the start of the 19th Cornwall was the silicon valley of its day,
its technological know-how led the world.
all because of tin. They had been mining tin in Cornwall since before
Christ - the Romans came here for the tin they needed for their
bronze weapons and jewellery.
a cigarette during a well deserved break!
the heyday for Cornish copper - and tin - was in the early years
of the nineteenth century. 40,000 men were employed in 300 separate
mines to go ever deeper underground in search of these vital commodities.
But during the course of the century, easier to mine deposits, often
on or near the surface, were discovered in the New World and in
the 1870s the Cornish industry spiralled into a decline from which
it never really recovered.
went overseas to work for the foreign competition, ironically hastening
the decline back home. Tin mining was a hazardous business and most
communities were touched by tragedy, like the St Just Mining District
in 1919, when 33 miners lost their lives at the Great Levant Mine,
when the man-engine bringing 100 men to the surface collapsed.
at South Crofty Mine
phthisis, or silicosis, was a bigger killer. Miners suffered from
this awful disease because they ingested granite dust when drilling
dry underground. Gradually water was introduced into the drilling
process to dampen the dust but many miners still preferred to drill
dry because it was faster and earnt them more money.
if this wasn’t enough to contend with, there was another danger
- arsenic - often found underground alongside tin and copper. One
Cornish mine supplied half the world’s arsenic in the late 19th
Century, a welcome source of income with tin and copper in decline.
But at what price?Safety
procedures were rudimentary at best.
was something of a revival in the fortunes of Cornish mining after
the second world war, thanks first to the demand for tin from the
wartime armaments industry and then the new demand for tin from
the space race, the computer industry and the post-war consumer
either loved mining - or you hated it.
I start in Geevor. I was terrified"
Mike Miucci remembers his early mining days
I start in Geevor. I was terrified. God I was scared stiff, shaking
with the fright I was, you know. I was terrified of the mine, I
was terrified of the cage go up and down and my ears, I can’t hear
anything. I was terrified because it was so strange. Italy was small
village but it was so strange. People talk, you no understand what
they said and it was so strange because I missed my girlfriend in
Italy which I was in love and then you come a young man in here
and go work in the mine, everything complete terrifying," remembers
Mike Miucci who mined in Cornwall.
ore being drawn by horse and cart
as easier jobs became available, the mines found it difficult to
recruit men. During the war Bevin Boys were drafted in, after the
war Italians and Poles were recruited. But ultimately deep Cornish
mines couldn’t compete with the foreign competition and 1985 saw
a dramatic drop in the price of tin on the international market.
few Cornish mines left open closed one by one in the years thereafter.
South Crofty, the last tin mine in Europe, closed in 1998. On that
day, they say, a part of Cornwall’s soul died...
Nation On Film - Drill and Blast on Tuesday 7th October BBC TWO