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Mining in the Blood


celtic knot



        The notes below show tin mining has a long history in Cornwall:

Notes on the coinage of tin in Devon and Cornwall in 1595. As reported in the state papers of the Reign of 

Elizabeth 1st of England. Vol. CCLIII.

July. 45. Note of the ordinary days of coining tin in Devonshire and Cornwall, for the Midsummer coinage, from 11 June to 9 July or later. The Devonshire tin is usually coined in small pieces of from 1 cwt. to 2 cwt., but the Cornish tin coined is from 2 cwt. to 400 lbs.

July. 46. Answers [by Thios. Myddletois I] to instructions concerning the coinage of tin in Devonshire and Cornwall, Midsummer 1593. I have attended the coinage, and kept a book of the weights, but found no abuse. Midsummer coinage began at Chagford, 12 June, and ended at Helstone, 9 July; but there is an after coinage, at which the officers have 12d. for each piece of tin. Michaelmas coinage begins 15 September and lasts to 9 October, after which the accounts are delivered to Wm. Nele, the Queen’s auditor. There is a part coinage about Christmas, the Queen receiving 4 per cent, for licence, which is 001. a year, and the officers 12d. each piece of tin. Statement of tin the last seven years, varying from 1,148,891 lbs. of the quantity

1,3--15O lbs. The tinners cannot tell how much is exported, as merchants and pewterers sometimes deal for each other. It used to be all sent to France till the Rouen trade was stopped, and this price came down; then the Londoners bought for the Straits and the Low Countries; now it is sold in Turkey, France, and Flanders. 

1703 AD:- Henry Vingoe's Tin Bounds.

There is very little history of mining in Sennen Parish. Whilst researching  the Vingoe family line at the Courtney Library  in  Truro I found a document dated 1703 and was lucky enough to have the assistance of local historian, Mr. H. L. Douch. He gave us a quick translation of the main points in the document.  You can click on the image to enlarge it


The document  is a License agreement on tin bounds at a place called Gweal Vean and is a record of an agreement between a  Henry Vingoe and, William Borlase, son of Joseph Borlase of St Just in Penwith, William Millett, son of Martin Millett of St Just in Penwith, and Henry's own son  Henry Vingoe Jnr.  The document was issued by the  Stannary of Penwith in the name of John Grenville, who was the Custodian and Guardian of the Stannary. Other officers mentioned were Ephraim Weymouth and Noye Edwards and the document was signed by William Cock.  The document dated 1703 is written in a kind of Church shorthand Latin and it also includes Cornish in the place names. The Henry Vingoe referred to was born around 1660 to John and Joan Vingoe of Sennen. This is the first record of any family links to tin and copper mining and, whilst the male line in this branch did not seem to follow the trade, the link with mining was to continue for around three hundred years in the various female lines.  


The Nanjizal Mine.   

Gweal is Cornish for field or place, whilst Vean means little. So the place referred to is Little Field at Trevescan in Sennen. The document states the bounds are bordered on the four sides by Carn Colwidrocke, Sowen Peddenantes, Vaan Vrease and Mean Sebmen. The last  two might possibly be Vean Crease & Mean Sennen but so far we have been unable to locate any of these places today in order to find out just where the bounds were.

Anyone walking the coast path from Lands End to Porthcurno will pass the Nanjizal mine without even noticing the workings: their eyes will be on the beautiful scenery that surrounds the bay. When tin mining commenced  here is unknown but it was in production in 1845 when Joseph Carne presented a paper at the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. The following report comes from the Mining Gazette of the 8th of November 1845.


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 Nanjizal Mill Stream entering the Bay.


Mr. Carne read a paper at the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, on this subject. Nanjizal Cove is situate between Tol Pedn Penwith and the Lands End; on the very edge of the cliff is a stamping-mill for pulverising tin ore, worked by a water wheel. On looking round the cove and the hills which bound it, the visitor discovers no appearance of a mine in all the neighbourhood; he soon perceives, however, two spots on the slope of the hill, where small heaps of rubbish intimate that an attempt at mining may have been made, but there is no shaft, no adit, no machinery of any kind. At the most eastern spot an excavation has been made in the side of the hill, having the appearance of a stone quarry. The whole country is granite, and at the end of the excavation appears a mass of black schorl rock, which contains tin, and, by blasting a considerable quantity has been separated, and has been pulverized by the stamping-mill. The schorl rock is a mixture of schorl & quartz, .... which the former greatly predominates, while the granite which encloses it is comparatively soft. Had the mass of schorl rock been continuous it would appear like a north and south vein, as it does not incline more than three feet in a fathom; but as it seems only an insulated mass the miners call it a floor; it is visible for about twenty feet in height. In the highest part of  it which can be seen, it is about seven feet wide, but it spreads out to at least sixteen feet in the lowest part. At the second heap of rubbish in another similar deposits, which the miners have pursued about 100 feet into the hill, and have found it from one to eight feet wide, inclining at an angle of fifteen degrees from the perpendicular. When the present miners commenced their operations, there were evident marks that the spot had been wrought by others long before, who probably followed the floor as long as they found tin in it. The present workmen have pursued the floor into the hill; they have found the extent of the schorl rock above and below them; they are still, however, following it northward into the hill, but southward, in the rocks of the perpendicular cliff, there is no appearance of either of these floors; had they been veins, they must have intersected the rocks. No veins have been discovered in the direction of the floors, but there are several minute veins crossing the schorl rock, and where they intersect it, it is most productive of tin.  These small veins, therefore, seem to occupy the same place, and to perform the same office to the schorl rock as feeders do to the regular veins. The masses of schorl rock appear to be contemporaneous with the granite. How far the tin was of the same age, was a question which Mr. Carne would not undertake to decide.                                                              Mining Gazette:  08 November 1845.

