Miners’ smallholdings

Much of the Cornish mining landscape - over 80,000 hectares - is in upland rough ground, commonly treeless, exposed, and very wet, with thin acid soil. This ancient landscape was once heathland, then the site of prehistoric farmland and the upper margins of the medieval farming zone. Until the late eighteen century it was largely uncultivated and used for common grazing.

In west Cornwall the best arable land had probably been enclosed by the seventeenth century. Mineral lords, such as Francis Basset, allowed settlement for miners provided they cleared upland areas of waste. These smallholdings were held under the ‘three lives’ system. Over 50,000 hectares were taken into cultivation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the impact on the landscape was considerable, especially between areas of concentrated mining.

A typical  miner's cottage. © HES. The sparsely populated upland area of Carnmenellis (265m OD) contains the most extensive and best-preserved evidence for miners’ smallholdings in Cornwall. The relationship between mining and the development of these small farms which emerged in the late eighteenth century is clearer here than anywhere else in the Site. They occupy a significant proportion of the Area. © HES.