Wheal Coates Tin Mining

Looking through bright yellow gorse flowers over to Wheal Coates old engine houses at St Agnes and Chapel Porth

Wheal Coates tin mine opened in 1802 and worked until 1889. The image of the Towanroath Shaft engine house, famous on postcards, calendars, and on the telly represents for many the serene beauty of the north Cornish coast. In reality this industrial landscape holds a harsh and austere history.

The life of a Cornish miner was a tough.

Working deep underground in cramped and stifling conditions meant that miners were thought of as worn out and old by the time they were 40. The air in the mine was thick with powder smoke, dust and fumes from rock blasting that miners often coughed up black phlegm.  Many suffered with bronchitis, silicosis, TB and rheumatism.  Accidents caused by explosions, falling, rock falls, drowning and entanglement in machinery were a real danger and took many lives.

Woman were employed as Bal maidens, wielding hammers and crushing copper ore into smaller fragments.  By the early nineteenth century over 7000 children were working in Cornish mines, initially above ground doing menial tasks, but when they were twelve they joined their fathers underground.

Jackdaws on the chimney stack at Wheal Coates
Jackdaws on the chimney stack at Wheal Coates mine
Jackdaws on the chimney stack at Wheal Coates

At its peak Cornish mining employed upwards of 30,000 people.  In the mid nineteenth century the industry began to decline, and in 1875 over 10,000 miners left Cornwall to find work overseas.  The skills and experience of Cornish mining spread across the world.  They also took the pasty with them.

The mine buildings are over 200 years old
Wheal Coates tin mining buildings Cornwall
The mine buildings are over 200 years old

There are over 160 places, across six continents, where Cornish mine workers took their skills, technology and traditions; a truly global heritage. Cornwall and west Devon’s mining landscape, shaped during a period of intense industrial activity, is testimony to one of the greatest periods of economic, technological and social development Britain has ever known.

From 1700 to 1914, the metal mining industry played a vital role in transforming our way of life. It provided essential raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and pioneered technological developments that helped shape the society we live in today. For example, Richard Trevithick’s advances in steam engine technology – originally motivated by the need to pump water out of mines – ultimately enabled the development of steam trains, changing the world forever through the mass movement of people and goods.
The old tin mining buildings sit in a heathland landscape
Wheal Coates Cornwall Tin Mining buildings
The old tin mining buildings sit in a heathland landscape

World Heritage

On 13 July 2006 select mining landscapes across Cornwall and West Devon were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, placing Cornish mining heritage on a par with international treasures like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.