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Cornwall managed to push other West Country holiday counties Devon and Dorset down the popularity list.
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Cornwall managed to push other West Country holiday counties Devon and Dorset down the popularity list.
Toiling fewer than 40ft under the ocean floor, the men knew that one false pick stroke could be their last. With the roar of the sea in their ears, these brave miners were forced to tunnel closer and closer to the surface in their quest for tin. Stretching for more than a century, the dangerous work to extract metal from seams located under the Cornish coastline claimed many lives and was only ended by economic concerns.
Gateway to the mines below the sea: The Crown Mines in operation in the 1860s. From this site a shaft was dug reaching 240 fathoms or 480 yards below the sea and workers could hear the waves crash above their head as they toiled
Relic of the past: The Crown Mines in Botallack were built in 1815 and closed a century later in 1914. Pictured is the remains of an engine house today. Now, the seabed near Land's End in west Cornwall is to be dredged to capture tin washed out there by the prolific land-based mines which operated nearby. But beneath the ocean floor lies a vast labyrinth of tunnels extending more than a mile out to sea. The greatest concentration of tin and copper submarine mining in the world is located a few miles from Land’s End, notably the mines of Botallack, Levant and Geevor. These run from west to east, and from earliest to most recent. The largest of these was Levant which was in operation for almost a century during the 1800s, and then assimilated into Geevor which was one of the last mines in Cornwall to close down in 1990. Yet the history of coastal mining in Cornwall stretches across the millennia, beginning in the Bronze Age, approximately three and a half thousand years ago. One of the most important finds substantiating this claim is the discovery at the cliff top Kenidjack Castle, near Botallack, west Cornwall, where 30 pieces of copper and smelted tin, along with axes of high tin content were excavated around this now-dilapidated fortress.
The ‘Widow-Maker’ Drill: Deadly rock dust was created by such rock drills, powered by compressed air, before water jets were devised to absorb the lethal floating residue. Pictured right is a map of the submarine mines at Geevor, Levant and Botallack
More than 60 miles of intersecting tunnels lie beneath the Atlantic. In Levant, a blind miner often helped others navigate when their candles failed
Further evidence of this rich history is provided by the 4th Century BC Greek explorer Pytheas who visited the area of Land’s End, or ‘Belerian’, describing the courteous inhabitants’ production of tin and its subsequent haul to an island named ‘Ictis’, believed to be St. Michael’s Mount near Penzance, for international trade.
There is evidence of mining in Botallack from ancient times, but the first records show a date of 1721. The ‘sett’ (area) of Botallack includes one of the most picturesque and romantic mines in the area: the Crown Mines.
These engine houses are still perched perilously close to the sea upon an outcrop of rocks at the foot of the cliff.
More striking still is the fact that from this post extends a diagonal shaft reaching down over 240 fathoms or 480 yards below sea level and extending almost the same distance out beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Modern submarine mining: The sub-incline shaft allowing access to Levant from Geevor. It was completed by 1977 and officially opened by the Queen in 1980 who braved its descent
New mine: A diver plugging the breach at the ¿40 Backs¿ area in the 1960s where the sea had infiltrated into the submarine levels of Levant. This was an unprecedented and award-winning engineering feat
Levant Beam Engine: A steam engine built in 1840, its claim to fame being that it is the oldest Cornish mine engine which also has remained in situ, and is to this day operational
From the mid 19th century tourists would flock to these Crowns and some would even attempt a submarinal descent.
The most famous of these visitors being the Prince and Princess of Wales – or more appropriately the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall – in 1865, who were staying at St. Michael’s Mount.
As technology progressed with the Industrial Revolution, greater depths could be mined as water could be mechanically pumped out in larger quantities than buckets permitted.
Mechanised fans also allowed for ventilation which was always an issue for submarine mining because ventilation shafts could not emerge vertically into air as they could inland.
Levant, nicknamed ‘The Mine Under the Sea’, made effective use of this technology, becoming a leviathan in the mining industry. By 1820 it had submarine mines.
One of its engines is to this day still ‘in steam’ and it can be witnessed by visiting the mine, now a tourist attraction run by the National Trust.
However, despite this technological progress, conditions were still dangerous and toiling for the miners. Temperatures rose as miners descended with heat recorded at 30C at the deepest levels of 350 fathoms or 700 yards below sea level.
Another fear for submarine miners was of course the incursion of the sea itself. At Levant lies an infamous level or tunnel known as the ’40 Backs’, named so because it ran a mere 40 feet from the seabed.
In fact, the tunnel moved even closer to the seabed when miners followed a ‘lode’ or vein of ore, veering upwards. Some miners, known as tributers, would be paid according to the value of the ore they yielded – rather than ‘tut workers’ who were paid per fathom plunged – so their profit and danger ran parallel at this point.
