Shafts and fields near Balwest, Tregonning & Trewavas Mining District.


The Tregonning - Godolphin Mining District
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The granite cone of Godolphin Hill and the long ridge of Tregonning Hill with the engine house and chimney stack of Great Work mine prominently visible in the saddle between them, dominate the southern part of this ancient mining district. Some of the richest and, at times, the deepest tin and copper mines in the Region occur within this Area.

To the north the landscape is a mixture of gently rising downland on which a patchwork of smallholdings and new farms has been created, interspersed with long-established farms and parkland associated with the great mining estates of Godolphin and Clowance. Most miners’ cottages are dispersed in a landscape of small fields or set in small groups, though larger settlements of highway villages with fine industrial terraced cottages exist, notably at Praze-an-Beeble and Leedstown. Small groups of miners’ cottages set within substantial blocks of early nineteenth century miners’ smallholdings flank the A394 road through the southern part of the mining district. A number of engine houses form landmarks in the Area and the sheer density of mine shafts in the landscape is particularly impressive. Some mark the site of some of the earliest steam engines on metal mines in the world.

Tregonning Hill and Great Work Mine (Leeds’ Shaft, 1850s, Listed Grade II). Great Work was a very rich tin mine with one of the longest recorded histories – over 400 years - of any Cornish mine.  © Barry Gamble.

Mining has a long pedigree in this extensive and broadly triangular-shaped mining district, which stretches along the south coast from Marazion to Porthleven, its northern edges following a line which runs from just south of Hayle eastwards through the Gwinear mining district to Praze-an-Beeble. Several of the mines within this area, notably Great Work, Wheal Vor, Great Wheal Fortune, Godolphin Mine, Binner Downs, Halamannning, Wheal Alfred, Crenver and Abraham and the Marazion mines, were substantial producers, but many other smaller mines are documented within this area. The underlying lode structure here is complex, the broadly north-east – south-west lode orientation characteristic of most of Cornwall here is here intersected by one which runs east-south-east – west-north-west.

Wheal Grey, Ashton (Listed Grade II). This small tin mine was possibly the source, in 1746, of china clay discovered by William Cookworthy and John Nancarrow (a miner from Godolphin). This laid the foundation of the British porcelain industry. © Barry Gamble.

Sites overlying and immediately surrounding the Tregonning granite tended to be significant for tin, whilst the majority of the mines to the north and west were important early copper producers. Many of these rich but often shallow copper mines had already been abandoned by the 1840s. A substantial number of the tin mines within this area had been worked long before the 19th century, Leland in 1540 noting that the mines owned by the Godolphin Estate had "been unto Sir Francis (Godolphin) and his ancestors many years as a minte, by reason of the riches which the same doth yield in Tin Works …. (which) do continually employ 300 persons at the least". Great Work was the site, in 1689 of the introduction of blasting to mining by Thomas Epsley. This mine, which must have been amongst those working in the 16th century, was still producing 300 years later. Wheal Vor, too, was one of Cornwall’s great mines, its output so substantial that a smelting house was established at the mine in 1816. The district is also significant in that both Savery and Newcomen are reputed to have trialled their earliest pumping engines at Wheal Vor, where Brunton later erected his first rotative calciner in the 1830s.

Tregonning and Godolphin Hills dominate the southern part of the district; to the north, the landscape is a mixture of gently-rising downland on which a patchwork of smallholdings and new farms have been established, interspersed with long-established farms and land associated with the estates of Godolphin and Clowance. There are few large settlements within this area, most miners’ cottages being dispersed through a landscape of small fields or set in small groups, though Leedstown, Godolphin Cross, Carnhell Green, Praze-an-Beeble and Goldsithney developed into rather more substantial settlements. Small groups of miners’ cottages flank the A394 linking Marazion with Helston through the southern part of the mining district, the road separating farmland created during the mining period to its north from the old farms of the coastal plateau to its south.

Praze-an-Beeble. Distinctive terraced housing with cut-granite facades. Red brick arches, at intervals, mark traditional passageways (known as opes) leading to premises behind. © Barry Gamble.

Comparatively few engine houses survive within this extensive district. The pumping engine house at Great Work on the shoulder of Godolphin Hill has been conserved by The National Trust, as has that on the coast at Wheal Prosper, unlike the precariously-sited and increasingly derelict engine houses at nearby Trewavas Cliff. Other engine houses survive within the landscape, though most are in relatively isolated locations and have to be hunted for. Above all, this is primarily a landscape of many hundreds of shaft dumps which together mark out the outcrop of lodes running continuously for miles beneath this landscape. At Halamanning, Wheal Alfred, Binner Downs, Penberthy Crofts and other sites which have not been reclaimed to agriculture, the former importance of mining within this district is still readily apparent in the extent of their waste dumps, the scientific value of which is increasingly being recognised by geologists.