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Mining in the Blood


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As the notes below show tin mining has a long history in Cornwall:

Notes on the coinage of tin in devon and cornwall in 1595. As reported in the state papers of the Reign of Elizabeth 1st of England. Vol.CCLIII.

July. 45. Note of the ordinary days of coining tin in Devonshire and Cornwall, for the Midsummer coinage, from 11 June to 9 July or later. The Devonshire tin is usually coined in small pieces of from 1 cwt. to 2 cwt., but the Cornish tin coined is from 2 cwt. to 400 lbs.

July. 46. Answers [by Thios. Myddletois I] to instructions concerning the coinage of tin in Devonshire and Cornwall, Midsummer 1593. I have attended the coinage, and, kept a book of the weights, but found no abuse. Midsummer coinage began at Chagford, 12 June, and ended at Helstone, 9 July; but there is an after coinage, at which the officers have 12d. for each piece of tin. Michaelmas coinage begins 15 September and lasts to 9 October, after which the accounts are delivered to Wm. Nele, the Queen’s auditor. There is a part coinage about Christmas, the Queen receiving 4 per cent, for licence, which is 001. a year, and the officers 12d. each piece of tin. Statement of tin the last seven years, varying from 1,148,891 lbs. of the quantity

1,3..1,SOlhs. The tinners cannot tell how much is exported, as merchants and pewterers sometimes deal for each other. It used to be all sent to France till the Ronen trade was stopped, and this price came down; then the Londoners bought for the Straits and the Low Countries; now it is sold in Turkey, France, and Flanders. 

1703 AD:- Henry Vingoe's Tin Bounds.

There is very little history of mining in Sennen Parish. Whilst researching my wife's Vingoe family line at the Courtney Library  in  Truro and found a document dated 1703. I was lucky enough to have the help of the historian Mr. H. L. Douch  who gave us a quick translation of the main points in the document.   

The document states that it is a License agreement on tin bounds at a place called Gweals Vean dated 1703 and is a record of an agreement between a  Henry Vingoe and a William Borlase, the son of Joseph Borlase of St Just in Penwith, also  William Millett the son of Martin Millett of St Just in Penwith and Henry's own son  Henry Vingoe Jnr.   

The document was issued by the  Stannary of Penwith in the name of John Grenville who was the Custodian and Guardian of the Stannary. Other officers mentioned where Ephraim Weymouth and Noye Edwards. It is signed by a William Cock. 

Gweals is Cornish for field or place, whilst Vean means little. So the place referred to is Little Field at Trevescan in Sennen.  

The document states that the bounds are bordered on the four sides by Carn Colwidrocke, Sowen Peddenantes, Vaan Vrease and Mean Sebmen. So far we have been unable to locate any of these in order to find where the bounds were. The Date on the document is 1703.

The document is written in a shorthand Latin and also includes Cornish place names. If you click on the image you will be able to see a larger  image.

bounds 3.jpg (132462 bytes)

Other names on the document are  John Grenville who was the Custodian and Guardian of the Stannary  Other officers mentioned where Ephraim Weymouth and Noye Edwards. The document is signed William Cock. 

The Henry referred to is Henry Vingoe who was born around 1660 to John and Joan Vingoe of Sennen. This is the first record of the families links to tin and copper mining and whilst the male line did not seem to follow the trade the link was to continue on and off  in this branch of the family for around three hundred years via various female lines.  

Further research turned up a document entittled:-

1738 AD:- "A Survey of Tin Bounds, The Property of Sam. Borlase and Others."   

 The date on this document is 1783 and in it we found just one mention of the Parish of Sennen. This appertained to bounds owned by John Pascoe and others which were mined by S Borlase 1/3, I Millett 1/3 and A Pearce 1/3. There is included a sketch map of the bounds showing it to be on Trevescan Cliff. with the tin load being shown as running North to South going out to sea to the East of Dr Syntax's Head. These Bounds took in the whole of what we would refer to as the Lands End and included in this is land that was owned by a Israel Vingoe on the 1838 Sennen Tithe Map and labeled as No. 481. What we now need to find is a link between Henry Vingoe's bounds and these later findings.



 The Cornish miner had to find his way through rock of a very difficult character, sometimes consisting of solid granite, or elvan rock of excessive hardness. His tools were few, but they were well adapted to their job; consisting, besides those represented in the following engraving, of a small wedge or two of steel, denominated a 9ad, which is driven into the rock by the round end of the pick, for the purpose of splitting and detaching portions from the mass.


          1        2                                     3          4        5            6         7         8         9

The instrument, No. 1, is the pick of the miner; 2, the shovel; 3, the sledge; 4, the borer; 5, the claying bar; 6, the needle, called by some the nail; 7, the scraper; 8, the tamping bar; and 9,the tin cartridge, for blasting where the rock is wet: a horn to carry his gunpowder, rushes to supply him with fuses, and a little touch-paper, or slow  

In the 1858 the owners of the Bottalack Mine ordered work to commence on sinking a new shaft. This became known as the Boscawen Diagonal and it was completed in 1862. The shaft ran at a gradient of thirty two and a half degrees. It total depth was 250 fathom below the adit with the bottom of the incline being some half a mile out to sea.The boiler for the winding engine came from Pearce's shaft which became redundant when this shaft was opened.

Holmans of St Just made the the gig or four wheeled iron box which four wheels would carry up to eight men up or down the incline. The gig was attached to the winding engine by means of a chain and on the 18th of April 1863 this chain suddenly parted just after eight men and a boy had started to ascend the shaft from a level about half way up the shaft. All eight men and a boy were carried to their deaths down the shaft. Amongst the men was Michael Nicholas who left a widow Martha and a son also named Nicholas.

The gig was sent back to Holman’s to be cleaned and straightened out and was used by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall for their trip to the mine two years later, although by now the chain had been pensioned off and replaced with a wire rope.

Another member of this tree who lost his life in a St Just mining  disaster was James Vingoe Trembath who was killed in the Levant Mine. Whilst you can read about this disaster by clicking on the link below unfortunately James Vingoe Trembath has been named as John by mistake.

LEVANT Mining Disaster, 3p.m. Monday, 20th October 1919

The Cornish Man Engine

Mines of the St Just District

St Just Mining District



By clicking on the above BBC web site link, you can see the following related film clips. Once on the site scroll to the bottom of the page. Use your back button to return to this site.

The Levant Mine Disaster - Levant Mine Memories (1960s/b&w/sound)
A former mine worker recalling one of the worst tin mining disasters in Cornwall. Thirty one men were killed in October 1919 at Levant Mine when an ageing mechanical ladder collapsed. (2 minutes 36 seconds ©BBC)

Bal Maidens - The Silent Valley (1960s/b&w/sound)
Women were employed crushing tin ore into smaller pieces for processing. (46 seconds ©BBC)

Miners at Work - The Silent Valley (1960s/b&w/sound)
A reconstruction of Cornish tin miners working underground in the 1860s. (4 minutes 21 seconds ©South West Film Archive)

Silicosis - The Mathematics of the Mole (1962/b&w/sound)
Hard rock drilling could cause harm to men's lungs leading to appalling diseases such as silicosis. (1 minute 50 seconds ©BBC)

Down the Mine - The Tin Miner They Couldn't Kill (1972/colour/sound)
Inside a working Cornish tin mine with miners Leo and John Beskeen including scenes of miners drilling - notice the lack of protective ear mufflers and rigorous safety protection. (3 minutes 23 seconds ©BBC)


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Last modified: Thursday May 04, 2006 .