Here they could hear the crashing of the waves and the thuds of boulders being thrown around by the power of the currents above. Eventually the danger outweighed the potential profits, and the place was abandoned.
In 1919, however, disaster did strike Levant. The so-called ‘man engine’ – essentially an ingenious vacillating rod-lift carrying miners into and out of the lower depths – when fully manned, became crippled and smashed down through its deep shaft, killing thirty-one men and injuring many more.
Rusting now: The Skip Shaft lift at Levant (left). Ponies were sent through this shaft, tail first with legs tied to their bodies due to the shaft’s narrow width. They would remain working under the mine for years. Pictured right, pPart of the derelict machinery before the headgear of Victory Shaft, Geevor
Into the abyss: The Skip Shaft at Levant reaching down almost half a mile at 290 fathoms. The tragedy was the death knell of Levant mining, and was a substantial factor in its eventual closure in 1930. More than two decades prior to this a mine known as North Levant had become independent and renamed itself to Geevor. It outlived its southerly parent becoming very prosperous aided by the enhanced technology that the 20th Century provided.
In the 1960s Geevor decided to extend its mining to submarine regions when it was realised that much more valuable tin and copper were waiting out there rather than inland.
Living history: Some of the tunnels are now accessible to the public at Geevor Tin Mine
Dripping: Submarine mining became possible with the advent of mechanised pumps draining the tunnels from the water constantly seeping through the earth
Geevor’s matrix of tunnels would intersect with those undersea tunnels of Levant but first a problem needed remedying: it was discovered that after Levant mine had closed, the sea had indeed infiltrated its submarine tunnelling. The leak was at the fragile 40 Backs area.
An unprecedented operation involving divers from Imperial College, London, and a 35-ton ex-Admiralty vessel, was set in motion to plug the breach. This was finally completed in 1969 with a total of 2,500 tons of cement being employed.
The submarine mines were dry and mining once again began.
Botallack Arsenic Labyrinth: As well as tin, copper and other metals, the mines also yielded arsenic. Any arsenic in the ore turned into a gas which then flowed into this labyrinth; there it cooled and solidified into arsenic crystals which could be recovered and sold
Exposed: A precarious cliff entrance to the submarine labyrinth, or ¿Lambreth¿ in the local dialect, that lies beyond the waves at Levant
Stunning: The picturesque Levant mine overlooking the Celtic Sea, part of the Atlantic. This area has recently been designated as a World Heritage Site along with the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, and the Acropolis in Athens
By 1977 Geevor had tunnelled a sub-incline shaft for good access to these depths, a shaft that was officially opened by The Queen in1980. Before this unveiling, Her Majesty, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Andrew, had ventured down the shaft themselves in a similar manner to their forebears.
Despite the wealth of copper, tin and other metals that lay there, Geevor had to close in 1990 due to the collapse of the global price of tin. However, Geevor now acts as a museum where visitors can not only access the industrial complex above ground but where they can also enter the shafts themselves.
The submarine mines, however, cannot be accessed because they are once more submerged, not with sea water but with land drainage: once the pumps had stopped, rain water gradually made its way down into those deep 60 miles of submarine tunnelling – dormant now but perhaps awaiting a new era of good tin pricing and technology capable of once again exploiting the treasures that lie hundreds of fathoms under the sea.
Furthest west? The scenic Cape Cornwall just to the west of Botallack, crowned by a mine chimney. Until two centuries ago this cape was considered to be the Land¿s End
Tourist spot: The Crown Mines at Botallack. Visitors have been flocking to this beauty spot for almost two centuries
Precarious path: The Botallack Crown Mines glistening over the Atlantic Ocean
Beacon: Pendeen Lighthouse would have been a familiar sight to miners at Levant and then Geevor from the beginning of the 20th Century
Britain's forgotten relics: Book reveals over 250 breathtaking hidden wonders from abandoned castles to crumbling follies that are right on our doorstep but often overlooked
Sometimes we are so quick to explore the wonders found in foreign countries, that we overlook the hidden, forgotten relics that lie right on our doorstep.
Author David Hamilton stumbled upon the hundreds of historic ruins and crumbling settlements while out in the countryside foraging for mushrooms and wild foods.
His new book, Wild Ruins, sets out to lift the lid on over 250 haunting sites nationwide, in a bid to reconnect people with the country's great history.
From abandoned castles to forts built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries, here are some of Britain's most majestic sites missing from tourist guide books...
