Mining and Cornwall – a long history
With abandoned engine houses and spoil heaps scattered along the vast coastline, remnants of historic mining are easily spotted throughout Cornwall. These dramatic landscapes are a highly esteemed piece of the Cornish mining legacy, and today 20,000 hectares of this historic landscape has been designated a World Heritage site.
The County of Cornwall is the westernmost part of UK’s south-west peninsula, and is part of the Cornubian Orefield which covers Cornwall and some of Devon. Mining began in the early Bronze Age, approximately 2150 BC. Tin and copper (as well as a few other metals e.g. arsenic, silver and zinc) were the most commonly extracted metals. During the 18th century, Cornwall was the mining centre of the world, famous for its base metal and tin production.
At this time, the Cornish were considered the best hard rock miners in the world. Cornish mining led the industry with innovative technology; with much of this expertise later exported to mining regions around the globe, ultimately playing a significant part in growing various international economies. This mining boom also gave birth to the world famous Camborne School of Mines (founded in 1888); a University and mining school that is still running strong today and located in Falmouth, Cornwall, as part of the University of Exeter.
But the glory days would see their end; in 1866 copper prices crashed, copper deposits were depleting and new resources were being discovered abroad. By the late 19th century mining in Cornwall had diminished and only a small number of mines survived. Tin mining continued long after the mining of other metals had become unprofitable.
The result? A mass exodus of miners to international mining destinations. These Cornishmen took their expertise with them (and their Cornish pasties) and effectively populated the world’s mines.
South Crofty was one of Cornwall’s best known mines and is located in the Central Mining District of Cornwall. Large-scale production at South Crofty first started in the mid-1600s, and the mine has been in operation intermittently since then. Historical production between 1700 to 1998 totaled over 450,000 tonnes of tin from the Central Mining District.
South Crofty was the last tin mine to close in the UK, in 1998, 13 years after the 1985 collapse of the International Tin Agreement. Closure also meant the end of metal mining in Cornwall. However, a significant and available tin mineral resource remains in the ground.
A company called Baseresult, later renamed to Western United Mines Limited, acquired the project in 2001 and, with investments from Galena Asset Management (part of the Trafigura Group) and Celeste Copper, advanced the project to the point where planning permission for a new process plant was granted (2011), and the new mining permission was issued (2013). However, the issuance of the new mining permission coincided with a prolonged “bear market” in the resource sector and Western United Mines Limited and associated companies entered administration to protect the assets. Strongbow is the beneficiary of the considerable work conducted up to 2013.
Strongbow acquired Western United Mines Limited and Cornish Minerals Limited (Bermuda), the companies that owned the mining permission, planning permission and mineral rights throughout Cornwall, out of administration in 2016.
The South Crofty mine permission area includes 26 former mines. In addition, Cornish Minerals Limited (Bermuda) held additional mineral rights over a further 7,500 hectares located in various parts of Cornwall.
“Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too. / But when the fish and tin are gone, what are the Cornish boys to do?”
As per the graffiti on the wall outside the main gate - 1999
Cornwall is proud of its mining heritage and local support to see South Crofty back in production is strong. An EU funded study on the socio-economic impacts of mining identifies that 82% of respondents in Cornwall were positive about mining reopening and expanding, in a study undertaken by Dr Elizabeth Adey and colleagues at the University of Exeter in 2011 (page 47-48 www.impactmin.eu/downloads/impactmin_d32.pdf).
Even a Popular TV Show!
One of the most polpular TV shows in the UK over the past 3 years in the period drama “Poldark”, which has Cornish mining as one of its core themes.