Delving into the Cornish mining industry

Few industries have reshaped and redefined the Cornish landscape over the centuries as tin mining. The area is still synonymous with mining more than a decade after its last remaining mine closed down and put rest to the industry in the area. The first mining activity in Cornwall began in around 2150 BC, with underground mining taking hold from the 16th century onwards.

Ruined Cornish tin mine

Ruined Cornish tin mine

The rapid growth of the tin mining industry in Cornwall and neighbouring Devon made the region increasingly important economically from the 14th century, and in the late 15th century Henry VII came to see the area as a cash cow for the raising of revenues to fund the war effort against Scotland. Cornish miners, however, were none too impressed by the new taxes, prompting the Cornish Rebellion of 1497. From the 1540s, Cornish tin production came to outstrip that of Devon by a wide margin, and the introduction of open cast mining at around the same time fuelled a renewed boom in the industry.

Cornwall’s tin and copper mining industries really reached their peak in the 19th century, with metals exported from the thriving port of Looe. The modern-day Kit Hill Country Park is steeped in mining history, with its last mine – that of East Kit Hill – finally closing in 1909. As the 19th century progressed, increased competition from low-cost foreign sources would later come to drive the price of the metals down to such an extent that mining was no longer financially viable. By the end of the century, many Cornish miners had been forced to leave in search of work overseas. Thousands of Cornish workers made their way to the United States, South Africa and Australia, where their skills were in great demand.

Although Cornwall’s tin mining industry survived well into the 20th century, the collapse of the global tin cartel in 1986 sounded the death knell. South Crofty, the last working tin mine in Cornwall and in Europe, was closed in 1986. The mine was subsequently considered for re-opening after a rebound in tin prices, but the site continues to lay dormant. However, the legacy of tin mining lives on, and the industry has left an indelible mark on Cornwall. Geevor Mine, located between the villages of Pendeen and Trewellard, was acquired by Cornwall County Council in 1992 – two years after its closure – and parts of the site remain open to visitors curious to learn more about the industry’s history.


This post was contributed by Sam Williams, a freelance writer who is always on the lookout for places to visit for family days out.

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