Saturday 11 June 2022


 I start with a hymn of praise to the drivers who navigate their 'Tinner' open-top double-decker buses through the bends and along the straights of the B3306, the coastal road from St Ives to St Just. They are so skilled. And underpaid, no doubt. 

A fortnight ago, John Toman and I (our combined ages reaching 156 years) explored the mining remains around Geevor and Levant - see this link here for the blogpost that tells the story of that day.  

Botallack mines - the Pumping engine house and the Boscawen diagonal shaft, the means of descent - a view from the sea

Last Tuesday, 7 June 2022, John was my guide when we visited the mining remains around Botallack and then walked on into the Kenidjack valley and from there on to Cape Cornwall. Here is the story, in words and images:

After getting off the bus, we made our way down the lane towards the sea. John, the former chief surveyor at South Crofty, becomes the dream guide. He points knowingly over the hedge to the rubble in the field and explains that he has been keeping an eye on that spot over the last few years. It seems to be

an old mine shaft. The farmer has been filling it with rubble each year and John on his walks has noticed the way the pile sinks down into the ground. There used to be a fence around it but for now the pile seems to have stabilized. Who knows if there will be a further collapse within the shaft, as the effects of climate change bring extreme weather events? He also indicates another depression in the field, filled with debris by the farmer. John points out they are following the line of the tin lode towards the sea.

Seeing what others may miss - looking left, over the hedge, to the pile in the depression in the field

Soon, on our right, we pass the Count House that was built in 1862 and three years later received a royal visit when Victoria's son, Edward (later Edward VII) and his wife Alexandra, came and made their descent in the Boscawen diagonal shaft. The Count House was the control centre of the mines, as Robin Bates & Bill Scolding, explain in their admirable book: 'Walks around St Just and St Ives'. Here the mine manager and his staff kept the accounts, planned the work of the mine, and entertained shareholders. Miners would assemble at the main door on pay day to receive their wages.    

Looking right, to the Count House 

By the mid-1860s, the mine had eight steam engines and over 500 employees. In 1869, Botallack produced 20,720 tons of tin ore worth £24,749. £100 in 1869 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £12,683 today - so the 1869 value is equivalent to a value of just over £6,113,000 today. A staggering capital gain! Yet by 1895, only a quarter-century later, the mine had folded due largely to the collapse in the price of tin. It was finally shut in 1914.  

We leave the Count House and turn right along the track heading north. On our right is the large steel-girded headgear of Allen's shaft, erected by Geevor Mine in 1985 over a shaft which had been abandoned in 1914. 

Allen's Shaft - 1985 - a monument to a failed attempt to renew tin extraction 71 years after the mine closed. 

Now we are descending downwards towards the sea and the Crowns engine houses. We pass the remains of the stamps for crushing the ore and tin dressing floors used for further refining of tin ore.

The remains of the stamps and dressing floors - all part of the process of refining the tin ore 

John also points out the arsenic workings. We note the arched entrance to the Brunton Calciner, the furnace in which the calcination took place to extract the arsenic from the tin ore. In the 1870s, the price of arsenic had risen and the Botallack management saw a business opportunity. Arsenic was used  in Victorian cosmetics; pigment dyers, glass blowers, and shot makers all needed it; so too did farmers in sheep dip. And everyone used it to control rats and other vermin. We imagined the links from the furnace to the labyrinth of 31arched chambers from which the surface workers scraped off the arsenic which collected on the chamber walls. Their skin was covered in cloth and clay; cotton wool was stuffed up their noses - a kind of primitive and ineffective PPE kit. These arsenic workers died young, just as the miners did. The chimney stack has been restored; it would have been blackened when it was in use. 

The remains of the arched Brunton calciner, the arched chambers, and the restored chimney stack - time heals; now there are children at play nearby


And so on down the hill. My breath is taken away by the awesome sight of the Crowns engine houses below.

Pumping engine house and winding house 

Getting closer - are we really going down there? I can see human life by the winding house

Nearest the sea is the pumping engine house (1835) and above that the winding house (1860), covering the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, the means of descent. Who were these Cornish men who dared build these structures in this perilous place? How many died in the venture? To what purpose? Fortunes for a few over several decades. And then, there were only the ruins. A tourist view to die for, as they say. I remain in awe of the bravery, skills, and audacity of those workers. Rest in peace, unknown and undervalued Cornish men. 

Bates and Scolding, in their book of walks, write that in the late 19th century this cliffside would have been covered in timbers, gantries, pulleys, and chains. Here is a photo image of the scene when that royal visit referred to above took place in 1865:

The royal visit to Botallack - 1865 - a party of dignitaries begin their descent  

Those of you who know my story will perhaps recall that I have balance issues from time to time, a  tendency to topple. For the full story, see my latest book: Dying to Know - Running through a Pandemic. Pressing this link here will get you closer to obtaining a copy. The point here is that John, my guide, became my role model and inspiration. If this man, ten years my senior, could ease his way down this track with perfect poise and balance, so would I. John gave me a helping hand in places and I followed, upright in his footsteps. When we got down to the winding house, he advanced forward to the limit and leaned forward to see further. With encouragement from John, I joined my leader at the edge but I declined to lean out too far. That thought seriously scared me. Besides, I still had to get back up the steep slope, the way we came down. 'That will be easier', said John. He was, of course, quite right. The air ambulance option would not be needed.     

Going down ....

Down at last

'Just here, Rob'

Here, in this video, is a medley of my photos in the order I took them

That closes this first part of my Botallack blogpost. The second part follows our journey into the Kenidjack valley and on to Cape Cornwall.


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