Mining terms un-earthed at Levant

Croust time (or lunch time) in East Pool Mine © Cornish Studies Library

Croust time (or lunch time) in East Pool Mine

Years on from the industrial mining peak the bizarre terms used on a day to day basis in the 19th century seem alien in our modern language. Can you tell a 'tributer' from a 'tutworker'? Use our mining dictionary to decipher a 'leat' from a 'lode' or tell the difference between the 'stope' and the 'stamp'.

Arsenic
(As) A useful metal and used in many different metal alloys and is highly poisonous.

Alluvial tin
Tin found near the surface of the earth, often at the bottom of valleys which can be mined easily from the surface using ‘opencast’ trenches. This was the most common type of mining up to the 14th and 15th centuries.

Bal
A Cornish term for ‘mine’.

Bal maiden
Young unmarried women who worked at the mine would crush rock or ‘dress the ore’. Girls under 12 would sort the ore whilst older girls would break the rocks open or transport them from different apparatus in the ‘dressing floor’.

Blowing house
An older type of tin smelting furnace.

Bronze
An alloy (mixture of two solids) 80-90 percent copper and 10 percent tin.

Copper
(Cu) a pliable metal especially useful due to its ability to carry electrical current and is often used as electrical wire. When it oxidises (degrades when in contact with oxygen) it turns into a green pigment known as verdigris.

Croust/crib/mossel
Miners lunch (different terms were used in different parts of the county).

Dry
A room where miners could wash and change their clothes before returning home.

Grass
A term used for the surface of the mine, getting ‘up to grass’.

Lode
Veins of mineralised material found in the ground which can extend for hundreds of meters in length and depth, depending on the geology.

Level/shaft workings
Begun in the 13th century and widespread by the 15th in which miners would follow alluvial lodes downwards into the earth, supporting tunnels as they progressed. Such mines were not as extensive as later 18th-century workings when steam powered engines could effectively drain them.

Leat
An artificial watercourse supplying water to a watermill or pond.

Ore
A rock that contains metals which can be extracted through refining.

Shaft
A vertical passage used for accessing underground workings, ventilation and hauling the ore out.

Stoping and stope
‘Stoping’ is the term for extracting ore from an underground mine, the ‘stope’ is the open space that is left behind.

Stamping mills and stamps
Originally powered by water wheels and later steam engines, these where machines which crushed rocks to a finer and finer powder in order to extract the tin.

Smelting
Where the tin was melted to separate pure tin/copper from impurities.

Tallow
Tallow is made from beef or mutton fat processed from suet and solid at room temperatures. Miners used tallow fat to make candles. These were their only light in the mine. Carbide lamps were not used in Levant until the late 1920s.

Tributer
A skilled sub-contractor who would bid for a pitch in the mine on a monthly basis on ‘setting days’ was paid according to the amount of ore they extracted and sent to the surface or 'grass'. Those who had an eye on bidding for a pitch next to the one they had worked, would often go to some lengths to conceal its true value.

Tutworker
Worked on non-productive but necessary tasks underground, at a fixed price per fathom.

Tin
(Sn) One of the most abundant metals which is relatively stable making it a useful covering for other metals which may degrade. In modern times 50 percent of production is on soldering joints together, such as pipe joins or electrical circuits. Otherwise it's used in tin plating. It's also a PVC stabiliser, wood preservative and can even be found in dental care products. Black tin was the name given to the concentrate produced by a mine, white tin the metal produced by the smelter.

Touch pipe
Clay pipe or ‘cledger’ loaded with twist tobacco, a favourite with miners.

Wheal
Cornish term originally denoting ‘place of work’ and later ‘mine’ or ‘shaft’.

Whim
A Cornish term for a winding device to haul men and ore up from the mine shaft.