Forgotten: The hidden locations of hundreds of historic ruins have been revealed in the first ever guide to Britain's crumbling past by David Hamilton. Byland Abbey (pictured) in North Yorkshire, is featured in Wild Ruins. The ruined structure still features the remains of a large rose window as well as stone lectern base from the chapter house which is the only example of its kind in the country
Spectacular: Old Wardour Castle near Tisbury was built in the 14th century as a lightly fortified luxury residence for comfortable living, but it was badly damaged during the Civil War. The damaged castle became a fashionable romantic ruin and was the inspiration for a castle featured in the film 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' starring Kevin Costner
Stunning view: Castle Kilchurn was built in the mid-15th century by Sir Colin Campbell. The four-storey tower, located on a rocky peninsula at the northeastern end of Loch Awe, in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, remained the Clan Campbell's base for 150 years until it was abandoned in the 1700s
Hidden from view: The 18th century Racton Folly near Walderton can be found off the beaten track in woodland in Racton near Chichester, West Sussex. It was thought to have been built to watch ships approach the Solent in 1766, the 80ft brick building was abandoned more than a century ago and is now crumbling and overgrown
Protected: The Grade 1 listed Fountains Abbey, which is located around three miles south-west of Ripon in North Yorkshire, is one of the largest and best-preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. It was founded by Benedictine monks expelled from St Mary's Abbery in York in the early 12th century and operated until 1539 when King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Hidden wonder: Dolbarden Castle, overlooking the deep waters of Llyn Peris in Snowdonia, was a fortification built by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great during the early 13th century. In 1284, the castle was taken by Edward I, who removed some of its timbers. Today, it remains in a solid condition and is protected as a Grade I listed building
Remnants of war: The Maunsell Forts were small fortified towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries to protect Britain during the Second World War. Each fort consists of a cluster of seven stilted buildings surrounding a central command tower. Now rusting, the structures were constructed in 1942 and decommissioned in the ear;y 1950s
Majestic: Raglan Castle built in the 1430s, was used to hold off Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentary forces for the 13 weeks in 1646, during the Civil War. Described as one of Wales' best-kept secrets, the medieval ruins of 15th century castle in Monmouthshire in south Wales is well preserved and boasts impressive turrets and a huge moat
Lone ruin: The abandoned Ardvreck Castle dates from the 16th century and stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt located in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. It is believed to have been built around 1590 by the Clan MacLeod family who owned Assynt. In 1650, James, Marquis of Montrose, was captured by the Laird of Assynt and held at the castle before being taken to Edinburgh for trial and execution
Magical: St Marys East Somerton (left) and Fussells Iron Works (right) near the village of Mells, Somerset, are two of the 250 hidden locations revealed in the first ever guide to Britain's crumbling past. The Iron Works once employed 250 people but was shut in 1900. Author David Hamilton said: 'What really tipped the balance was a trip to Fussell's Iron Works at Mells, near where I live. It's a sprawling Victorian ruin but it's not on any tourist maps and it made me think what else could be out there'
Historic: Gwrych Castle took ten years to build with work starting in 1812 at the behest of Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, who was the grandfather of the Countess of Dundonald. She left the castle in her will to King George V and the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VIII) but it was refused .The Grade I listed 19th country house, located near Abergele in Conwy county borough, Wales, was used to house 200 Jewish refugeed during the Second World War
Dramatic: Dunottar Castle perches majestically on the edge of the North Sea and was used as the inspiration for the Disney film, Brave. The ruined cliff-top medieval fortress is built upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland. William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II have all visited
Eerie: Emerging through the mist is Corfe Castle positioned in between the Purbeck Hills in Dorset. The fortification, which stands above the village of the same name on the Isle of Purbeck, survived the English Civil War, but was partially demolished in 1646 by the Parliamentarians
Spectacular: Carreg Cennen Castle, whose name translates to 'Castle on the rock,' is located in located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, south of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire in Wales. Perching above a limestone precipice, the castle overlooks the remote Black Mountain and the River Cennen. 'I want the book to encourage people to visit these sites to learn about and marvel in our past,' David Hamilton said
Idyllic: The ruins of St Micheal's church, built in the 15th century, sits on top of Burrow Mump. David Hamilton's research spanned over three years, which he spent exploring the country to learn about little-known and hard-to-find remains of abandoned castles, churches, settlements and industrial works
History: Bottalack Mine, located in Botallack in west Cornwall, was given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2006. The village is in a former tin mining area situated between the town of St Just in Penwith and the village of Pendee. It produced 14,500 tonnes of tin, 20,000 tonnes of copper ore and 1,500 tonnes of refined arsenic. The BBC series Poldark used Bottalack as a filming location this year
Work with a view: At the top of the cliffs are the remains of one of Bottalack Mine's arsenic-refining works (pictured). Botallack Tin Mine was created by the Industrial Revolution that shaped Cornwall. There is evidence of tin mining in this area from the 17th Century and possibly even earlier