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                                                               p1010050.jpg (44878 bytes) Exploratory Crosscut                                                                                                                       


                            p1010051.jpg (52072 bytes) Openwork Gunnis             p1010058.jpg (53991 bytes) Wheel Pit


Further research turned up a document entitled:

1738 AD:- "A Survey of Tin Bounds, The Property of Sam. Borlase and Others."   

This was also discovered in the archives of the Courtney Library. The date on this document is 1783 and in it we found just one mention of the Parish of Sennen. This appertained to bounds owned by John Pascoe and others which were mined by S Borlase 1/3, I Millett 1/3 and A Pearce 1/3. There is included a sketch map of the bounds showing it to be on Trevescan Cliff, with the tin load being shown as running North to South going out to sea to the East of Dr Syntax's Head. These Bounds took in the whole of what we would refer to as the Lands End and included in this is land that was owned by a Israel Vingoe on the 1838 Sennen Tithe Map and labelled as No. 481. We now need to find a link between Henry Vingoe's bounds and these later findings.


The Cornish miner had to find his way through rock of a very difficult character, consisting of solid  granite or elvan rock of excessive hardness. His tools were few, but  well adapted to their job; consisting, besides those represented in the following engraving, of a small wedge or two of steel, known as a gad, which was driven into the rock by the round end of the pick, for the purpose of splitting and detaching portions from the mass.



          1        2                                     3          4        5            6         7         8         9

1. pick of the miner; 2. shovel; 3. sledge; 4.  borer; 5. claying bar; 6.  needle -called by some the nail; 7.  scraper;    8. tamping bar; 9.  tin cartridge, for blasting where the rock is wet: +  horn to carry his gunpowder, rushes to supply him with fuses and a little touch-paper, or slow fuse.  



In the 1858 the owners of Botallack Mine ordered work to commence on sinking a new shaft. This became known as the 'Boscawen Diagonal' and it was completed in 1862. The shaft ran at a gradient of thirty two and a half degrees. It total depth was 250 fathom below the adit, with the bottom of the incline being some half a mile out to sea. The boiler for the winding engine came from Pearce's shaft which became redundant when this shaft was opened.

Access to the entrance at the bottom of the vertical cliff face was via a rail track resting on timber trunking. Holman's of St Just made the the gig, a four wheeled iron box with four wheels which carried eight men up and down the steep incline. This gig was attached to the winding engine by means of a chain, which suddenly parted on the 18 April 1863, just after eight men and a boy were nearing the top of the incline shaft. The runaway gig  carried all eight men and the boy to their deaths. Amongst the men was Michael Nicholas, who left a widow Martha and a son. The gig was sent back to Holman’s to be cleaned and straightened out and was used by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall for their trip to the mine two years later, although by now the chain had been pensioned off and replaced with a wire rope.

Another member of this tree who lost his life in a St Just mining  disaster was James Vingoe Trembath who was killed in the Levant Mine. Whilst you can read about this disaster by clicking on the link below unfortunately James Vingoe Trembath  was initially named as John in error

LEVANT Mining Disaster, 3p.m. Monday, 20th October 1919

The Cornish Man Engine

Mines of the St Just District

St Just Mining District



By clicking on the above BBC web site link, you can see the following related film clips. Once on the site scroll to the bottom of the page. Use your back button to return to this site.

The Levant Mine Disaster - Levant Mine Memories (1960s/b&w/sound)
A former mine worker recalling one of the worst tin mining disasters in Cornwall. Thirty one men were killed in October 1919 at Levant Mine when an ageing mechanical ladder collapsed. (2 minutes 36 seconds ©BBC)

Bal Maidens - The Silent Valley (1960s/b&w/sound)
Women were employed crushing tin ore into smaller pieces for processing. (46 seconds ©BBC)

Miners at Work - The Silent Valley (1960s/b&w/sound)
A reconstruction of Cornish tin miners working underground in the 1860s. (4 minutes 21 seconds ©South West Film Archive)

Silicosis - The Mathematics of the Mole (1962/b&w/sound)
Hard rock drilling could cause harm to men's lungs leading to appalling diseases such as silicosis. (1 minute 50 seconds ©BBC)

Down the Mine - The Tin Miner They Couldn't Kill (1972/colour/sound)
Inside a working Cornish tin mine with miners Leo and John Beskeen including scenes of miners drilling - notice the lack of protective ear mufflers and rigorous safety protection. (3 minutes 23 seconds ©BBC)





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