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Cornish Mines

January 29, 2015

Using The Rathgowry Guesthouse in Falmouth Cornwall as your base, you will no doubt want to go and do a bit of sightseeing…
Well, Mike has a few interesting facts for you about Cornish Mining that will make a bit more sense of some of the things you might see en-route. So book your bed and breakfast accommodation with us at The Rathgowry and then set out to see how much of the Cornish mining is still visible today.  We hope you find it interesting!


You’ll see loads of these Chimneys all over Cornwall…

Whilst driving around this part of Cornwall, you can’t help but notice lots of old, and often somewhat derelict, rectangular buildings with oversized chimneys. Sometimes all that remains is the chimney itself. These are the remains of some of the 3000 and odd buildings that were constructed in order to house the steam engines that were used in Cornish mining during the industrial revolution – The Engine Houses. Once you get your eye in, you can see them all over the place. Often in the most unexpected spots; on the top of a hill, the edge of a cliff, or the bottom of a valley. No place is too unusual for a Cornish engine house!



Metals have been an important part of Cornish life since prehistoric times. Although until 1700 tin was the main target, a number of other metals were mined in the region, but the ‘big three’ were copper, tin and arsenic.


Ruins of Cornish Mine

Ruins of Coastal Cornish Mine


Cornish mining was such an important part of not just Britain’s history, but also the world’s history, that on 13th July 2006 certain mining landscapes across Cornwall (and west Devon) were chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This puts Cornish mining heritage up there with some other places you might have heard of – like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China! 

Ruins of an inland Cornish Mine

Ruins of old Cornish Mine


Inventions & Technology

Mining in Cornwall necessitated the need for a great deal of new technology that was often to eventually find it’s way into everyone’s lives. For example, Richard Trevithick’s advances in steam engine technology, needed to pump water out of mines – ultimately enabled the development of steam trains. These developments allowed the mass movement of people and goods. Not a bad legacy! Not as tasty an invention as the fabulous Cornish Pasty however. Variations of which can be found in, amongst other places, Australia, the United States, and Mexico. All thanks to Cornish mining and the miners expertise.


According to the UNESCO web site, there are at least 175 places, across six continents, where Cornish mine workers took their skills, technology and traditions (and pasties!). It seems I too have Cornish ancestors who emigrated to Mexico taking their mining skills with them.
Cornwall is thought to have lost between 250,000 to 500,000 people during, the period defined as ‘the Great Migration’ – from around 1815 to 1915. It is estimated there are as many as six million people worldwide who are descended from migrant Cornish mine workers.

My Experience

Many years ago, whilst considering a career in mining (as it happens, not in Cornwall but in South Africa, for gold) I spent a large part of a day down a Cornish tin mine that was still operating at that time, albeit at a low level. It was a memorable experience. Nothing at all like a coal mine, which I have also had the privilege of going down. Alas, a motorcycle accident ended my potential mining career, but it gave me a huge respect for the miners and the conditions they worked in. Parts of that mine are now open to the public at Geevor Tin Mine. Definitely worth a visit.

What is left

Buying or building a house in Cornwall is often dependent on a satisfactory mining survey of your chosen site. When out and about on walks It’s not uncommon to come across signs warning of old mine shafts. Ignore them at your peril! There are many old mines in Cornwall. Some mapped, some not. Every now and again, one may make a brief appearance by way of a new hole in a road, or some other unexpected location.
The Unesco sites contain over 200 iconic Cornish engine houses.
But Cornish Mining is about far more than mine sites. Apart from our chimneys, there is a great deal of mining heritage left for us to see.

Yikes! Sinkhole nearly swallows house in Cornwall

Yikes! Sinkhole nearly swallows house in Cornwall

The remains of railways, mineral tramways, canals, ports and quays, industrial complexes, and several of Cornwall’s great houses and gardens – paid for with the profits of the mining industry – now open for visitors. We have a lot to be grateful to the Cornish miner for… unless of course your house or road suddenly falls down an old mining shaft!  🙁

Well, our guesthouse is built on solid granite, so you will be safe with us!  Why not book into The Rathgowry guesthouse, Falmouth, Cornwall and then take a trip to visit one of the National Trust or UNESCO sites .  You’ll have a great time!  Book online here or call direct for best prices!  

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