Poldark is a series of historical novels by Winston Graham, which were adapted into a much-loved series airing in 1975 and 1977, and more recently, a new reincarnation has aired in 2015.
The most recent series was very well-received by the viewing public and has reignited interest in both visiting Cornwall, where the series is set, and also in the mining heritage of this beautiful part of the world.
If you missed it, or just want a reminder, click here to visit the BBC Poldark site, to find out more.
You can find out more about the locations in Cornwall where filming took place, or which inspired the settings in the novel, by clicking here.
Mining in Cornwall and Devon had its origins in the early Bronze Age, and reached the height of its productivity in 1820 and 1870. At this point, there were 400 active mines across Cornwall, with tin and also copper the most productive metals extracted. At this point, the Cornish tin mining industry had around 600 steam engines working to pump out the mines (this was because many reached under the sea, and some went down to great depths). Other deposits (apart from tin and copper) that were mined, were arsenic, silver, zinc and a few other metals. The era of mining in Cornwall ended with the closure of South Crofty tin mine in 1998. Since 2007, there are no active metalliferous mines remaining, but there are still tin deposits in Cornwall, and there is speculation regarding the potential reopening of South Crofty tin mine.
Coastal submarine mining is another intriguing element of the mining heritage of Cornwall, as the quest for precious tin took men below the ocean floor off the coast of Cornwall. Levant, which operated for almost a century in the 1800s, was assimilated into Geevor, before it closed in 1990. This dangerous pursuit claimed many lives, but was eventually halted by economic factors. See photos, and find out more here.
The geological make-up of Cornwall that made it such a hotbed for mining in the past, was due to the intrusion of the granite into the surrounding sedimentary rocks, giving rise to extensive metamorphism and mineralisation. Cornwall and Devon provided most of the UK’s tin, copper and arsenic until the 20th century. At first, the tin was discovered as alluvial deposits of cassiterite in the gravels of steam beds, this led to underground working took place. Tin lodes outcropped on the cliffs and underground mines sprang up as early as the 16th century.
The mining industry in Cornwall petered out as foreign competition grew, depressing the price of copper, and then tin, which made extraction unprofitable. Many Cornish miners ended up emigrating to foreign shores to share their expertise and earn a living as the Cornish mines dwindled. It is estimated that 250, 000 Cornish migrants headed abroad between 1861 and 1901, and miners were the largest proportion of these. Countries that the miners headed to, included USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil. There is a saying in Cornwall that a “mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it!”
The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2006, and is unique as it preserves the site of a technique exported worldwide.
Find out more by visiting the Cornish Mining World Heritage site here.
There is even a ‘Poldark Mine’ attraction which you can visit – ‘Poldark Tin Mine and gardens’ in Helston, which is an open-air museum in a beautiful setting. Visitors can enjoy tours of the now-disused 18th century tin mine, take part in craft workshops and soak up the beautiful surroundings, which belie the site’s busy industrial past.
The mine can even boast that it was used to film the underground mine scenes in the new BBC adaptation on Poldark, and many of the museum’s artefacts were used as props during filming.
Visitors who take the underground tour will discover more about the conditions that miners worked in during the 18th and early-19th centuries, the period in which Poldark is set.
So, if you enjoyed the mining heritage that played such an integral part in the most-recent Poldark, as well as Cornwall’s ruggedly beautiful scenery, a holiday here might well be ideal to explore further.
Start your holiday planning by visiting here.
Image of Levant Mill, Levant, Cornwall by John Stratford on Flickr