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Tin Mines in Cornwall

Updated on March 4, 2015

One of the strongest iconic images of Cornwall has to be the derelict tin mines dotted across the county. Some tin mines, like those at Geevor, cling precariously to the steep cliff edges, inspiring visitors to think of times gone by, smugglers, hard work and suffering.

The buildings above the ground are mostly the engine houses. These contained the pumps that would keep the mines free of water. If the pumps failed the miners would drown - and this certainly became the fate of hundreds of miners over the years. In modern times these old engine houses are being renovated and converted into houses - however, each one has a HUGE hole underneath it, so these need to be professionally capped before the engine house can be converted to live in.

Although tin has been mined in Cornwall for hundreds of years, it wasn't until about 200 years ago that Cornwall became the world's leading supplier of metals. The combination of copper and tin mines and easy access, by sea, to the world's trading routes, meant that tin mines in Cornwall were productive for about 200-300 years, before other metals became more popular and the price of tin and copper fell.

Tin was originally discovered and 'mined' in streams. As the tin had managed to break away from the rocks, over millenia, it would find its way into the streams and then settle. Early miners found the tin and sought out the tin layers. It was from these early beginnings that more adventurous miners started to dig down into the earth to find the tin still embedded in the rocks.

Early inventors and engineers, building machinery to help with mining in Cornwall, were key to the early industrialisation of Great Britain. As early as 1710 steam engines were being built to help with the mining efforts.

In recent years, with the escalating cost of metals, the mines are, once again, looking at re-opening a few mines to extract metals again.

In total, Cornwall has produced more copper than tin. However, copper and tin mining have been dwarfed by the extraction of china clay in the area.

As the tin mines were closed down, many have been kept and maintained as visitor attractions, open to the public, with mining museums and tours.

Tin is still being used to fashion jewellery and small objects - and you can buy these at selected retail outlets or online.

Cornish Tin Jewellery

Cornish Tin is still being used to produce Cornish tin jewellery, as well as other objects such as gifts, souvenirs and sculptures. There are some very collectible miniatures of mines, engine houses and even cottages.

These are affordable, with prices being cheaper than, say, silver. Many pieces are hand-crafted, or produced in low volumes. Much of the work is created using casting methods; tin casting is a slightly different process to silver casting - but along the same methodology.

A ruined tin mine in Cornwall.
A ruined tin mine in Cornwall. | Source

Visiting Tin Mines in Cornwall

It can be fascinating to go down into a tin mine - to see the actual tunnels, often cut by hand in the first instance; to feel the atmosphere; to imagine the decades and lifetimes spent by miners in cramped conditions as they hacked out the precious metals. Taking a tour of a tin mine in Cornwall can be fascinating and enjoyable, but it's not something that everybody can, or will, enjoy.

Tin mines were working environments and a tour of a tin mine will most usually not be ideal for those with mobility issues, or pushing pushchairs. You're often walking on uneven rock, stepping up and down narrow walkways and iron spiral staircases, while water from the surrounding rocks drips on you.

If you plan to visit a tin mine, then investigate any accessibility issues you might have before you turn up. Tin mines are ancient workings, underground - they aren't modern buildings with lifts and wide doorways.

Tin Mines in Cornwall

Geevor Tin Mine Headframe, Cornwall
Geevor Tin Mine Headframe, Cornwall | Source

Geevor Tin Mine & Wheal Mexico

Geevor Tin Mine is a site covering 67 acres ((270,000 m2), which includes a museum and heritage centre. The Geevor site is the largest preserved tin mining site in Great Britain. The shafts at Geevor Mine go out under the sea for up to a mile.

Hard Rock museum tells the story of tin mining in Cornwall and Geevor in particular. An exhibition, displays and oral history recordings show and describe what happened on the surface as well as underground and what life was like for those who worked there

The site allows you to walk through the mine buildings to see the original machinery and there is a guided underground tour into Wheal Mexico, an 18th century mine.

There is an opportunity to pan for gold, minerals and gemstones within the site. There is also a cafe and souvenir shop.

Mine Tour: The tour guides are ex-miners. The tour takes you through the changing rooms, where miners changed into their work clothes, all the way through the various parts of the mine.

2013 Entry Price: £9.95 for adults

Wheal Coates tin mine near St Agnes, Cornwall
Wheal Coates tin mine near St Agnes, Cornwall | Source

Wheal Coates Tin Mine

The site was worked for centuries but the surviving buildings date from the 1870s when deep underground mining began at the site and were stabilised and preserved in 1986.

Wheal Coates Tin Mine goes all the way down to the sea - from the beach you can go into the cave and if you look up you'll see the old wooden beams; if you're in the mine above at high tide you can hear the waves crashing below as there is a grate in the bottom of the mine.

There are three engine houses at Wheal Coates including Towanroath (1872) and Whim (1880).

Wheal Coates is maintained by the Mational Trust and there is a National Trust Car Park at the site.

At Wheal Coates you can stroll around the remains on top of the cliffs. There are no facilities, no tours and nothing more than the remaining engine houses.

2013 Entry Fees: Free

South Crofty New Cooks Kitcher Shaft Headgear
South Crofty New Cooks Kitcher Shaft Headgear | Source

South Crofty Tin Mine

South Crofty has been used as a tin mine and a copper mine for over 400 years. South Cofty is almost 2.5 miles wide and 3,000 feet (910 m) down and has mined over 40 lodes. It was during the 1870s that South Crofty changed from copper mining to tin mining - with tin being the main income generator. As predominantly a tin mine, South Crofty operated for nearly 30 years, until the price of tin collapsed and the mine was flooded in 1896. As mines are underground they need perpetual pumping to keep the water levels down. Once a mine is no longer profitable the pumps are turned off and the mine will quickly flood again.

