a group of world-famous pioneer submarine mines. In the case of Levant Mine, workings extended horizontally up to 1.5km from the shore at a depth of over 600m below the sea-bed.
The mineral processing sites in the Area illustrate the full range of technological development in this branch of mining. Numerous small scale tin-dressing floors demonstrate the evolution of technology introduced during the post-Medieval period. At the Botallack and Levant mines, large-scale tin-dressing floors show how steam power was used in ore-processing and the scale on which it was applied. There are extensive remains of a tin mill preserved at Geevor Mine which shows how twentieth-century technology was incorporated into the industry. The surviving arsenic works within the Area indicate the technological developments that occurred within this important branch of the mining industry.

Botallack Mine. Remains of early-twentieth century tin-dressing floor (foreground) with those of arsenic refining behind. © Barry Gamble.

The mining district is small and more or less confined to the coastal fringe. To the east, the lodes evidently became less rich, and there although there are mines along the coast through Morvah and Zennor parishes towards St. Ives, they are small and were never very productive. Inland, mining of any significance only took place at Leswidden just to the east of St. Just town and at Ding Dong, on the high moors to the east

Given that, until quite recently, the area remained relatively remote, being poorly served with roads, little landscape change occurred following the late 19th century collapse of the mining industry. Mining land tended to be agriculturally poor and very exposed given its coastal location and there was little incentive to bring it back into productive use. As
a result the survival of mining sites within this area has been amongst the best in Cornwall. The acquisition of the majority of the most significant mining sites in the St. Just District by The National Trust since the mid-1990's has been followed by extensive conservation programmes, whilst the acquisition of Geevor in 1991 by Cornwall County

Porthledden House (1907-09). In the early twentieth century Cape Cornwall was owned by Captain Francis Oats. From a boy who worked underground at Balleswidden Mine at the age of 12, he became Chairman of De Beers in South Africa and member of the Cape Legislature Assembly. Porthledden was built as his family home and the entire area was transformed into an extensive garden landscape. © Barry Gamble.

Council following the closure of the mine prevented the clearance of this site and the dispersal or scrapping of its machinery. Geevor has now been developed as a mining heritage interpretation site, and is currently managed by Pendeen Community Heritage, a locally-based group which includes a number of former Geevor miners.

Places to Visit

Geevor Tin Mine - the largest preserved mining site in the UK. In the far west of Cornwall, on the Atlantic Coast here Cornwall's mining history comes to life. Until 1990 Geevor was working mine, now a musem with many surface buildings with guided underground tours through 18th / 19th century workings.

Levant Mine - Levant is owned and managed by The National Trust and is the home to Cornwall's oldest working beam engine - Rosevale Mine is a privately owned former tin mine situated at Zennor, near St Ives in West Cornwall. For the past 30 years the underground workings have been restored and preserved as a typical Cornish mine.