Mine + Museum

Mine + Museum

Down the Mine

Down the Mine

 

The site lies in the valley of the River Cober on the Carnmenellis granite outcrop. The river valley was once extremely rich in tin ore because of the extensive erosion over geological time of a great depth of overlying sedimentary rocks which contained many ore-bearing lodes. Pebbles and grains of the heavy ore collected in the river gravels and sands, eventually leading to the rich tin-bearing grounds that were found near the surface of most of the river valleys flowing from the granite. Evidence that this abundance of ore was first recovered and processed in ancient times is shown by the Trenear Mortar Stone, near to the entrance of Poldark Mine. It is an outcrop of granite which has at least 17 hollows in its upper face in which tin ore would have been crushed by hand, using stones. Although impossible to date precisely it is believed to have been in use during the later prehistoric period (c.2000BC to 43 AD). It is the only known example of such a mortar in south-west England and was designated as a scheduled monument in 2009. The first mechanised tin stamping mill in Duchy land, and possibly in the whole of Cornwall, is recorded at Trenere Wolas (present-day Lower Trenear) in a document confirming that it was held by John Trenere, a freeman, in 1493. By 1650 the industrial buildings recorded at Trenere Wolas had expanded to a crazing-mill, two stamping-mills and a blowing house.

 

The mine workings discovered in the 1970s were attributed by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin to an old tin mine known as Wheal Roots, which had probably been worked between about 1720 and 1780. By 1856 it had become part of the Wendron Consols mine and is shown on the surface plan of that mine as 'old men's workings' meaning that it was at that date considered a very old mine. Because of the unusual way in which Wheal Roots' lode had been worked, there is little doubt that it had been discovered by tin streamers in the bed of the River Cober and was from there mined into the hillside. This is exactly the same way that the lodes of the nearby Medlyn Moor, Basset and Grylls and Wendron Consols mines had been discovered and worked. The Wendron mining area once employed over 9,000 workers which was more than twice the number of those in Redruth and Camborne combined at the time. The mine was worked using horses and water wheels to power all the machinery and to pump water from it. In the museum there are the remains of an early 'rag and chain' pump used before the days of steam to raise water from mines and which was found when the mine was rediscovered in the 1970s. The pump consisted of a series of wooden pipes made from tree trunks and through which a large endless chain was pulled. The chain had rags tied to it at intervals which, when pulled up through the pipes, lifted the water out of the mine.

 

In the mine at Horse Whim Shaft the granite on the side of the shaft has been worn smooth by the rubbing of the kibble against it, this shaft is over 200 feet deep and its further depths remain unexplored. In the Museum a large cast and wrought iron kibble recovered from the main shaft can be seen, it dates from the 18th century when the mine was active in tin production. During the 19th century the site was occupied by the main dressing floors of Wendron Consols mine. This was where the tin ore was crushed and purified. When tin prices fell in the late 19th century many mines closed, although there is a record of 1893 indicating that a stream-work was still active at Trenear at that date. The Wendron Consols stamping mill was sold and the building became a dairy from the 1880s until 1972. This was the Trenear Dairy Company Limited which used the waterwheel to drive the machinery for making butter and cheese. The dairy later became part of Unigate and the waterwheel was used to produce electricity. A wheel of smaller size and made in 1904 at Harveys of Hayle is now fitted in the pit.

 

Items on display include the one-sixth size prototype of the unique traversing winding engine designed by Holman's engineer Charles Morgan in 1898; the Ting Tang mine bell, which is the only known surviving Cornish mine bell, used for shaft signals, calls to work and changing of shifts; two Holman steam or air driven winching engines dating from 1905 and 1910; the Pendarves Estate Turret clock made in the mid 1700s by John Bennett of Helston; and a range of Holman Drills. Also on display are a large Holman-made riveted wrought Iron Cornish boiler from the nearby Medlyn Moor Mine, dating from the mid to late 1800s; a few historic narrow gauge explosives wagons; several antique Cornish beam engines; and other models including scale model working engines. The largest Cornish beam engine was made in 1850 by Boulton & Watt as a salesman's model. It is a six pillar single cylinder tank-bed engine complete with Watts parallel motion. One of the smaller engines is also a tank-bed engine of considerable age. A wooden and metal model of Trevithick's water pumping engine is well over 100 years old and is alongside some other elderly wooden models including a hand-cranked demonstration stamps engine that came from the Holman Museum having been used at one of the Schools of Mines.

 

The collection of surface mine models largely made by former miners or workers at Holman Brothers are now all in the new museum along with a section of an underground shaft and loading point. Cornwall's last steam railway locomotive in industrial commercial service had come to Poldark in 1986 from nearby Falmouth Docks along with some other machinery as a gift to the museum. Built in 1919 as No. 1530 by Peckett and Sons of Bristol for the CWS factory in Irlam beside the Manchester Ship Canal, the 26 ton saddle tank engine was moved to Falmouth Docks where it worked to the end of their steam operations. This locomotive was sold in 2013 to the Chasewater Railway in Staffordshire, but it was returned in October 2014. Poldark is today the only complete tin mine in the UK open to the public for genuine underground tours of an 18th-century mine, and the only mine in Cornwall that pumps water to allow public access (at a rate of 30 to 40,000 gallons a day).

 

The mine and its museum are part of the UNESCO Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, a World Heritage Site, and Poldark is the Wendron Mining District's interpretation centre. The mine has many unique features such as the Shammeling Shaft and distinctive veins of “blue peach” ore-bearing granite. The Carnmenellis granite pluton itself being some 20 million years older than other granite in Cornwall. So amazing is this place that the former chairman of English Heritage said it was "one of the two most atmospheric mine tours in Europe". Poldark has full access except the underground mine, however, special mine tours for wheelchair users are organised in the summer months. There are accessible toilets. There are a lot of steep stairs on the tour so it may be unsuitable for the visually impaired. There are many tactile exhibits. Carrying of children underground is forbidden those admitted have to walk for the entire underground tour.

 

Location : Trenear, Wendron, Helston, Cornwall TR13 0ES.

Transport: Redruth (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 37 and 82 stops here.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 16:30.

Tours : 10.30, 11.45, 13.00, 14.15, 15.30

Tickets Museum Only: Adults £5.95;  Child £4.80;  Disabled Free

Tickets Mine Tour: Adults £17.60;  Child £11.60;  Disabled £14.60

Tel: 01326 573173