Ten things you probably didn't know about Cornish mining

Cornish mining has a long and vast history. So much so that you may not have heard of some of these incredible facts.

Tin Stamps Engine Stack at Levant

Tin has a long history in Cornwall

It is thought that Cornish tin has been traded throughout Britain for around 4000 years. Tin is durable, pliable and doesn't break when bent, which is also why it went on to become the symbol for the tenth wedding anniversary.

Bucking hammer, Levant

Sten means tin

The Cornish word for tin is sten. This comes directly from the Latin 'stannum', and has nothing to do with the English word tin. Romans came to Cornwall and traded for tin, hence the Cornish taking its roots directly from the Latin. You may recognise it from the periodic table, where tin's symbol is Sn.

The arsenic labyrinths at Botallack

A lot of arsenic was produced here

In the 1870s, a handful of mines in Cornwall and Devon produced over half the world's arsenic. It was a by-product of tin and copper processing and was mainly used in paint, weedkillers and insecticide. It was condensed and collected in long flues or labyrinths, like the one in this photo at Botallack. Arsenic is highly poisonous and one teaspoon of the 60% pure arsenic produced this way was a lethal dose for six people. Workers covered any exposed skin in clay and their mouths and nostrils with a rag.

Balmaidens, Levant

Women and girls were miners too

Although they didn't work underground, women and girls played a big part in the Cornish mining industry. Known as 'Bal Maidens', they dressed the ore brought up from underground which was the first stage in separating the tin from other substances.

The surface remains of Levant Mine, near St Just, Cornwall, including stacks and beam engine houses

These were submarine mines

Levant Mine reached out for 2.5km under the sea, at a depth of 640m. Steam engines were used to pump water out of the mines, and miners talked about the thundering roar of boulders going across the sea bed above their heads.

Levant children breaking copper ore

There were a lot of children

In 1839, there were 7000 children employed in Cornish mines. Boys were sent underground as soon as they were big enough and girls mostly worked with the other bal maidens above ground. Some children were even put to work sweeping arsenic from the calciner flues.

Cornish mining world heritage logo

It's on a par with the Egyptian pyramids...

In 2006, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape achieved World Heritage Status. World Heritage Sites are recognised by UNESCO as places of significance that have outstanding value to the whole of humanity. This places Cornish mining on a par with the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and the Acropolis in Athens.

Dressing the ore at Levant

Tin cries

When a bar of tin is bent, it lets out a characteristic cry. Also described as a 'screaming' sound, it is caused by the crystal twinning in the metal. Very dramatic!

The coal furnace at Levant

Tinners had special rights

The first Charter of Liberties to the Tinners of Devon and Cornwall was drawn up in 1201. These charters declared that tinners had the right to search for tin on any unenclosed land. They also claimed them to be exempt from ordinary laws and taxes as well as military service.

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