Cornish Tin Mining - A History

Wheal Jane Mine

Cornwall is world famous for its mining heritage. Archaeological evidence suggests that the tin industry in Cornwall began over 2,500 years ago. Ancient records of Roman and Greek geographers make reference to merchants trading with Cornish tinners who took the rare and valuable metal all over the known world.


These pioneering Cornishmen streamed the valleys and mined the veins visible in the cliffs and hillsides, and were granted special rights as far back as medieval times. King John granted Cornish tinners a Stannary Charter in 1201 which gave them unique rights and privileges, including the right to search for tin on anyone’s land.


Cornishmen are justly proud of their mining heritage. At its peak between 1750 and 1850, Cornwall was firmly established as the centre of the hard rock mining world. Apart from supplying most of the world’s tin and copper, Cornwall’s vast experince in hard rock mining developed unique skills among its miners which were later put to work in mines throughout the world. With the arrival of steam power in the 18th Century, Cornish mining engineers pioneered and developed the massive beam engines which helped the mines to operate at ever-greater depths. Working in majestic granite engine houses, the remains of which dominate much of the Cornish countryside today, they could either pump water and raise men and ore from the mines or provide power and water for the crushing stamps and ore dressing floors at the surface on which thousands of Cornish men, women and children worked.


The decline of the industry in the mid-19th Century resulted in thousands of Cornish miners taking their families and the skills overseas to the developing mining areas of Australia, the Americas and South Africa. It is still said that wherever there is a mine you will probably find a Cornishman at the bottom of it!

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