It was only three years before South Crofty was pumped out again and re-used in 1899. It was widened, improved, dug deeper and joined with another mine. With this new incarnation South Crofty was a highly successful mine for the next 80-90 years, eventually absorbing and merging to incorporate more than 34 earlier mines, including Dolcoath, Stray Park and Camborne Vean and Pendarves Mine.

With another downturn in the price of tin in 1985, some restructuring occurred, but South Crofty was on a downwards slope and finally closed in 1998 - the last Cornish mine to be closed. Since that time many proposals have been put forward for the site, with lots of support and opposition arguing their viewpoint.

It is currently expected that mining will start again at South Crofty in 2014/2015; new tunnelling has been carried out since 2004.

Poldark Tin Mine, Cornwall
Poldark Tin Mine, Cornwall | Source

Poldark Tin Mine

Poldark Mine has an accessible surface area, with a coffee shop, some small shops and a good car park. The site is level. However, the mine itself is underground and not suitable for pushchairs or mobility aids.

Poldark Mine is described as being the "only complete underground Cornish tin mine open to the pubic", which means you'll get the best mine tour experience here. The Poldark Mine Tour lasts about one hour - the tea-room in the grounds means it's a venue where those unwilling or unable to go on the Tour can sit quietly with a cup of tea and cake while they wait for you to re-emerge!

Poldark Mine is the only complete underground mine open to the public in Cornwall and Devon - so if you are only going to visit one mine, this is probably the one to choose.

Poldark Mine was mined from Medieval times until 1780. .

Poldark Mine is open from April to October, with up to five guided tours every hour, depending on how busy the site is. There are also some special evening Ghost Tours arranged, where the Guide is a paranormal investigator and the mines are partially lit by candles. These evening tours take 1.5 hours.

Get Married at Poldark Mine

Holman Chamber at Poldark Mine is a registered place for Civil Ceremonies, making it an unusual ceremoney venue if you're after something a little unusual.

Poldark Mine Prices, 2015:

Adults £15 including a tour of Poldark Mine (£4 without the mine tour); Children £10 including the mine tour, or £2 just for the grounds. Family ticket including a Poldark mine tour is £40 for two adults and two children, with each additional child priced at £5.

Restrictions: Poldark Mine are very strict with restrictions on some activities inside the mines. e.g. you cannot carry children; children under 4 might not be admitted at all; flip-flops/high heeled shoes/open backed shoes are not allowed. They also point out that it is unsuitable for people in wheelchairs.

Poldark 2015 Film Locations

The Poldark Mine was used in the BBC's Poldark 2015 TV series as a film location.

Blue Hills Tin Mine and Tin Streams, Cornwall
Blue Hills Tin Mine and Tin Streams, Cornwall | Source

Blue Hills Tin Mine

Blue Hills tin mine, between St Agnes and Perranporth on the north coast, is a visitor attraction that combines a tour, an opportunity to do some tin panning yourself - as well as an extensive collection of Celtic tin handmade jewellery and gifts for sale in the gift shop.

Tin mining at Blue Hills started with streaming, down on the beach, before miners dug into the surrounding rock to extract the tin at its source. Blue Hills operated for about 90 years from 1810-1897 when it closed, although tin production on a very small scale has continued since that time on the site.

Entry to the Blue Hills tin mine is mostly seasonal, between April and October, although it's possible to visit outside of these months by phoning ahead to arrange a visit.

Blue Hills is family-owned and run. Taking raw tin, you can see the processes it is put through to produce firstly tin, then ingots, then a finished product of jewellery and gifts. You can experience the whole life cycle of this fabulous metal.

Entry Costs 2013: £6

Map of Tin Mines in Cornwall

show route and directions
A markerGeevor Tin Mine -
Pendeen TR19 7EW, UK
get directions

Open to the public, cafe and car parking.

B markerWheal Coates Tin Mine -
St Agnes TR5 0NS, UK
get directions

Dramatic cliffside location. Ruins of engine houses, no tin mine tours.

C markerBlue Hills Tin Mine -
St Agnes, Cornwall TR5 0YW, UK
get directions

D markerSouth Crofty Tin Mine -
Pool, Cornwall TR15 3QT, UK
get directions

Interactive tours, a tin mine guided tour and acres of land to explore.

27 Things to See Before You Die

In July 2012, the tin mines of Cornwall were listed by CNN as something people should see before they die. CNN said:

'The tin mines may be closed, but the ruins of the structures which once housed them near St Just make a thrillingly dramatic counterpoint to the rugged rocks and wild seas of Cornwall’s north coast.'

I've seen most of these tin mines as I lived in Cornwall for some years - are you adding them to your list of Things to Do?


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    • cornwall_UK profile image

      cornwall_UK 5 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      Hi Webshooter

      Glad you enjoyed this piece. Yes, Cornish pasties had a thick, crimped edge, so the miners could eat their lunch with their dirty hands and throw away the crusts. Many of the mines contained arsenic - arsenic was also mined in the area - so those thick crusts prevented many of them eating arsenic! Being underground and mining minerals, metals and clays was very dirty work, so those crusts also meant the miners' dirty hands didn't contaminate their lunch!

      There is a genuine Cornish pasty recipe here:

    • Webshooter profile image

      Webshooter 5 years ago from New York City

      Great Hub, well done! Cornwall certainly is a beautiful, interesting place. I'd love to visit again and explore some of the tin mines. Wasn't the iconic Cornish Pasty invented with the thick crimped crust as a way to feed the hungry tin miners with dirty hands?